Etiquette – Things You Learned in Kindergarten

Over the years, I have  helped many clients prepare for their first meeting with a legislator. I have seen presidents of national and multinational corporations, men with billion dollar budgets and thousands of employees break out in a sweat at the thought of presenting their organization’s perspective to a Minister.  I have also had clients whose complete lack of regard for the time and opportunity afforded to them by a meeting with a Minister come close to derailing their corporate objectives before they had even presented them.

In one particularly memorable case, my client who had been out at meetings with members of parliament (MPs) all morning called a minister’s office and asked the assistant to organize a lunch in time for their arrival since they were falling behind schedule. Given that the assistant in question worked for the Minister of Finance it’s fair to say that she had other things too attend to that morning, not the least of which were all of the other visitors waiting to meet the minister. She didn’t call a caterer, she called me.

When people told me government relations was exciting, I was skeptical. I had worked in politics for years and met plenty of lobbyists. While the issues were interesting and the policy solutions often ingenious, the hours were long and moving regulations or legislation is often tedious. Unless it was an election night, exciting is not how I would have described most political action. However, when my day was unexpectedly interrupted by a an outraged assistant previously known for her patience under fire, my heart rate might have picked up. There is definitely a certain amount of drama associated with trying to soothe an angry assistant, while madly pantomiming to your own assistant to call the florist and send a massive bouquet of flowers BEFORE your oblivious client gets there.

Although the client in question headed up a multi-national who could make the nation’s GDP drop when they had a strike, they were still people dealing with people. The cost of the flowers and my time while I sorted out their faux pas was negligible, but that little moment cost them a good deal of credibility. For a large corporation if you perform enough small blunders the cost to your reputation starts to take a tremendous financial toll. Whether you’re annoying a minister’s assistant or frustrating a customer, bad news spreads quickly. Social media means it spreads at the speed of a key stroke.The customer/stakeholder/follower is not always right, but they always deserve to be treated with respect.

Some Simple Tips To Keep In Mind

  • Consider how you might feel if positions were reversed.
  • Treat people the way you want your favorite human treated.
  • Respect the time of the people you are meeting with, including the time of their staff.
  • If you are going to be late, give them a heads up.
  • If you are going to be early, try to avoid their office unless you have no choice and then stay out of their way.
  • Most importantly, play nice.
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0 responses to “Etiquette – Things You Learned in Kindergarten

  • Hi Debra. Its pretty scary that senior people have to be reminded of things they SHOULD have learned in kindergarten. Interesting that some are nervous at meeting Ministers who are still at the end of the day public servants, while others seem to think that the fact of paying taxes puts busy people at their beck and call. Both deserve to stand in the corner until they get their heads straight

    • Paul I’ve seen people with power behave in an unacceptable manner so many times that I’ve come to the conclusion that the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” is not a an expression so much as a fact. 🙂

  • Respecting the time of the staff is an important one. From my time working in the service industry you can tell quite a bit about some one based on how they treat the staff. Too often it isn’t anything good.

  • I have one to add — Be prepared so you don’t flounder through the presentation. I haven’t seen anyone who resides in the executive offices do this but middle management seems to have problems with this.

    • Good point. When you’re not prepared it means you’re not respecting the other person’s time and I’ve seen it happen at the senior level too. The seniors are just better at faking it. They don’t look foolish, but the message doesn’t get delivered so its a waste of everyone’s time.

  • I worked in the service industry for many years and agree, treat everyone from the janitor to the CEO with respect. We all put our pants on the same way, right? For senior executives to be acting like a bunch of children in disheartening.

    • It doesn’t seem that complicated, but it often is, good manners that is. I think people get so isolated from the “regular folks” that they can lose their perspective on what’s appropriate.

  • jbutler1914 says:
    May 8, 2014 @ 09:20 am

    I agree with all those tips. Respecting peoples time is a biggie in my book. Time is money so you don’t want to waste anybodies.

  • Have worked with governments all over the world most of my life. It’s been a really positive experience.

    Your list is common sense and all human beings should behave like that. Unfortunately some are not brought up well enough to do so. Etiquette is something some people have abandoned in the name of equality. They hence make themselves personas non gratas in many places.

    • I’ve had some amazing moments working with government, but I’ve also had some horrid ones. I suspect that because I worked in government for a lot of years before becoming a lobbyist I was privileged??? to see honest reactions. Things that might enrage and go unsaid to some, were shared with me. I was seen as being “one of them”… and the truth is, I was, I got why they were mad. 🙂

  • Putting the shoe on the other foot is a great lesson that everyone should adhere to in everyday life; or at least try. It is certainly a kindergarten level lesson.

  • Education and respect are one of the most important character components. However it sometimes happens that people which hold important job positions are not perfect from that point of view!

  • Sometimes just remembering the Golden Rule goes along ways. It’s also amusing when adults don’t get their way, how they can revert back to acting like a kindergartener.

  • Hello; some good points here. so often all it takes is to think what would i do or how would i feel if this happened to me. and i got a smile from your final instruction for people to play nice. thanks again, Max

    • Max, you have nailed it, all anyone has to do when they are in a trying position is put themselves in the other person’s shoes. As silly as it seems, just playing nice is some of the best advice I can give. 🙂

  • Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) says:
    May 9, 2014 @ 06:25 am

    Yes. Yes. Yes!!! When people are late to meet with me it really makes me feel that they think their time is more important than mine — unless I just heard about the massive traffic tie up on the road they have to take to our meeting—or it’s 9-11 or something. I can’t believe he thought the Minister’s assistant should order lunch. (For your US readers, I’ll point out that you mean Minister as in what would be the equivalent of a cabinet level secretary of an executive branch department in the US—i.e. Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, etc.). This guy’s last name wasn’t the same as a car brand, was it? 😉

    • Isn’t it amazing what a big difference little considerations make? There are so many subtle power plays that people make and one of them is to keep the other person waiting. Thanks for the American qualifier, I’ll keep that in mind for next time. 🙂

  • I have been on both ends of these kinds of situations. It’s very hard when someone just disregards you and then wants a favor after the fact. My thoughts are when the request comes thru is “really?” In the end thinking how our actions affect others is important. Sadly, many need reminding from time to time. So I would say your list is spot on. 🙂

    • The whole drama was an eye opener for me and really influenced how I spoke to clients/colleagues about these kinds of meetings even to today. I never thought being polite needed to be said, but I take nothing for granted now. 🙂

  • crystalzakrison says:
    May 10, 2014 @ 05:05 am

    I say you never know who you are going to meet or who will bring you a connection. So I say kill them with kindness! In business it is always best to be pleasant . One can be polite and still get their point across. Good tips! =)

  • Hello Debra
    I know many who are always very tense to meet and present their stuff to minsters.
    But it is sad to know that some do not care about valuable time.
    I think staff should be treated with respect , mostly in South Asia staff is considered as personal servant , which really sad.
    Sometimes we hear about some good people with a professional behavior.

    • I am amazed to see how often outdated ideas about class creep into behaviour when money or power are involved. Thankfully those people are becoming less frequent or at least the attitudes are less acceptable.

  • I can’t even imagine meeting a significant political figure actually. Talk about nervous! And having one come and visit , or vice versa would require inordinate preparation. But the pointers you give at the end of the blog are all good ones, for any number of situations. Play nice, pretty much sums it up, and for some reason people sometimes find this difficult. Good post – thank you.

    • So much of what we need to know to get through life was taught to us when we were kids. Silly as it may seem, asking yourself, what is the right thing to do is the best thing to do.

  • It is obvious for many to feel nervous while interacting with high officials. However if we prepare ourselves for the meeting we can be assured of having a smooth communication. All the tips you mentioned here should be kept in mind before presentations and meetings.

  • You pegged this so right in the title…lessons I learned in kindergarten! How quickly some have forgotten! The golden rule has long been my guide. I’ve found that it often works, even when the other party seems to have never heard of the principle. I admire what you do – cleaning up after these folks but I often wonder if that prevent them from learning the golden rule in the long run!!! On another note, I remember having dinner with the governor of our state and pleasantly conversing with him on a variety of topics. I was perfectly at ease. I tend to view people as…just people! Later, my companion commented that I didn’t seem nervous and I remember thinking…was I supposed to be? Laugh!

  • Not that it was a glamorous job, but when I waited tables I was always the one who ended up waiting on the “important” customers that made everyone else nervous. I guess in that way I am my father’s pragmatic daughter. It seems like such a waste of a cool opportunity to get nervous around someone who is well-known in their field. However, I really liked waiting on a famous rodeo guy so I could let him know I knew absolutely nothing about him because I didn’t follow rodeo. Every year, he would come into the place I worked a few days in a row during the Snake River Stampede and ask each server he who waited on him if they knew he who was. I loved to say, “Nope!”

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