Many things in the lives of adults are related to the way in which we were brought up as children. If, for example, someone was taught by his/her parents to prefer Fords over Chevys, or to cheer for the Pittsburgh Pirates instead of the Boston Red Sox, these long standing habits are likely to be present in adulthood. The extent to which courtesy, good manners, and proper etiquette are viewed as important vary from person to person, parent to parent, and family to family, in much the same way as other traits. If a person was taught, from an early age, that it is important to be courteous, polite, and kind, it is more likely he/she will be a courteous, polite, and kind person in adulthood than someone whose family does not believe these characteristics are worth imparting to the younger generation. My late mother valued proper etiquette, good manners, and politeness above many other things in life. I was taught to say, “please” when making a request and “thank you” upon receiving something, even if it was the refill of iced tea I had requested. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have never received a gift without acknowledging it with a handwritten thank you note; not once, ever! I was taught to thank people for gifts and showing my appreciation is just who I am. Many people, most people I know, in fact, were not raised to value courtesy and kindness in the way I was (or, perhaps they were, but they forgot how to be courteous and kind somewhere along their way in life). I cannot begin to count the number of times I have called a client, many times at his/her request, only to never have my call answered or returned. In a similar fashion, I have sent numerous emails to clients that have gone unanswered. The feeling of trying to reach someone with a “Hello. Is anybody out there?” only to be ignored, day after day, week after week, and month after month is disheartening. On the other hand, when I have the pleasure of calling or emailing some clients, I know they will return my call or reply to my email as soon as their busy schedule permits. (Buddy Schulz, as always, is the “gold standard” with whom I compare all other clients. I always say, “If Buddy Schulz takes the time to call me, then all of our other clients should have time for me.”) And, before the reader blames poor manners and unkindness on the millennial generation, I will mention that it has been my experience that rude behavior knows no generational bounds. I know more rude people who are my age than I can count! As Mom used to say, good manners are an expression of kindness. I choose good manners, polite behavior, and kindness over their antitheses; thank you very much!
Melissa approaches the topic of “Return calls, Reply to emails, Be courteous” as an etiquette issue, and it is. Working for and with trial lawyers is challenging, sometimes. The general public’s impression of attorneys is not always the most favorable, to put it simply. The perceived lack of courtesy may explain part of that. And, as trial consultants, whose clients are all attorneys, we know that there are many reasons, or excuses, to not return calls, to not respond to emails. I know how busy our clients, and their colleagues, are! I also know that there is a practical benefit to returning calls, replying to emails, and a general, overall courtesy. Beyond etiquette, I believe there is a business benefit to being courteous. I have discussed this in the context of sales calls, and in the context of being courteous to those in positions of power to help (even if they are not of one’s same status). There is the old adage of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar, assuming one wants to catch files. But if the “more flies” are “more business” or “better results for one’s own clients,” then courtesy is a useful tool – of course, better when sincere, than when used merely as a tool. I think of the impressions I get in calling prospects. The manner in which the call is handled by the first person who answers, by the second, and finally the person I’m trying to reach is telling. I know that such calls are interruptions in busy schedules. But, as I’ve told a few “palace guards,” if the person I’m trying to reach was not busy, then “he/she” would not need to talk with me! It is difficult to forget those who have slighted us by not taking calls, or by not returning messages or emails, when they finally do call. And, it would be very difficult to suggest these folks to others in need of legal services. In our world, we get frequent inquiries from people looking for lawyers. There is no way I would/could ever suggest one of these discourteous people. I expect they treat almost everyone with the same level of discourteousness, meaning, their behavior impacts their business success. You just never know who that next caller will be. It could be the next big client. It could be someone with the key to that big, difficult case. It doesn’t take much to find out. I’ve seen first hand how a master like Buddy Schulz handles a demanding schedule. I also observed it with Dr. Fran Kinne, the President of a university, who took every phone call. These masters know how to manage the call. How to end it quickly if needed, but how to do so politely. I believe a little effort in this regard goes a long way!