I have recently been reminded of how one simple courtesy makes a big difference. That courtesy is doing what you say. If you say you will do it, do it. If you have no intention of doing it, don’t promise. Two contrasting illustrations will make my point. First, to the positive, I was recently been called about a new case, and I provided a proposal to the prospective client. As is my practice, I followed up with the busy attorney (they are all busy or they wouldn’t need us) and reached a receptionist or assistant at the firm. The assistant, Michelle, dutifully took my information and my detailed question, and, as she said she would do, relayed it to the attorney. And, more importantly, as she said she would do, she called me back soon after I left the message to relay the attorney’s response. Sadly, such professional and courteous behavior is often not the norm. For, in contrast, I recently purchased a new car. It’s a reasonably expensive European car and was bought at the brand’s local dealership. But, rather than doing what they say, the person I’m supposed to turn to at the dealer to answer questions about my car does not call when promised. Just yesterday he said he would call to arrange a service appointment for me. That shouldn’t take long, but more than 36 hours later, no call or email has been received. This only happened after I emailed him several times to get that far. Many years ago, when working for other people, I received several client compliments for calling back as promised, for getting needed information for them, or generally, doing what I said I would do. I thought it was odd that they would relay a compliment through my bosses about this. Now I understand why this sometimes anomalous behavior is noticeable. Sad that it should be, but, to finish this post, I emailed Michelle’s boss with a compliment. She thanked me for it and was pleased that someone offered praise instead of the more familiar complaint. Taking the time to compliment is important, too.
People who make promises they fail to keep cause many problems for those who are relying on them. One of the worst things that happens in my many years of working as a trial consultant relates to recruiting research participants. The company Magnus hires to call potential research participants for our mock juries and focus groups relies on the people who have promised they will attend our research to do what they say by showing up on the right day, at the right time. When someone promises to participate, but fails to show up, Magnus has wasted money paying the recruiter to recruit this absentee research participant, but, worse than losing our money, is the fact that our sample size decreases by the number of people who do not show up as promised. We depend on research participants for our work with attorneys on their high stakes cases; without our research participants, we cannot complete our work. It is far better for us when a potential mock juror hangs up the phone on our recruiter, or sullenly refuses to participate than nicely agreeing to do something he/she has no intention of doing, that is, participate in our research program. We have had so many problems with this aspect of our work in some cities that we have to over recruit by several people, to ensure we have enough people to participate. (Keep in mind that, in order for our research to have validity, we have to have the same number of mock jurors as the number of jurors at the real trial and furthermore, because we conduct several sessions of research on every case, we have to recruit enough people for multiple mock juries.) Some people, because they are hesitant to decline the opportunity to work with us, say “Yes” when they have no intention of showing up. There are always emergencies that cause people to be unable to follow through on their plans, but it has been my experience that the number of emergencies in most people’s lives is far less than their mere unwillingness to do as they say. Interestingly, my perpetual calendar (a long ago gift from my mother) has on today’s date a quote from Helen Keller: “Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits.”