A Return to “Old Fashioned” Business

old fashioned businessI waxed not-so-poetic awhile back on how digital communications were breeding a culture of lazy and rude people. With the simple click of a “send” or “submit” button, we’re distancing ourselves from both onus and ownership. And today, I ask: What is this doing – for better or worse – to the way we build, run, and conduct business?

And perhaps more importantly, where have the good old fashioned humans gone in our days filled with all this new-fangled technology?

I’m an old fashioned gal, though appearances might lend people to think otherwise. A fiscal conservative and social moderate. A gal who furrows her brow when the guy walking into the gym in front of me in the morning lets the door slam in my face. Always ready with a thank you when someone does me a kindness or takes me on a date. I generally call people Mr. X and Mrs. Y when first introduced until invited to call them otherwise. I don’t conduct relationships over text messages and own fully that there’s a charm, need, and inherent sincerity in both phone calls and handwritten correspondence.

Surprising for a gal covered in tattoos who uses the word “fuck” like a comma, ain’t it?

I asked my Facebook loyal subjects (Note: This is their choice of phrase, not mine. I actually polled.) what they considered to be “old fashioned” behavior. Here’s what they said:

  • Holding doors, getting the car door for a date, spouse, or the elderly
  • Handwritten thank you notes and non-electronic holiday greetings (e-cards)
  • Not owning a cell phone
  • Not using text messages

I’ll even offer that they’re not “old fashioned” at all. They’re really just common decency.  They’re also guiding principles for how we can run better businesses, build better relationships, and lessen the chasm developing in our communications with others – all thanks to the convenience (curse?) of the digital age.

First, Fuck Your Email

Fuck it. You know what email is in many cases? Lazy. Most of the time, it’s impersonal. But before we get on with the general fucking of your email, here are some things email is simply great for:

  • Quick, efficient communications
  • A little laugh here and there
  • Things that aren’t time-sensitive
  • Lengthy responses (note: only effective when you’re sending said responses to people who actually read the epic Tolstoy shit you write)
  • Stalling (because you screwed up and can’t say the words on a phone call)
  • Miscommunications
  • Passive-aggressive subtext galore
  • Flagrant misuse of ………..emotions and punctuation marks :-DDD !!!!!!!!!!
  • Forwarding shit that’s just going to ruin the productivity of your day, piss off your IT guy, and jam up your mail server with a string of stupid pictures that are already all over Facebook.

Email is an excuse for us to remove ourselves from owning our responsibility to communicate with the people who not only make our days better, but our businesses stronger. So how can you tell your email to suck it and use it as a tool for spreading your commitment to common decency?

  • No More Excuses: The next time you’re ready to send someone an email apologizing for note calling/missing a deadline/not returning their email, pick up the goddamned phone. There’s a person on the other end of that message whose time is no more important than yours. Chances are, you’ve already wasted it. And don’t you just love it when people waste your time?
  • Commit to Effective Communication: I suck at this (which sucks, especially since I’m a writer). I will let an email chain go on for 12 back-and-forths, and to no good end. Before I know it, messages are muddled, people are pissed, and it all could have been taken care of with a quick 3-minute phone call instead of a series of emails hammered out while we’re half-assedly (assedly IS a word) listening to a conference call, petting the cat, scanning Facebook for (!) news of earth-shattering import, and getting dressed to go for a noontime run.
  • Make Purpose Your Mission: I’m not saying blow off your email completely. As I said, it’s great for certain things. But when you draft an email, make sure it has a purpose. It’s about respect. Respect the audience who will receive your email. It’s the same for personal and business messages. What’s it about? What do you need to know? Do I require action from you? And for fuck’s sake – say thank you.

Change Your Attitude About Your Fucking Phone

That hurt to write because I guarantee you that I am the first person to mutter, “Fucking A – what now?!” when my phone dares ring? That’s bullshit. Nine times out of ten, that call is one I not just need to take, but one I want to take. I’m doing all I can to adjust my attitude towards my phone because aside from face-to-face communication, it’s the most effective communication tool at our disposal (aside from the token and situation-appropriate middle finger). You can’t see people smile over email, but you can hear them smile over the phone. Phones give us back emotions.

Remember growing up when we waited with bated breath for the godforsaken phone to ring? Adolescent hopes and dreams were tied to voices coming through a handset in hues of harvest gold. Plans for the night. A cute boy. A pretty girl.

It’s time we started treating the people who call us like those cute boys and pretty girls from our adolescent years.

When did we forget that these people who are calling us are the reason we get to do what we love every day? And if you hate what you and dread the voices on the other end of the phone you man during your 8-to-5, it’s time to start plotting your exit.

Here are five tips for adjusting your attitude (and mine) about the phone and the people who have the audacity to call you on it.

  • When it rings, be glad. Because the opposite could be your truth.
  • Thank everyone. Even that colossal asshat at your credit card company who can’t seem to understand that you’re stranded in a foreign country with no cash.
  • Pick it up for shits and giggles. There’s a certain joy in hearing a human voice when you need to hear one most. Call people whose relationships you care about even when there is no reason.
  • Stop viewing it as an extension of your email. Texting is great for quick, emotionally devoid exchanges. It’s not a vehicle for building a relationship of any sorts – business or otherwise.
  • Stop assigning those stupid, personalized ringtones. Quit screening your calls. Everyone who calls you is important. Answer the fucking phone. If you simply cannot, call then the fuck back in a timely fashion. After all, they took the time to call you. And grow a pair. Develop the skill of ending a call you no longer want/need to be on. Quit dodging the calls altogether.

There is one thing that I remember and take to heart from my days as an agent’s assistant working at CAA (Creative Artists Agency). At the beginning, middle, and end of each day, we’d “roll calls.” That meant we had a list of people who had called us that we needed to call back, so we went through the list top to bottom until we’d left word or closed the conversation. That voicemail indicator on your phone with the big “9” in the red circle? Yeah, more bullshit.

Quit avoiding humans because you might actually have to have a conversation with them.

You There – Crankypants. Shut Your Pie Hole.

We are so quick to bitch about business. Gone are the days where we continue to patronize the ill-tempered shopkeeper, because it’s not Main Street anymore and we have options.

It’s time that we got old fashioned again and remembered that people have options. And the truth is, we are only one of many options they could choose.

It really shouldn’t have to be said that we should treat everyone in our lives with an underlying current of common decency. And it’s more than opening doors and saying thank you for a meal. It’s about remembering above all that the only reason any of us get to do what we love is because our customers grant us permission. And we will only be in business for as long as they grant permission.

Quit bitching and start thanking. We can bitch on Twitter, bitch on Facebook, bitch in a blog post, bitch in line at Starbucks. Everywhere we turn, it’s bitching. So here’s what I propose: The next time you’re in line somewhere and hear someone bitching about a person or a company, insert your name and your company in their conversation.

Odds are, you probably wouldn’t want anyone overhearing that conversation.

So don’t do it. In a world where what we say carries further than ever, I can only hope that I can do the following:

  • Bitch in private
  • Thank in public
  • And conduct every conversation as if it will be traced back to me. Because odds are, it will be.

The Net Net On Old Fashioned Business

It’s not old fashioned. It’s common decency.

We’re too old for the juvenile antics and back-and-forth bitchfests over text and email. It’s shitty to hear someone in line behind you at the store launching a rant, oblivious to the fact that everyone around can hear that they think so-and-so is a raging cocksucker.

We need to treat everyone in business – and our lives – with common decency. Holding doors, saying thank you, picking up the tab for lunch every now and again. Calls for no reason. Respecting one another’s time.

None of us is more important than the other and our level of investment in the latest and greatest technology doesn’t make us superior to another in any way. In many cases, if makes us inferior. We unintentionally forget that it’s the people in our lives and our relationships with them that make everything possible.

Technology is a marvel of human potential and creativity. The geek in me never ceases to be amazed at what gadgets my fellow humans can engineer from dreams into reality. But I have to consistently remind myself what technology cannot do.

Technology can show us on-demand internet porn, but it can’t build a relationship based on trust, emotion, and respect with someone you love.

Technology can keep us in touch with people across the globe, but it can’t make them feel valued.

Technology can make us more efficient than ever, but it can’t take away the human touch that makes one startup succeed and another one fail.

Being old fashioned? I’m certain that part of that means being human and finding the childlike amazement in the potential of the humans who surround us each day. And treating them with common decency is a step in the right direction to having those humans stick around for awhile.

I don’t know about you, but it’s those human beings who stick around that create my memories and give me the moments I’ll never forget. Stick some photo corners on ‘em and throw ‘em in an album, I say.

If that’s old fashioned, so be it. I’ll take it any day over new-fangled.

28 comments
Danielle Hatfield
Danielle Hatfield

Fantastic post! Appreciate the reminder to just pick up the damn phone.   I have to admit that I am a sucker for a hand written notes. I've been sending them for years and rarely do I get them in return. Yesterday was a rare exception and receiving a few hand written words from a friend really made my day.  My husband has a quote he likes to throw around when we talk about the perils of technology and how it has changed our behavior. “Technology will free the mind of man… or enslave it.” Lawnmower Man (1992)

Terrell
Terrell

Great post. I'd like to add that there is a time and place for phone calls. I will not talk to my vendors when they call from their car as I don't feel comfortable talking to someone while they are driving. Taking a call while in a meeting that's not relevant to said call makes you look like a jerk and is the reason voicemail was invented. I try to stay flexible. Some people communicate better via the written word and are awkward on the phone. Mostly I just try to make things easy for people -- they definitely notice the effort.

Danny
Danny

Hello Erika Kudos to you for this subject.  I actually love talking on the phone to real people but I also love sending a text message when I know it's convenient to both parties.  I miss the days when phone calls were the only way to communicate unless it was in person.  I have a "smartphone" and it's really easy to do the texting/emailing thing but I want the world to go back to calling each other and talking about stuff.  Going on 48 but feel like 20. I love you're stuff, Danny

Lauryn Doll
Lauryn Doll

One of the things I realized is that we're increasingly antisocial in person, yet increasingly social in a digital sense. We've totally got shit fucked up. 

Brandon W
Brandon W

I have seriously considered canceling my cell phone and getting a land line.  Why?  First, cell phone sound-quality sucks, and I'd like to be able to hear people better.  Second, I think that when I'm out of the house, I ought to be giving my full attention to the people with whom I am interacting (and/or the road when I'm driving). And, although I agree one should answer the phone when you can, I also think we've created a society where everyone is expected to "jump when I say jump."  Respond to that text message.  Now ! Reply to that email.  Now!  Answer that phone.  Now!  People can wait.  I suck at multitasking and so does everyone else (the research shows that multitasking saps 24-40% of a person's productivity due to switching costs). It's time to set new expectations and be more human and engaging with the people right in front of us.

Smart_Fish_Marketing
Smart_Fish_Marketing

I am so guilty of being resentful of my phone ringing!  It's gotten so bad, it's bled over into my private life and I rarely muster the energy to answer the home phone any time after dinner.   Thank you for this: "When did we forget that these people who are calling us are the reason we get to do what we love every day"  I promise to (try to) remember that the person on the other end of that phone call is someone who wants to help me, hire me, or teach me something.  Thanks, Red!

Shirley Creed
Shirley Creed

And there I thought it was because I'm an old fuddy duddy of 66 that I've felt vaguely offended when family members text me instead of phoning. Like "happy birthday" or "please send donation to grandkid's school" or "we must come round for dinner soon". Huh.

davinabrewer
davinabrewer

This, this, this. Good southern girl taught manners and all, this stuff was not optional.  Now I do jump at the phone because it's a disruption; but I try my best to keep a positive attitude. Even though I am a night person, calls are 9-9; whatever it is, it can wait for a decent hour - especially if it's just to chat. Also, WTH with the personal calls at work (and vice versa these days)?! When I was a kid, it was very clear: unless I'd severed a major artery or started a 4-alarm fire, there was no calling someone at work... and I shoulda be able to handle a 2-alarm fire on my own. ;-) I send real cards to close F&F, but a lot is by email. In my defense, my penmanship sucks hard.  I prefer the clarity of written, typed messages but hate the back and forth. My rule is if it takes more than 2 texts (tweets, emails), pick up the phone. Love the "Main Street" thing; some businesses may think they're marketing-proof but if 'local' is your only asset, that won't work. Not if the folks in the Interwebs will do the same job better, faster, cheaper and with a smile on the phone. I reply, respond, return messages and I wonder about "these kids today" what kind of bullshit values they learn. Count me in for some fuddy-duddy, old fart should-be common courtesies. And FWIW, I'm 40 years old and still call people "Miss" and "Mister."

Rick Copper
Rick Copper

Excellent. I HATE talking on the phone, but I do it when it is important. Emails or texting often cannot punctuate my tone. Vocal cords are best.  And whomever said it, but they are right, STOP looking at your phone when I am talking to you AND put your laptop down as well.

Karin Mesa
Karin Mesa

Still laughing about your comment "uses the word "fuck" like a comma"!!! Had a simple and great experience today. Picked my granddaughter up at her high school, the stories last year about the reasons for the lock downs and what WAS occurring in the stairwell would curl your hair! But I digress... her boyfriend came to the car to meet me. Looked me calmly in the eye, shook my hand and opened the door for her. In the midst of a crowd of kids many of whom were so trying to be something other than themselves, this simple act was pretty huge.

Tessa Harmon
Tessa Harmon

I'd like to add to this that the trend of checking your phone all the time, whether in a meeting, at a conference, on a date, etc. is incredibly rude and should be called out more. It's so disappointing to meet someone who seems like they're really fun and gregarious online, only to find that they spend all their time in real life staring at their Twitter feed. Or that you'd have the same experience at that conference if you were at home, checking Twitter. It's not just courteous to be in the moment, it's common decency. I always leave my phone in my purse (on silent) during any social or professional face to face interaction. If I bring my laptop to a meeting, I only have the screen open when I'm presenting. I don't believe in multi-tasking. And, I still take notes, on paper, with a pen, because I think better that way. (You should see what passes for handwriting in schools these days. )

Mark Young
Mark Young

Bitch in privateThank in publicAnd conduct every conversation as if it will be traced back to me. Because odds are, it will be.  Love this!

Janine
Janine

I make it a point to send an old-fashioned, handwritten thank you note when someone has done something special for me. Except now people are hurt if they don't get an instant email. So I have to email them that a note is arriving in a few days. Should I call them to make sure they check their email? BTW, people are generally THRILLED to get the handwritten note. Well worth the time and postage.

Pam
Pam

Hear, hear!  Well said.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

"Bitch in private, thank in public" words I'm carving on the wall.  Off to get my hamer and chisel and email is for stalling, YEP. Real-life and phone calls beats online anytime.

Rob
Rob

Right on, Redhead.  And I'll tell you- companies who answer the phone with a real person instead of that IfYouWantSalesPress4-  it's respect right off the bat.  Real people I remember, and you can put together a working relationship.  It's the way it used to be, and it works great. 

Dave Van de Walle
Dave Van de Walle

Yes, and amen. Pick up the phone. Be nice and decent to people. Give a shit about the feelings of the recipient of the message. And, for God's sake, value each other's time.

Trackbacks

  1. […] as I was reading a blog post from one of my favorite writers something hit me. We spend so much time looking to the future, […]

  2. […] and I cannot WAIT to watch you squirm. While I blasted into our collective selves the other day for letting common decency fall by the wayside, I will not pass common decency by just because anyone thinks it’s […]

  3. […] to my favorite Redhead for giving me a wake-up call about reinstituting “old fashioned business.” You might also want to check out her soon-to-be-released book, which from the teaser looks […]