LCI Blog: Is Civility in Business Dead?

By David Landis
President, Landis Communications, Inc.
“Every action done in Company ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”
–George Washington

I just finished reading Amor Towles’ new novel, Rules of Civility.  It’s a terrific debut work and takes its name from an essay by the young George Washington that outlines “decent behavior in company and conversation.”
The book got me thinking.  Has our modern 21st century abandoned civility in business?  And has technology played a role in this abandonment?
Unfortunately, signs are out there.  Here’s a personal sampling from just the past few weeks:

  •    The F-bomb: 

A customer uses the f-bomb on a client’s Facebook page. We had a discussion about this at our agency asking, “Should we take this down?”  But the real question is: “Why did someone resort to using this word in the first place?”
During my high school years, I had a great English teacher, Dr. Pat Berger. He said that people who use swear words do so because they’re not smart enough to find the right word to articulate a specific meaning.  Let’s show our intelligence, please. I think it’s high time – at least in business – we made sure we take the high road.

  •   Prospects who don’t let you know their decision about your proposal.

A prospect sends out an RFP and numerous agencies from around the country (including ours) submit proposals.  We never hear back, but instead hear through the grapevine that the agency selection process is “postponed” (whatever that means).  Months later, I read in PR WEEK that they’ve decided to stay with the incumbent – no phone call, no email to those of us who submitted proposals.  I won’t tell you the name of this company, but all you have to do is take a look at a couple of back issues of PR WEEK to find out.
Do prospects understand that develop a proposal requires research, creative brainstorming, ideation, writing, editing, rehearsing and more?  At LCI, we estimate that our proposals, on average, take about 40 hours, which translates to approximately $11,000.
We do understand that this is the cost of doing business.  But prospects, listen up: a simple phone call or – if you don’t have the guts – an email is all we ask to let us know.  And please clarify for us why you chose someone else.  We all want to learn.
Contrast this with a company that, despite the fact we didn’t get the business, called us and told us specifically why they chose another agency. They then sent us a gift to thank us for our trouble.
With which group would you rather work?

  •       Thank you’s.

Our Moms (and hopefully our Dads) taught us the value of thank you’s.  One of my favorite TV reporters, Jeannine Yeomans (formerly of KRON TV in San Francisco) taught me how much she appreciated them when we would thank her for her TV reports.  We all know we like to receive them.  And yet, how many of us really say “thank you” enough?
Those two words pay the ultimate respect to those with whom you do business.  They should be spoken regularly to employees; to vendors; to partners; to customers; to clients; to your boss; and yes, to your PR agency as well.  They go a long way towards establishing better business relationships and getting better results along the way.
Technology has definitely made it easier for us to communicate. It cuts both ways.  Let’s use the opportunity to make communicating with one another civil.
What’s your pet peeve when it comes to civility in business?  Post your comment here or email me at: [email protected]

8 thoughts on “LCI Blog: Is Civility in Business Dead?

  1. Technology does distance us from responsible communication. I am dismayed by the crude and ignorant comments that I often read online with social media and news media. If you can’t express yourself without vulgar language than don’t bother. I have never found comedians using vulgar language amusing. The Emmys last night in general were low brow and I sense the dumbing down of America once again. I also had an educator who taught that you were actually uncreative to use vulgar language. I feel that cuss words are common and that wit is rare. I am no purist…I cuss but prefer wit.

    1. Agreed, Katherine. I always say, “Show us your intelligence instead of resorting to the lowest common denominator.” Thanks for your post. Cheers, David

  2. My pet peeve? People who don’t respond to my emails. If you can’t get me the information or the product I am requesting in a timely manner, don’t just ignore my email. Send me a quick note indicating that you are working on it, you can’t get to it until Thursday, whatever. Don’t just not respond.
    On another note, another great man, our father John used to say the same thing about people who swear

    1. Kate – I agree. It’s important to at least acknowledge people. At LCI, we have a rule to get back to everyone within 24 hours – even a sales person. Everyone at least deserves an answer (unless it’s one of those annoying robotic spam emails). And thanks for reminding me that it was our Dad who originally instilled in us a love for language. Cheers, David

  3. Manners, manners, manners. They worked for George and they work now. Does the lack of manners suggest a lack of empathy? If you do work for me, even if I don’t accept it, should I not be thankful for your efforts? Or is it that I never stopped to think that you had done the work? Maybe I think you’re like McDonalds…it’s already sitting on the shelf, and if I don’t take that package, the next person will. Or maybe I’m embarrassed: I put you to work, and then I gave you nothing for it. It’s too hard (embarrassing) to say why I don’t want it, so I just don’t say anything. Who knows what people are thinking–or if they are thinking. But ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ always go a long way, at least in my book.
    So thank you for letting me post on you blog!! And please have a great evening!!! 🙂

  4. David, you are the only person in the entire PR world who sends thank you notes, which is just one of many reasons why you are so successful.
    BTW, my pet peeve in PR is people who think they deserve to be on Page 1 of the NYTimes, and if they don’t, it is the PR person’s fault.
    Your fan, Jeannine

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