Blogs

Derek Bishop

Director

Viral discourtesy

Date added: 19th Aug 2015
Category: Culture of conduct/ethics

From the business leader who calls a meeting and then arrives late if they arrive at all, to the person who books an appointment, changes that appointment and then fails to arrive for the meeting; the way in which we perceive our impact on others timescales is becoming increasingly discourteous

The internet is doing far more than spreading knowledge and creating a level playing field, it’s also presiding over a shift in interpersonal relations and expectations. Manners may maketh the man, but our definition of what passes for acceptable good manners is under attack.

When communication online is so easy, so instant, then our perception of what constitutes good manners and politeness becomes warped. Witness the teenager who is reluctant to telephone or write to relatives to thank them for birthday gifts but is quite happy to spend hours on social media thanking friends for their gifts and sharing photos. Witness the BBC which apparently considered that the security of a press release was more important than having a conversation with Sir Tom Jones about proposed changes to the line-up of The Voice. Or witness the Simply Business report which revealed that half of the UK’s small business owners cancel events with family and friends at least once a week due to work pressures.

In fact, when it comes to business, it’s not just small business owners who have got into the habit of cancelling appointments. Increasingly, business appointments are being seen less as firm promises and more as vague intentions. From the business leader who calls a meeting and then arrives late if they arrive at all, to the person who books an appointment, changes that appointment and then fails to arrive for the meeting; the way in which we perceive our impact on others timescales is becoming increasingly discourteous.

Perhaps this change in attitude may partly be explained by a recent University of Florida study into the effects of rudeness on others. The findings, which were published in June in the Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed that rudeness in the workplace is not just discourteous, it is also contagious. The study found that when we experience rudeness, not only does that make us more sensitive to picking up future instances of discourteousness; it is also more likely to make us rude in our turn. So if one person cancels an appointment with us, we are more likely to see that as the norm and to cancel appointments with others.

But whilst this human interaction is an inbuilt trait, it is one which ever advancing technology is exacerbating. Before the advent of mobile phones, if I was out and about on an appointment, the fact that I was out of contact was understood and accepted. Nowadays if someone wants to get hold of me then being out of the office is no excuse. We are now expected to answer calls instantly, to reply to emails instantly and to be instantly available to those who have calls on our time. The consequence of that is that planning goes out the window and we spend our lives fire-fighting, responding to the greatest clamour. And the consequence of that is that we arrive late for meetings, reschedule appointments at a moments’ notice and prioritise that which is easy over that which we ought to do.

Along the way we have lost sight of one simple fact; namely, that our actions have an effect on others. When we are late, when we reschedule, we are adversely affecting the time management abilities of those with whom we are meeting. More than that, we are insinuating that our needs are more important than theirs and that we have little or no concern for their needs or well-being. We’ve written before about the golden rule, to behave towards others as you would wish them to behave towards you. Perhaps it’s time that we put discourtesy aside and started to spread a culture of respect.

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