Common Courtesy and Your Good Reputation.

Business development is about relationships, first and foremost. What goes around comes around. Treat people right or pay the consequences in missed opportunities, broken relationships, burned bridges and bad word of mouth.

Reputation is complicated –it reflects people’s perceptions (sometimes inaccurate) of your expertise, integrity, influence, judgment, reliability, work ethic, breeding and character, among other things. A good one, once earned, is priceless; a bad one is very very difficult to live down.

Today’s Topic is Courtesy: A Few Simple Rules, Easily Observed, Easily Broken

Authentic courtesy is impressive. It is remembered. It shows more than the quality of your upbringing. It suggests self-confidence, integrity, humility, maturity and good sense. And it is one of the things that makes people enjoy your company.

Keep in mind that courtesy is part and parcel of being what Adam Grant refers to as a “giver” (not just a “matcher”, and certainly not a “taker”) — the person whom science tells us is most likely to succeed.


Discourtesy, whether intentional or unintentional, will eventually be interpreted (and, only if you’re lucky, excused) by colleagues, staff, adversaries, friends and other members of your existing or hoped for network as thoughtless, lazy, cocky, scatter-brained, mediocre, immature or just plain stupid. Did I mention lazy?

Once you make your mark and build a large and highly profitable client base–i.e., once you have influence and power in your firm and community– you might have the luxury of reverting to childishly rude and thoughtless behavior, if that grabs you. But now is not the time to be careless with your career.  (That’s a sloth in the photo, by the way.)

A few specifics below.  If these don’t come naturally to you now, take a moment to pull yourself together.  Then start over–you probably have some work to do on your reputation.

  • Return phone calls and respond to emails before the end of each day. I cannot emphasize this enough. Ignore emails–no matter the source (short of spam), at your peril.
  • RSVP promptly to invitations and respond to reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) requests. Do not be the slacker. (Millennials: Don’t live up to the generational stereotypes.) Do not make people chase you down.
  • Respect deadlines. If you think you’re going to miss one, provide ample warning and a revised commitment.
  • Pay attention in meetings. Checking your emails and texts while someone is presenting is stunningly rude, albeit not at all uncommon. Don’t be that person.
  • If you must triage calls and emails, do so with caution. Clients (including the partners you work for) obviously come first. But everyone should be treated with courtesy–and that very much includes staff: The recruiting director, by the way, is not simply “a non-lawyer” —but rather a critical figure in your firm and essential to its future. Be courteous to the many people you may perceive of as “vendors”–those who have more to gain from you than you do from them, and those you used to think were “useful” but are no longer…. Making that sort of calculation in daily life is (kind of) normal…but can be both unwise and shortsighted, not to mention…we’re back to thoughtless, cocky and so on. Be the person who is better than that. 
  • If you’re participating in a social media business community, observe the rules of etiquette, and treat people with respect, and warmth–if this fits with your online presence. (On Twitter, for example: Pay it forward. Retweet, follow, favorite, attribute (HT or MT) and acknowledge, thank RTs and #FollowFriday. Keep self-promotion to a minimum. On LinkedIn and, if used for relationship building, Facebook the “rules” are similar. Keep self promotion to 20% of engagement or less. Recognize the efforts and accomplishments of others by way of likes or comments. Share their work and opinions where appropriate–ideally in a way that demonstrates that you have both read and understood it.  Always attribute and acknowledge. Treat Connection and Friend requests with courtesy.)
  • If you are in the business of teaching others how to lead, then lead generously and throughtfully yourself. If you train others in the use of social media, set a good example. Promote others, not just yourself, and not only when they promote you. Strive for authenticity and generosity. It’s good business, and it’s a wonderful way to live.
Remember: Most people, however well behaved and well brought up, talk about other people.  Don’t give them something to talk about, other than your finer qualities and achievements.


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