Why acting like a decent human being is good for business

Strive for business relationships that produce smiles.

Strive for business relationships that produce smiles.

Always, and perhaps especially during an uncivil presidential campaign season, it’s useful to remind ourselves that taking the high road in professional relationships has its perks.

Taking the additional steps to be a genuinely decent and thoughtful person is even better. Being decent is not the same as being a pushover, although some people may initially mistake you for an easy mark when you are consistently polite, thoughtful and considerate of others. Don’t concern yourself with this, as having a backbone and having a heart are not mutually exclusive.

After 30 years in business, I believe the following:

-People prefer people who don’t routinely ignore others until they have a need for them. My late first husband used to say, “One of the worst things you can do to someone is ignore them. People hate to be ignored.” Acknowledge others whenever you reasonably can do so, even if you aren’t ready to do business or otherwise engage. This is not to say you have to respond to every spam sales email, but do respond to vendors, partners and associates even when you are “too busy.”

-People like to be treated with respect. People don’t like their hard work insulted just because you want something different, or even because it doesn’t meet your standards. Preface your critique, whenever appropriate, by saying something positive. This will encourage continued effort. “This is a good start. Let’s talk about the updated technical details we need to include.”

-The workday is better for all when people behave pleasantly. Life overall is better, too. Frankly, your own mood is often improved when you resist lashing out at or being dismissive of others. When you feel better, you work better.

-Who the heck wants to work with a jerk, long term? When you behave like a jerk, what do you think people say about you after you leave the room? Do they really want to work alongside you, or would they in fact prefer to watch you fail? (Succeeding’s founder and blogger-in-chief Jeanne Yocum contends that this point may not resonate with the people it most needs to reach, because they won’t recognize themselves. She may well be right. Nonetheless.) 

-Being a good person may even be profitable. New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant (Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World) argues that helping others drives success – and that it does so better than either a strategic give-to-get or take-all approach. There may be quantifiable reasons to be generous.

-We are creating the world in which not only we but the next generation – our children – have to live. Do we want an increasingly uncivil business environment, so that even when we’re dealing with humans rather than computers, robots or drones, the results aren’t much more heartwarming? Or do we value relationships, recognition and encouragement? Conscious Business by Fred Kofman is a good read on the topic of building value through values

Here’s a challenge. Answer that email from the former associate who needs advice. Tell your employee you’ve noticed his recent efforts. Pick up the next call from that engineering company salesperson and let her know you aren’t the right prospect and don’t want to waste her time. Say hello to that guy you’ve been ignoring in the hallway.

It feels good. And it really is good for business.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. vSA has thrived for over three decades, and fosters a friendly and welcoming culture.

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