When he retired from active business he sold out to a man exactly his opposite in temperament, as good a man, so far as character went, as himself, but very quiet and taciturn. A woman who had always patronized the shop and was a friend of them both came to him soon after the transfer was made and said, "Now, Mr. Tillis, the reason this place has prospered so is on account of the personality of Mr. Kilbourne. His shoes are good but people can get good shoes at other places. They come here because of Mr. Kilbourne. They like him, and if you are not careful they will stop coming now that he is gone. You've got to smile and show them you are glad to see them."
Mr. Tillis felt that the woman was telling the truth. He decided that he would stay in the shop and greet each customer with a gladsome smile and make himself generally pleasant and agreeable. The next day he was fitting a shoe on a woman who was also an old customer and a friend of both men. He was smiling in his best manner and congratulating himself that he was doing very well when the woman abruptly took her foot off the stand. "What are you laughing at?" she demanded.
Some years later he told Mr. Kilbourne about it. "I decided then that there was no use in me trying to be you. You had been yourself, and I made up my mind that I'd be myself."
And that is, after all, the only rule that can be given. Be yourself, but be very sure that it is your best self.
It is personality which permits one man to do a thing that another would be shot for. What is charming in this man is disgusting in that. What is a smile with one becomes a smirk with another. What makes one succeed will cause another to fail. It is personality that opens the doors of opportunity. It cannot, alone, keep them open, but it is worth a good deal to get inside.
We were interested to observe the methods used by three young men who were looking for jobs, not one of whom would probably have succeeded if he had used the tactics of either of the others.
The first wanted to talk with the biggest executive in a large organization. He had fought his way through the ranks until he had got as far as the man's secretary. "Mr. So-and-So does not see people who want jobs," said that young lady.
"I don't want a job," he prevaricated mildly, "I want to talk to him."
The girl let him in.
"Mr. So-and-So," he said, "I don't want a job. I want advice."
His manner was so ingenuous and charming, his earnestness so glowing, that the man at the desk listened while he talked, and then talked a while himself, and ended by giving the young man the position (as well as the advice) that he wanted. But if he had been less attractive personally and the older man had been shrewd enough to see through the ruse (or perhaps he did see through it but made the proper discount for it) or had been opposed to trick methods, the scheme might not have worked so well.
The most universal weakness of intellect lies in the part of the brain which listens to flattery. Very few people like compliments laid on with a trowel, but no man can resist the honest admiration of another if it seems sincere. And since it is the sort of thing that one likes almost above all else he often takes the false coin for the true.
The second young man met the rebuff so familiar to young men looking for their first job, "We want men with experience."
"That's what everybody says," the boy answered, "but what I want to know is how we are going to get that experience if you don't give us a chance."
The older man sympathized, but had no place for the other and told him so.
"What would you do if you were I?" the young man asked as he turned to leave. The other grinned. "Why, I'd work for a firm for a week for nothing," he said, "and show them that they could not get along without me."
The boy stopped. "All right," he said, "let me work for you a week."
The older man had not expected this but he gave the youngster a chance and he made good.
The third young man had reached the point of desperation. He had been out of a job several weeks. He had been trying to get one all that time and had not succeeded. He walked into the employment bureau of a certain concern and said, "I want a job. I want a good job. Not some dinky little place filing letters or picking up chips. If you've got an executive position where there is plenty of work and plenty of responsibility, I want it." They asked him a few questions about what he had been doing and a few more about what he thought he could do, and ended by giving him a desk and an office.
It would be foolish to advise any one to follow any of these plans. Each man must work out his own method, all the better if it is an original one. Most business men like a simple approach without any flourishes. "It is astonishing," says one man whose income runs to six figures, "how many things one can get just by asking for them." The best reporter in America says that he has always found the direct method of approach better than any other. None is infallible but this has the highest percentage of success.
So far as personal appearance is concerned—and this is one of the most important elements in the fashioning of personality—the greatest variations are not due to intrinsic differences in character, nor to differences of feature or form, but to the use and disuse of the bathtub. More sharp than the distinction between labor and capital or between socialism and despotism is that between the people who bathe daily and those who go to the tub only on Saturday night or less often. The people with whom personal cleanliness is a habit find dirt, grime, and sweat revolting. To them "the great unwashed" are repulsive.
"When you teach a man to bathe," says John Leitch in his book on "Industrial Democracy," "you do more than merely teach him to cleanse his body. You introduce him to a new kind of life and create in him a desire for better living."
The month before he began his wonderful work at Tuskegee, Booker Washington spent visiting the Negro families in the part of Alabama where he was to teach. "One of the saddest things I saw during the month of travel which I have described," he writes in his autobiography, "was a young man, who had attended some high school, sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and garden, engaged in studying a French grammar."
Farther on he writes, "It has been interesting to note the effect that the use of the tooth-brush has had in bringing about a higher degree of civilization among the students. With few exceptions, I have noticed that, if we can get a student to the point where, when the first or second tooth-brush disappears, he of his own motion buys another, I have not been disappointed in the future of that individual. Absolute cleanliness of the body has been insisted upon from the first."
Cleanliness is an attribute of civilization. We find it amusing to read that three or four hundred years ago bathing for pleasure was unknown, that when soap was first invented it was used only for washing clothes, and that even so late as the Seventeenth Century an author compiling a book of rules for the gentleman of that day advises him to wash his hands every day and his face almost as often! In the monasteries bathing was permitted only to invalids and the very old. Perfume was used copiously, and filth and squalor abounded. This even in royal circles. Among the common people conditions were unspeakable.
To-day a gentleman bathes and shaves every day. He keeps his hair brushed, his finger nails immaculate (or as clean as the kind of work which he does permits), his linen is always clean and his shoes are polished. He is not over-fastidious about his clothes, but he has respect enough for himself as well as for the people among whom he lives to want to present as agreeable an appearance as possible. "Dress," wrote Lord Chesterfield to his son, "is a very foolish thing, and yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well-dressed, according to his rank and way of life.... The difference in this case between a man of sense and a fop is that the fop values himself upon his dress; and the man of sense laughs at it, and at the same time knows he must not neglect it."
It is a cheap device for a man to trick himself out with lodge pins and fraternity symbols, rings, and badges in the hope that they will open doors for him. Highly ornamental jewelry of any kind is inappropriate. Not many men can offset a heavy gold watch chain stretched full length across their bosoms, not many can live down a turquoise ring set with pearls, and very few can bear the handicap of a bright gold front tooth. Artists, alone, may gratify their taste for velvet jackets, Tam-o'-Shanters, and Windsor ties, but the privilege is denied business men. Eccentricity of dress usually indicates eccentricity of temper, and we do not want temperamental business men. It is hard enough to get along with authors and artists and musicians. The business man who is wise wears conventional clothes of substantial material in conservative colors. Good sense and good taste demand it.
The time has passed when uncouthness of dress and manner can be taken as a pledge of honesty and good faith. The President of the United States to-day is a well-dressed, well-groomed man, and no one thinks any the less of him for it. Men no longer regard creased trousers, nicely tied cravats, well-chosen collars, and harmonious color combinations as signs of sissiness, snobbishness, or weak-mindedness.
Formal dinners and other ceremonious functions require evening dress. It is the custom, as the Orientals say; and for the sake of other people present if not for his own, a man should undergo the discomfort, if he finds it a discomfort, and many men do, of conforming to it. Holiday attire gives a happy note of festivity which might otherwise be lacking. It is quite possible to point to a number of men who have succeeded in business who were wholly indifferent to matters of dress. But it does not prove anything. Men rise by their strength, not by their weakness. Some men wait until after they have become rich or famous to become negligent of their personal appearance. But it is well to remember that "if Socrates and Aristippus have done aught against custom or good manner, let not a man think he can do the same: for they obtained this license by their great and excellent good parts."
A well-dressed man is so comfortably dressed that he is not conscious of his clothes and so inconspicuously dressed that no one else is conscious of them.
In a good many instances it is not his own dress which bothers a business man so much as it is that of some one else—his stenographer, for instance. Men do not have quite so much opportunity to make themselves ridiculous as women. Their conventions of dress are stricter, and, as a rule, they can express their love of color and ornamentation only in their choice of ties and socks. Girls have practically no restrictions except what happens to be the style at the moment, and a young girl untrained in selecting and combining colors and lines, and making money for the first time in her life, is more likely than not to make herself look more like a Christmas tree than a lily of the field.
The big department stores which employ hundreds of girls to meet and serve their customers have settled the problem for themselves by requiring the girls to wear uniforms. The uniform is very simple; often a certain color during working hours is prescribed, but the girls are permitted to choose their own styles. Other places have women who look after the welfare of the girls and prevent them from laying themselves open to misunderstanding by the way they dress. Large organizations can afford to have a special person to take care of such matters, but in a small office the problem is different.
Of course, a man can always dismiss a girl who dresses foolishly or carelessly, but this is sneaking away from a problem instead of facing it. High-class offices have comparatively little trouble this way. In the first place, they do not attract the frivolous, light-headed, or "tough" girls; in the second place, if such girls come, the atmosphere in which they work either makes them conform to the standards of the office or leave and go somewhere else. If a girl in his office dresses in a way that he considers inappropriate, a man may tactfully suggest that something simpler would be more dignified and more in keeping with business ideals and traditions. But, oh, he must be careful! On no subject is one so sensitive as on his personal appearance, and women, perhaps, more so than men.
There is a limit to how far an employer should go in dictating the manner of his employees' dress. When the head of a big Western department store declared that he would discharge all the girls who bobbed their hair, most of us felt that he had gone a bit too far, even while we saw the logic of his position. While it is the only sensible way in the world for a woman to wear her hair the majority of people have not yet come to think so. To the average person, especially to Mrs. Grundy, who is really the most valuable customer a department store has, the impression given by bobbed hair is one of frivolity or eccentricity. The impression given the customer as she enters a store is a most important item; the head of the store knew it, and therefore he placed the ban on bobbed hair. Whichever side we take in this particular case this is true: The business woman should give, like the business man, an impression of dependability, and she cannot do it if her appearance is abnormal, or if her mind is divided between how she is looking and what she is doing.
It is almost funny that we let the faults and mannerisms of other people affect us to such an extent. They are nothing to us, and yet a man can work himself into a perfect frenzy of temper merely by looking at or talking to another who has a fidgety way of moving about, a dainty manner of using his hands, or a general demean—or that is delicate and ladylike. Men like what the magazines call "a red-blooded, two-fisted, he-man." But the world is big enough to accommodate us all whether the blood in our veins is red or blue, and it is perfectly silly for a man to throw himself into a rage over some harmless creature who happens to exasperate him simply because he is alive.
It is an altogether different matter when it is a question of one man taking liberties with another. Most people object to the physical nearness of others. It is the thing that makes the New York subways during the rush hours such a horror. It is not pleasant to have a person so near that his breath is against your face, and there are not many men who enjoy being slapped on the back, punched in the ribs, or held fast by a buttonhole or a coat lapel. A safe rule is never to touch another person. He may resent it.
The garrulous or impertinent talker is almost as objectionable as the hail-fellow-well-met, slap-on-the-back fellow. Charles Dickens has a record of this kind of American in the book which he wrote after his visit in this country: "Every button in his clothes said, 'Eh, what's that? Did you speak? Say that again, will you?' He was always wide awake, always restless; always thirsting for answers; perpetually seeking and never finding....
"I wore a fur great-coat at that time, and before we were well clear of the wharf, he questioned me concerning it, and its price, and where I bought it, and when, and what fur it was, and what it weighed, and what it cost. Then he took notice of my watch, and asked me what that cost, and whether it was a French watch, and where I got it, and how I got it, and whether I bought it or had it given me, and how it went and where the keyhole was, and when I wound it, every night or every morning, and whether I ever forgot to wind it at all, and if I did, what then? Where I had been to last, and where I was going next, and where I was going after that, and had I seen the President, and what did he say, and what did I say, and what did he say when I had said that? Eh? Lor' now! Do tell!"
This sort of curiosity is harmless enough, but exasperating, and so childish that one hates to rebuke the person who is asking the foolish questions. There is another kind which is perhaps worse—the man who asks intrusive questions about how much salary another is getting, how old he is (men are as sensitive on this subject as women) and so on and on. It is perfectly legitimate to refuse to answer any question to which one does not wish to reply. Every man has a right to mental privacy even when he is denied, as he is in so many modern offices, any other kind of privacy.
A loud or boisterous person is objectionable. Many times this is through carelessness, but sometimes, as when a man recounts the story of his dinner with Mr. Brown, who is a national figure, in a voice so loud that all the people in the car or room or whatever place he happens to be in, can hear him, it is deliberate. The careless person is the one who discusses personalities aloud in elevators, on the train, and in all manner of public places. Exchanging gossip is a pretty low form of indoor sport and exchanging it aloud so that everybody can hear makes it worse than ever. Names should never be mentioned in a conversation in a place where strangers can overhear, especially if the connection is an unpleasant one. Private opinions should never be aired in public places (except from a platform).
The highly argumentative or aggressive person is another common type of nuisance. He usually raises his voice, thus drowning out the possibility of interruption, and talks with so much noise and so many vigorous gestures that he seems to try to make up for his lack of intellect by an excess of tumult. Arguments have never yet convinced anybody of the truth, and it is a very unpleasant method to try. Most arguments are about religion or politics and even if they were settled nothing would be accomplished. In the Middle Ages men used to debate about the number of angels that could stand on the point of a pin. Hours and hours were wasted and learned scholars were brought into the discussion, which was carried forward as seriously as if it were a debate between the merits of the Republican and Democratic parties. Suppose they had settled it. Would it have mattered?
One of the most offensive public plagues is the man who leaves a trail of untidiness behind him. No book of etiquette, not even a book of business etiquette, could counsel eating on the streets in spite of the historic and inspiring example of Mr. Benjamin Franklin walking down the streets of Philadelphia with a loaf of bread under each arm while he munched from a third which he held in his hand. One can forgive a man, however, if he, feeling the need of nourishment, eats a bar of chocolate if he takes great care to put the wrappings somewhere out of the way. No man with any civic pride will scatter peanut hulls, cigarette boxes, chocolate wrappings, raisin boxes, and other debris along the streets, in the cars, on the stairs, and even on the floors of office buildings. Garbage cans and waste-baskets were made to take care of these things.
Tidiness is worth more to a business man than most of them realize. In the first place it gives a favorable impression to a person coming in from the outside, and, in the second place, it helps those on the inside to keep things straight. Folders for correspondence, card indexes, memorandum files and other similar devices are essential to the orderly transaction of business.
Keeping ashes and scraps of paper off the floor may seem trifles, but such trifles go far toward making the atmosphere, which is another word for personality, of an office. Some men have secretaries who take care of their desks and papers and supervise the janitor who cleans the floors and windows, but those who do not, find that they can manage better when they have a place to put things and put them there.
Nothing has more to do with making a gentleman than a courteous and considerate attitude toward women. In business a man should show practically the same deference toward a woman that he does in society. Any man can be polite to a woman he is anxious to please, the girl he loves, for instance, but it takes a gentleman to be polite to every woman, especially to those who work for him, those over whom he exercises authority.
It is unnecessary for a man to rise every time one of the girls in his office enters his private audience room, but he should always rise to receive a visitor, whether it is a man or woman, and should ask the visitor to be seated before he sits down himself. In witheringly hot weather a man may go without his coat even if his entire office force consists of girls, but he should never receive a guest in his shirt sleeves. He should listen deferentially to what the visitor has to say, but if she becomes too voluble or threatens to stay too long or if there is other business waiting for him, he may (if he can) cut short her conversation. When she is ready to go he should rise and conduct her to the door or to the elevator, as the case may be, and ring the bell for her. He cannot, of course, do this if his visitors are frequent, if their calls are about matters of trifling importance, or if he is working under high pressure.
We once had an English visitor here in America who thought our manners were outrageously bad, but there was one point on which we won a perfect score. "Any lady," he said, "may travel alone, from one end of the United States to the other, and be certain of the most courteous and considerate treatment everywhere. Nor did I ever once, on any occasion, anywhere, during my rambles in America, see a woman exposed to the slightest act of rudeness, incivility, or even inattention." Conditions have changed since then. Women had not left their homes to go into offices and factories, but unless we can hold to the standard described by the Englishman, the change has not been for the better, for any of the people concerned.
Since the Victorian era our ideas of what constitutes an act of rudeness have been modified. Then it would have been unthinkable that a woman should remain standing in a coach while men were seated. Now it is possible for a man to keep his place while a woman swings from a strap and defend himself on the grounds that he has worked harder during the day than she (how he knows is more than we can say), and that he has just as much right (which is certainly true) as any one else. Yet it is a gracious and a chivalrous act for a man to offer a woman his place on a car, and it is very gratifying to see that hundreds of them, even in the cities, where life goes at its swiftest pace and people live always in a hurry, surrender their seats in favor of the women who, like themselves, are going to work. Old people, afflicted people, men and women who are carrying children in their arms, and other people who obviously need to sit down are nearly always given precedence over the rest of us. This is, of course, as it should be.
But the heart of what constitutes courtesy has not changed and never will. It is exactly what it was on that day nearly four hundred years ago when Sir Philip Sidney, mortally wounded on the field of Zutphen, gave his last drop of water to the dying soldier who lay near him and said, "Thy need is greater than mine."
In the old books of etiquette in the chapter on table manners the authors used to state that it was not polite to butter your bread with your thumb, to rub your greasy fingers on the bread you were about to eat, or to rise from the table with a toothpick in your mouth like a bird that is about to build her nest. We have never seen any one butter his bread with his thumb, but——
There are in the United States nearly five million people who can neither read nor write. We have no statistics but we venture to say there are as many who eat with their knives. There are people among us—and they are not all immigrants in the slum districts or Negroes in the poorer sections of the South—who do not know what a napkin is, who think the proper way to eat an egg is to hold it in the hand like a piece of candy, and bite it, the egg having previously been fried on both sides until it is as stiff and as hard as a piece of bristol board, who would not recognize a salad if they saw one, and who have never heard of after-dinner coffee.
Very few of them are people of wealth, but an astonishing number of successful business men were born into such conditions. They had no training in how to handle a knife and fork and they probably never read a book of etiquette, but they had one faculty, which is highly developed in nearly every person who lifts himself above the crowd, and that is observation.
In addition to this a young man is very fortunate, especially if his way of life is cast among people whose manners are different from those to which he has been accustomed, if he has a friend whom he can consult, not only about table manners but about matters of graver import as well. And he should not be embarrassed to ask questions. The disgrace, if disgrace it could be called, lies only in ignorance.
A number of years ago a young man who was the prospective heir to a fortune—this charming story is in Charles Dickens's wonderful novel, "Great Expectations"—went up to London for the express purpose of learning to be a gentleman. It fell about that almost as soon as he arrived he was thrown into the company of a delightful youth who had already attained the minor graces of polite society. Very much in earnest about what he had set out to do, and blessed besides with a goodish bit of common sense, he explained his situation to Herbert, for that was the other boy's name, mentioned the fact that he had been brought up by a blacksmith in a country place, that he knew practically nothing of the ways of politeness, and that he would take it as a great kindness if Herbert would give him a hint whenever he saw him at a loss or going wrong.
"'With pleasure,' said he, 'though I venture to prophesy that you'll want very few hints.'"
They went in to dinner together, a regular feast of a dinner it seemed to the ex-blacksmith's apprentice, and after a while began to talk about the benefactress who, they believed, had made it possible.
"'Let me introduce the topic,' began Herbert, who had been watching Pip's table manners for some little time, 'by mentioning that in London it is not the custom to put the knife in the mouth—for fear of accidents—and that while the fork is reserved for that use it is not put further in than necessary. It is scarcely worth mentioning, only it's as well to do as other people do. Also, the spoon is not generally used over-hand but under. This has two advantages. You get at your mouth better (which after all is the object), and you save a good deal of the attitude of opening oysters on the part of the right elbow.'
"He offered these suggestions (said Pip) in such a lively way, that we both laughed and I scarcely blushed."
The conversation and the dinner continued and the friendship grew apace. Presently Herbert broke off to observe that "society as a body does not expect one to be so strictly conscientious in emptying one's glass, as to turn it bottom upwards with the rim on one's nose."
"I had been doing this," Pip confessed, "in an excess of attention to his recital. I thanked him, and apologized. He said, 'Not at all,' and resumed."
This was written many years ago but neither in life nor in literature is there a more beautiful example of perfect courtesy than that given by Herbert Pocket when he took the blacksmith's boy in hand and began his education in the art of being a gentleman. Not only was he at perfect ease himself but—and this is the important point—he put the blacksmith's boy at ease.
It is worth remarking, by way of parenthesis, that Herbert's father was a gentleman. "It is a principle of his," declared the boy, "that no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner. He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself."
The American table service is not complicated. Any intelligent person who knows the points covered by Herbert Pocket, who knows that one should not cut up all of his meat at the same time but mouthful by mouthful as he needs it, that it is not customary to butter a whole slice of bread at once nor to plaster cheese over the entire upper surface of a cracker, can by a dint of watching how other people do it find his way without embarrassment through even the most elaborate array of table implements. The easiest way to acquire good table manners (or good manners of any other kind, as far as that goes) is to form the habit of observing how the people who manage these things most gracefully go about it. It is best to begin early. To use one of David Harum's expressive maxims, "Ev'ry hoss c'n do a thing better 'n' spryer if he's ben broke to it as a colt."
Eating should be, and, as a matter of fact, is, when one follows his usual custom, an unconscious process like the mechanical part of reading or writing. It is only when he is trying to be a bit more formal or fastidious than is habitual with him that a man gets tangled, so to speak, in the tines of his fork.
Cooking is one of the fine arts. Poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, and millionaires have always paid tribute to it as such—and so is dining. Like a great many other arts it was first developed among royal circles, and there was a time when the king resented the idea of a commoner being able to dine with grace and elegance. Since then it has become democratized, and now there are no restrictions except those which a man places about himself. And there is no earthly (or heavenly) reason why a man should not eat in the way which society has established as correct, and a good many reasons why he should.
Physicians—and this is the strongest argument we know—might advance their plea on the grounds of good health. In this case we find, as we do in a number of others, that what good manners declares should be done is heartily endorsed at the same time by good sense. It is only among people of blunted sensibilities that nice table manners count for nothing; for
There's no reproach among swine, d'you see, For being a bit of a swine.
Among business men it is often perplexing to know whom and when to invite. Generally speaking, the older man or the man with the superior position takes the initiative, but there are an infinite number of exceptions. Generally speaking, also, the man who is resident in a place entertains the one who is visiting, but there are infinite exceptions to this as well, especially in the case of traveling salesman. All courtesy is mutual, and it is almost obligatory upon the salesman who has been entertained to return the courtesy in kind. Such invitations should be tendered after a transaction is completed rather than before. The burden of table courtesy falls upon the man who is selling rather than the one who is buying, probably because he is the one to whom the obvious profit accrues.
Social affairs among the wives of business men which grow out of the business relations of their husbands follow the same rules as almost any other social affairs. Nearly always it is the wife of the man with the higher position who issues the first invitation, and it is permissible for her to invite a woman whom she does not know personally if she is the wife of a business friend of her husband.
The biggest hindrance to the establishment of good manners among business men is the everlasting hurry in which they (and all the rest of us) live. There must first of all be leisure, not perhaps to the extent advocated by a delightful literary gentleman of having three hours for lunch every day, but time enough to sit down and relax. Thousands of business men dash out to lunch—bad manners are at their worst in the middle of the day—as if they were stopping off at a railroad junction with twenty minutes to catch a train and had used ten of them checking baggage. And they do not always do it because they are in a hurry. They have so thoroughly developed the habit of living in a frenzied rush that even when they have time to spare they cannot slow down.
Pleasant surroundings are desirable. It is much easier to dine in a quiet spacious room where the linen is white and the china is thin, the silver is genuine silver, and the service is irreproachable, than in a crowded restaurant where thick dishes rattle down on white-tiled tables from the steaming arms of the flurried waitress, where there is no linen, but only flimsy paper napkins (which either go fluttering to the floor or else form themselves into damp wads on the table), where the patrons eat ravenously and untidily, and where the atmosphere is dense with the fumes of soup and cigarettes. But luxury in eating is expensive and most of us must, perforce, go to the white-tiled places. And the art of dining is not a question of what one has to eat—it may be beans or truffles—or where one eats it—from a tin bucket or a mahogany table—it all depends upon how; and the man who can eat in a "hash-house," an "arm-chair joint," a "beanerie," a cafeteria, a three-minute doughnut stand or any of the other quick-lunch places in as mannerly a way as if he were dining in a hotel de luxe has, we think, a pretty fair claim to the title of gentleman.
The responsibility for a dinner lies with the host. If his guest has had the same social training that he has or is accustomed to better things he will have comparatively little trouble. All he can do is to give him the best within his means without apology. We like to present ourselves in the best possible light (it is only human) and for this reason often carry our friends to places we cannot afford. This imposes upon them the necessity of returning the dinner in kind, and the vicious circle swings around, each person in it grinding his teeth with rage but not able to find his way out. Entertaining is all right so long as it is a useful adjunct to business, but when it becomes a burden in itself it is time to call a halt.
Smoking during and immediately after a meal is very pleasing to the man who likes tobacco, but if he has a guest (man or woman) who objects to the smell of it he must wait until later. On the other hand if his guest likes to smoke and he does not he should insist upon his doing so. It is a trifling thing but politeness consists largely of yielding gracefully in trifles.
Old-fashioned gentlemen held it discourteous to mention money at table, but in this degenerate age no subject is taboo except those that would be taboo in any decent society. Obviously when men meet to talk over business they cannot leave money out of the discussion. In a number of firms the executives have lunch together, meeting in a group for perhaps the only time during the day. It helps immeasurably to cooerdinate effort, but it sometimes fails to make the lunch hour the restful break in the middle of the day which it should be. It is generally much more fun and of much more benefit to swap fish stories and hunting yarns than to go over the details of the work in the publicity department or to formulate the plans for handling the Smith and Smith proposition. Momentous questions should be thrust aside until later, and the talk should be—well, talk, not arguing, quarreling, or scandal-mongering. The subject does not greatly matter except that it should be something in which all of the people at the table are interested. Whistler was once asked what he would do if he were out at dinner and the conversation turned to the Mexican War, and some one asked him the date of a certain battle. "Do?" he replied. "Why, I would refuse to associate with people who could talk of such things at dinner!"
Polite society has always placed a high value on table manners, but it is only recently that they have come to play so large a part in business. Some one has said that you cannot mix business and friendship. It would be nearer the truth to say that you cannot separate them. More and more it is becoming the habit to transact affairs over the table, and a very pleasant thing it is, too. Aside from the coziness and warmth which comes from breaking bread together one is free from the interruptions and noise of the office, and many a commercial acquaintance has ripened into a friend and many a business connection has been cemented into something stronger through the genial influence of something good to eat and drink. It is, of course, a mistake to depend too much upon one's social gifts. They are very pleasant and helpful but the work of the world is done in offices, not on golf links or in dining rooms. We have little patience with the man who sets his nose to the grindstone and does not take it away until death comes in between, but we have just as little with the man who has never touched the grindstone.
Stories go the rounds of executives who choose their subordinates by asking them out to lunch and watching the way they eat. One man always calls for celery and judges his applicant by what he does with it. If he eats only the tender parts the executive decides that he is extravagant, at least with other people's money, but if he eats the whole stalk, green leaves and all, he feels sure that he has before him a man of economy, common sense, and good judgment! The story does not say what happens when the young man refuses celery altogether. Another uses cherry pie as his standard and judges the young man by what he does with the pits. There are three ways to dispose of them. They may be lowered from the mouth with the spoon, they may be allowed to drop unaided, or they may be swallowed. The last course is not recommended. The first is the only one that will land a job. But tests like this work both ways and one is rather inclined to congratulate the young men who were turned down than those who were accepted.
All this aside, an employer does want to know something about the table manners of an employee who is to meet and dine with his customers. An excellent salesman may be able to convince a man of good breeding and wide social training if he tucks his napkin into his bosom, drinks his soup with a noise, and eats his meat with his knife, but the chances are against it.
A man who is interested heart and soul in one thing will think in terms of it, will have it constantly in his mind and on the tip of his tongue. But the man of one subject, whatever that subject may be, is a bore. It is right that a man should live in his work, but he must also live outside of it. One of the most tragic chapters in the history of American life is the one which tells of the millions and millions of men who became so immersed in business affairs that they lost sight of everything else. The four walls of the narrow house which in the end closes around us all could not more completely have cut them off from the light of day. It is a long procession and it has not ended—that line of men passing single file like convicts down the long gray vaults of business, business, business, with never a thought for the stars or the moon or books or trees or flowers or music or life or love—nothing but what casts a shadow over that dismal corridor.
These are dead men with no thought Of things that are not sold or bought.
* * * * *
In their bodies there is breath, But their souls are steeped in death.
It is not a cheerful picture to contemplate (and it seems a good long way away from table manners), but the men who form it are more to be pitied than blamed. They are blind.
TELEPHONES AND FRONT DOORS
"If the outside of a place is not all right," says a man who spends the greater part of his time visiting business houses and talking with business men, "the chances are that it is not worth while to go inside."
There are three ways of getting inside: by letter (which has a chapter to itself), by the front door, and by telephone. And there are more complaints against the telephone way than either or both the others, which is perfectly natural, since it is the most difficult to manage. In the first place, it requires good behavior from three people at the same time, and that is a good deal to expect. Secondly, they cannot see one another—they are like blind people talking together—and no one of them can do his part unless the other two do theirs. In the third place, the instrument is a lifeless thing, and when something goes wrong with it it rouses the helpless fury inspired by all inanimate objects which interfere with our comfort—like intermittent alarm clocks, collar buttons that roll under the furniture, and flivvers that go dead without reason in the middle of country roads. In each case whatever one does has no effect. The alarm clock continues to ring (unless one gets out of bed to shut it off, which is worse than letting it ring), the collar button remains hid in the darkest part of the room, the flivver remains stuck in the muddiest part of the road, and the telephone is worst of all, for the source of the trouble is usually several miles away and there is no means of getting at it.
The telephone is a nuisance—no one denies it—but it is a necessity also—no one denies that, either—and one of the greatest conveniences in an age of great conveniences. Some of the disagreeable features connected with it cannot be done away with but must be accepted with as much tranquility as we can master, like the terrific noise which an aeroplane makes or the trail of smoke and cinders which a railway train leaves behind. The one who is calling, for instance, cannot know that he is the tenth or eleventh person who has called the man at the other end of the wire in rapid succession, that his desk is piled high with correspondence which must be looked over, signed, and sent out before noon, that the advertising department is waiting for him to O. K. their plans for a campaign which should have been launched the week before, that an important visitor is sitting in the library growing more impatient every minute, and that his temper has been filed down to the quick by an assortment of petty worries. (Of course, no office should be run like this, but it sometimes happens in the best of them.)
Some one has said that we are all like islands shouting at each other across a sea of misunderstanding, and this was long before telephones were thought of. It is hard enough to make other people understand what we mean, even with the help of facial expression and gestures, and over the wire the difficulty is increased a hundred fold. For telephoning rests upon a delicate adjustment between human beings by means of a mechanical apparatus, and it takes clear thinking, patience, and courtesy to bring it about.
The telephone company began its career some few years ago unhampered by the traditions to which the earlier corporations were slave, the old "public be damned" idea. Their arbitrary methods had brought them to grief, and the new concern, with a commendable regard for the lessons taught by the experience of others, inaugurated a policy of usefulness, service, and courtesy. The inside history of the telephone is one of constant watchfulness, careful management, and continuous improvement; and every improvement has meant better service to the public. (We are not trying to advertise the telephone company. We realize that it has been guilty, like every other business, of manifold sins.)
Even the fact that there is a telephone girl instead of a telephone boy is due to the alertness and good business sense of the company. To put a boy before a switchboard and expect him not to pull it apart to see how it was made; or to place him in a position to entertain himself by connecting the wrong parties and listening to the impolite names they called each other and expect him not to do it, would be expecting the laws of nature to reverse themselves. The telephone company tried it—for a while. They discovered, besides, that a boy will not "take" what a girl will. It makes no difference what goes wrong with a connection, the subscriber blames the operator when many times the operator, especially the one he is talking to, has had nothing to do with it. The girls have learned to hold their tempers (not always, but most of the time), but when boys had charge of the switchboards and the man at the end of the wire yelled, "You cut me off!" and the youngster had not, he denied it hotly: "You're a liar! I didn't!" The subscriber would not stand for this, angry words flew back and forth, and more than once the indignant young operator located the subscriber (not a very difficult thing for him to do) and went around to settle things in person. Words were not always the only weapons used.
If this had continued the telephone would never have become a public utility. People would have looked upon it as an ingenious device but not of universal practical value. As it is, good salesmanship and efficient service first elevated a plaything to a luxury and then reduced the luxury to a necessity. And it was possible not only because the mechanism itself is a miraculous thing but because it has had back of it an intelligent human organization working together as a unit.
We say this deliberately, knowing that the reader will think of the times when the trouble he has had in getting the number he wanted has made him think there was not a thimbleful of intelligence among all of the people associated with the entire telephone company. But considering the body of employees as a whole the standard of courteous and competent service is extraordinarily high. The public is impatient and prone to remember bad connections instead of good ones. It is ignorant also and has very small conception of what a girl at central is doing. And it is quick to blame her for faults of its own.
One of the worst features of telephone service is the fact that when one is angry or exasperated he seldom quarrels with the right person. Some time ago a man was waked in the middle of the night by the ringing of the telephone bell. He got out of bed to answer it and discovered that the man was trying to get another number. He went back to bed and to sleep. The telephone bell rang again, and again he got out of bed to answer it. It was the same man trying to get the same number. He went to bed and back to sleep. The telephone bell rang the third time, he got out of bed again and answered it again and found that it was still the same man trying to get the same number! "I wasn't very polite the third time," he confessed when he told about it. But the poor fellow at the other end of the wire probably had just as touching a story to tell, for unless it had been very important for him to get the number he would hardly have been so persistent. The girl at the switchboard may have had a story of her own, but what it was is one of those things which, as Lord Dundreary used to say, nobody can find out.
The girls who enter the service of the New York Telephone Company (and the same thing is true in the other branches of the telephone service, especially in big cities where there are large groups to work with) are carefully selected by an employment bureau and sent to a school where they are thoroughly grounded in the mechanical part of their work and the ideals for which the company stands. They are not placed on a regular switchboard until they have proved themselves efficient on the dummy switchboard, and then it is with instructions to be courteous though the heavens fall (though they do not express it exactly that way). "It is the best place in the world to learn self-control," one of the operators declares, and any one who has ever watched them at work will add, "Concentration, also." One of the most remarkable sights in New York is a central exchange where a hundred or more girls are working at lightning speed, undisturbed by the low murmur around them, intent only on the switchboard in front of them, making something like five hundred connections a minute.
They are a wonderfully level-headed group, these telephone girls, wonderfully unlike their clinging-vine Victorian grandmothers. They do not know how to cling. If a man telephones that he has been shot, the girl who receives the call does not faint. She sends him a doctor instead and takes the next call almost without the loss of a second. If a woman wants a policeman to get some burglars out of the house, she sends her one; if some one telephones that a house is burning, she calls out the fire department—and goes straight on with her work. Now and then something spectacular happens to bring the splendid courage of the girls at the switchboards to the attention of the public, such as the magnificent service they gave from the exchange located a few feet from Wall Street on the day of the explosion, but ordinarily it passes, like most of the other good things in life, without comment.
The New York Telephone Company tries to keep its girls healthy and happy. At regular intervals they are given rest periods. Attractive rooms are prepared for them, tastefully furnished, well-lighted, and filled with comfortable chairs, good books, and magazines. Substantial meals are supplied in the middle of the day at a nominal charge. Special entertainments are planned from time to time, and best of all, the play time is kept absolutely distinct from the work time, a condition which makes for happiness as well as usefulness.
The girls are not perfect, they are not infallible. And they are only a third part of a telephone call. They work under difficulties at a task which is not an easy one, and their efficiency does not rest with them alone but with the people whom they serve as well.
A telephone call begins with the subscriber. Very few people understand the intricate system of cable and dynamos, vacuum tubes, coil racks, storage batteries, transmitters and generators which enable them to talk from a distance, and a good many could not understand them even if they were explained. Fortunately it is not necessary that they should. The subscriber's part is very simple.
He should first make sure that he is calling the right number. In New York City alone, forty-eight thousand wrong numbers are asked for every day by subscribers who have not consulted the telephone directory first, or who have unconsciously transposed the digits in a number. For example, a number such as 6454 can easily be changed to 6544. The telephone directory is a safe guide, much more so than an old letter or bill head or an uncertain memory. Information may be called if the number is not in the directory, but one should be definite even with her. She cannot supply the number of Mr. What-you-may-call-it or of Mr. Thing-um-a-bob or of Mr. Smith who lives down near the railroad station, and she cannot give the telephone number of a house which has no telephone in it. She has no right to answer irrelevant questions; is, in fact, prohibited from doing so. Her business is to furnish numbers and she cannot do it efficiently if she is expected also to explain why a cat has whiskers, how to preserve string beans by drying them, what time it is, what time the train leaves for Wakefield, or what kind of connection can be made at Jones's Junction.
In calling a number the name of the exchange should be given first. The number itself should be called with a slight pause between the hundreds and the tens, thus, "Watkins—pause—five, nine—pause—hundred" for "Watkins 5900" or "Murray Hill—pause—four, two—pause—six, three" for "Murray Hill 4263." The reason for this is that the switchboard before which the operator sits is honeycombed with tiny holes arranged in sections of one hundred each. Each section is numbered and each of the holes within it is the termination of a subscriber's line. In locating "Watkins 5900" the girl first finds the section labelled "59" and then the "00" hole in that section, and if the "59" is given first she has found it by the time the subscriber has finished calling the number.
The number should be pronounced slowly and distinctly.
When the operator repeats it the subscriber should acknowledge it, and if she repeats it incorrectly, should stop her and give her the number again. And he should always remember, however difficult it may be to make her understand, that he is talking to a girl, a human being, and that the chances are ten to one that the poor connection is not her fault.
To recall the operator in case the wrong person is connected it is only necessary to move the receiver hook slowly up and down. She may not be able to attend to the recall at once but jiggling the hook angrily up and down will not get her any sooner. In fact, the more furious the subscriber becomes the less the girl knows about it, for the tiny signal light fails to register except when the hook is moved slowly; or if the switchboard is one where the operator is signalled by a little disk which falls over a blank space the disk fails to move down but remains quivering almost imperceptibly in its usual position.
After he has placed a call a man should wait at the telephone or near it until the connection is made. Too many men have a way of giving their secretaries a number to send through and then wandering off somewhere out of sight so that when the person is finally connected he has to wait several minutes while the secretary locates the man who started the call. It is the acme of discourtesy to keep any one waiting in this manner. It implies that your time is much more valuable than his, which may be true, but it is hardly gracious to shout it in so brazen a fashion.
It has been estimated that in New York City alone, more than a full business year is lost over the telephone every day between sunrise and sunset. There are 3,800,000 completed connections made every day. Out of each hundred, six show a delay of a minute or more before the person called answers. In each day this amounts to a delay of 228,000 connections. Two hundred and twenty-eight thousand minutes (and sometimes the delay amounts to much more than a minute) is the equivalent of 475 days of eight hours each, or as the gentleman who compiled these interesting statistics has it, a business year and a third with all the Sundays and holidays intact. In the course of a year it amounts to more than all the business days that have elapsed since Columbus discovered America!
It may be argued that we would be better off if we lost more than a year every day and did all our work at more leisurely pace. This may be, but the time to rest is not when the telephone bell is ringing.
The telephone on a business man's desk should always be facing him and it should not be tricked out with any of the patent devices except those sanctioned by the company. Most of them lessen instead of increase efficiency. A woman in her home where calls are infrequent may hide her telephone behind a lacquered screen or cover it with pink taffeta ruffles, but in a business office it is best to make no attempts to beautify it. It is when it is unadorned that the ugly little instrument gives its best service.
There should always be a pad and pencil at hand so that the message (if there is one) can be taken down without delay. The person at the other end probably has not time (and certainly has not inclination) to wait until you have fumbled through the papers on your desk and the rubbish in the drawers to locate something to write on and something to write with.
"Hello" is a useless and obsolescent form of response in business offices. The name of the firm, of the department, or of the man himself, or of all three, according to circumstances, should be given. When there is a private operator to take care of the calls she answers with the name of the firm, Blank and Blank. If the person at the other end of the wire says, "I want the Advertising department," she connects them and the man there answers with "Advertising department." The other then may ask for the manager, in which case the manager answers with his name. It is easy to grow impatient under all these relays, but a complicated connection involving half a dozen people before the right one is reached can be accomplished in less than a minute if each person sends it straight through without stopping to exchange a number of "Helloes" like a group of Swiss yodelers, or to ask a lot of unnecessary questions.
It is not necessary to scream over the telephone. The mouth should be held close to the transmitter and the words should be spoken carefully. In an open office where there are no partitions between the desks one should take especial pains to keep his voice modulated. One person angrily spluttering over the telephone can paralyze the work of all the people within a radius of fifty feet. If it were a necessary evil we could make ourselves grow accustomed to it. But it is not. And there is already enough unavoidable wear and tear during the course of a business day without adding this.
"Hello, what do you want?" is no way to answer a call. No decent person would speak even to a beggar at his door in this way and the visitor over the telephone, whoever he is, is entitled to a cordial greeting. The voice with the smile wins.
An amusing story is told of a man in Washington who was waked one evening about eleven o'clock by the telephone bell. At first he swore that he would not answer it but his wife insisted that it might be something very important, and finally, outraged and angry, he blundered through the dark across the room and into the hall, jerked down the receiver and yelled, "Hello!" His wife, who was listening tensely for whatever ill news might be forthcoming, was perfectly amazed to hear him saying in the next breath, in the most dulcet tones he had ever used, "Oh, how do you do, I'm so glad you called. Oh, delightful. Charmed. I'm sure she will be, too. Thank you. Yes, indeed. So good of you. Good-bye." It was the wife of the President of the United States asking him and his wife to dinner at the White House.
If the person calling is given the wrong department he should be courteously transferred to the right one. Courteously, and not with a brusque, "You've got the wrong party" or "I'm not the man you want" but with "Just a minute, please, and I'll give you Mr. Miller."
The time when people are rudest over the telephone is when some one breaks in on the wire. It might be just as well to remember that people do not interrupt intentionally, and the intruder is probably as disconcerted as the man he has interrupted. If he had inadvertently opened the wrong door in a business office the man inside would not have yelled, "Get out of here," but over the telephone he will shriek, "Get off the wire" in a tone he would hardly use to drive the cow out of a cabbage patch.
In an effort to secure better manners among their subscribers the telephone company has asked them to try to visualize the person at the other end of the wire and to imagine that they are talking face to face. Many times a man will say things over the telephone—rude, profane, angry, insulting things, which he would not dream of saying if he were actually before the man he is talking to. And to make it worse he is often so angry that he does not give the other a chance to explain his side of it, at least not until he has said all that he has to say, and even then he not infrequently slams the receiver down on the hook as soon as he has finished!
Listening on a wire passes over from the field of courtesy into that of ethics. On party lines in the country it is not considered a heinous offense to eavesdrop over the telephone, but the conversation there is for the most part harmless neighborhood gossip and it does not matter greatly who hears it. In business it is different. But it is practically impossible for any one except the operator to overhear a conversation except by accident, and it is a misdemeanor punishable by law for her to give a message to any one other than the person for whom it was intended.
In every office there should be a large enough mechanical equipment manned by an efficient staff to take care of the telephone traffic without delay. "The line is busy" given in answer to a call three or four times will send the person who is calling to some other place to have his wants looked after.
Few places appreciate the tremendous volume of business that comes in by way of telephone or the possibilities which it offers to increase business opportunities. They are as short-sighted as the department store which, a good many years ago, when telephones were new, had them installed but took them out after a few weeks because the clerks were kept so busy taking orders over them that they did not have time to attend to the customers who came into the store!
Another important vantage point which, like the telephone, suffers from neglect is the reception desk. Millions of dollars' worth of business is lost every year and perfect sandstorms and cyclones of animosity are generated because business men have not yet learned the great value of having the right kind of person to receive visitors. To the strangers who come—and among the idlers and swindlers and beggars who assail every successful business house are potential good friends and customers—this person represents the firm,—is, for the time being, the firm itself.
It is very childish for a man to turn away from a reception desk because he does not like the manner of the person behind it, but business men, sensible ones at that, do it every day. Pleasant connections of years' standing are sometimes broken off and valuable business propositions are carried to rival concerns because of indifferent or insolent treatment at the front door. Only a short time ago an advertising agency lost a contract for which it had been working two years on account of the way the girl at the door received the man who came to place it. He dropped in without previous appointment and was met by a blonde young lady with highly tinted cheeks who tilted herself forward on the heels of her French pumps and pertly inquired what he wanted. He told her. "Mr. Hunt isn't in." "When will he be back?" "I don't know," and she swung around on the impossible heels. The man deliberated a moment and then swung around on his heels (which were very flat and sensible) and carried the contract to another agency. Instances of this kind might be multiplied. Some business men would have persisted until they got what they wanted from the young lady. Others would have angrily reported her to the head of her office, but the majority would have acted as this man did.
Most men (and women), whether they are in business or not, do not underestimate their own importance and they like to feel that the rest of the world does not either. They do not like to be kept waiting; they like to be received with a nice deference, not haughtily; they do not like to be sent to the wrong department; and they love (and so do we all) talking to important people. Realizing this, banks and trust companies and other big organizations have had to appoint nearly as many vice-presidents as there were second-lieutenants during the war to take care of their self-important visitors. Even those whose time is not worth ten cents (a number of them are women) like to be treated as if it were worth a great deal. It is, for the most part, an innocent desire which does no one any special harm, and any business that sets out to serve the public (and there is no other kind) has to take into account all the caprices of human vanity. We cannot get away from it. Benjamin Franklin placed humility among the virtues he wished to cultivate, but after a time declared it impossible. "For," he said, "if I overcame pride I would be proud of my humility."
Courtesy is the first requirement of the business host or hostess and after that, intelligence. Some business houses make the mistake of putting back of the reception desk a girl who has proved herself too dull-witted to serve anywhere else. The smiling idiot with which this country (and others) so abounds may be harmless and even useful if she is kept busy behind the lines, but, placed out where she is a buffer between the house and the outside world, she is a positive affliction. She may be pleasant enough, but the caller who comes for information and can get nothing but a smile will go away feeling about as cheerful as if he had stuck his hand into a jar of honey when he was a mile or so away from soap, water, and towel.
A litter of office boys sprawling untidily over the desks and chairs in the reception room is as bad, and a snappy young lady of the "Now see here, kid" variety is worse.
The position is not an easy one, especially in places where there is a constant influx of miscellaneous callers, and it is hardly fair to ask a young girl to fill it. In England they use elderly men and in a number of offices over here, too. Their age and manner automatically protect them (and incidentally their firms) from many undesirables that a boy or girl in the same position would have considerable difficulty in handling. And they lend the place an air of dignity and reserve quite impossible with a youngster.
In some offices, especially in those where large amounts of money are stored or handled, there are door men in uniform and often plain clothes huskies near the entrances to protect the people (and the money) on the inside from cranks and crooks and criminals. In others, a physician's office, for instance, or any small office where the people who are likely to come are of the gentler sort, a young girl with a pleasing manner will do just as well as and perhaps better than any one else. In big companies where there are many departments, it is customary to maintain a regular bureau of information to which the caller who is not sure whom or what he wants is first directed, but the majority of businesses have only one person who is delegated to receive the people who come and either direct them to the person they want to see or turn them aside.
Most of them must be turned aside. If the stage managers in New York interviewed all the girls who want to see them, they would have no time left for anything else, and the same thing is true of nearly every man who is prominent in business or in some other way. (Charlie Chaplin received 73,000 letters during the first three days he was in England. Suppose he had personally read each of them!) Hundreds of people must be turned away, but every person who approaches a firm either to get something from it or to give something to it has a right to attention. Men are in business to work, not to entertain, and they must protect themselves. But the people who are turned away must be turned away courteously, and the business house which has found some one who can do it has cause to rise and give thanks.
TRAVELING AND SELLING
The etiquette of traveling includes very few points not covered by the general laws of good behavior. Keeping one's place in line before the ticket window, having money ready and moving aside as quickly as possible instead of lingering to converse with the ticket-seller about train schedules and divers other interesting subjects are primary rules. It is permissible to make sure that the train is the right one before getting on it, but it is unnecessary to do it more than half a dozen times. When the sign over the gate says "Train for Bellevue" it probably is the train for Bellevue, and when the guard at the gate repeats that it is the train for Bellevue the chances are that he is telling the truth.
An experienced traveler usually carries very little baggage. A lot of suitcases and grips are bothersome, not only to the one who has charge of them, but also to those who are cramped into small quarters because of them. A traveler may make himself as comfortable as he likes so long as it is not at the expense of the other passengers. If they object to an open window the window must stay down. Lounging over a seat is bad form, especially if there is some one else in it. So is prowling from one end of the car to the other. Besides, it makes some people nervous. Snoring is impolite and so is talking in one's sleep, but they are beyond remedy. Talking with the person in the berth above or below is not, however, and is much more disturbing than the noise of the train. Forgetting the number of one's berth and blundering into the wrong place is a serious breach of good manners in a sleeping car, and it is extremely severe on timid persons who have gone to bed with visions before their minds of the man who was murdered in lower ten and the woman who brought her husband's corpse from Florida in the same berth with her.
Among men, "picking up" acquaintances on a train or boat is allowable if it comes about in a natural way, but there are men who object to it. Many business men do not discontinue their work because they are traveling. Portable typewriters, secretaries, the telegraph and other means of swift communication have made it possible for them to accomplish almost as much as if they were in the office back home. Such men do not like to be interrupted, and if a garrulous or an intrusive person approaches it is within the bounds of courtesy to turn him aside. Generally, however, there is a comradery of the road, a sort of good fellowship among voyagers which lets down ordinary bars, and the men who like to rest as they travel find it highly diverting and interesting to talk with other men from various parts of the country. This holds true in hotels, especially in the commercial hotels, where traveling men foregather to meet their customers and transact their business, and in hotels in small places where the possibilities for amusement are limited and the people have to depend on one another for entertainment. But there are limits. No man should ever thrust himself upon another and it is almost an iron clad rule that he should never "pick up" women acquaintances when traveling. It is permissible to talk with them, but not to annoy them with personal attentions nor to place them under obligation by paying their bills. If a man and a woman who are traveling on the same train fall into conversation and go into the dining car together, each one should pay his or her own check, or if he insists upon paying at the table she should insist upon settling afterwards. In hotels also this is essentially true.
Hotels are judged more by the people who come to them than by anything else. The guests indicate the quality of the service, and for this reason, most hotels prefer that they be gentlemen. There is an atmosphere about a first-class hotel that frightens away second-rate people. Most places have standards and many a man has been turned away even when there was an empty room because the management did not like his looks.
Tipping is one of the most vexatious petty problems with which a traveler is confronted. It is an undemocratic custom which every sensible man deplores but sees no way around. Waiters, porters, and other functionaries who are in positions to receive tips draw very small salaries, if any. They depend upon the generosity of the public they serve. The system may be all wrong (we believe it is) but it means bread and butter to those who live by it, and it is only just, as matters are now arranged, for the traveler to pay. It is foolish to tip extravagantly or to tip every pirate who performs even the most trifling service, but a small fee, especially if the service has been good, is a courtesy not to be forgotten.
Tipping originally grew out of kindness. The knight who had received special attention at the hands of his squire expressed his gratitude by a special reward. The word "gratuity" itself indicates that the little gift was once simply a spontaneous act of thoughtfulness. It has degenerated into a perfunctory habit, but it should not be so. Excellent service deserves a recompense just as slip-shod service does not. And no one has a right to spoil a waiter (or any one else) by tipping him for inefficient work. In hotels and restaurants the standard fee is ten per cent of the bill.
Regular travelling of any kind even under favorable circumstances is a great wear and tear on the disposition. Commuters who go in and out of town every day are a notoriously hag-ridden lot, and the men who go on the road are not much better. But there is one enormous difference. It is the privilege of the commuter to growl as much as he likes about the discomforts of the road and the stupidity of the men who make up the time tables, but travelling men—we are speaking of salesmen especially—can never indulge in the luxury of a grouch. One of the biggest parts of his job is to keep cheerful all the time and that in itself is no small task. (Try it and see.) A farmer can wear a frown as heavy as a summer thunder cloud and the potatoes will grow just the same; a mechanic can swear at the automobile he is putting into shape (a very impolite thing to do even when there is no one but the machine to hear), and the bolts and screws will hold just as fast; a lawyer can knit his brows over his brief case and come to his solution just as quickly as if he sat grinning at it, but the salesman must smile, smile, smile. The season may be dull, the crops may be bad, there may be strikes, lockouts, depressions and deflations, unemployment—it makes no difference—he must keep cheerful. It is the courtesy of salesmanship, and it is this quality more than any other that makes selling a young man's job—we do not mean in years, but in spirit—an old one could not stand it.
In the good old days when the country was young and everybody, from all accounts we can gather, was happy, salesmen in the present sense of the term were almost unknown. There were peddlers, characters as picturesque as gipsies, who travelled about the country preying chiefly on the farmers. Often they spent the night—hotel accommodations were few and houses were far apart—and entertained the family with lively tales of life on the road. Next morning they gave the children trifling presents, swindled the farmer out of several dollars and made themselves generally agreeable. The farmer took it all in good part and looked forward with pleasure to the next visit. The peddlers came in pairs then, like snakes, but they were for the most part welcome and there was genuine regret when they became things of the past like top-buggies and Prince Albert coats.
After the peddler came the drummer, a rough, noisy chap, as his name indicates, harmless enough, but economically not much more significant than the peddler. He stayed in the business district where he was tolerated with good-natured indulgence. He was less objectionable than the man who followed him, the agent. He was (and is) a house-to-house and office-to-office canvasser and a general nuisance. He sold everything from books to life insurance, from patent potato peelers to opera glasses. He still survives, but not in large numbers, for his work, like that of the peddler and the drummer, has been swallowed up by the salesman.
The rewards which modern salesmanship holds out to those who succeed at it are so large that the field has attracted all kinds of men, highly efficient ones who love the game for its own sake, grossly incompetent ones who, having failed at something else, have decided to try this, and adventurers who believe they see in it a chance to get rich quick. The teachers of salesmanship tell us that we are all selling something, even when there is no visible product. The worker, according to them, is selling his services just as the salesman is selling goods. It may be true, but we all could not (and it is a blessing) go out and sell things in the ordinary sense in which we use the word. Some of us have to be producers. But the salesman's work is important. We do not discredit it.
Salesmanship is built on faith. A man must believe in his product and then must make other people believe in it as firmly as he does. So devoted are some salesmen to their work that it is difficult to tell whether they consider their calling a trade, a profession, a science, or a religion. Sometimes it is all four. Sometimes it goes beyond them and becomes a kind of mesmerism in which the salesman uses a sort of hypnotic process (which is simply the result of being over-anxious to sell) to persuade the prospect that he cannot wait another day before buying the particular article that the salesman is distributing. The article may be stocks and bonds, wash cloths, soap, or hair nets. It makes no difference, but he must be filled with enthusiasm and must be able to pass it along. And this very virtue which is the foundation of successful salesmanship is likely to lead the salesman into gross rudeness. For the man who is selling is so eager and so earnest that he forgets that the man who is buying may have his own ideas on the subject.
The first step in salesmanship is to acquire a thorough knowledge of the product. The next is to gain access to the man who is to buy it. This is not always easy. Business men have been annoyed so much by agents that they have had to erect barriers, in many instances almost impenetrable ones. It is especially difficult in big cities where the pressure is heavy, but most worth while business men have learned the value of contact with the world outside and are willing to give almost any man an interview if he can show a valid reason why he should have it. Whether he gets a second interview or not depends upon how he handled the first one.
There are many ways of getting into an office. A salesman usually stands a much better chance if he writes ahead for an appointment. It is much more courteous to ask a man when he wants to see you than to drop in on him casually and trust to luck that the time is not inopportune. Some salesmen are afraid to write because they think the knowledge of what they have to sell will prejudice the prospect against it. At the same time they feel that if they can only get a chance to talk to him a few minutes they can over-ride the prejudice. A salesman may come into an office without letting the man know what his purpose is (though it is best to begin with cards on the table) but he will not come in (unless he is a crook) under false pretenses.
The friends of a salesman can sometimes be very useful to him in presenting him to valuable prospects, and when they feel that the meeting will result in mutual benefit they are glad to do it. Sometimes the friend will give a letter or a card of introduction. Sometimes he will telephone or speak for an appointment. It is best when these come unsolicited, though it is permissible to ask for them. No man should depend upon the help of his friends. A salesman should be able to stand on his own feet, and if he and his product together do not form a strong enough combination to break down all obstructions there is something wrong with one or the other of them.
The best card of admission at the door of a business office is a pleasing personal appearance coupled with a calm and assured manner. This is a universal standard of measuring a man's character and calibre. Until we have heard him speak we judge him by the way he looks. It is a dangerous practice, as the proverb warns us, but the percentage of hits is high enough to make us continue to use it.
A favorite device with a certain cheap type of salesman is to give his name to the girl at the entrance desk and ask her to tell Mr. Brown that Mr. Green has sent Mr. Smith to call. The Mr. Green is entirely fictitious, but since Mr. Brown has several business acquaintances of that name, he interrupts his work and comes out to see Mr. Smith and discovers that he is a life insurance agent who thinks that if he can once get inside he can "put it across." Most business men have no use for such practices and rarely allow the salesmen who employ them to stay in their offices any longer than it takes to get them out. Besides, the salesman places himself under a handicap to begin with. He will find it pretty hard to convince the man in the office that he is not dishonest about his goods just as he is about himself. He is the greatest enemy of his profession. And he makes the work of every one else engaged in it infinitely harder. It is something every business and profession has to fight against—the dishonest grafter who is using it as a means of swindling society.
Most salesmen give their names at the entrance desk instead of presenting their cards. Psychologists and experience have taught them that the card is distracting and that even if the interview is granted it is harder to get the attention of the other man if he has a card to twiddle between his fingers. It is more conventional to send in a card (a good card is a letter of introduction in itself) but if the salesman finds it a handicap, however slight, he should by all means dispense with it. If the card is cheap or flashy or offensive in any way it arouses prejudice against the man who bears it before he has had a chance to present his case in person. The business card may be the same as the personal card, simply a bit of pasteboard bearing the name and perhaps the address, or it may be larger than the ordinary personal card and bear the name of the firm for which the salesman is working, and in addition, if it is a very simple design, the trademark of the firm.
Whether to rise when a caller enters and shake hands is a question to be settled by each person according to the way he likes best. It is certainly more gracious to rise and ask him to be seated before resuming one's own place. But promiscuous handshaking is an American habit which Europeans as a rule frown upon and in which a number of Americans do not indulge, for they like the grasp of their hand to mean something more than a careless greeting and reserve it for their friends. In any case, the caller should not be the first to extend his hand.
If a man is accustomed to see a great number of people he will find it too much of a strain on his vitality to shake hands with them all. Roosevelt used to surprise strangers with the laxness of his grasp, but the Colonel had learned to conserve his strength in small things so that he might give it to great ones. The President of the United States has more than once in the course of the history of our country come to the end of the day with his hands bleeding from the number of times people have pressed it during the day. Now the President ought to be willing to give his life for his country, but he ought not to be required to give it in this way. It probably meant a great deal to each one of the people in the throng to be able to say, "I once shook hands with the President," but how much more it would have meant if each one of them could have said, "One day I helped my President," even if the help was so small an act of thoughtfulness as forbearing to shake his hand.
But to get back to salesmen: Some of them have a way, especially the over-zealous ones, of getting as close to the prospect as is physically possible. They place their papers or their brief cases on the desk before which the prospect is sitting, hitch their chairs up as close as they can, and talk with their breath in his face. No one likes this and it is only a rude and thoughtless salesman who is guilty of it. One man who had been vexed by it over and over again had the visitor's chair nailed to the floor in his office some little distance from his own. And he never had a caller who didn't try to move it nearer to him!
For years it has been the habit for business men to receive their callers at their desks, but lately there has been a turning away from this. The desk is usually littered with papers and letters which the caller can hardly help reading, and there are constant interruptions from the telephone and the other members of the office. For these reasons a number of business men are going out to see their callers instead of bringing them in to see them, a practice which is much more cordial than the other if one can afford the time for it. One big business house abolished its large reception room and built in a number of smaller ones instead. In this way each visitor has privacy and there is a feeling of hospitality and coziness about the little room which the bigger one failed to give. Each room was fitted up with comfortable chairs, books, and magazines so that if the caller had to wait he would have the means of entertaining himself.
Once a man agrees to see a salesman or other visitor he should give, in so far as it is possible, his full attention to him. It is better to refuse an audience altogether than to give it grudgingly. A prominent man cannot possibly see all of the people, salesmen and whatnot, who want to talk with him or he would have no time left to keep himself prominent. A busy man has to protect himself against the cranks and idlers who try to gain access to him, and most men have to have devices by which they can rid themselves of objectionable or tiresome callers. One man who has a constant stream of visitors has only one chair in his office, and he sits in it. Another never allows a visitor to enter his office, but goes to the outer reception room and stands while he talks. One man stands up as a signal that the interview is at an end. Another begins to fumble with the papers on his desk, and the salesman does not live who is not familiar with the man who must hurry out to lunch or who has only five minutes to catch a train. One man has his secretary or his office boy interrupt him after a visitor has been in as much as ten minutes, to tell him that Mr. So-and-So is waiting outside. Another rises to his feet and walks slowly toward the door, the salesman following, until he has maneuvered him out. If the salesman is a man of sense none of these devices will be necessary. He knows that a courteous and prompt departure helps his cause much more than an annoying persistence, and the man who stays after his prospect's mind has lost every interest except to get him out of the way is lacking in one of the fundamentals of social good manners as well as business good manners. Rarely, perhaps never, does he succeed. For the successful salesman is the one who can put himself into his prospect's place and let him know that he has made a study of his needs and is there to help him.
Carefully prepared approaches and memorized speeches are worth much to the beginner, but an agility in adapting himself is much more important. Ludendorff failed to get to Paris because his original plan was upset and he could not think quickly enough to rally the German army and attack from a different angle. Most salesmen have to talk to men who are continually interrupted to attend to something else. And most business men know what they want, or think they do, and when they ask a direct question they want a direct answer. Many a young salesman has ruined himself so far as his career was concerned because he went out with instructions to keep the interview in his hands and every time the man he was "selling" asked a question he passed airily over it and kept stubbornly on the road he had mapped out for himself. The salesman cannot think in theoretical terms; he must think concretely and from the point of view of the man he is trying to convince. As one very excellent salesman has put it, he must get the prospect's own story and tell it to him in different words, and if he can actually show him a way to decrease expenses or to increase output he will win not only his attention, but his heart as well.
The salesman must be absorbed in his commodity, but not to the exclusion of the man he is trying to "sell." A beginner of this type went into a man's office some time ago and rattled off a speech he had memorized about some charts. The man listened until he came to the end—the boy was talking so rapidly and excitedly that it would have been hard to interrupt him except by shouting at him—and then quietly told him that he had not been able to understand a word of what he had said. "You have not been talking to me," he explained. "You have been talking at me."
Another salesman of the same general kind went into the office of a busy lawyer one morning recently in a building which happened to be owned by the lawyer.
"I am going to give you some books," he announced.
The lawyer asked him what they were, but the salesman refused to be diverted before he had led up to the dramatic moment in his carefully planned speech at which he thought it best to mention the name of the books. He went through the whole of his canvass and then thrust a paper under the lawyer's face with "Sign here" above the dotted line.
"I thought you were going to give them to me," the lawyer said.
The salesman began to explain that of course he could not give him the books outright and so on and on and on—everybody has heard this part of his speech. The lawyer laughed and the salesman lost his temper. Very angry, he started out of the room. Near the door which opened into the hall was another door which opened into a closet that contained a shelf which was a little more than five feet high. The salesman opened this door by mistake and struck his head smartly against the shelf. This made him angrier than ever. He jerked the other door open and slammed it behind him with a crash that nearly broke the glass out. This was more than the lawyer could stand. He sprang up and started in pursuit of the salesman, who by this time was on his way into another office in the same building. The lawyer asked him where he was going. The salesman told him.
"Not in my building," the lawyer said. "I can't have the men who have offices here disturbed by people who act like this. Now go on," he added kindly but firmly, "and let's forget that you ever came here."
And the salesman went.
Salesmanship is service, and the man who persuades another to buy something he knows he does not want, does not need, and cannot use, is a scoundrel. "Good salesmanship," and this is the only sort that any self-respecting man will engage in, "is selling goods that won't come back to customers that will." It is cumulative in its effect, and the man who sells another something that really fills a want wins his eternal gratitude and friendship. He tells his friends about it, they come to the same salesman and the product begins almost to sell itself. But it takes patience and courtesy to bring it up to this point.
Some salesmen kill a territory on their first trip. Bad manners can do it very easily. Sometimes they make themselves so objectionable that the customer will buy to get rid of them, especially if the purchase does not involve more than a dollar or two. Sometimes they carry the customer along so smoothly with plausible arguments that they persuade him to buy something that he knows he does not want. It is all right so long as the salesman is present, but discontent follows in his trail. Sometimes—stocks and bonds salesmen are guilty here—they wheedle the customer into buying more than he can afford, beginning on the premise that since their stocks are good (and the men who sell fraudulent ones use the same methods) a man should if he has a hundred dollars buy a hundred dollars' worth, if he has a million he should buy a million dollars' worth, if he has a home he must mortgage it, if he has an automobile he must sell it. No good salesman works like this. People are very gullible and it takes little argument to persuade them to invest nearly all they have in something that will make them rich in a hurry, but the fact that they are foolish is not quite sufficient justification for fooling them. Even if the stocks and bonds are all the salesman believes and represents them to be, no man has a right to risk his home or his happiness for them. A worth while salesman leaves his customer satisfied and comes back a year later and finds him still satisfied. And this sort of customer is the best advertisement and the best friend any business can have.
Bad salesmen create violent prejudices against the firms they represent. For the average customer, like the average man, judges the whole of a thing by the part that he sees. To most of us the word Chinaman calls up the picture of the laundryman around the corner in spite of the fact that there are some three hundred million Chinamen in the world engaged in other occupations. Salesmen who are consumed with their own importance do their firms more harm than good. They usually are men in positions too big for them (they may not be very big at that) and are for the most part of not much more real consequence than the gnat which sat on the tip of the bull's horn and cried, "See what a dust I raise!" Glum and sullen salesmen—there are not many of them—are of little genuine value to their firms. It is not true that when you weep you weep alone. Gloomy moods are as contagious as pleasant ones, and a happy man radiates happiness.
It is not easy to look pleasant when one's nerves are bruised from miscellaneous contacts with all sorts of people, but it is an actual fact that assuming the gestures of a mood will often induce the mood itself. The man who forces himself to look cheerful (we are not talking about the one who takes on an idiotic grin) may find himself after a while beginning to feel cheerful. After he has greeted the elevator boy with a smile (it may be a very crooked one) and the hotel clerk and the waitress and the bootblack and the paper boy he is likely to find that the smile has straightened out into a genuine one. It does not always work—it is like counting to a hundred when one is angry—but it is worth trying.
Salesmen find their greatest difficulties among people of little education. It is the people with fewest ideas that cling to them most tenaciously. Scholars and scientists and business men who have learned to employ scientific methods are constantly watching for something new. They welcome new discoveries and new ideas, but the man in the backwoods of ignorance has a fence around the limits of his mind and it is hard for anything to get inside it. He is open to conviction, but like the Scotsman, he would like to see the person who could "convict" him. It is hard work to get a new idea into the mind of a man who is encased in a shell of ignorance or prejudice, but the salesman is worse than bad-mannered who lets another man, whoever he is, know that he thinks his religion is no good, that his political party is rotten, that his country is not worth a cancelled postage stamp, and that the people of his race are "frogs," "square-heads," "dagos," "wops," or "kikes."
Salesmen who are themselves courteous usually meet with courtesy. The people who move graciously through life find comparatively little rudeness in the world. And a good salesman is courteous to all men alike. With him overalls command as much respect as broadcloth. It pays—not only in money, but in other things that are worth more.
A salesman should be especially careful of his attitude toward the representatives of rival houses and their products. His eagerness to advance his own cause should never lead him into belittling them. He need not go out of his way to praise them nor should he speak of them insincerely in glowing terms; but an honest word of commendation shows that he is not afraid of his rivals in spite of the fact that they too have excellent goods, and when it is impossible to speak well of them it is best to stay silent.
It is not hard to see why business men spend so much time and effort in selecting their salesmen. They know that one who is ill-mannered or offensive in any way indicates either a lack of breeding or a lack of judgment on the part of the parent concern. And one is about as bad as the other.
THE BUSINESS OF WRITING
Half the business letters which are written should never be written at all, and of the other half so many are incomplete or incoherent that a transaction which could be finished and filed away in two letters frequently requires six or eight.
A good letter is the result of clear thinking and careful planning. In the case of the sales-letter it sometimes takes several weeks to write one, but for ordinary correspondence a few minutes is usually all that is necessary. The length of time does not matter—it is the sort of letter which is produced at the end of it.
Books of commercial correspondence give a number of rules and standards by which a letter can be measured. But all rules of thumb are dangerous, and there are only two items which are essential. The others are valuable only as they contribute to them. The letter must succeed in getting its idea across and it must build up good will for its firm. And the best one is the one which accomplishes this most courteously and most completely in the briefest space of time (and paper).