Manners matter, of course they do. It’s why I’ve spent most of my parenting life telling my children to sit up straight, to say please and thank you, and be sensitive to other people’s needs. With only very occasional success, I might add.
But don’t confuse politeness with obsequious formality. The best I hope for from my children is that they chew with their mouths shut, not that they call me Sir and come over like apprentice Uriah Heeps.
It’s the same with work. If I could distil the collective wisdom (!?!) of these columns down to a single thought, it would be this: “We’re all busy, so let’s not waste each other’s time.” Be clear; be concise.
Let me give you two emails I got today:
Hi Tony, we’re launching a new range of mixers, details below. Is this something of interest?
Dear Mr Turnbull, I’m terribly sorry to intrude. I recognise that you must be incredibly busy, but I was wondering if I might send you a press release concerning a new-to-market chocolate bar which my client is on the point of launching? If so, I’d be delighted to forward it to you on receipt of your affirmative response.
Can you guess which one I think is better?
I know why people do it. It’s the same reason they start with “I hope you’re well” – it feels rather rude and direct to launch straight in to your pitch. You want to warm me up a bit. But don’t worry about that. You’re not asking me to do you a favour. You are asking me to do my job.
And that’s something you should never apologise for.