The Book of BUSINESS ETIQUETTE
The Book of Business Etiquette
Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1922
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED (AS BEFITS AN AUTHOR)
TO THREE BUSINESS MEN
It would be a pleasure to call over by name and thank individually the business men and the business organizations that so graciously furnished the material upon which this little book is based. But the author feels that some of them will not agree with all the statements made and the inferences drawn, and for this reason is unable to do better than give this meager return for a service which was by no means meager.
I. THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MAN 1
II. THE VALUE OF COURTESY 17
III. PUTTING COURTESY INTO BUSINESS 40
IV. PERSONALITY 70
V. TABLE MANNERS 94
VI. TELEPHONES AND FRONT DOORS 108
VII. TRAVELING AND SELLING 130
VIII. THE BUSINESS OF WRITING 153
IX. MORALS AND MANNERS 183
X. "BIG BUSINESS" 209
XI. IN A DEPARTMENT STORE 242
XII. A WHILE WITH A TRAVELING MAN 250
XIII. TABLES FOR TWO OR MORE 268
XIV. LADIES FIRST? 279
[Transcriber's Note: Please note that the book does not credit an author. The Library of Congress lists Nella Henney as the author.]
THE BOOK OF BUSINESS ETIQUETTE
THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MAN
The business man is the national hero of America, as native to the soil and as typical of the country as baseball or Broadway or big advertising. He is an interesting figure, picturesque and not unlovable, not so dashing perhaps as a knight in armor or a soldier in uniform, but he is not without the noble (and ignoble) qualities which have characterized the tribe of man since the world began. America, in common with other countries, has had distinguished statesmen and soldiers, authors and artists—and they have not all gone to their graves unhonored and unsung—but the hero story which belongs to her and to no one else is the story of the business man.
Nearly always it has had its beginning in humble surroundings, with a little boy born in a log cabin in the woods, in a wretched shanty at the edge of a field, in a crowded tenement section or in the slums of a foreign city, who studied and worked by daylight and firelight while he made his living blacking boots or selling papers until he found the trail by which he could climb to what we are pleased to call success. Measured by the standards of Greece and Rome or the Middle Ages, when practically the only form of achievement worth mentioning was fighting to kill, his career has not been a romantic one. It has had to do not with dragons and banners and trumpets, but with stockyards and oil fields, with railroads, sewer systems, heat, light, and water plants, telephones, cotton, corn, ten-cent stores and—we might as well make a clean breast of it—chewing gum.
We have no desire to crown the business man with a halo, though judging from their magazines and from the stories which they write of their own lives, they are almost without spot or blemish. Most of them seem not even to have had faults to overcome. They were born perfect. Now the truth is that the methods of accomplishment which the American business man has used have not always been above reproach and still are not. At the same time it would not be hard to prove that he—and here we are speaking of the average—with all his faults and failings (and they are many), with all his virtues (and he is not without them), is superior in character to the business men of other times in other countries. This without boasting. It would be a great pity if he were not.
Without trying to settle the question as to whether he is good or bad (and he really can be pigeon-holed no better than any one else) we have to accept this: He is the biggest factor in the American commonwealth to-day. It follows then, naturally, that what he thinks and feels will color and probably dominate the ideas and the ideals of the rest of the country. Numbers of our magazines—and they are as good an index as we have to the feeling of the general public—are given over completely to the service or the entertainment of business men (the T. B. M.) and an astonishing amount of space is devoted to them in most of the others.
It may be, and as a matter of fact constantly is, debated whether all this is good for the country or not. We shall not go into that. It has certainly been good for business, and in considering the men who have developed our industries we have to take them, and maybe it is just as well, as they are and not as we think they ought to be.
There was a time when the farmer was the principal citizen. And the politician ingratiated himself with the people by declaring that he too had split rails and followed the plow, had harvested grain and had suffered from wet spells and dry spells, low prices, dull seasons, hunger and hardship. This is still a pretty sure way to win out, but there are others. If he can refer feelingly to the days when he worked and sweated in a coal mine, in a printing shop, a cotton, wool, or silk mill, steel or motor plant, he can hold his own with the ex-farmer's boy. We have become a nation of business men. Even the "dirt" farmer has become a business man—he has learned that he not only has to produce, he must find a market for his product.
In comparing the business man of the present with the business man of the past we must remember that he is living in a more difficult world. Life was comparatively simple when men dressed in skins and ate roots and had their homes in scattered caves. They felt no need for a code of conduct because they felt no need for one another. They depended not on humanity but on nature, and perhaps human brotherhood would never have come to have a meaning if nature had not proved treacherous. She gave them berries and bananas, sunshine and soft breezes, but she gave them trouble also in the shape of wild beasts, and savages, terrible droughts, winds, and floods. In order to fight against these enemies, strength was necessary, and when primitive men discovered that two were worth twice as much as one they began to join forces. This was the beginning of civilization and of politeness. It rose out of the oldest instinct in the world—self-preservation.
When men first organized into groups the units were small, a mere handful of people under a chief, but gradually they became larger and larger until the nations of to-day have grown into a sort of world community composed of separate countries, each one supreme in its own domain, but at the same time bound to the others by economic ties stronger than sentimental or political ones could ever be. People are now more dependent on one another than they have ever been before, and the need for confidence is greater. We cannot depend upon one another unless we can trust one another.
The American community is in many respects the most complex the world has ever seen, and the hardest to manage. In other countries the manners have been the natural result of the national development. The strong who had risen to the top in the struggle for existence formed themselves into a group. The weak who stayed at the bottom fell into another, and the bulk of the populace, which, then as now, came somewhere in between, fell into a third or was divided according to standards of its own. Custom solidified the groups into classes which became so strengthened by years of usage that even when formal distinctions were broken down the barriers were still too solid for a man who was born into a certain group to climb very easily into the one above him. Custom also dictated what was expected of the several classes. Each must be gracious to those below and deferential to those above. The king, because he was king, must be regal. The nobility must, noblesse oblige, be magnificent, and as for the rest of the people, it did not matter much so long as they worked hard and stayed quiet. There were upheavals, of course, and now and then a slave with a braver heart and a stouter spirit than his companions incited them to rebellion. His head was chopped off for his pains and he was promptly forgotten. The majority of the people for thousands of years honestly believed that this was the only orderly basis upon which society could be organized.
Nebulous ideas of a brotherhood, in which each man was to have an equal chance with every other, burned brightly for a little while in various parts of the world at different times, and flickered out. They broke forth with the fury of an explosion in France during the Revolution and in Russia during the Red Terror. They have smoldered quietly in some places and had just begun to break through with a steady, even flame. But America struck the match and gathered the wood to start her own fire. She is the first country in the world which was founded especially to promote individual freedom and the brotherhood of mankind. She had, to change the figure slightly, a blue-print to start with and she has been building ever since.
Her material came from the eastern hemisphere. The nations there at the time when the United States was settled were at different stages of their development. Some were vigorous with youth, some were in the height of their glory, and some were dying because the descendants of the men who had made them great were futile and incapable. These nations were different in race and religion, in thought, language, traditions, and temperament. When they were not quarreling with each other, they were busy with domestic squabbles. They had kept this up for centuries and were at it when the settlers landed at Jamestown and later when the Mayflower came to Plymouth Rock. Yet, with a cheerful disregard of the past and an almost sublime hope in the future they expected to live happily ever after they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to add, they did not.
Accident of place cannot change a man's color (though it may bleach it a shade lighter or tan it a shade darker), nor his religion nor any of the other racial and inherent qualities which are the result of slow centuries of development. And the same elements which made men fight in the old countries set them against each other in the new. Most of the antagonisms were and are the result of prejudices, foolish narrow prejudices, which, nevertheless, must be beaten down before we can expect genuine courtesy.
Further complications arose, and are still arising, from the fact that we did not all get here at the same time. Those who came first have inevitably and almost unconsciously formulated their own system of manners. Wherever there is community life and a certain amount of leisure there is a standard of cultivated behavior. And America, young as she is, has already accumulated traditions of her own.
It is beyond doubt that the men who came over in the early days were, as a rule, better timber than the ones who come now. They came to live and die, if necessary, for a religious or a political principle, for adventure, or like the debtors in Oglethorpe's colony in Georgia, to wipe clean the slate of the past and begin life again. To-day they come to make money or because they think they will find life easier here than it was where they were. And one of the chief reasons for the discontent and unrest (and, incidentally, rudeness) which prevails among them is that they find it hard. We are speaking in general terms. There are glorious exceptions.
The sturdy virtues of the pioneers did not include politeness. They never do. So long as there is an animal fear of existence man cannot think of minor elegances. He cannot live by bread alone, but he cannot live at all without it. Bread must come first. And the Pilgrim Father was too busy learning how to wring a living from the forbidding rocks of New England with one hand while he fought off the Indians with the other to give much time to tea parties and luncheons. Nowhere in America except in the South, where the leisurely life of the plantations gave opportunity for it, was any great attention paid to formal courtesy. But everywhere, as soon as the country had been tamed and prosperity began to peep over the horizon, the pioneers began to grow polite. They had time for it.
What we must remember—and this is a reason, not an excuse, for bad manners—is that these new people coming into the country, the present-day immigrants, are pioneers, and that the life is not an easy one whether it is lived among a wilderness of trees and beasts in a forest or a wilderness of men and buildings in a city. The average American brings a good many charges against the foreigner—some of them justified, for much of the "back-wash" of Europe and Asia has drifted into our harbor—but he must remember this: Whatever his opinion of the immigrant may be the fault is ours—he came into this country under the sanction of our laws. And he is entitled to fair and courteous treatment from every citizen who lives under the folds of the American flag.
The heterogeneous mixture which makes up our population is a serious obstacle (but not an insuperable one) in the way of courtesy, but there is another even greater. The first is America's problem. The second belongs to the world.
Material progress has raced so far ahead of mental and spiritual progress that the world itself is a good many years in advance of the people who are living in it. Our statesmen ride to Washington in automobiles and sleeping cars, but they are not vastly preferable to those who went there in stagecoaches and on horseback. In other words, there has been considerably more improvement in the vehicles which fill our highways than there has been in the people who ride in them.
The average man—who is, when all is said and done, the most important person in the state—has stood still while the currents of science and invention have swept past him. He has watched the work of the world pass into the keeping of machines, shining miracles of steel and electricity, and has forgot himself in worshipping them. Now he is beginning to realize that it is much easier to make a perfect machine than it is to find a perfect man to put behind it, and that man himself, even at his worst (and that is pretty bad) is worth more than anything else in the scheme of created things.
This tremendous change in environment resulting from the overwhelming domination of machinery has brought about a corresponding change in manners. For manners consist, in the main, of adapting oneself to one's surroundings. And the story of courtesy is the story of evolution.
It is interesting to run some of our conventions back to their origin. Nearly every one of them grew out of a practical desire for lessening friction or making life pleasanter. The first gesture of courtesy was, no doubt, some form of greeting by which one man could know another as a friend and not an enemy. They carried weapons then as habitually as they carry watches to-day and used them as frequently, so that when a man approached his neighbor to talk about the prospects of the sugar or berry crop he held out his right hand, which was the weapon hand, as a sign of peace. This eventually became the handshake. Raising one's hat is a relic of the days of chivalry when knights wore helmets which they removed when they came into the house, both because they were more comfortable without them and because it showed their respect for the ladies, whom it was their duty to serve. And nearly every other ceremony which has lasted was based on common sense. "Etiquette," as Dr. Brown has said, "with all its littlenesses and niceties, is founded upon a central idea of right and wrong."
The word "courtesy" itself did not come into the language until late (etiquette came even later) and then it was used to describe the polite practices at court. It was wholly divorced from any idea of character, and the most fastidious gentlemen were sometimes the most complete scoundrels. Even the authors of books of etiquette were men of great superficial elegance whose moral standards were scandalously low. One of them, an Italian, was banished from court for having published an indecent poem and wrote his treatise on polite behavior while he was living in enforced retirement in his villa outside the city. It was translated for the edification of the young men of England and France and served as a standard for several generations. Another, an Englishman, spent the later years of his life writing letters to his illegitimate son, telling him exactly how to conduct himself in the courtly (and more or less corrupt) circles to which his noble rank entitled him. The letters were bound into a fat, dreary volume which still sits on the dust-covered shelves of many a library, and the name of the author has become a synonym for exquisite manners. Influential as he was in his own time, however, neither he nor any of the others of the early arbiters of elegance could set himself up as a dictator of what is polite to American men, of no matter what class, and get by with it. Not very far by, at any rate.
It is impossible now to separate courtesy and character. Politeness is a fundamental, not a superficial, thing. It is the golden rule translated into terms of conduct. It is not a white-wash which, if laid on thick enough, will cover every defect. It is a clear varnish which shows the texture and grain of the wood beneath. In the ideal democracy the ideal citizen is the man who is not only incapable of doing an ungallant or an ungracious thing, but is equally incapable of doing an unmanly one. There is no use lamenting the spacious days of long ago. Wishing for them will not bring them back. Our problem is to put the principles of courtesy into practice even in this hurried and hectic Twentieth Century of ours. And since the business man is in numbers, and perhaps in power also, the most consequential person in the country, it is of most importance that he should have a high standard of behavior, a high standard of civility, which includes not only courtesy but everything which has to do with good citizenship.
We have no desire for candy-box courtesy. It should be made of sterner stuff. Nor do we care for the sort which made the polite Frenchman say, "Excusez-moi" when he stabbed his adversary. We can scarcely hope just yet to attain to the magnificent calm which enabled Marie Antoinette to say, "I'm sorry. I did not do it on purpose," when she stepped on the foot of her executioner as they stood together on the scaffold, or Lord Chesterfield, gentleman to the very end, to say, "Give Dayrolles a chair" when his physician came into the room in which he lay dying. But we do want something that will enable us to live together in the world with a minimum degree of friction.
The best of us get on one another's nerves, even under ordinary conditions, and it takes infinite pains and self-control to get through a trying day in a busy office without striking sparks somewhere. If there is a secret of success, and some of the advertisements seem trying to persuade us that it is all secret, it is the ability to work efficiently and pleasantly with other people. The business man never works alone. He is caught in the clutches of civilization and there is no escape. He is like a man climbing a mountain tied to a lot of other men climbing the same mountain. What each one does affects all the others.
We do not want our people to devote themselves entirely to the art of being agreeable. If we could conceive of a world where everybody was perfectly polite and smiling all the time we should hardly like to live in it. It is human nature not to like perfection, and most of us, if brought face to face with that model of behavior, Mr. Turveydrop, who spent his life serving as a pattern of deportment, would sympathize with the delightful old lady who looked at him in the full flower of his glory and cried viciously (but under her breath) "I could bite you!"
When Pope Benedict XI sent a messenger to Giotto for a sample of his work the great artist drew a perfect circle with one sweep of his arm and gave it to the boy. Before his death Giotto executed many marvelous works of art, not one of them perfect, not even the magnificent bell tower at Florence, but all of them infinitely greater than the circle. It is better, whether one is working with bricks or souls, to build nobly than to build perfectly.
THE VALUE OF COURTESY
Every progressive business man will agree with the successful Western manufacturer who says that "courtesy can pay larger dividends in proportion to the effort expended than any other of the many human characteristics which might be classed as Instruments of Accomplishment." But this was not always true. In the beginning "big business" assumed an arrogant, high-handed attitude toward the public and rode rough-shod over its feelings and rights whenever possible. This was especially the case among the big monopolies and public service corporations, and much of the antagonism against the railroads to-day is the result of the methods they used when they first began to lay tracks and carry passengers. Nor was this sort of thing limited to the large concerns. Small business consisted many times of trickery executed according to David Harum's motto of "Do unto the other feller as he would like to do unto you, but do him fust." The public is a long-suffering body and the business man is a hard-headed one, but after a while the public began to realize that it was not necessary to put up with gross rudeness and the business man began to realize that a policy of pleasantness was much better than the "treat 'em rough" idea upon which he had been acting. He deserves no special credit for it. It was as simple and as obvious a thing as putting up an umbrella when it is raining.
People knew, long before this enlightened era of ours, that politeness had value. In one of the oldest books of good manners in the English language a man with "an eye to the main chance" advised his pupils to cultivate honesty, gentleness, propriety, and deportment because they paid. But it has not been until recently that business men as a whole have realized that courtesy is a practical asset to them. Business cannot be separated from money and there is no use to try. Men work that they may live. And the reason they have begun to develop and exploit courtesy is that they have discovered that it makes for better work and better living. Success, they have learned, in spite of the conspicuous wealth of several magnates who got their money by questionable means, depends upon good will and good will depends upon the square deal courteously given.
The time is within the memory of living men, and very young men at that, when the idea of putting courtesy into business dealings sprang up, but it has taken hold remarkably. When the Hudson Tubes were opened not quite a decade and a half ago Mr. McAdoo inaugurated what was at that time an almost revolutionary policy. He took the motto, "The Public be Pleased," instead of the one made famous by Mr. Vanderbilt, and posted it all about, had pamphlets distributed, and made a speech on courtesy in railroad management and elsewhere. Since that time, not altogether because of the precedent which had been established, but because people were beginning to realize that with this new element creeping into business the old regime had to die because it could not compete with it, there have been all sorts of courtesy campaigns among railroad and bus companies, and even among post office and banking employees, to mention only two of the groups notorious for haughty and arrogant behavior. The effects of a big telephone company have been so strenuous and so well planned and executed that they are reserved for discussion in another chapter.
Mr. McAdoo tells a number of charming stories which grew out of the Hudson Tubes experiment. One day during a political convention when he was standing in the lobby of a hotel in a certain city a jeweler came over to him after a slight moment of hesitation, gave him one of his cards and said, "Mr. McAdoo, I owe you a great debt of gratitude. For that," he added, pointing to "The Public be Pleased" engraved in small letters on the card just above his name. "I was in New York the day the tunnel was opened," he continued, "and I heard your speech, and said to myself that it might be a pretty good idea to try that in the jewelry trade. And would you believe it, my profits during the first year were more than fifty per cent bigger than they were the year before?" And we venture to add that the jeweler was more than twice as happy and that it was not altogether because there was more money in his coffers.
Mr. McAdoo is a man with whom courtesy is not merely a policy: it is a habit as well. He places it next to integrity of character as a qualification for a business man, and he carries it into every part of his personal activity, as the statesmen and elevator boys, waiters and financiers, politicians and stenographers with whom he has come into contact can testify. "I never have a secretary," he says, "who is not courteous, no matter what his other qualifications may be." During the past few years Mr. McAdoo has been placed in a position to be sought after by all kinds of people, and in nearly every instance he has given an interview to whoever has asked for it. "I have always felt," we quote him again, "that a public servant should be as accessible to the public as possible." Courtesy with him, as with any one else who makes it a habit, has a cumulative effect. The effect cannot always be traced as in the case of the jeweler or in the story given below in which money plays a very negligible part, but it is always there.
On one occasion—this was when he was president of the Hudson Railroad—Mr. McAdoo was on his way up to the Adirondacks when the train broke down. It was ill provided for such a catastrophe, there was no dining car, only a small buffet, and the wait was a long and trying one. When Mr. McAdoo after several hours went back to the buffet to see if he could get a cup of coffee and some rolls he found the conductor almost swamped by irate passengers who blamed him, in the way that passengers will, for something that was no more his fault than theirs. The conductor glanced up when Mr. McAdoo came in, expecting him to break into an explosion of indignation, but Mr. McAdoo said, "Well, you have troubles enough already without my adding to them."
The conductor stepped out of the group. "What did you want, sir?" he asked.
"Why, nothing, now," Mr. McAdoo responded. "I did want a cup of coffee, but never mind about it."
"Come into the smoker here," the conductor said. "Wait a minute."
The conductor disappeared and came back in a few minutes with coffee, bread, and butter. Mr. McAdoo thanked him warmly, gave him his card and told him that if he ever thought he could do anything for him to let him know. The conductor looked at the card.
"Are you the president of the Hudson Railroad?"
"Well, maybe there's something you can do for me now. There are two men out here who say they are going to report me for what happened this morning. You know how things have been, and if they do, I wish you would write to headquarters and explain. I'm in line for promotion and you know what a black mark means in a case like that."
Mr. McAdoo assured him that he would write if it became necessary. The men were bluffing, however, and the complaint was never sent in. Apparently the incident was closed.
Several years later Mr. McAdoo's son was coming down from the Adirondacks when he lost his Pullman ticket. He did not discover the fact until he got to the station, and then he had no money and no time to get any by wire before the train left. He went to the conductor, explained his dilemma, and told him that if he would allow him to ride down to the city his father, who was to meet him at the Grand Central station, would pay him for the ticket. The conductor liked the youngster—perhaps because there was something about him that reminded him of his father, for as chance would have it, the conductor was the same one who had brought Mr. McAdoo the coffee and bread in the smoking car so many months before.
"Who is your father?" he asked.
"President of the Hudson Railroad?"
"Boy, you can have the train!"
So far as monetary value of courtesy is concerned we might recount hundreds of instances where a single act of politeness brought in thousands of dollars. Only the other morning the papers carried the story of a man who thirty years ago went into a tailor's shop with a ragged tear in his trousers and begged the tailor to mend it and to trust him for the payment which amounted to fifty cents. The tailor agreed cheerfully enough and the man went his way, entered business and made a fortune. He died recently and left the tailor fifty thousand dollars. Not long before that there was a story of an old woman who came to New York to visit her nephew—it was to be a surprise—and lost her bearings so completely when she got into the station that she was about ready to turn around and go back home when a very polite young man noticed her bewilderment. He offered his services, called a taxi and deposited her in front of her nephew's door in half an hour. She took his name and address and a few days later he received a check large enough to enable him to enter the Columbia Law School. A banker is fond of telling the story of an old fellow who came into his bank one day in a suit of black so old that it had taken on a sickly greenish tinge. He fell into the hands of a polite clerk who answered all his questions—and there were a great many of them—clearly, patiently, and courteously. The old man went away but came back in a day or so with $300,000 which he placed on deposit. "I did have some doubts," he said, "but this young man settled them all." Word of it went to people in authority and the clerk was promoted.
Now it is pleasant to know that these good people were rewarded as they deserved to be. We would be very happy if we could promise a like reward to every one who is similarly kind, but it is no use. The little words of love and the little deeds of kindness go often without recompense so far as we can see, except that they happify the world, but that in itself is no small return.
Courtesy pays in dollars and cents but its value goes far beyond that. It is the chief element in building good will—we are speaking now of courtesy as an outgrowth of character—and good will is to a firm what honor is to a man. He can lose everything else but so long as he keeps his honor he has something to build with. In the same way a business can lose all its material assets and can replace them with insurance money or something else, but if it loses its good will it will find in ninety cases out of a hundred that it is gone forever and that the business itself has become so weakened that there is nothing left but to reorganize it completely and blot out the old institution altogether.
One must not make the mistake of believing that good will can be built on courtesy alone. Courtesy must be backed up by something more solid. An excellent comparison to show the relation that good manners bear to uprightness and integrity of character was drawn a number of years ago by a famous Italian prelate. We shall paraphrase the quaint English of the original translator. "Just as men do commonly fear beasts that are cruel and wild," he says, "and have no manner of fear of little ones such as gnats and flies, and yet because of the continual nuisance which they find them, complain more of these than they do of the other: so most men hate the unmannerly and untaught as much as they do the wicked, and more. There is no doubt that he who wishes to live, not in solitary and desert places, like a hermit, but in fellowship with men, and in populous cities, will find it a very necessary thing, to have skill to put himself forth comely and seemly in his fashions, gestures, and manners: the lack of which do make other virtues lame."
Granting dependability of character, courtesy is the next finest business builder an organization can have. One of the largest trust companies in the world was built up on this hypothesis. A good many years ago the man who is responsible for its growth was cashier in a "busted" bank in a small city. The situation was a desperate one, for the bank could not do anything more for its customers than it was already doing. It could not give them more interest on their money and most of its other functions were mechanical. The young cashier began to wonder why people went to one bank in preference to another and in his own mind drew a comparison between the banking and the clothing business. He always went to the haberdasher who treated him best. Other men he knew did the same thing. Would not the same principle work in a bank? Would not people come to the place which gave them the best service? He decided to try it. Not only would they give efficient service, they would give it pleasantly. It was their last card but it was a trump. It won. The bank began to prosper. People who were annoyed by rude, brusque, or indifferent treatment in other banks came to this one. The cashier was raised to a position of importance and in an incredibly short time was made president of a trust company in New York. He carried with him exactly the same principle that had worked so well in the little bank and the result in the big one was exactly the same.
In a leaflet which is in circulation among the employees at this institution there are these paragraphs:
We ask you to remember:
That our customers can get along without us.
(There are in Greater New York nearly one hundred banks and trust companies, every one of them actively seeking business.)
We cannot get along without our customers.
A connection which, perhaps, it has taken us several months to establish, can be terminated by one careless or discourteous act.
Our customers are asked to maintain balances of certain proportions. If they wish to borrow money, they must deposit collateral. They must repay loans when they mature; or arrange for their extension.
If a bank errs, it must err on the side of safety, for the money it loans is not its own money but the money of its depositors. We (and every other bank and trust company) operate almost entirely on money which our customers have deposited with us. The least we can do, then, is to serve them courteously. They really are our employers.
Ours is a semi-public institution.
Every day, men try to interest us in matters with which we have no concern. It is our duty to tell these men, very courteously, why their proposals do not appeal to us. But they are entitled to a hearing. It may be that they are not in a position to benefit us, and never will be. But almost every man can harm us, if he tries to do so. And a pleasantly expressed declination invariably makes a better impression than a favor grudgingly granted. We ask you, then, to remember that our growth—and your opportunities—depend not only upon the friends we make, but the enemies we do not make.
Remember names and faces. Do something, say something that will bring home to those who do business with us the fact that the Blank Trust Company is a very human institution—that it wants the good will of every man and woman in the country.
That is the kind of courtesy which has builded this particular organization. It is a pleasure to visit it to-day because of the spirit of cooeperation which animates it. They have done away with the elaborate spy systems in use in so many banks, although they keep the management well enough in hand to be able to fasten the blame for mistakes upon the right person. The employees work with one another and with the president, whom they adore. It is, as a matter of fact, largely the influence of the personality of the president filtering down through the ranks which has made possible the phenomenal success which the institution has enjoyed during the past few years, another proof of the fact that every institution—and Emerson was speaking of great institutions when he said it—"is the lengthened shadow of one man."
Banks have almost a peculiar problem. Money is a mighty power, and to the average person there is something very awesome about the place where it is kept. Mr. Stephen Leacock is not the only man who ever went into a bank with a funny little guilty feeling even when he had money in it. When one is in this frame of mind it takes very little on the part of the clerk to make him believe that he has been treated rudely. Bank clerks are notoriously haughty, but the fault is often as much in the person on the outside as in the one on the inside of the bars, especially when he has come in to draw out money which he knows he should not, such as his savings bank account, for instance. The other day a young man went into a savings bank to draw out all of his money for a purpose which he knew was extravagant although he had persuaded himself that it was not. Throughout the whole time he was in the bank he was treated with perfect courtesy, but in spite of it he came out growling about "the dirty look the paying teller gave him!"
It is not only in the first contact that civility is important. Eternal vigilance is the price of success as well as of liberty. Another incident from the banking business illustrates this. Several years ago a bank which had been steadily losing customers called in a publicity expert to build up trade for them. The man organized a splendid campaign and things started off with a flourish. People began to come in most gratifying numbers. But they did not stay. An investigation conducted by the publicity man disclosed the fact that they had been driven away by negligent and discourteous service. He went to the president of the bank and told him that he was wasting money building up advertising so long as his bank maintained its present attitude toward the public. The president was a man of practical sense. There was a general clearing up, those who were past reform were discharged and those who stayed were given careful training in what good breeding meant and there was no more trouble. Advertising will bring in a customer but it takes courtesy to keep him.
Business, like nearly everything else, is easier to tear down than to build up, and one of the most devastating instruments of destruction is discourtesy. A contact which has taken years to build can be broken off by one snippy letter, one pert answer, or one discourteous response over the telephone. Even collection letters, no matter how long overdue the accounts are, bring in more returns when they are written with tact and diplomacy than when these two qualities are omitted. If you insult a man who owes you money he feels that the only way he can get even is not to pay you, and in most cases, he can justify himself for not doing it.
Within the organization itself a courteous attitude on the part of the men in positions of authority toward those beneath them is of immense importance. Sap rises from the bottom, and a business has arrived at the point of stagnation when the men at the top refuse to listen to or help those around them. It is, as a rule, however, not the veteran in commercial affairs but the fledgling who causes most trouble by his bad manners. Young men, especially young men who have been fortunate in securing material advantages, too many times look upon the world as an accident placed here for their personal enjoyment. It never takes long in business to relieve their minds of this delusion, but they sometimes accomplish a tremendous amount of damage before it happens. For a pert, know-it-all manner coupled with the inefficiency which is almost inseparable from a total lack of experience is not likely to make personal contacts pleasant. Every young man worth his salt believes that he can reform the world, but every old man who has lived in it knows that it cannot be done. Somewhere half way between they meet and say, "We'll keep working at it just the same," and then business begins to pick up. But reaching the meeting ground takes tolerance and patience and infinite politeness from both sides.
"It is the grossest sort of incivility," the quotation is not exact, for we do not remember the source, "to be contemptuous of any kind of knowledge." And herein lies the difficulty between the hard-headed business man of twenty years' experience and the youngster upon whose diploma the ink has not yet dried. "Ignorance," declares a man who has spent his life in trying to draw capital and labor together and has succeeded in hundreds of factories, "is the cause of all trouble." And a lack of understanding, which is a form of ignorance, is the cause of nearly all discourtesy.
So long as there is discourtesy in the world there must be protection against it, and the best, cheapest, and easiest means of protection is courtesy itself. Boats which are in constant danger of being run into, such as the tug and ferry boats in a busy harbor, are fitted out with buffers or fenders which are as much a part of their equipment as the smokestack, and in many cases, as necessary. Ocean liners carry fenders to be thrown over the side when there is need for them, but this naturally is not as often as in more crowded waters. A single boat on a deserted sea with nothing but sea-gulls and flying fish in sight cannot damage any one besides herself. But the moment she enters a harbor she has to take into account every other vessel in it from the Aquitania to the flat-bottomed row-boat with only one man in it. It is a remarkable fact that most of the boats that are injured or sunk by collision are damaged by vessels much smaller than themselves. Most of these accidents (this statement is given on the authority of an able seaman) could have been prevented by the use of a fender thrown over the side at the proper moment. Politeness is like this. It is the finest shock absorber in the world, as essential from an economic point of view as it is pleasant from a social one. In business there is no royal isolation. We are all ferry boats. We need our shock absorbers every minute of the day.
No boat has a right to run into another, but they do it just the same, and a shock absorber is worth all the curses the captain and the crew can pronounce, however righteous their indignation toward the offending vessel. Sometimes politeness is better than justice.
Most of the causes of irritation during the course of a business day are too petty to bother about. Many of them could be ignored and a good many more could be laughed at. A sense of humor and a sense of proportion would do away with ninety per cent of all the wrangling in the world. Some one has said, and not without truth, that a highly developed sense of humor would have prevented the World War. Too many people use sledge-hammers when tack hammers would do just as well. They belong in the same company with William Jay whose immortal epitaph bears these words:
Here lies the body of William Jay Who died maintaining his right of way. He was right, dead right, as he sped along, But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.
Courtesy is restful. A nervous frenzy of energy throughout the day leaves one at sunset as exhausted as a punctured balloon. The fussy little fellow who fancies himself rushed to death, who has no time to talk with anybody, who cannot be polite to his stenographer and his messenger boys because he is in such a terrible hurry, is dissipating his energy into something that does not matter and using up the vitality which should go into his work. He is very like the engine which President Lincoln was so fond of telling about which used so much steam in blowing its whistle that every time it did it it had to stop.
The Orientals manage things better than we do. "We tried hurrying two thousand years ago," a banker in Constantinople said to a tired American business man, "and found that it did not pay. So we gave it up." There is always time to be polite, and though it sounds like a contradiction, there will be more time to spare if one devotes a part of his day to courtesy.
But there is danger in too much courtesy. Every virtue becomes a vice if it is carried too far, and frank rudeness is better than servility or hypocrisy. Commercial greed, there is no other name for it, leads a firm to adopt some such idiotic motto as "the customer is always right." No organization could ever live up to such a policy, and the principle back of it is undemocratic, un-American, unsound and untrue. The customer is not always right and the employer in a big (or little) concern who places girls (department stores are the chief sinners in this) on the front line of approach with any such instructions is a menace to self-respecting business. America does not want a serving class with a "king-can-do-no-wrong" attitude toward the public. Business is service, not servility, and courtesy works both ways. There is no more sense in business proclaiming that the customer is always right than there would be in a customer declaring that business is always right, and no more truth.
No good business man will argue with a customer, or anybody else, not only because it is bad policy to do so, but because his self-respect will not allow it. He will give and require from his employees courteous treatment toward his customers, and when doubt arises he will give them (the customers) the benefit of it. And he will always remember that he is dealing with an intelligent human being. The customer has a right to expect a firm to supply him with reliable commodities and to do it pleasantly, but he has no right to expect it to prostrate itself at his feet in order to retain his trade, however large that trade may be.
Too little has been said about courtesy on the part of the customer and the public—that great headless mass of unrelated particles. Business is service, we say, and the master is the public, the hardest one in the world to serve. Each one of us speaks with more or less pitying contempt of the public, forgetting that we ourselves are the public and that the sum total of the good breeding, intelligence, and character of the public can be no greater than that of the individuals who make it up.
"Sid," of the American Magazine, says that he once asked the manager of a circus which group of his employees he had most trouble keeping. Quite unexpectedly the man replied, "The attendants. They get 'sucker-sore' and after that they are no good." This is how it happens. The wild man from Borneo is placed in a cage with a placard attached bearing in big letters the legend "The Wild Man from Borneo." An old farmer comes to the circus, looks at the wild man from Borneo in his cage, reads the placard, looks at the attendant, "Is this the wild man from Borneo?" he asks. No human being can stand an unlimited amount of this sort of thing, and the attendant, after he has explained some hundred thousand or so times that this really is the wild man from Borneo begins to lose his zest for it and to answer snappishly and sarcastically. An infinite supply of courtesy would, of course, be a priceless asset to him, but does not this work both ways? What right have people to bother other people with perfectly foolish and imbecile questions? Is there any one who cannot sympathize with a "sucker-sore" attendant? And with the people who are stationed about for the purpose of answering questions almost anywhere? There are not many of us who at one time and another have not had the feeling that we were on the wrong train even after we had asked the man who sold us the ticket, the man who punched it at the gate, the guard who was standing near the entrance, and the guard who was standing near the train, the porter, the conductor, and the news-butcher if it was the right one and have had an affirmative answer from every one of them. How many times can a man be expected to answer such a question with a smile? For those who are exposed to "suckers" the best advice is to be as gentle with them as possible, to grit your teeth and hold your temper even when the ninety-thousandth man comes through to ask if this is the right train. For the "suckers" themselves there are only two words of advice. They include all the rest: Stop it.
It is impossible to tell what the value of courtesy is. Perhaps some day the people who have learned to measure our minds will be able to tell us just what a smile is worth. Maybe they can tell us also what Spring is worth, and what happiness is worth. Meanwhile we do not know. We only know that they are infinitely precious.
PUTTING COURTESY INTO BUSINESS
We talk a great deal about gentlemen and about democracy and a good many other words which describe noble conceptions without a very clear idea of what they mean. The biggest mistake we make is in thinking of them as something stationary like a monument carved in granite or a stone set upon a hill, when the truth is that they are living ideas subject to the change and growth of all living things. No man has ever yet become a perfect gentleman because as his mind has developed his conception of what a gentleman is has enlarged, just as no country has ever become a perfect democracy because each new idea of freedom has led to broader ideas of freedom. It is very much like walking through a tunnel. At first there is only darkness, and then a tiny pin point of light ahead which grows wider and wider as one advances toward it until, finally, he stands out in the open with the world before him. There is no end to life, and none to human development, at least none that can be conceived of by the finite mind of man.
There are hundreds of definitions of a gentleman, none of them altogether satisfactory. Cardinal Newman says it is almost enough to say that he is one who never gives pain. "They be the men," runs an old chronicle, "whom their race and bloud, or at the least, their virtues, do make noble and knowne." Barrow declares that they are the men lifted above the vulgar crowd by two qualities: courage and courtesy. The Century Dictionary, which is as good an authority as any, says, "A gentleman is a man of good breeding, courtesy, and kindness; hence, a man distinguished for fine sense of honor, strict regard for his obligations, and consideration for the rights and feelings of others." And this is a good enough working standard for anybody. The Dictionary is careful to make—and this is important—a gentleman not one who conforms to an outward and conventional standard, but one who follows an inward and personal ideal.
Of late days there has been a great deal of attention paid to making gentlemen of business men and putting courtesy into all the ramifications of business. Without doubt the chief reason for it is the fact that business men themselves have discovered that it pays. One restaurant frankly adopted the motto, "Courtesy Pays," and had it all fixed up with gilt letters and framed and hung it near the front door, and a number of other places have exactly the same policy for exactly the same reason though they do not all proclaim the fact so boldly. It is not the loftiest motive in the world but it is an intelligent one, and it is better for a man to be polite because he hopes to win success that way than for him not to be polite at all.
Human conduct, even at its best, is not always inspired by the highest possible motives. Not even the religions which men have followed have been able to accomplish this. Most of them have held out the hope of heavenly reward in payment for goodness here on earth and countless millions of men (and women, too, for that matter) have kept in the straight and narrow path because they were afraid to step out of it. It may be that they were, intrinsically, no better men than the ones who trod the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire, but they were much easier to live with. And the man who is courteous, who is a gentleman, whatever his motives, is a more agreeable citizen than the one who is not.
Now how—this is our problem—does one go about making a gentleman? Environment plays, comparatively speaking, a very small part. "The appellation of gentleman," this is from a gentleman of the Seventeenth Century, "is not to be affixed to a man's circumstances, but to his behavior in them." It is extremely doubtful if courtesy can be taught by rule. It is more a matter of atmosphere, and an instinct "for the better side of things and the cleaner surfaces of life." And yet, heredity, training, and environment all enter into the process.
It is a polite and pleasant fiction that courtesy is innate and not acquired, and we hear a great deal about the "born lady" and the "born gentleman." They are both myths. Babies are not polite, and the "king upon 'is throne with 'is crown upon 'is 'ead" has had, if he is a gentleman, life-long training in the art of being one. There is still in existence a very interesting outline which was given by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to their oldest son, the Prince of Wales, on his seventeenth birthday. It contained a careful summary of what was expected of him as a Christian gentleman and included such items as dress, appearance, deportment, relations with other people, and ability to acquit himself well in whatever company he happened to be thrown.
The King and Queen, although they were probably unaware of the fact, were acting upon the advice of an authority on good manners at court a number of years before their time. "Indeed," says the old manuscript, "from seven to seventeen young gentlemen commonly are carefully enough brought up: but from seventeen to seven-and-twenty (the most dangerous time of all a man's life, and the most slippery to stay well in) they have commonly the rein of all license in their own hand, and specially such as do live in the court." If we bring the sentence up to date, and it is as true now as it was then, we may substitute "business" for "court." Business men as well as courtiers find the ages between seventeen and seven-and-twenty "the most slippery to stay well in" for it is during these years that they are establishing themselves in the commercial world. As a general thing, but it is wise to remember that there is no rule to which there are not exceptions, by the time a man is twenty-seven his habits are formed and it is too late to acquire new ones.
Most children undergo a painstaking and more or less painful course of instruction in good manners and know by the time they are men and women what should be done whether they do it or not. Our social code is not a complicated one, and there is no excuse except for the youngsters who have just growed up like Topsy or have been brought up by jerks like Pip. It is, without doubt, easier to be polite among people who are naturally courteous than among those who snap and snarl at one another, but it is a mistake to place too much emphasis on this part of it. Too many men—business men, at that—have come up out of the mire for us to be able to offer elaborate apologies for those who have stayed in it. The background is of minor importance. A cockroach is a cockroach anywhere you put him.
It is easy to envy the men who have had superior advantages, and many a man feels that if he had another's chance he, too, might have become a great gentleman. It is an idle speculation. His own opportunities are the only ones any man can attend to, and if he is sensible he will take quick advantage of those that come, not in dreams, but in reality, and will remember what a very sagacious English statesman said about matters of even graver import: "It makes no difference where you are going. You've got to start from where you are."
The lack of early training is a handicap but not a formidable one, especially to a business man. As the Spaniards say, there is little curiosity about the pedigree of a good man. And no man needs to be ashamed of his origin. The president of a firm would naturally be interested in the ancestry of a young man who came to ask him for the hand of his daughter, but if the man has come to sell a bill of goods he does not care a snap. In discussions of the social evil it is often said that every child has a right to be well born, but Robert Louis Stevenson saw more deeply and spoke more truly when he said, "We are all nobly born; fortunate those who know it; blessed those who remember."
The finest Gentleman the world has ever seen was born some two thousand years ago to the wife of a carpenter in Bethlehem and spent most of His time among fishermen, tax-collectors, cripples, lepers, and outcasts of various sorts; and yet in the entire record of His short and troubled life there is not one mention of an ungraceful or an ungainly action. He was careful to observe even the trivialities of social life. Mary and Martha were quarreling before dinner. He quieted them with a few gracious words. The people at the marriage feast at Cana were worried because they had only water to drink. He touched it and gave them wine. The multitude who came to hear Him were tired, footsore, and hungry. He asked them to be seated and gave them food. He dined with the Pharisees, He talked with the women of Samaria, He comforted Mary Magdalen, and He washed the feet of His disciples. He was beset and harassed by a thousand rude and unmannerly questions, but not once did He return an impatient answer. Surely these things are godlike and divine whatever one may believe about the relation of Jesus Christ to God, the Father.
It has been said that every man should choose a gentleman for his father. He should also choose a gentleman for his employer. Unfortunately he often has no more option in the one than he has in the other. Very few of us get exactly what we want. But however this may be, a gentleman at the head of a concern is a priceless asset. The atmosphere of most business houses is determined by the man at the top. His character filters down through the ranks. If he is a rough-and-tumble sort of person the office is likely to be that kind of place; if he is quiet and mannerly the chances are that the office will be quiet and mannerly. If he is a gentleman everybody in the place will know it and will feel the effects of it. "I am always glad John was with Mr. Blank his first year in business," said a mother speaking of her son. Mr. Blank was a man who had a life-long reputation for being as straight as a shingle and as clean as a hound's tooth, every inch a gentleman.
"How do you account for the fact that you have come to place so much emphasis on courtesy?" a business man was asked one day as he sat in his upholstered office with great windows opening out on the New York harbor. He thought for a moment, and his mind went back to the little Georgia village where he was born and brought up. "My father was a gentleman," he answered. "I remember when I was a boy he used to be careful about such trifles as this. 'Now, Jim,' he would say, 'when you stop on the sidewalk don't stop in the middle of it. Stand aside so you won't be in anybody's way.' And even now," the man smiled, "I never stop on the sidewalk without stepping to one side so as to be out of the way."
The life of a young person is plastic, easy to take impressions, strong to retain them. And the "old man" or the "governor," whether he is father, friend, or employer, or all three, has infinitely more influence than either he or the young man realizes. At the same time it is perfectly true that young people do not believe what older ones tell them about life. They have to try it out for themselves. One generation does not begin where the other left off. Each one of us begins at the beginning, and the world, with all that it holds, is as wonderful (though slightly different, to be sure) and as new to the child who is born into it to-day as it was to Adam on the first morning after it was created.
It is almost tragic that so many young men take the tenor of their lives from that of their employers, especially if the latter have been successful. This places a terrific responsibility upon the employer which does not, however, shift it from the employee. His part in business or in life—and this is true of all of us—is what he makes it, great or small. And the most important thing is for him to have a personal ideal of what he thinks best and hold to it. He cannot get it from the outside.
"Courtesy is not one of the company's rules," wrote the manager of a large organization which has been very successful in handling men and making money. "It is a tradition, an instinct. It is an attribute of the general tone, of the dominating influence of the management in all its relations. It is a part of the general tone, the honor, the integrity of the company. For three generations it has been looked upon as an inheritance to be preserved and kept irreproachable. Employees are drawn into this influence by the very simple process of their own development. Those who find themselves in harmony with the character of the company or who deliberately put themselves in tune, progress. Those who do not, cannot, for long, do congenial or acceptable service." This is the statement from the manager of a firm that is widely known for courteous dealing. Their standard is now established. It is a part of the atmosphere, and their chief problem is to get men who will fit into it.
An employer does not judge a man on an abstract basis. He takes him because he thinks he will be useful to his business. This is why most places like to get men when they are young. They are easier to train.
Every one likes good material to work with, and employers are no exception. They take the best they can find, and the higher the standard of the firm the greater the care expended in choosing the employees. "Whenever we find a good man," said the manager of a big trust company, "we take him on. We may not have a place for him at the time but we keep him until we find one."
Except during times of stress such as that brought about by the war when the soldiers were at the front, no business house hires people indiscriminately. They know, as the Chinese have it, that rotten wood cannot be carved. "It is our opinion," we quote from another manager, "that courtesy cannot be pounded into a person who lacks proper social basis. In other words, there are some people who would be boorish under any circumstances. Our first and chief step toward courtesy is to exercise care in selecting our employees. We weigh carefully each applicant for a sales position and try to visualize his probable deportment as our representative, and unless he gives promise of being a fit representative we do not employ him."
But it is not enough to take a man into a business organization. Every newcomer must be broken in. Sometimes this is done by means of formal training, sometimes it consists merely of giving him an idea of what is expected of him and letting him work out his own salvation. Granting that he is already familiar with the work in a general way, and that he is intelligent and resourceful, he ought to be able to adapt himself without a great deal of instruction from above. All of this depends upon the kind of work which is to be done.
Nearly every employer exercises more caution in selecting the man who is to meet the public than any other. It is through him that the all-important first impression is made, and a man who is rude or discourteous, or who, for any reason, rubs people the wrong way, simply will not do. He may have many virtues but unless they are apparent they are for the time being of little service.
Most salesmen have to go to school. Their work consists largely of the study of one of the most difficult subjects in the catalogue: human psychology. They must know why men do what they do and how to make them do what they, the salesmen, want them to do. They must be able to handle the most delicate situations courteously and without friction. It takes the tact of a diplomat, the nerve of a trapeze performer, the physical strength of a prize fighter, the optimism of William J. Bryan or of Pollyanna, and the wisdom of Solomon. Not many men are born with this combination of qualities.
The best training schools base their teaching on character and common sense. One very remarkable organization, which has at its head an astonishingly buoyant and optimistic—and, it is hardly necessary to add, successful—man, teaches that character is nine-tenths of success in salesmanship and technique is only one-tenth. They study technique and character along with it, in a scientific way, like the students in a biological laboratory who examine specimens. Their prospects are their subjects, and while they do not actually bring them into the consultation room, they hold experience meetings and tell the stories of their successful and unsuccessful contacts. The meetings are held at the end of the day, when the men are all tired and many of them are depressed and discouraged. They are opened with songs, "My Old Kentucky Home," "Old Black Joe," "Sweet Adeline," and the other good old familiar favorites that make one think of home and mother and school days and happiness. One or two catchy popular songs are introduced, and the men sing or hum or whistle or divide into groups and do all three with all their might. It is irresistible. Fifteen or twenty minutes of it can wipe out the sourest memory of the day's business, and trivial irritations sink to their proper place in the scheme of things. The little speeches follow, and the men clap and cheer for the ones who have done good work and try to make an intelligent diagnosis of the cases of the ones who have not. When the leader talks he sometimes recounts his early experiences—he, like most good salesmanagers, was once on the road himself—and if he is in an inspirational mood, gives a sound talk on the principle back of the golden rule. The spirit of cooeperation throughout the institution is amazing and the morale is something any group of workers might well envy them.
Most business houses recognize their responsibilities toward the young people that they hire. Well-organized concerns build up from within. The heads of the departments are for the most part men who have received their training in the institution, and they take as much pains in selecting their office boys as they do in selecting any other group, for it is in them that they see the future heads and assistant heads of the departments. In hiring office boys "cleanness, good manners, good physique, mental agility, and good habits are primary requisites," according to Mr. J. Ogden Armour in the American Magazine.
In one of the oldest banks in New York each boy who enters is given a few days' intensive training by a gentleman chosen for the purpose. The instructor stresses the fundamentals of character and, above all things, common sense. Courtesy is rarely discussed as a separate quality but simple instructions are given about not going in front of a person when there is room to go around him, not pushing into an elevator ahead of every one else, not speaking to a man at a desk until he has signified that he is ready, and about sustaining quiet and orderly behavior everywhere. The atmosphere in the bank is the kind that encourages gentlemanly conduct and the new boys either fall in with it or else get out and go somewhere else.
It takes more patience on the part of the youngsters in the financial district than it does in most other places, for the men there work under high tension and are often cross, worried, nervous, and irritable, and as a result are, many times, without intending it, unjust. The discipline is severe, and the boy would not be human if he did not resent it. But the youngster who is quick to fly off the handle will find himself sadly handicapped, however brilliant he may be, in the race with boys who can keep their tempers in the face of an injury.
Three boys out of the hundreds who have passed through the training school in the bank of which we were speaking have been discharged for acts of discourtesy. One flipped a rubber clip across a platform and hit one of the officials in the eye, one refused to stay after hours to finish some work he had neglected during the day, and one was impertinent. All three could have stayed if each had used a little common sense, and all three could have stayed if each act had not been a fair indication of his general attitude toward his work.
One of the most difficult organizations to manage and one against which the charge of discourtesy is frequently brought is the department store. Yet a distinguished Englishwoman visiting here—it takes a woman to judge these things—said, "I had always been told that people in New York were in such a hurry that, although well-meaning enough, they were inclined to appear somewhat rude to strangers. I have found it to be just the reverse. During my first strolls in the streets, in the shops, and elsewhere, I have found everybody most courteous. Your stores, I may say, are the finest I have ever seen, not excepting those of Paris. Their displays are remarkable. Their spaciousness impressed me greatly. Even at a crowded time it was not difficult to move about. In London, where our shops are mostly cramped and old-fashioned, it would be impossible for such large numbers of people to find admittance."
The tribute is a very nice one. For a long time the department stores have realized the difficulties under which they labor and have been making efforts to overcome them. They have formed associations by which they study each other's methods, and most of them have very highly organized systems of training and management. One big department store carries on courtesy drives. Talks are given, posters are exhibited, and prizes are offered for the most courteous clerks in the store. "We know that it is not fair to give prizes," the personnel manager says, "because it is impossible to tell really which clerks are the most courteous, but it stimulates interest and effort throughout the organization and the effects last after the drive is over."
One big department store which is favorably known among a large clientele for courteous handling of customers depends upon its atmosphere to an enormous extent, but it realizes that atmosphere does not come by chance, that it has to be created. They have arranged it so that each clerk has time to serve each customer who enters without the nervous hurry which is the cause of so much rudeness. The salesclerks who come into the institution are given two weeks' training in the mechanical end of their work, the ways of recording sales, methods of approach, and so on, as well as in the spirit of cooeperation and service. By the time the clerk is placed behind the counter he or she can conduct a sale courteously and with despatch, but there is never a time when the head of the department is not ready and willing to be consulted about extraordinary situations which may arise.
It is during the rush seasons such as the three or four weeks which precede Christmas that courtesy is put to the severest test, and the store described in the paragraph above bears up under it nobly. It did not wait until Christmas to begin teaching courtesy. It had tried to make it a habit, but last year several weeks before the holidays it issued a bulletin to its employees to remind them of certain things that would make the Christmas shopping less nerve-racking. The first paragraph was headed HEALTH. It ran as follows:
"If you want to be really merry at Christmas time, it will be well to bear in mind during this busy month at least these few 'health savers':
"Every night try to get eight good hours of sleep.
"All day try to keep an even temper and a ready smile.
"Remember that five minutes lost in the morning means additional pressure all day long.
"Try to make your extra effort a steady one—not allowing yourself to get excited and rushed so that you make careless mistakes.
"Try to eat regularly three good nourishing meals, relaxing completely while you are at the table and for a little while afterward.
"Breathe deeply, and as often as you can, good fresh air—it cures weariness.
"And don't forget that a brisk walk, a sensible dinner, an hour's relaxation, and then a hot bath before retiring, make a refreshing end for one business day and a splendid preparation for the next."
There were six other paragraphs in the bulletin. One asked the salesclerks to take the greatest care in complying with a customer's request to send gift purchases without the price tags. Another asked them to pay strictest attention to getting the right addresses, and most of the others were taken up with suggestions for ways to avoid congestion by using a bank of elevators somewhat less conveniently located than the others, by limiting their personal telephone calls to those which were absolutely necessary, and so on. In both tone and content the bulletin was an excellent one. It first considered the employees and then the customers. There was no condescension in the way it was written and there was no "bunk" about what was in it. But the bulletin was only a small part of an effort that never stops.
The purpose of the store is, to quote from its own statement, "to render honest, prompt, courteous and complete service to customers" and the qualities by which they measure their employees are as follows:
Health Loyalty Cooeperation Initiative Industry Accuracy Thoroughness Responsibility Knowledge
Courtesy is not included in the list but it is unnecessary. If these qualities are developed courtesy will come of its own accord. It is worth noting that health comes first in the list. To a business man, or indeed to any other, it is one of the most precious possessions in the world, and is the best of backgrounds upon which to embroider the flower of courtesy.
Every employer who has had any experience knows the value of a contented workman, and does what he can to make and keep him so by paying him adequate wages, and providing comfortable, sanitary, and pleasant working conditions. Contentment is, however, more an attitude of mind than a result of external circumstances. Happiness is who, not where, you are. We do not mean by this that a workman should be wholly satisfied and without ambition or that he should face the world with a permanent grin, but that he should to the best of his ability follow that wonderful motto of Roosevelt's, "Do what you can where you are with what you have." No man can control circumstances; not even the braggart Napoleon, who declared that he made circumstances, could control them to the end; and no man can shape them to suit exactly his own purposes, but every man can meet them bravely as a gentleman should.
Most big business concerns supply rest rooms, eating places, recreation camps, and all manner of comforts for their employees, and most of them maintain welfare departments. No business house under heaven could take the place of a home, but where the home influence is bad the best counterfoil is a wholesome atmosphere in which to work. Recently an institution advertising for help, instead of asking what the applicant could do for it, pictured and described what it could do for the applicant. The result was that they got a high-class group of people to make their selection from, and their attitude was one which invited the newcomers to do their best.
Factory owners are paying a good deal of attention to the appearance of their buildings. Many of them have moved out into the country so as to provide more healthful surroundings for work. Numbers of modern factory buildings are very beautiful to look at, trim white buildings set in close-cut lawns with tennis courts and swimming pools not far away, red brick buildings covered with ivy, sand-colored ones with roses climbing over them, and others like the one famous for its thousand windows, rather more comfortable than lovely. In our big cities there are office buildings that look like cathedrals, railroad stations that look like temples, and traffic bridges that look (from a distance) like fairy arches leading into the land of dreams. They are not all like this. We wish they were. But it is to the credit of the American business man that he has put at least a part of his life and work into the building of beautiful things. The influence which comes from them is, like nearly all potent influences, an unconscious one, but it makes for happiness and contentment.
The problem of keeping the employees contented is somewhat different in every place. House organs, picnics, dances, recreation parks, sanitariums in the country and so on can be utilized by "big business," but the spirit which animates them is the same as that which makes the grocery man at Hicksville Centre give his delivery boy an afternoon off when the baseball team comes to town. The spirit of courtesy is everywhere the same, but it must be kept in mind that the end of business is production, production takes work, and that play is introduced in order that the work may be better. This is true whether we are looking at the matter from the point of view of the employer or of the employee. What is to the interest of one—this is gaining slow but sure recognition—is to the interest of the other.
Certain kinds of mechanical work are very trying because of their monotony. The work must be done, however, and in well-ordered places it is arranged so that the worker has brief periods of rest at regular intervals or so that he is shifted from one kind of activity to another. It is poor economy to wear out men. In the old days before the power of steam or electricity had been discovered, boats were propelled by slaves who were kept below decks chained to their seats, and watched by an overseer who forced them to continue rowing long after they had reached the point of exhaustion. The galley slave sat always on the same side of the boat and after a few years his body became so twisted and warped that he was no good for anything else, and pretty soon was not even good for that. Then he was thrown into the discard—most of them died before they got this far along—and the owner of the boat had to look out for more men. Something like this happens to the soul of a man who is bound to dreary, monotonous work without relief or any outlet for growth. It is deadening to him, to his work, and to his employer. The far-sighted employer knows it. The masters of slaves learned it many years ago. The chain which binds the servant to the master binds the master to the servant. And the fastening is as secure at one end as it is at the other.
Too strict supervision—slave-driving—is fatal to courtesy. The places which have intricate spy systems to watch their employees are the ones where there is most rudeness and trickery. The clerk who is hectored, nagged, spied upon, suspected and scolded by some hireling brought in for that purpose or by the head of the firm himself cannot be expected to give "a smile with every purchase and a thank you for every goodbye." The training of employees never stops, but it is something that should be placed very largely in their own hands. After a certain point supervision should be unnecessary.
Most places hate to discharge a man. Labor turnover is too expensive. Most of them try to place their men in the positions for which they are best suited. It is easier to take a round peg out of a square hole and put it into a round one than it is to send out for another assortment of pegs. Men are transferred from sales departments to accounting departments, are taken off the road and brought into the home office, and are shifted about in various ways until they fit. If a man shows that "he has it in him" he is given every chance to succeed. "There is only one thing we drop a man for right off," says an employment manager in a place which has in its service several thousand people of both sexes, "and that is for saying something out of the way to one of our girls."
This same manager tells the story of a boy he hired and put into a department which had been so badly managed that there were a number of loose ends to be tied up. The boy threw himself into his work, cleared up things, and found himself in a "soft snap" without a great deal to do. He happened not to be the kind of person who can be satisfied with a soft snap, and he became so restive and unhappy that he was recommended for discharge. This brought him back to the head of the employment bureau. He, instead of throwing the young man out, asked that he be given a second trial in a department where the loose ends could not be cleaned up. It was a place where there was always plenty of work to do, and the young man has been happy and has been doing satisfactory work ever since.
The house in which this happened is always generous toward the mistakes of its employees if the mistakes do not occur too persistently and too frequently. In one instance a boy made three successive errors in figures in as many days. He was slated for discharge but sent first before the employment manager. As they talked the latter noticed that the boy leaned forward with a strained expression on his face. Thinking perhaps he was slightly deaf, he lowered his voice, but the boy understood every word he said. Then he noticed that there was a tiny red ridge across his nose as if he were accustomed to wearing glasses, although he did not have them on, and when he asked about it he discovered that the boy had broken his glasses a few days before, and that he had not had them fixed because he did not have money enough.
"Why didn't you tell us about it?" the employment manager asked.
"It was not your fault that I broke them," the boy replied. "It was up to me," an independent answer which in itself indicates how much worth while it was to keep him.
The manager gave him money enough to have the glasses mended, the next day the boy was back at work, and there was no more trouble.
An employee in the same organization unintentionally did something which hurt the president of the firm a great deal. But when he went to him and apologized (it takes a man to admit that he is wrong and apologize for it) the president sent him back to his desk, "It's all right, boy," he said, "I know you care. That's enough."
In a big department store in New England there was a girl a few years back with an alert mind, an assertive personality, and a tremendous fund of energy. She was in the habit of giving constructive suggestions to the heads of the departments in which she worked, and because of her youth and manner, they resented it. "I took her into my office," the manager said. "I'm the only one she can be impertinent to there and I don't mind it. It is a bad manifestation of a good quality, and in time the disagreeable part of it will wear off. She will make an excellent business woman."
"If a man finds fault with a boy without explaining the cause to him," we are quoting here from an executive in a highly successful Middle Western firm, "I won't fire the boy, I fire the man. We have not a square inch of space in this organization for the man who criticizes a subordinate without telling him how to do better." Unless the plan of management is big enough to include every one from the oldest saint to the youngest sinner it is no good. Business built on oppression and cut-throat competition, whether the competition is between employer and employee or between rival firms, is war, and war, industrial or political, is still what General Sherman called it some years ago.
We hold no brief for paternalism. We have no patience with it. All that we want is a spirit of fairness and cooeperation which will give every man a chance to make good on his own account. This spirit inevitably flowers into courtesy. In every place courtesy should be, of course, so thoroughly a part of the surroundings that it is accepted like air or sunshine without comment. But it is not, and never has been except in old civilizations where manners have ripened and mellowed under the beneficent influence of time. Our traditions here—speaking of the country as a whole—are still in the making, but we have at least got far enough along to realize that it is not only worth while to do things that are good, but, as an old author has it, to do them with a good grace. It cannot be accomplished overnight. Courtesy is not like a fungous growth springing up in a few hours in the decayed parts of a tree; it is like that within the tree itself which gives lustre to the leaves and a beautiful surface to the whole. It takes time to develop it—time and patience—but it is worth waiting for.
All that makes a man who he is and not someone else is called personality. It is the sum total of his qualities, a thing inborn, but including besides such externals as dress, manner, and appearance. It is either a tremendous asset or a terrific liability, and so important that certain schools which purport to teach success in business declare that it is everything. Which is just as foolish as saying that it is nothing.
One of these success-before-you-wake-to-morrow-morning schools of business instruction dismisses the fact which has remained true through three thousand years of change, namely, that there is no short cut to success, as a myth, and even goes so far as to say that it is almost impossible to achieve success to-day by working for it. E. H. Harriman they give as an example of a man who did no work but won success by smoking cigars while other men built railroads for him, quoting a joking remark of his to prove a serious point, when, as a matter of fact, Mr. Harriman was one of the large number of American business men who have literally worked themselves to death. Foch said that he won the war by smoking his pipe, but does any one believe that the great commander won the war by not working? What he meant was that he won the war by thinking, and the worn face, which seemed almost twice as old when the conflict was over, showed how hard that work was.
It is so impossible for a false doctrine to stand on its own feet that the spread-eagle advertisement of this school contradicts itself long before it gets to the "Sign here and mail to-day" coupon. "The first time you try to swim," shouts the advertisement, "for instance, you sink; and the first time you try to ride a bicycle you fall off. But the ability to do these things was born in you. And shortly you can both swim and ride. Then you wonder why you could not always do these things. They seem so absurdly simple." It may be that there are people who have learned to swim and to ride a bicycle by sitting in a chair and cultivating certain inherent qualities but we have never heard of them. Everybody that we ever knew worked and worked hard swimming and riding before they learned. The only way to learn to do a job is to do it, and the only way to succeed is to work. Any school or any person who says that "the most important thing for you to do is not to work, but first to find the short road to success. After that you may safely work all you like—but as a matter of fact, you won't have to work very hard," is a liar and a menace to the country and to business.
But the value of personality is not to be under-estimated. "Nature," says Thackeray somewhere in "The Virginians," "has written a letter of credit upon some men's faces, which is honored almost wherever presented. Harry Warrington's [Harry Warrington was the hero who brought about this observation] countenance was so stamped in his youth. His eyes were so bright, his cheeks so red and healthy, his look so frank and open, that almost all who beheld him, nay, even those who cheated him, trusted him." It was the "letter of credit" stamped upon the face of Roosevelt, pledge of the character which lay behind it, which made him the idol of the American people.
Personality is hard to analyze and harder still to acquire. The usual advice given to one who is trying to cultivate a pleasing manner and address is "Be natural," but this cannot be taken too literally. Most of us find it perfectly natural to be cross and disagreeable under trying circumstances. It would be natural for a man to cry out profane words when a woman grinds down on his corn but it would not be polite. It was natural for Uriah Heep to wriggle like an eel, but that did not make it any the less detestable. It was natural, considering the past history of Germany and the system under which he was educated, for the Kaiser to want to be lord of the world, but that did not make it any the less horrible.
Another bromidic piece of advice is "Be perfectly frank and sincere." But this, too, has its limits. Some people pride themselves on saying exactly what they think. Usually they are brutal, insensitive, wholly incapable of sympathetic understanding of any one else, and cursed, besides, with a colossal vanity. A man may determine to tell nothing but the truth, but this does not make it necessary for him to tell the whole truth, especially when it will hurt the feelings or the reputation of some one else. No man has a right to impose his opinions and prejudices, his sufferings and agonies, on other people. It is the part of a coward to whine.
And yet a man must be himself, must be natural and sincere. Roosevelt could no more have adopted the academic manner of Wilson than Wilson could have adopted the boyish manner of Roosevelt. Lincoln could no more have adopted the courtly grace of Washington than Washington could have adopted the rugged simplicity of Lincoln. Nor would such transformations be desirable even if they were possible. The world would be a very dreary place if we were all cut by the same pattern.
A number of years ago in an upstate town in New York there was a shoe store which had been built up by the engaging personality of the man who owned it. He had worked his way up from a tiny shoe shop in New Jersey where, as a boy, he made shoes by hand before there were factories for the purpose, and he had always kept in close touch with the business even after he owned a large establishment and had a number of men working under him. He stayed in the shop, greeted his customers as they came in, and many times waited on them himself.