Remember Your Manners – A True Story

Posted on April 2, 2013

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.