Don’t let rudeness damage business and sales

In the midst of the trend and hype of ‘customer centricity’, ‘the customer experience (CX)’, ‘customer excellence’ and other such terms it appears there is something amiss – the rise and rise of rudeness, incivility, disrespectful behaviour, and behaving badly at work.

This is not a new phenomenon; however, it is reaching epic proportions and affecting many businesses, their staff, customers and suppliers as we speak with devastating consequences.

Ray Williams writing for Psychology Today back in October 2016 said this:

“Has incivility become the new norm in America? Fundamental ethical values such as respect, fairness, honesty, personal responsibility and tolerance seemed to have been replaced by rudeness, discourtesy and insulting behavior, at times bordering on outright bullying and aggression. And the price we pay in social discourse, our institutions and workplace may be far greater than we think.”

We only have to look at the behaviour of the current President of the United States to see this manifesting right before our eyes.

Are we seeing this in Australia as well? Are rudeness and incivility becoming the norm here too, or will we be able to counter this trend? 

What are rudeness and incivility?

Before we look further at the statistics, let’s look at rudeness and incivility themselves.

Culturally, people can be perceived as rude if they are too direct, blunt, cheeky, or if they do not follow certain social morals intentionally or not. However, this is not what we are talking about here.

This is specifically referring to behaviour intentionally detrimental to the healthy functioning of teams, businesses, societies and the wellbeing of others. Behaviours such as insults, put-downs, crude language, interrupting, impertinence, insolence, incivility are the issue.

Interestingly the word incivility is derived from the Latin meaning “not of a citizen”. It is implied or publicly stated by most organisations and democratic societies that we aim to operate in a healthy manner, conducting ourselves in an ethical and respectful way.

If we intentionally aim to harm people with our words and actions then this is being rude and uncivil and is a major problem that must be addressed for all our sakes.

The costs of rudeness and incivility to business

This rudeness and incivility is being researched and reported more and more, with businesses seeing its detrimental impact on workplace culture, reputation, staff retention, sales and customer loyalty.

The costs of rudeness and incivility are huge. Ray Williams highlighted research in 2016 that shows:

“Through a poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, we learned just how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66% said that their performance declined.
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.”

Rudeness is contagious

It starts with leadership: from politicians to business leaders to managers to parents and so on.

Like children, workers will tend to mimic actions of their bosses. If their boss is rude this creates a climate or culture of rudeness and incivility, and will very quickly spread and become the norm if not halted.

It doesn’t help that some customers are becoming increasingly rude as well. But should we respond in kind or choose to take the high road? Take the high road of course! However, if this is not lead from the top and held up to the highest standards then all around us will crumble.

In 2016, I wrote this article on why manners and courtesy lead to successful selling and it seems we need reminding, yet again, of the importance of manners and courtesy to the effective functioning of society, businesses, community and families.

I highlighted, amongst other things that courtesy and manners are not trivial, they are necessary for a healthy and functioning society. Here is how Edmund Burke (1729-1797) describes manners:

“Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.”

Manners, courtesy and morals flow from the same principle: the consideration for others.

Reasons behind a rise in rudeness, a lack of manners and courtesy

We can blame politicians, the internet, social media, trolls and angry messages on social media, news media. Yes, these can and do play a part but it’s more complex than that. Most experts suggest it’s a combination of individual, family, societal and organisational factors that may be contributing to this increase in rudeness. Factors like:

  • Stress: today’s workers simply feel more stressed out because they are often asked to do more work with less assistance.
  • Subjectivity: with more diverse workplaces, people may react differently to people from different backgrounds.
  • Technology: as we become more competent when dealing with machines and software we may be less able to deal with each other.
  • Insecurity: if we are worried about keeping our job or looking after our family we can often shift the burden of that insecurity upon others in the form of hostility i.e. kick the dog syndrome.
  • Culture and Leadership: badly behaved leaders who are rude and bullies are more likely to create and condone cultures that are rude.

Remedying rudeness and incivility

First, we must examine what we can control and influence, and take personal responsibility to model better manners and more civil behaviour. No one else can do it for us.

Second, we must not accept rude behaviour and call it out for what it is. Rude behaviour is unacceptable. Think of the #MeToo campaign that is exposing the worst kind of behaviour.

Third, we must be considerate of ourselves and others. We have to be compassionate and understand we all have bad days and off moments. However, we do not have to be rude.

As previously mentioned, incivility and rudeness have negative effects on profits and productivity. The good news is by encouraging an atmosphere of consideration and respect, the hallmarks of etiquette, the result is a positive, civil, workplace where the focus is on getting the job done.

Good selling, service and business are all about the consideration for others – clients, staff, suppliers, etc. Understand where the other is at and then work out if you can help them in a mutually beneficial manner.

For instance, The Virtues Project defines consideration as follows:

“Consideration is giving careful thought to the needs of others. It is holding a decision in a contemplative and thoughtful way. We mindfully consider what will result from our choices before we act. We speak with gentleness and tact.  We care about others and their feelings. We carefully observe their preferences and needs, then do things to give them ease or bring them joy. Consideration shines in small daily acts that add to the happiness of others. It is one of the most meaningful ways to show love. Considerate people give the very best gifts.”

Why bother?

Because the small daily acts of courtesy, manners and consideration are very good for business and vital in making good sales and customer service practices and outcomes. Today, they are needed more than ever. They need to be practised daily in the face of what seems to be a wave of unnecessary fear and hate plaguing our media and societies.

If we want to do good business, make good sales, deliver good service, build healthy client relationships, and build sustainable businesses that make for better societies we must be vigilant and not let manners and courtesy disappear from our daily practices. We need to make a stand, which is why I am wanting to pay particular attention to these virtues and highlight their importance so they do not disappear altogether from our thoughts and actions. Because if they do, society as we know it will disappear and bad things will happen.

That is why we cannot dismiss manners and courtesy. They are vital daily acts of kindness that make for a better more inclusive and productive world.

Whenever someone treats you kindly, show your appreciation, express your gratitude and offer your thanks. It just might make a difference.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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