As I entered my firm’s building the other day, I held the outer door open for several of our young attorneys. When a young woman then turned to hold the inside door open for us, one of the men made a bit of a scene (partly for my benefit, no doubt) by making her go ahead while he took over the manly door-holding duty. He seemed more than a little pleased with himself. She seemed somewhat irritated—and I thought it revealed a lack of manners.
With All Due Respect
Proper etiquette is more than saying please and thank you and observing the old-fashioned rules. It is a matter of showing genuine respect for people. Goodness knows, I wouldn’t want to see anyone lay their cloak across a puddle these days, but it sure is nice when someone makes room for me in the elevator, or offers to share a cab on a rainy day.
Why was the young woman irritated when the young man wouldn’t let her hold the door? Instead of showing her respect, his actions implied that she was less capable. It probably felt to her as if he was saying “you are too weak”—or even “that’s man’s work!”
One of the youngsters I work with just could not accept a compliment. I repeatedly acknowledged his accomplishments, and he consistently blew me off. “Nah, it’s no big deal,” he would say. He wouldn’t accept the gift of my appreciation, and that upset me because it implied my opinion had no value. In fact, I finally chewed him out for making me feel like a schmutz. He was shocked and apologetic, and I can tell you that he now accepts compliments from me and others with some grace. (There’s something to be said for training.)
So, what does it take to be nice these days?
- First, pay attention to those around you. While you are indeed the most important person you know and very, very, very busy, it’s vital to stay in touch with those around you.
- Second, it’s easy to notice and recognize the grand gestures, but it’s just as important—if not more so —to acknowledge the little ones: the held door, the early morning greeting, the thoughtful touches, the offhand compliment, the everyday things. Say thank you!
- Third, every employee survey ever conducted shows that the single most important factor in retaining good staff is not money or perks or status, but the nature of the people with whom we work. So, feed that hunger, up and down the ladder. If you’re nice it encourages others to be so as well, and ultimately it will turn your firm into a nicer place to work.
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLaw.