Remember Your Manners – A True Story

Remember your mannersBad manners in business are about as useful as feathers on a fish and as memorable. The following story is based on something that happened while I worked on Parliament Hill.

An executive working in the regional office of a manufacturing company was contacted by his superiors and told that it would be in the best interest of the organization if he were to meet with the local member of parliament (MP) to discuss some of the future goals of the organization.  The Member of Parliament really didn’t have the power to facilitate or interrupt those goals, but since he sat on the Industry Committee, and the changes would require some  regulatory adjustments it made good sense to make sure he was onside.  The executive dutifully contacted the office and set up a meeting with the MP.

On the day of the meeting, the executive arrived and proceeded to extol the virtues of the proposed objectives of his company to the MP.  To his surprise the MP had some concerns.  The concerns did not appear to be well founded or based on any evidence.  The executive explained that the concerns were unsubstantiated, but the MP persisted, expressing his reluctance to endorse the objectives of the company.  It was at this point that the executive became somewhat impatient with the MP, after all, what did the MP know about his business and who was he to raise objections? As the meeting continued it became clear that the two men were not going to see eye to eye, what’s more it was also obvious that the MP might actually represent a problem for the organization. The executive in frustration finally said to the MP that he would, “regret it” if he were to stand in the way of the organization’s goals.

Now for those of you familiar with testosterone, it is clear that the tone of the exchange had more to do with hormone levels than any rational disagreement. It is also possible that had the exchange been limited to these two men it would have ended then and there. Unfortunately, executives from across the country went out to meet with MPs.  It was equally clear that none of the executives had been given government relations training… or relations training of any kind.  All that was paramount to them was the importance of the proposed activity to their organization. The result was that by the time the Members of Parliament had returned to the House of Commons they were good and steamed.  When they got together with their caucus members, their anger escalated to the point that even those who were inclined to support the manufacturer were reluctant to do so in the face of the other MPs’ anger.  The net result was that the pressure on the Minister of Industry to oppose the manufacturer was unshakeable.

To the manufacturer’s horror and dismay, what started out as a no brainer business move became the centre of an outraged grassroots movement against the manufacturer’s interest. The movement was so stormy and politically loaded that the Minister was obliged to support it.

Lessons Learned

  • Assume nothing, determine the mindset of the official you are meeting with and respond appropriately.
  • Do not dismiss concerns always address them thoughtfully.
  • Do not get into arguments with officials. If you can’t agree, end the meeting and leave.
  • Do not threaten, even inadvertently.
  • Do not underestimate the power of a riled or impassioned legislator. Legislators did not get elected because they lacked determination or the ability to rally others to their cause.

Manners are not a nicety, they are a necessity in business.


0 responses to “Remember Your Manners – A True Story

  • This is one of the reasons nations cannot see eye-to-eye…all the posturing, and ego-maniacal behavior, just makes things go from bad to worse. Even on a smaller scale! I work in education, and I have become so disappointed at the level of bad relations, even within that camp, that I can barely stand to meet with colleagues, or go to professional development meetings…I have even been guilty of letting my ego be bruised, and getting caught up in the drama. If people ever hope to have dignified and sensible discourse…whether in business, school, or the world at large…they will need to return to using basic good manners and tact. That is seriously missing in many sectors of society!

    • Sometimes people can make it hard to remember your manners, but like anything in the relationship management, you have to keep a firm grasp on your own responses…at least until you can safely vent without impacting the other person 🙂 I like the idea of a back to basic good manners movement it would do all of us and our communities a world of good.

  • mkslagel says:
    April 8, 2013 @ 03:26 pm

    It’s interesting how quickly things can get out of a control and how little people actually realize that or take in to consideration their actions and the bigger picture.

    • The links between action and outcome are often difficult for people to understand at the best of times. When you make the relationship dynamic more complicated by bringing in organizations, sometimes people assume that the normal rules of engagement don’t apply. That’s when startlingly rude behavior emerges.

  • becc03 says:
    April 8, 2013 @ 06:22 am

    Honestly, good manners in life are essential. So too are they in business – what is hard to understand about that?
    Losing your cool will never end well.

  • Great advice for staff who are working in government relations. You obviously have a lot of political savvy!

  • Debra — this is a lesson in learning listening skills. The company representative heard what he wanted to hear and what should have been a productive two-way conversation turned into a PR disaster.

  • It seems crazy to let a situation like this get out of control, you would think a man in that position of a company would have more sense. Just goes to show how people make wars.

    • It seems crazy because it is. 🙂 You’d think that experience would teach people to behave differently, but I think that being a bully in business and government is often a successful tactic so the behavior is reinforced rather than discouraged.

  • Debra, Thank you for a great story. Here’s what I got from it. Sometimes it is better to hear concerns, take a breath, and then approach again from a different angle.

  • Definitely a much better idea to agree to disagree than to fight a battle that will only make the situation worse. I think manners are fleeting these days and people are more and more concerned about getting ahead in any way possible than forming mutually beneficial relationships. Good post!

  • All I can say is WOW! That was a very hard lesson to learn. There is a saying “allow another to win even when you know your wrong and make a friend”. You can win the battle but lose the to war and in this case he certainly did. Shish!

    • Sad really. There certainly wasn’t much strategy applied. I have learned to assume nothing when it comes to working with clients on issues that they are passionate about. The most unexpected things happen.

  • Great post. This executive went to the extreme, but we can make the same mistakes in a more subtle way. Your lessons learned are great tips for everyone to follow.

  • Great tips!!! Really important message!

  • It is easy to say that going to that extreme is the wrong answer in every situation. But then at times when every other form of communication has been exhausted, sometimes you fall on the last resort. It doesn’t win you friends. It isn’t always dignified. But when you have tried every other way possible, you go with what you have left.

  • Manners go a long way. Even when you disagree with someone, you should ask yourself “what can I learn from this situation?” It goes a long way and gets you into the mode of thought that helps to diffuse a situation rather than make it worse.

  • Laurel says:
    April 4, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    Great story….I too have had former clients “loose their cool” in meetings where political decision makers did not agree with what they were proposing. How does slamming your fists on the Senator’s coffee table really help get your point across? We were, in fact, asked to leave. And this was a president of a national association who had received GR training! Ouch!

    • Oh, ouch is right. Its never been clear to me what all that aggressive energy is intended to achieve, but I’ve never seen anything good come from it.

  • Interesting post, Debra. In my years of experience, anger has never produced positive results. Passion yes. But straight out anger is generally a totally destructive behaviour.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I work in a very passionate organization now and it generally makes us close. When I have worked in angry environments I have always felt stressed and I couldn’t get out fast enough.

  • People should always have good manners especially in business. You wouldn’t want to ruin a prospective lead you didn’t even know you had.

  • I don’t understand how that even happened. Any business class taken in college will teach you to address all concerns with empathy and understanding and THEN resolve the issue. I’m glad you are helping others to become more aware!

    • LOL. One of the reasons I had to put a “True Story” in the title was because even after all of these years, it still strikes me as ridiculous. The sad part is that I kept seeing the same behavior over and over again. When I became a lobbyist myself I always remembered what it felt like to sit on the other side of the desk.

  • Nice story, good lessons, too. On a side note – a balanced person, the one who has inner piece and is somewhat happy, they would never lose control like this, would they? When in a ‘conflict’ situation, I always think “what if I were in their shoes” and usually that’s how a consensus is reached; should always try to turn it into a win-win situation 😉

    • Thanks Diana, great advice and good insight. Government relations (all relations really) require both sides to try to see the world from the other person’s perspective.

  • winnercat says:
    April 3, 2013 @ 02:22 pm

    Debra, I would go even further and call the executive stupid.

    Actually, come to think about it, some people behave badly even when they come from the best backgrounds simply because they feel they are entitled to:-)

    Presumably he was asked to leave the company?:-)

    • I couldn’t agree more. I had never seen my MP so angry. I don’t know what ended up happening with the particular executive that met with my MP, but attempts were made by the organization to backtrack, but it was way to late.

  • Oh the list of ways that threats can be inadvertently made is very long indeed!

  • Eleanor Bell says:
    April 3, 2013 @ 05:39 am

    Good manners is critical to avoid confrontation. It is also very important for people to feel comfortable and confident in the process of communication and negotiating. Good manners like good communication grease the wheels for a smoother ride and positive outcome.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I work in healthcare and I would say that generally they are a pretty polite group of people. I think one of the things that drew me to the sector was that after years of dealing with very aggressive folks where most exchanges were like going into battle it made for a nice change. 🙂

  • Simone Hart says:
    April 3, 2013 @ 01:46 am

    Losing your cool never helps win people over to your point of view.

    • So true and yet strangely, people do this kind of thing more often than you might think. They are assuming that they can intimidate, but all they usually manage to do is build some steadfast opposition.

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