Lessons from the Past 52: When Courtesy Is Reduced -- To Save Time!
Does one have to be unpleasant, and appear brusque, in order to save time? This is a question we have to ask many times in our personal encounters. Often you are only guilty of being firm - and are guarding that most precious and un-storable resource – TIME!
 
Some years ago, I was given an introduction to Prof Theodore Levitt of Harvard University, author of many books on management and marketing, and of the landmark article – “Marketing Myopia”. I called him up from a Boston mall to tell him that Dr Kotler had suggested that I see him, and if it was convenient to him, I could be at Harvard in another half hour. Could he please spare a half hour or 45 minutes to discuss some issues with me? 
 
He asked me what the subject was. I told him. After a brief silence he said, “Do you think we could finish this on phone? We could talk for half hour if you like. It will also save you the trouble of coming all the way up to Harvard.”
 
Initially, I thought it was rude and rather curt. It lacked the warmth that we are used to in India. But I had no choice. 
 
We talked for over half an hour and had a very interesting discussion. It was as if I was sitting with him face to face - and yet, not quite. When we signed off, it left me with a good feeling. Levitt was obviously pressured for time. He taught me that you often have to seem cruel to save time!
 
It was the first time, I received my own letter (late 1970s), returned, with remarks made on the margins, then photocopied, and sent to me with a slip to say that ‘this was being done to save time’. I felt that it made sense. It made even more sense every time I find myself without sufficient office help. 
 
Now, I do it myself, although I realise that there is a time and place for such responses, and that in a very formal situation, such an annotation and photocopying will not do. Yet there are many more situations where this system does make sense. Though it may seem rude and lacking in courtesy, it helps to keep a rein on valuable time. 
 
There are the many unsolicited letters we receive at our office- some asking whether we can help with job placement, or whether we can help with a placement abroad. 
 
At one time, we insisted on replying to each letter as a matter of courtesy. Until we found that these letters were taking a lot of our time, and there was not sufficient time to deal with regular business correspondence. 
 
We forgot that we had to look after our business to keep the fires burning, rather than embark on a “courtesy first” exercise wherein we spent a lot of un-remunerative time in answering unsolicited letters, which really did not need a response.
 
Then, there are the many phone calls. My name is X. I am assistant to the deputy vice president of company Y. I seem to be at the dead end of my career, and wanted to see you to discuss possibilities of a career or job change. Could we meet this coming Sunday at 11am and have coffee together? 
 
I live 18kms out of South Mumbai. Many times, I wonder what makes people feel that I would break my day of rest, and rush out to meet a junior executive, who is having his own problems, some of them, perhaps of his own making - and waste my free time? 
 
I say that I am sorry – I cannot meet him. 
 
X seems annoyed. 
 
I then tell him that perhaps what he needs is a counseling session. If that be so, then our company charges by the hour. He is affronted. 
 
Why should I charge for the pleasure and the privilege of meeting him? After all, he is the assistant to the deputy vice president of a large corporation! 
 
The phone is banged down. I can feel the annoyance even at the other end. And I never hear from him again. 
 
I have made another enemy. But I have saved my time and energy!
 
The editor of a magazine was telling me that he had to ask the bureau chief (BC) to go. What happened? I asked him. He said the BC was a very nice person- very personable, very courteous, always smiling and always having time for everyone. 
 
Sashi was in fact, the most popular person in the office. 
 
But work never got done. Deadlines were never adhered to. The magazine often got delayed, and if it did get out on time, it was because of the considerable amount of work put in by everybody in the last few days. 
 
The BC extended courtesy to everyone, but had no time to do what was expected of him. And he lost his job. He would also not be able to hold on to his next job, if he did not mend his ways.
 
It is necessary to be ruthless, and sometimes, cruel with yourself and others; to minimise the norms of courtesy; if you are to be fair to yourself and find enough time to do what you have to do , or what you are paid to do! With proper time management, you will be able to achieve the success you aspire for, and get ahead. You will then have the time and energy to run that extra mile! 
 
This rule has not changed in 50 years of my working life. 
 
#Material from the book – Manager to CEO- By Walter Vieira (Sage Publ) 
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
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