Whatever business you’re in—from soap to software—solid, sustainable human relationships are a pre-condition for success. You will need to convince customers to buy your product and that you are a reliable and attentive supplier. You will need to convince employees to join your business and to identify their success with yours. Simple courtesy is one of the cornerstones of these relationships. So be polite. It pays.
Here are seven courtesy habits that will absolutely pay off for your business:
1. Don’t just be on time—be early
Punctuality is an important signal of respect. You are demonstrating that you understand the value that the other person or group places on their time. Wherever you need to be, plan to be there a little early. This will show customers or employees that you respect them and that you are ready and eager to get started.
2. Greet everyone—especially the “little people”
Everyone likes to be acknowledged. Greet people warmly but respectfully. Do this with people you are meeting for the first time as well as for people you see every day. Greet the receptionist, secretary, waitstaff, cleaners. This is good practice and it often pays off down the road.
3. Remember people—especially their names
Everyone likes to be acknowledged and feel that they are important to you. If you’re not good at remembering personal details (and I’m frankly terrible!), write down a person’s name after meeting them, along with a little something about them.
I knew a CEO who practised this diligently. Before every meeting, he would make a brief note of who was attending and a little detail or two about every person. He became known as a CEO who was easy to talk to and, as a result, had very deep and productive networks.
4. Listen attentively—and look like you’re listening
Active listening will pay off in two ways. Your own recollections will be more accurate and you will have demonstrated respect for the other person. Pay attention while listening and avoid distractions. Unless the building’s on fire, don’t interrupt. Be aware of your body language; think about what being attentive looks like. People respond to and remember things like your posture and how you made eye contact.
5. Watch your language
I spent the early part of my working life in the army. When I’m with my best friend from those days, the language can get pretty salty. It’s language that you and I should never use with people we don’t know really, really well. Use language that is professional and respectful of diversity. Your use of language should build bridges, not burn them.
6. Practice “safe” humor
In his book The Humor Advantage (Why Some Businesses are Laughing All the Way to the Bank) author Michael Kerr writes about how humour can contribute to an inspiring and welcoming culture and how it can contribute to a positive customer image of your brand.
But Kerr also writes about practicing “safe humour” that “laughs with people, not at them; humour that defuses tension and doesn’t ramp it up.” Have a few G-rated jokes in your repertoire that you know you can count on, and before spontaneously blurting out something that strikes you as funny, take a beat to consider how it will land with your audience.
7. Use two extraordinarily powerful words: “thank you”
Thank people for their input and contributions. Thank the security guard who opens the gate. Thank the receptionist (by name!) who escorts you to the customer’s office. Thank the employee who delivers the average report at the 11th hour; there will be time for coaching about deadlines later.
“Thank You” is all about opening channels of communication and keeping them open. You want to collect intelligence, data and impressions. You want to build networks. “Thank You” helps make all of this happen.
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In that spirit: thank you for reading this column! I hope that you found it helpful. I also hope that we can meet again soon in these pages. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate hearing from you in the comments section below.
Martin Birt is the president of HRaskme.com. After serving seven years in the Canadian Army as a combat arms officer, he has enjoyed a thirty-five year career as a human resources manager, consultant and sought-after adviser to business executives. He can be contacted here.
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