Is It Just Me, Or Are People Getting Ruder?

I’ve been wondering this for a while and have been dying to ask my business colleagues and friends. But whenever I get ready to pop the question, I manage to convince myself that it’s silly, reveals my cynical nature (or advance years!) and is probably just a figment of my jaded imagination… certainly not worthy of intelligent discussion.

The question, however, continued to reside nervously on the tip of my tongue, eager to fly out (particularly just after leaving my apparently mute colleague a fourth voice mail message). But it wasn’t until I read Keith Ferrazzi’s masterful book, “Never Eat Alone that I summoned the courage to thunderously and openly inquire:

Are business people much ruder than they use to be?


Have we become so numb to it that we actually expect – and worst yet – accept it as normal and okay?

I think yes. I hope I’m wrong.

Let me, however, step back a bit… Why did Ferrazzi’s book serve as my catalyst?

The short answer is that it’s just plain good. It is a brilliantly written book – simple without being simplistic – in the same league as Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

And in an age when everyone seems to be a marketing, internet or personal motivation coach it’s refreshing to read something so balanced and genuinely inspired. Most importantly, however, Ferrazzi reminds us that we’re not in this alone – people make business happen!

He reiterates what some of us already know. We’re all better off – emotionally, financially, and physically – when we take the time to build thoughtful, intimate (not in the “biblical” sense :>) and sincere relationships with others.

Ferrazzi says that while our personal styles and levels of openness should be adjusted as appropriate, making strong human connections is essential to our well being

I couldn’t agree more! This is, after all, what it’s all about – and long overdue advice. Thanks, Keith!

But then it occurred to me. How can you develop relationships with people when they don’t call, email, or show up – even when they’ve promised to do so?!

And I’m not referring about those little, unintentional slip-ups that happen to all of us occasionally – like when you’ve forgotten your Aunt Hilda’s birthday; or waited until the last minute to send in your wedding RSVP; or failed to send a thank-you note.

No, what I’m talking about is far more baffling and egregious. For example:

  • I’m referring to the friends who call you one day before your big dinner party and reiterate how much they’re looking forward to seeing you – and then don’t show up – no explanation, no call, no nothing.
  • Or how about that real estate agent who promises to get back to you with a price no later than 2 pm, and you never hear from them again?
  • And what about that old friend or colleague who can’t wait to have lunch with you next Thursday and then doesn’t return your confirmation calls or emails?
  • Then there’s my favorite… you’ve killed yourself to help someone get something “urgent” done (usually a boss or co-worker) and even managed to save the day. You email “the document” before the deadline, sure that the recipient will be relieved and grateful. But you never find out. No “thank you”. No “way to go”. No nothing.

Or is it just me? Maybe so…

I was raised in a home where we were taught to treat everyone with the same amount of respect and kindness. Period. Behavior that didn’t measure up to this standard was not tolerated. We learned that the true measure of someone’s character rested in their commitment to do the right thing – even when they didn’t have to

For example, whenever I leave a hotel room, I wipe off the counters; gather my towels together in one convenient spot; turn off the television, lights and air conditioning; return the iron to the closet; and make sure that all my scraps of paper are where they belong – in the trash can.

Why? Because it’s just the right thing to do. Yes, hotels employ a cleaning staff who “are paid” to clean up after me, but why should they? It’s my mess. I was responsible for making it, so I am responsible for cleaning it up – even if I don’t have to.

I have adopted my parents’ code and although I sometimes fail, I continually strive to measure up to those standards.

But what does this look like in the “real world”?

It means you…

  • Return calls… even if it’s only to say “no”.
  • Honor your commitments… if you tell someone you’re going to do something, you do it. If you absolutely cannot, you let them know beforehand.
  • When you’re asked to RSVP, you do so.
  • Say “thank you” and “please”… to strangers, friends, family members, waiters and waitresses, taxi drivers, colleagues, children, teenagers… everyone.
  • Call when you’re going to be late.
  • Return emails (unless it’s spam).
  • Welcome people into your home… do your best to make them feel comfortable and important.
  • Clean up after yourself.
  • Value other people’s privacy.
  • Honor your parents.
  • Respect elders.
  • Chew gum quietly.
  • Say “excuse me” when you burp.
  • Open doors for others.
  • Allow someone with only two items to move ahead of you in the grocery line.
  • Respect other cultures, religions, ethnicities and the like.
  • Don’t push in front of someone… even if you’re in a car.
  • Share your things.
  • Don’t act like a pig… even if it’s at an All-You-Can-Eat buffet.
  • Don’t brag.
  • Never litter.

Are these rules a thing of the past? Passé in today’s fast-paced culture? Old fashioned? Silly? Or am I just imagining things?

But if I’m not… why? Are we overloaded, overbooked and over committed? Has it become too easy to make excuses? Have we been forced into a “every-man-for-himself” mindset? Did our parents and teachers fail us?

Or is it that we just don’t care because they’re not important. What do you think?

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Mary Eule Scarborough, an unassailable marketing expert and thought leader, helps businesses of all sizes get and keep more profitable customers. She is also:

  • A former Fortune 500 marketing executive, …
  • The founder of two successful small businesses, …
  • An award-winning speaker, …
  • A Certified Guerrilla Marketing coach, and …
  • Co-author of three books (to-date): “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Marketing“, (Entrepreneur Press, November, 2007), “Mastering Online Marketing” (Entrepreneur Press, January, 2008), and “Guerrilla Marketing On The Internet” (Entrepreneur Press, July, 2008).
  • Qualified with a BA in Journalism / English from the University of Maryland, and …
  • Qualified with a Masters degree in marketing from The Johns Hopkins University.

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