Saturday, May 21, 2011

The New Business Rudeness

A decade or two ago if a mid or senior level executive was approached by a peer or someone younger they responded. They may not have given you the answer you wanted to hear, but they knew that rudeness was not how you do business.

What happened to that professionalism? Did it go the way of the land line, and the receptionist that isn't a computer, a return phone call or email acknowledgment, the we've decided to hire someone else but thank-you letter?

I was talking to a friend the other day who designs men's jewelry, which is featured in a number of high priced men’s catalogs and stores.

She was telling me how she’s calling people she’s known for a long time about showing her designs for Father’s Day. About how so many people that she knows well just don’t call her back.

I got to thinking about that too. As a marketing/PR consultant and a former journalist, I have a wide network of people I’ve worked with over the years. We’ve had fun, we’ve done great work together, we’ve respected each other, and often these days I email them, I call them and I can’t get them to call me back.

A number of people have recommended me lately, I’m in a marketing mode, and their contacts don’t call me back either.When you finally get them on the phone, the standard excuses are I didn’t get your email, I was really busy, etc. You still can't get in to see them and the interaction is uncomfortable and kind of weird. They want you to disappear. You want them to act like you deserve the courtesy of a response.

I’ve also noticed that people will put you through a couple of phone conversations, ask you to write a proposal and then a couple of weeks go by, and you don’t hear from them. So you get back in touch.

Of course you know they’ve decided “to go in a different direction,” or hired someone else. But if you ask me to take my time to think through a proposal for you, at least do me the courtesy of telling me I didn’t get hired.

I know the market is tough. I know that people are doing two and three jobs. I also know I’m not a kid raised in the age of email, Facebook and online dating, etc. where if you’re not interested in someone you just blow them off. I have never done that. No I’m not some kind of an etiquette maven, but whatever happened to basic common business courtesy and professionalism?

That’s when I started to realize that there is a new, inexplicable rudeness in the business community today. People who are looking for jobs tell me they write letters, they call, they apply, and they never hear a word back.

A hospital down the street from me was hiring a senior communications person, and I applied. It’s a great facility, growing, they are very strong medically, etc. I’ve always admired them and what could be better than working three blocks away from your house?

I never heard a word, so I called the senior vice president who runs that division and emailed her. She ignored me completely. I checked with HR, and they said if we’re not interested we just don’t respond. This after making you fill out an endless application that makes you feel like an idiot with the banality of questions asked. And they don’t even acknowledge you. Wow.

I worked for a business executive awhile ago who was probably the most driven person I’ve ever known. He worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He never stopped working. But anyone from an intern to the president of a company who got in touch with him, got an immediate response. That was impressive.

This man didn't have to work anymore and he didn’t need any of them. Maybe he was old fashioned. Or maybe he just understood that it's not smart business to be rude.

Remember Bill Clinton, before Monica Lewinsky. The Friends of Bill. The way he had of keeping in touch with everyone he met along his road to the presidency. He built constituencies. He made friends with everyone from doormen to CEOs. And it worked.

I don’t know why professionals today are so unbelievably rude. Why people who have achieved many of the same things you have, don't have the common courtesy to at least say no thank-you. But as long as I’m working, I will not have much respect for anyone who is.