( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the preceding pages we have looked over the field of etiquette in business in a general way, and have come to the only conclusion possible, namely, that the basis of courtesy in business is common sense, and that whatever rules may be given must not be followed slavishly, but must simply be used as guide posts. In the pages which follow we shall go into detail and watch courtesy at work among certain groups and individuals.
Let us take, for example, a big concern which employs a thousand or more people. We shall begin with the president.
President of a Big Organization. Here is a man who bears a heavy responsibility. He has not only his own welfare to look after but that of the men and women who work with (we like this word better than for) him. His first duty is to them. How can he best perform it?
It is a matter of fact that few men rise to such positions who are not innately courteous. It is one of the qualities which enable them to rise, For this reason we shall take it for granted that the president needs no instructions. Already he has learned the great value of courtesy. But this does not protect him always from discourtesy in other people.
Every man who holds a high position in a big organization is besieged with visitors, but no one so much as the president. He is a target for cranks and idlers and freaks as well as for earnest business men who want to help him or to get help from him. Thousands during the course of a year come to call on him. If he saw them all he would have to turn over the presidency to some one else and devote himself to entertaining visitors. Many of those who come ask for him when he is not at all the man they want to see, but they have been taught in the schools of salesmanship or they have read in a magazine that it never pays to bother- with the little fellow, but that they should go straight to the top.
Every minute of the time of the president of a big company is valuable (all time is valuable, as far as that goes), and it must be protected from the people who have no right to infringe upon it.
You would think that the vice-presidents and the managers and the various executives would be his best protection. They are not. It is the person who is placed at the front door to receive visitors. We shall consider him next.
The Man at the Door. As a matter of fact, this person is usually a girl, many times a very young and irresponsible one, because great numbers of business men have not yet realized the importance of the position. A well-poised girl or a woman who has had wide experience in handling people can fill the place quite as efficiently as a man, and a great deal more so if the man has not been chosen because he has the quick sympathy and ready tact so necessary in taking care of the needs of a miscellaneous assortment of callers.
In the house we are observing the person at the door is a young man who began as a messenger boy, and who, because he did what he was asked to do cheerfully instead of sullenly, with a "Certainly, sir," and a smile instead of a "That's Bob's business" and a frown, was made manager of the messengers, and then first assistant of the man at the door, and later, when that man was given another position, was promoted to his place. The job commands a good salary and offers chances of promotion. The young man likes it.
A visitor comes, a young salesman, let us say, who has had little experience. This is only the second or third time he has tried to storm the doors of big business. He asks at once for the president. He does not give his card because the school. where he learned his trade cautioned him against doing so. (He is perfectly correct, and he would have been equally correct if he had given it. The more formal style is to send in the card.) The man at the door sees at once what kind of man he has to deal with.
"The president is busy," he answers-a safe remark always, because if he is not he should be; "maybe I can do something for you."
The salesman explains that he has an attachment to increase efficiency of typewriters. He would like to show the president how it works.
"Oh, you don't want Mr. President," the host answers. "You want Mr. Jones. He attends to all such things for us. Will you be seated here in the reception room," motioning toward the door which is at one side of his desk, "while I find out if he is busy?"
This concern is very conservative about buying new attachments and new machinery of any kind, but it is ever on the alert to discover means of increasing its output and saving its manpower.
Almost any new idea is worth a demonstration.
If the man at the desk has an intelligent messenger boy—and he should have—he sends him in to Mr. Jones. The boy finds Mr. Jones busy. He will be free in about fifteen minutes and then will be glad to see the salesman. The man reports to the visitor and asks if he cares to wait. He does. The host offers him a magazine and asks him to make himself comfortable while he goes back to his desk to attend to the next visitor.
This one also wants to see the president.
"The president is in conference just now," the young man replies. "Perhaps there is something I can do for you in the meanwhile if you will tell me what you want."
"It's none of your business," he answers rudely. "I want the president."
The chances are against a man of this sort. He may be a person the president wants to see, but the odds are ten to one that he is not.
"I'm sorry but you cannot possibly see him now. He is busy."
"When will he be free?"
"It is hard to tell. These conferences sometimes last an hour or two, and I am sure he will not see you even then unless you tell him why you want to see him. He is a very busy man."
The visitor sputters around a few minutes and it develops that he is selling insurance.
The young man knows that the president will not see him under any circumstances. He is already heavily insured, as every wise man should be, and he cannot be bothered with agents who are trying to sell him larger policies.
"I'm sorry," the young man repeats, "but I am sure there is no use in letting him waste your time. He is already carrying a heavy policy and he positively refuses to talk insurance with anyone, no matter who it is."
This should be enough for the salesman. What the young man says is true. It would be a waste of his time as well as the president's. He does not care half so much for the salesman's time—there is no reason why he should—but notice how tactfully he tells him that the head of the organization has no time to spend with him.
There is a certain rough type of salesman (we use the word salesman here in the broadest sense, as the salesmen themselves use it, to cover all the people who are trying to convince some one else that what they have is worth while whether it is an idea or a washing machine or a packet of drawings) —there is a certain rough type of salesman who tries to bluster his way through. He never lasts long as a salesman, though unfortunately he survives a good many years in various kinds of business. Even he must not be turned away rudely.
"I'm sorry," the young man says to a person of this sort, "but the president has given positive orders that he must not be disturbed this morning. He is engaged in a very important transaction."
The next man who approaches the door has an authentic claim on the president. It would be as great a calamity to turn him away as it would be to let some of the others in. He presents his card and says that he has an appointment. A truly courteous man, whenever possible, arranges an appointment beforehand. The young man takes the card, waves toward the reception room,and asks him to be seated while he finds out if the president is busy. He telephones to the secretary of the president, tells him who is calling, and asks if the president is ready to see him. If the answer is affirmative he asks if he will see him in his office or out in the reception room. It is much easier to get rid of a visitor from the entrance hall or reception room than from an in-side office. If he says that he will see him in the reception room the girl reports to the visitor that he will come in a few minutes, offers him a magazine, and asks him to make himself at home. If the president says that he will see the visitor in his office the young man sends one of the mes-, senger boys to usher him through the building.
Now it may be that this man had no appointment with the president, but that he has used it as a pretext to break through. In this case, the secretary answers, after consulting his schedule, that the president has never heard of such a per-son and has no such appointment. A man of this sort is not worth a minute's consideration. He has shown himself dishonest at the outset with a petty contemptible dishonesty, and the temptation is to pitch him out on his head. But the young man says quietly :
"His secretary says that the president has no appointment with you. I am afraid you have come to the wrong place. It must be some other Mr. Beacon."
There is a note of finality in his voice which convinces the visitor that there is no use in going further.
The next visitor is a woman who has come to have lunch with a friend of hers who works in the accounting department.
"It is fifteen minutes before time for lunch," the young man answers. "I can call her now, of course, but if you would rather not disturb her, I'll tell her that you will wait for her in the reception room until she comes for you."
The woman thanks him and agrees that it will be much better not to disturb her. The young man offers her a chair and a magazine and invites her to make herself comfortable.
It grows monotonous in the telling for him to ask each of the visitors exactly the same questions (never exactly the same, of course) in the same cordial tone of voice and to tell them to make themselves comfortable in exactly the same way, but the means of attaining success in such a place lies in the fact that he greets each visitor as if he were the only one he had to attend to, and that he is, for the time being, at least, completely at the visitor's service. It is not so much what the young man says as the way he says it. "Good morning" can be spoken in such a way that it is an insult.
The Girl at the Telephone. It is nerve-racking to stand at the door to receive callers, but it is much more so to sit at the switchboard and receive messages. The only point of con-tact is through the voice, but it is remarkable how much of one's personality the voice expresses. If you are tired your voice shows it; if you are cross your voice tells it; if you are worried, your voice betrays it. It is possible for one (everyone) to cultivate a pleasing voice. The telephone companies have learned this, and there is no part of her equipment upon which they spend more time and effort than on the voice of the telephone girl. It is interesting to know that their very excellent motto, "The voice with the smile wins" did not spring into being without thought. On the early bulletins this clumsy phrase was printed: "A smiling voice facilitates service."
The girl at the telephone, even though she receives a thousand calls a day, must answer each one pleasantly and patiently. Some people call without a very clear idea of what they want, and the fact that business houses have so many different names for exactly the same job often makes it difficult for them to locate the person they are asking for, even when they are fairly sure who it is they want.
"May I speak to your personnel manager?" comes the query over the wire to a girl who has never heard of a personnel manager.
"I'm sorry, I did not quite hear you."
The person at the other end repeats the word and the girl is sure she had it right the first time.
"We have no personnel manager here. Maybe there is some one else who would do. If you will tell me what you want
"I want a job."
"Just a minute, please, I'll connect you with our employment manager."
Advertising engineers, executive secretaries, and many others are old jobs masquerading under new names.
More business men complain of the girl at the telephone than of any other person in business. She must, under the handicap of distance, accomplish exactly what the man at the door does, and must do it as efficiently and as courteously.
No matter how angry the one who is calling becomes, no matter how profane he may be, no matter what he says, she must not answer back, and she must not slam the receiver down while he is talking. Perfect poise, an even temper, patience, and a pleasant voice under control—if she has these, and a vast number of the telephone girls have, she need not worry about the rules of courtesy. They will take care of themselves.
The numbers that a girl in a business office has to call frequently she should have on a pad or card near the switchboard so that she will not have to look them up. Many business men ask the girl at the board to give them Blank and Blank or Smith and Smith instead of giving her the numbers of the two concerns. She then has to look them up, quite a difficult task when one has the headpiece on and calls coming in and going out every minute. To stop to look up one number often delays several, and it is a duty which should never devolve upon the girl whose business it is to send the calls through. The man who is calling, or his secretary, if he has one, or a person near the switchboard stationed there for the purpose should look up the numbers and give them to the operator.
An efficient girl at the telephone sends numbers through as quickly as is humanly possible, but even then she is often scolded by nervous and harassed men who expect more than can really, be done.
Mr. Hunter has called Main 6785. It is busy. He waits. Hours pass. At least it seems so to him, and he grows impatient.
"What's the matter with that number, Miss Fisher?"
"I'm still trying, Mr. Hunter. I'll call you when they answer."
The line continues busy. Mr. Hunter looks over the papers on his desk. His nervousness increases. He takes down the receiver again and asks what the trouble is. He does not get the number any more quickly this way, but it would be hard to convince him that he does not. The girl says quietly again that she is still trying. He clings to the receiver and in a few minutes she answers triumphantly, "Here they are," and the connection is made.
The telephone girl in a big concern (or a little one) is constantly annoyed with people who have the wrong number. When it happens ten or twelve times in the course of a day—fortunately it is not usually so often—it is hard for her to keep a grip on her temper and answer pleasantly, "This is not the number you want," but the snappish answer always makes a bad situation worse, and the loss of temper which causes it drains the energy of the person who makes it. It is not merely the voice with the smile that wins; it is the disposition and temperament to which such a voice is the index.
The Secretary. The next in the line of defense is the president's secretary. To him (and we use the masculine pronoun although this position, like a good many others, is often held by women even in the biggest organizations, where the responsibility attached to it is by no means small)—to him the president turns over the de-tails of his day's work. He arranges the president's schedule and reminds him of the things he has forgotten and the things he is likely to forget. He receives all of his visitors by telephone first and many times disposes of their wants without having to connect them with the president at all. He receives many of the callers who are admitted by the man at the door and in the same way often takes care of them with-out disturbing the president. He knows more about the petty routine of the job than the president himself. He is accurate. He is responsible. He is patient. He is courteous.
In order that he may be all these things it is necessary for the president to keep him well informed as to what he is doing and where he is going and what he is planning so that he can give intelligent answers to the people who come, so that he can keep things running smoothly when the president is away, so that he can answer without delay when the president asks whether he has a luncheon engagement on Thursday, and what he did with the memorandum from the circulation manager, and who is handling the shipping sheets.
Men who have their minds on larger matters cannot keep all the details of their jobs in mind, but it is significant to know that most successful business men know with more than a fair degree of accuracy what these details amount to. Some secretaries feel very superior to the men who em-ploy them because they can remember the date on which the representatives of the Gettem Company called and the employers cannot. The author knows a chauffeur who drives for a famous New York surgeon who thinks himself a much better man than the surgeon because he can remember the numbers of the houses where his patients and his friends live and the surgeon cannot. The author also knows a messenger boy who thinks himself a much bigger man than one of the most successful brokers in Wall Street because the broker sometimes gives him the same message twice within fifteen minutes, the second time after it has already been delivered.
The secretary comes to the office every morning neatly clad and on time. The hour at which his employer comes in has nothing to do with him. There is a definite time at which he is expected to be at his desk. He is there.
He opens the letters on his desk—and those addressed to the president come first to him—and sorts them, throwing aside the worthless advertising matter, saving that which may be of some interest, marking the letters that are to be referred to various other members of the house, and placing them in the memorandum basket, piling into one heap those that he cannot answer without first consulting the president, and into another those which must be answered by the president personally. Intimately personal letters often come mixed in with the rest of the mail. No man wants a secretary whom he cannot trust even with letters of this sort, but almost any secretary worth having will feel a certain amount of delicacy in opening them unless he is requested to do so. When these letters are from people who write often the secretary grows to recognize the handwriting from the outside of the envelope, and therefore does not need to open them. In other cases it is sometimes possible to distinguish a personal from a business letter. These should be handled according to the wishes of the man to whom they are directed. Many business men turn practically everything—even the settlement of their family affairs—over to their secretaries. It is a personal matter, and the secretary's part in it is to carry out the wishes of his employer.
By the time the mail is sorted the president has come in.
He rings for his secretary, telephones for him, sends a messenger for him, or else goes to his desk himself and asks him to come in and take dictation. There is no special courtesy or discourtesy in any of these methods. It depends on how far apart the desks are, how busy he is, and a number of other things. He does not yell for his secretary to come in. He manages to get him there quietly. It is not necessary for him to rise when the secretary enters (even if the secretary is a woman) though he may do so (and it is a very gracious thing, especially if the secretary is a woman) but he should greet him (or her) with a pleasant "Good-morning."
The secretary takes his place in the comfortable chair that has been provided for him, with notebook and pencil in hand and at least one pencil in reserve. He waits for the president to begin, and listens closely so that, he may transcribe as rapidly as he speaks. If he fails to understand he waits until they come to the end of a sentence before asking his employer to repeat. It is much better to do so then than to depend on puzzling it out later or coming back and asking him after he has forgotten what was said.
Telephone interruptions and others may come during the dictation but the secretary waits until he is dismissed or until the pile of letters has disappeared.
'When the president has finished it is the secretary's time to begin talking. He consults him about the various letters upon which he needs his advice and makes notations in shorthand on them. He reports on the various calls that have come in and the house memoranda. A good secretary reads and digests these before turning them over to his employer, and in most cases gives the gist of the memorandum instead of the memorandum itself. It saves time.
The president's secretary usually has a secretary of his own, a woman, let us say, or a girl whose preliminary training has been good and whose record for the year and a half she has been with the company has been excellent.
She comes to her desk on time every morning as fresh as a daisy and as inconspicuous. The relation that she bears to the president's secretary is much the same as the relation that he bears to the president. She gets the letters that are addressed to him and sorts them in the same way that he does those of the president. On days when he is absent she takes care of all of his work, in so far as she is able, as well as her own.
Her employer is considerate of her always. He does not make a practice of taking ten or fifteen minutes of her lunch hour or five or ten minutes overtime at the close of the day, but when there is a good reason why he should ask her to remain he does so, asking courteously if she would mind staying. If she is genuinely interested in her work—and this young lady is—she will stay, but if she has an even better reason why she should go she explains briefly that it is impossible to stay. He never imposes heavier burdens upon her than she can bear, but he does not hesitate to ask her to do whatever needs to be done, and he does it with a "Please" and a "Thank you," and not with a "See, here" and a "Say, listen to me, now." She is a very pretty and attractive girl, but the man she is working for is a gentleman. To him she is his secretary, and if he were ever in danger of forgetting it she would be quick to remind him. She does not go around with a chip on her shoulder all the time, and she talks freely with the various men around the office just as she does with the women and girls, but it is in an impersonal way. She never permits intimate attentions from her immediate employer or any one else.
Executives. "Executive" is a large, , loose word which rolls smoothly off the tongue of far too many business men to-day. Office boys begin to think in terms of it before they are out of knee trousers. "I could hold down the job," said a youngster who had hurt his hand and whose business was to carry a bag of mail from a suburban factory into New York, "if I could get some one to carry the bag." "I can do the work," say smart young men in the "infant twenties" (and many others—there is no age limit) , "but I must have a man to look after the details."
The way to an executive position is through details. Work, plain hard work, is the foundation of every enduring job, and the executive who thinks he can do without it has a sharp reckoning day ahead. In most places the executives have worked their way up slowly, and at no time along the way have they had that large contempt for small jobs which characterizes so many young men in business. They have been perfectly willing to do whatever came to hand.
But after all this is said, the fact remains that an executive is successful not so much because of his own ability as because of his power to recognize ability in other men. He is—and this is true of every executive from the president down —the servant of his people in much the same way that the President of the United States is the servant of the American people. This means that he must be readily accessible to them, and must listen as courteously to them as if they were important visitors from across the sea or somewhere else.
Many executives—and this was true especially during the war—have surrounded themselves with a tangle of red tape which has to be unwound every time an employee (or any one else) wants to get near enough to ask a question. This is absurd. Sensible men destroy elaborate plans of management and find they get along better without them. The Baldwin Locomotive Works, which has a hundred years of solid reputation be-hind it, has no management plans. "There is about the place an atmosphere of work, and work without frills or feathers," and this is essentially true of every business that is built to last. Look at the organizations which, because of war conditions, rose into a prosperity they had never enjoyed before. Most of them have collapsed, and the little men who rose with them (so many of them and so much too small for their jobs) have collapsed with them.
In the big reliable concerns, and the small ones, too, the high executives are easily approached, especially by the members of the organization. In many of the open offices—and open offices have done much to create a feeling of comradeship among workers—the desk of the general manager is out on the floor with the desks of the rank and file of the employees with nothing to distinguish it from theirs except the fact that there is a bigger man behind it. A real man does not need a lot of elaborate decorations. They annoy him.
There are two sides to this, however. Visitors from the outside are not the only ones who are likely to waste the time of other people, and a busy man has to protect himself from indoor nuisances as well as those that drift in from the outside. Some do it by means of secretaries, but a good executive needs no barrier at all between himself and his own men. They learn soon enough—we are speaking now of a good executive,remember that there is no use in going to him unless there is some definite reason why they should, and that the more briefly and directly they present their problem the more likely they are to have it settled.
When an executive receives a caller (or when any man in a business house receives a caller) he should receive him and not merely tolerate him. A young advertising man who began several years ago had two very interesting experiences with two gruff executives in two different companies. Both consented to see him, both kept on writing at their desks after he entered and gave him scant attention throughout the interview. Apparently they were both successful business men. Certainly they both held positions that would indicate it. Yet both of them a few years later came to the young advertising man at different times looking for jobs. Needless to say neither found a place with him, not because he held a grudge against them, but simply because he knew what kind of men they were and that they could not help in the kind of business he was trying to build.
From the beginning of the interview the host should do all he can to make his visitor comfortable. You see a lot in certain magazines about setting the visitor at a disadvantage by giving him an awkward chair, making him face the light and grilling him with questions. It is pure nonsense.
It is very gracious for a man to rise to greet a caller and extend his hand, especially if the caller is young and ill at ease. It is imperative if it is an old man or a woman. He should ask the visitor to be seated before he sits down himself.
"Well, young man, what can I do for you?" is hardly a polite way of opening an interview. The host should wait with a cordially receptive air until his guest begins, unless he is in a great hurry. Then he frankly tells the caller so and asks him to make his business brief.
Interruptions come even in the midst of conversations with important visitors, but no visitor is so important as to permit neglect of one's employees. These should be met courteously and dispatched quickly. The host must always ask the pardon of the guest before turning to the telephone or to a messenger, and if the guest is an employee the rule is the same.
At the conclusion of the interview the host rises and shakes hands with the departing visitor but does not necessarily go with him (or her) to the door or the elevator, as the case may be. This is an additional courtesy in which a busy man cannot always indulge. The essential part of every interview is that the visitor shall state what he wants, that the host shall give the best 'answer in his power, and then the sooner the visitor departs the better for all concerned.
The Rank and File. This is the largest group in every business. It is the one that fluctuates most. It is the one from which the discards are made. It is the one from which officers are chosen. It is the one in which the real growth of a business takes place. And by the same token it is the one, generally speaking, where there is most discourtesy. Promotion depends upon the possession of this quality much more than people realize. Many a man with actual ability to hold a high position is not given an opportunity to do so because the men who employ him realize that he would antagonize those who worked under him.
There are among the body of employees in every concern (even the very best) discontented members. In most cases, indeed, in nearly all cases except where there is a chronic grudge against life which is not affected by external circumstances, these are weeded out, and those with habitual grudges are weeded out along with the others or else are kept in minor places. Perhaps it would be more nearly correct to say they keep themselves there. Sometimes a subordinate feels that he is unfairly treated by his immediate superior. He wishes to go to the man above him in authority. Is it right for him to do so?
It is an unwritten law that each worker shall be loyal to the head of his department. Suppose the head does not deserve it?
There are three courses open to the worker. He can leave the job and find another in a different organization. He can go to the head of the department and state the case to him. If this should fail he may appeal to the man above him, but he should never go over the head of his own immediate superior without first telling him that he intends to do it.
This is an important rule. It holds whether one has a grievance to present or a suggestion. Constructive plans should first be talked over with one's immediate superior, and with his approval carried to the next man, or he may carry them himself. If this superior is the sort of man with whom you are constantly at loggerheads, you had much better get out and get a place somewhere else. And if you find that continually you are in hot water with the men who have authority over you, you may be very sure that the fault is not altogether theirs.
Subordinates usually have an idea that the heads of their departments leave all of the work to them. Well, as a matter of fact, they do leave a large part of it. If they did not they would have no excuse for having subordinates. The reward of good work is more work. This is less of a hardship than it sounds. Sir James Barrie once quoted Dr. Johnson's statement that doubt-less the Lord could have made a better fruit than the strawberry, but that he doubtless never did, and added to it that He doubtless could have created something that was more fun than hard work, but that He doubtless never did.
The subway guards in New York City say that the rush which comes just before five o'clock (the closing time of most of the business houses) is as great as the one which comes just after. They call the persons in the former rush the clock watchers. They have left work about fifteen minutes early, and tomorrow morning—business experience has taught this—they will come in fifteen minutes late. For the most part these are the discontented workers who spend "60 per cent. of their time in doing their job, and 40 per cent. in doing the boss."
It has always been considered a breach of good manners to pull out one's watch and look at it in company. It is true in the office as well as in the drawing room. The clock watchers are impolite. It has also been considered a breath of good manners to hold a guest against his will against the conventional hour for his departure. The employers who habitually keep their employees after closing hours are equally impolite. It is a question of honor, too. Time is money, and the time grafters, whether employers or employees, are dishonest.
When one employee goes over to the desk of another it is not necessary for the second to rise. The first should wait until the one at the desk Iooks up before speaking unless he is so absorbed in his work that he does not glance up after a minute or two. Then he should interrupt with "I beg your pardon." It makes no difference if one of the employees is a woman and the other is a man. Work at an office can be seriously impeded if every time one person goes to the desk of another the other rises. So many times the whole conversation covers less time than it takes to get out of one's chair and sit back down again. In some places subordinates are required to stand when a superior speaks to them, but as a general thing it is not necessary. In such houses it is correct to play the game according to the general standard and to act according to the rules set down by the men who are in charge of affairs.
There is no person so wretched or so poor or so miserable but that he can find other people who are more wretched, poorer, or more miser-able. At the same time there is no person so superior, so wealthy, or gifted but that he can find other people who are more superior, more wealthy, and more gifted. It is a part of good manners to recognize superiority when one finds it. Youngsters entering business can sit at the feet of the older men in the same business and learn a great deal. Knowledge did not enter the world with the present generation any more than it will depart from it when the present generation dies. It is just as well for young people to realize this. Age has much to teach them. Experience has much to teach them, and so have men and women of extraordinary ability. "I have never met a man," says a teacher of business men, "from whom I could not learn some-thing." All of us are born with the capacity to learn. It is those who develop it who amount to something.
Petty quarrels should be disregarded and grudges should be forgotten. This piece of advice is needed more by women in business than by men. Men have learned—it has taken them several thousand years—to fight and shake hands. They have a happy way of forgetting their squabbles—this is a general truth—after a little while, and two men who were yesterday abusing one another with hot and angry words are to-day walking together down the hall smiling and talking as gently as you please.
The Office Boy. If the office boy in a big business house where much of the work is done at a white-hot tension—the office boy in a busy Wall Street office during the peak of the day's rush, for example—could write his intimate impressions they would make good reading.
The temper of the great American business man is an uncertain quantity. Famous for good humor and generosity as a general thing, he is, for all that, at his worst moments the terror of the office boy's life. Nervous, worried, tired, and exasperated, he is likely to "take it out" on the office boy if there is no one else at hand. There is no defense for such conduct—even the man who is guilty would not, the next day in his calmer moments, defend it. Meantime, what shall the office boy do?
A hot, tired man with papers fluttering over his desk, his telephone ringing, and three men waiting in line to talk to him about serious problems connected with the business, yells, "What do you want?" when the office boy comes to answer the bell.
"You rang for me," the boy answers.
"I rang half an hour ago," the man snaps.
In reality he rang two minutes before. Shall the office boy remind him of this?
Not if he values his job!
Of course it is unjust, but one of the first laws of discipline is to learn to be composed in the face of injustice, and the first law of courtesy for the office boy (and other employees would do just as well to follow) is: Don't be too harsh with the boss!
It is said that the grizzly bear, who is a very strict mother, often spanks her cubs when she herself has done something foolish. Julia Ellen Rogers tells a story of an explorer who came suddenly upon a bear with two cubs. He was so frightened that he stood still for a minute or two before he could decide which way to run. Mean-time the bear, fully as frightened as he, turned and fled, spanking the two cubs at every jump in spite of the fact that each was already going as fast as its legs could carry it. "It was so unexpected," continues Miss Rogers, "and so funny to see those little bears look around reproachfully at their angry parent every time they felt the weight of her paw, helping them to hurry, that the man sat down and laughed until he cried."
It was not funny to the cubs.
Cases in which the office boy is maltreated are exceptional, though cases in which he is misunderstood are not. Most office boys have not one boss but many. There should always be one person from whom they receive their general orders and to whom they go with their troubles. (A youngster should have very few troubles to report. It is usually the worthless ones who report.)
In most places the several office boys are stationed at a certain point, a desk or a table, with one of their number more or less in charge. The rule is that one person be always at the desk.
All right. Six office boys. Five out on errands. One at the desk. The bell rings. The boy keeps his place. The bell rings again. The boy keeps his place. The bell rings a third time, long and insistently, but the youngster, with a steadfastness worthy of the boy who stood on the burning deck, still keeps his place.
A second later an angry official bounces out and wants to know what on earth is the matter and declares that he will report the desk to the manager. Meanwhile one of the missing five has returned, and the youngster who had held the place so long under fire takes the message from the man and delivers it.
If the boy should see an opening—and most business men except those funny little executives puffed up with their own importance are ready enough to listen—he may explain how it happened, but if he has to enter a shouting contest it is best to stay silent.
The law of business courtesy no matter how far away from this a discussion goes it always swings back—is the Golden Rule. The subordinate who feels himself neglected by the men in positions above him might check himself by honestly asking himself how he appears to those beneath him. It is interesting to know that the one who complains most is usually the one who is haughtiest when he enters into conversation with the employees,who, he thinks, are not quite worth his notice. He feels blighted because the president does not stop to say "Good-morning" in the hall, but it is beneath his dignity to say "Good-morning" to the girl who collects his mail or "Good-night" to the janitor who comes to dust his desk when the day's work is over. The means of attaining courtesy—and if you have it yourself you will find it in other people—is by watching your own actions. Teach no one but yourself. Worry about no one's behavior but your own. That is job enough for any one.