The Benefit of Courtesy

Courtesy has its benefits

Gentlemen, the world over, are encouraged to display courtesy in all walks of life.  From simple “please” and “thank you”,  to dealing with conflict in a proper fashion, courtesy is a cornerstone of the ethics of a modern gentleman.  Have you ever thought about the impact of being discourteous, though?

A story of courtesy woe.

Jim hurried along the crowded street, mindful of his upcoming appointment.  His determined demeanour belied the nervousness he felt about  his morning appointment meeting.   He’d planned the morning perfectly, making time for a relaxing coffee before heading up to his meeting.  Of course, the train had made him a little late, that was London life for you.  He still had time to get a coffee and catch his breath.  He wanted to walk into his meeting relaxed and confident.

As he rounded the corner he spotted the queue at the coffee shop.  This would be a frustration, but most people knew what they wanted, and would be served pretty quickly.  Yes – it would eat into his time a little more, but he could still just about make this work.  No more delays, though, he was already beginning to get a little edgy.  He joined the queue behind an older gentleman, dressed in a  smart  pinstriped, business suit with a distinctive laptop bag  weighing heavily on his right shoulder.    “Another commuter clone,” Jim thought to himself  “This one’s bound to be another office drone.”

The queue edged forward steadily, with the baristas working feverishly to deliver the much-required belts of caffeine to the commuter ranks that swelled the streets and office blocks every working day of the week.  Jim was feeling anxious now.  Time was ticking by and his carefully laid plans were falling apart in front of him.  The older gentleman in front of him was now being served, but, much to Jim’s chagrin,  struck up a conversation with the young barista taking his order.

The minutes and seconds ticked by.  Jim could not tolerate this delay any further.  He abruptly interrupted the conversation in front of him.  “Look, I’m in a real hurry here.  I am sure whatever you have to say is vital, but I actually have things to do.  Could you just serve me, and carry on your chit-chat later!”

The barista looked stunned, but Jim didn’t care.  Her job was to serve coffee, not socialise with all and sundry.  How dare she have the audacity to delay him. Couldn’t she tell he was in a hurry?  Couldn’t she tell how important this day was?  Jim’s thoughts were broken by the gentleman in front of him.  “Please accept my apologies, sir.  I didn’t realise you were in such a rush.  Please order before me, and let me wish you the best of luck with the rest of your day”.    Jim muttered a subdued and insincere “Thanks!”,  got his drink and sat down to collect his thoughts.

Jim sipped his coffee, rattled by his outburst at the counter.  “It doesn’t really matter,” Jim thought to himself “I’m never likely to see these people again, and they’ll never remember me anyway”.     Jim finished his coffee, collected his belongings and headed off to his meeting.

“Mr Davidson will see you now.”   announced the polite Personal Assistant and swung the door open for Jim to enter the office.  As he walked through he thanked her, and got ready to impress Mr Davidson.  As Jim looked round at the office, he felt his heart jump with panic and knew that, no matter what happened next, his day was already over.  Mr Davidson, clad in his pinstripe suit, put down his distinctive laptop bag, turned and offered Jim a hand of welcome.  “Please have a seat” said Mr Davidson with a broad smile on his face.  “Now tell me, what can you bring to the job?” he asked as he took a sip from his coffee.

Jim did not get the job .

The reality of courtesy

Working as a professional blogger for Gentlemen of Cornwall, I am occasionally in the unfortunate position to hear or read something that shows, even in this more enlightened age, some people insist on pursuing a lack of humanity and courtesy when in the presence of others. Unfortunately,  this is most frequently encountered in the service and retail industries where the “customer is always right” credo is ever pervasive.

One such tale I that reached my personal Facebook feed was that of an encounter by the owner of a  hugely successful Cornwall perfumery.

So you walk into a shop & seem to be looking for something, the assistant asks if you need help what do you say? “No thanks?”; “Maybe in a moment.”;  “Sure,  I’m looking for blah blah blah!” You get the picture……Well today a ‘customer’ looked me up & down and said “Not from you!” Okay…sniff armpits.. check… no garlic breath…check….obviously I’ve offended this woman just by opening my mouth.  Severe test of customer service skills! Btw I’ve never met this woman before & I’d had my daily shower! Oh the joys of a public facing job ?.

My own failing in simple courtesy

Of course, my first reaction is to support my friend at the perfumery, who I already know to be a kind, helpful and thoughtful lady. She also really cares deeply about her customers and the ladies who work with her. The customer clearly made a snap judgement, and demeaned the hard-working owner of a successful Cornish business, presumably on the basis that the lady serving her was beneath her social standard.  Not really the best display of courtesy.

I’ve had a little time now and thought about this a bit. It seems to me that I lacked enough information to make an informed appraisal, and jumped to my own snap judgements. I had no idea what the customer’s background was, what sort of day they have had, or what emotional or mental shadows were hovering over them. I stand by my support for my friend at the perfumery, but I am as guilty of snap judgements as the customer.

As self-proclaimed gentlemen, and of course ladies, we’ve made a choice to be the better part of ourselves and to share that part of ourselves with the world we encounter every day. Regardless of their job, race, religion, gender, sexuality, age or any other demographic, it’s right for us to convey courtesy and manners in all our dealings. It’s not always easy to do so. I will freely admit I have, occasionally, failed to get this right, and will no doubt fail again in the future. But I understand that this, along with all my other aspirations to become a better gentleman, is part of my own journey, and mine to improve.

What goes around …

The perfumery customer, just like Jim from our story,  has no idea if she will meet my friend again, or under what circumstances. She has no idea if she will desperately need my friends help at some point in the future. My friend, being the lady and good soul that she is will no doubt still offer her help, but there are no guarantees in life. The world which we personally encounter is quite small, and there is always a good chance that we will repeatedly encounter people, usually when we have made a memorable impression.  It’s on us to show courtesy and  make sure that the impression we convey is memorable for the right reasons.

Shop smartly

We also choose who we interact with. As a consumer I choose where I shop, where I get my haircut, who my friends are and where I go to relax. If I don’t like a shop, for whatever reason, I don’t go in. This isn’t quite so easy for those who work in customer-facing jobs, though. They can’t just walk the other way and the spectre of “Customer Service” is always sat on their shoulder. But understand this, and it’s something I have willingly been part of in the past. Any business worthy of their reputation and customer base could, and should, choose to refuse to serve anyone who is mean-spirited, rude or just generally unpleasant to them.  A business reputation is as much about it’s customers as it’s brand, products and marketing.

My own experience involved a couple who came into a scuba diving centre in which I worked. Our dive centre was more than just a shop, it was a place where people came to share their love of scuba diving, and learn more about their beloved activity, all without fear of ridicule. The couple, let’s call them Mr and Miss Mean, had only been in for a minute or so when they began to insult and goad one of our young divemaster interns, basically showing off to each other. I asked the intern to complete a task for me elsewhere in the centre and, once he was out of earshot, asked the couple to leave the dive centre, and, politely but firmly,  informed them they would never be welcomed back. In my view the dive centre was more than just a shop, it was a place where people came to share their love of scuba diving, and learn more about their beloved activity. All without fear of ridicule.

So, dear friends, please remember this:

  • You don’t know what experiences have littered the path of the person in front of you. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  • The customer is not always right. A business has just as much choice to deal with you as you do to deal with them (within legal precedence obviously).
  • Everyone deserves the same standard of good manners and courtesy which you would wish bestowed upon yourself.
  • People have a habit of coming back into your life. It’s in your hands to make sure they are pleased to see you again.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of networks, social and otherwise. When you post, you publish –  courtesy should be everywhere.
  • People tend to talk about bad experiences more than positive ones.  Don’t be remembered as a bad experience.
  • Courtesy is not just about being polite.  It’s about marketing yourself to the world in general and making your mark as a decent reliable person.

Share your story

Navigating our way trough life as a gentleman is fraught with wrong, turns, dead-ends, speed bumps and pot-holes.  None of us are perfect, but we can aspire to be better people.  We’d love to hear your stories about how using or failing to use courtesy has had an effect on your life.  Sign up to gentlemenofcornwall.com and share your story in the comments below.

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