The Civilized Minute

a minute of manners and musings

The Power of Nice

Who would have thought so many people could be blamed for the current economic crisis.  I have another one for you.  According to HBR.org (Harvard Business Review), we can point our fingers squarely in the direction of business schools and MBA programs.  Really?  Blame the institutions that trained most of the very people who have led Corporate America and our government for decades?  The article states “Business schools provide students with many technical skills, but they appear to do little, or nothing, to foster responsibility and accountability” In other words, they do not teach their students how to “do right” – to be ethical. 

I was recently a guest lecturer at an area college where the students argued one couldn’t talk about ethics without talking about etiquette and the absence of either limits one’s ability to achieve power and success.  If you are going to “do right” (be ethical), they said, you have to know what to do (know the rules of etiquette).  Agree or not, it’s a compelling and encouraging argument coming from future leaders.  So, the general consensus is that it matters how we view and act on the needs of others, it matters how we behave, and it matters if we are nice. 

I would say mainstream journalists agree given the coverage they gave President Obama’s greetings to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Saudi King Abdullah.  The first reports released from those meetings did not have to do with what was discussed.  The first reports had to do with behavior.  They said our President was too nice.  Can that be?  Can he or we be too nice?

The Economist magazine said no in an article titled “Manners Maketh the Businessman”.  They said “the economic crisis prompts an outbreak of politeness in business” and “rudeness is out, and civility is the new rule in an uncertain world.”  The message goes like this:  If strong-arming won’t make your business grow, maybe you should try a smile, or a little chitchat, or even a casual lunch.  Seems easy enough until businesses realize they don’t know how to be nice.  

It’s been a long time since business was about the relationship and this is daunting to some who are faced with the harsh reality that people are back to doing business with those they like.  Cut somebody off in traffic and you may have just lost a sale.  Inquire about a customer’s child – using their name – and you may have just made your monthly quota.  Top off that encounter with a good handshake and welcoming posture and you very well may have a customer for life.  Why?  You made them feel good.  Likely, they will not rush to tell others about your engaging eye contact, but you can bet they will talk about the experience as a whole.    

People are finding there is power in being nice and I didn’t learn that in business school.  Maybe that’s what makes me so qualified to write about it.

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