There should be a reason back of every letter if it is only to say "Thank you" to a customer. Too much of our national energy goes up in waste effort, in aimless advertising, worthless salesmanship, ineffective letter writing, and in a thousand and one other ways. A lot of it is hammered out on the typewriters transcribing perfectly useless letters to paper which might really be worth something if it were given over to a different purpose.
A good letter never attracts the mind of the reader to itself as a thing apart from its contents. Last year a publishing house sent out a hundred test letters advertising one of their books. Three answers came back, none of them ordering the book, but all three praising the letter. One was from a teacher of commercial English who declared that he was going to use it as a model in his classes, and the other two congratulated the firm on having so excellent a correspondent. The physical make-up of the letter was attractive, it was written by a college graduate and couched in clear, correct, and colorful English. And yet it was no good. No letter and no advertisement is any good which calls attention to itself instead of the message it is trying to deliver.
There is not much room for individuality in the make-up of a letter. Custom has standardized it, and startling variations from the conventional format indicates freakishness rather than originality. They are like that astonishing gentleman who walks up Fifth Avenue on the coldest mornings in the year, bareheaded, coatless, sockless, clad in white flannels and tennis slippers. He attracts attention, but he makes us shiver.
Plain white paper of good quality is always in good taste. Certain dull-tinted papers are not bad, but gaudy colors, flashy designs, and ornate letter heads are taboo in all high types of business. Simple headings giving explicit and useful information are best. The name and address of the firm (and "New York" or "Chicago" is not sufficient in spite of the fact that a good many places go into no more detail than this), the cable address if it has one, the telephone number and the trademark if it is an inconspicuous one (there is a difference between conspicuous and distinctive) are all that any business house needs.
Hotels are often pictured on their own stationery in a way that is anything but modest, but there is a very good reason for it. The first thing most people want to know about a hotel is what sort of looking place it is. All right, here you are. Some factories, especially those that are proud of their appearance, carry their own picture on their stationery. There is nothing to say against it, but one of the most beautiful factories in America has on its letter head only the name of the firm, the address, and a small trademark engraved in black. Sometimes a picture, in a sales letter, for instance, supplements the written matter in a most effective way. And whenever any kind of device is really helpful it should by all means be used, subject only to the limits of good taste.
It is more practical in business to use standard size envelopes. If window envelopes are used the window should be clear, the paper white or nearly so, and the typewritten address a good honest black. The enclosure should fit snugly and should be placed so that the address is in plain view without having to be jiggled around in the envelope first. A letter passes through the hands of several postal clerks before it reaches the person to whom it is addressed, and if each one of them has to stop to play with it awhile an appreciable amount of time is lost, not to mention the strain it puts on their respective tempers. The paper of which an envelope is made should always be opaque enough to conceal the contents of the letter.
Practically all business letters are typewritten. Occasionally a "Help Wanted" advertisement requests that the answer be in the applicant's own handwriting, but even this is rare. In most places the typing is taken care of by girls who have been trained for the purpose, but most young girls just entering business are highly irresponsible, and it is necessary for the men and women who dictate the letters to know what constitutes a pleasing make-up so that they can point out the flaws and give suggestions for doing away with them.
The letter should be arranged symmetrically on the page with ample margins all around. Nothing but experience in copying her own notes will teach a stenographer to estimate them correctly so that she will not have to rewrite badly placed letters. It is a little point, but an important one.
Each subject considered in a letter should be treated in a separate paragraph, and each paragraph should be set off from the others by a wider space than that between the lines, double space between the paragraphs when there is single space between the lines, triple space between the paragraphs when there is a double space between the lines, and so on.
A business letter should handle only one subject. Two letters should be dispatched if two subjects are to be covered. This enables the house receiving the letter to file it so that it can be found when it is needed.
When a letter is addressed to an individual it is better to begin "Dear Mr. Brown" or "My dear Mr. Brown" than "Dear Sir" or "My dear Sir." "Gentlemen" or "Ladies" is sometime used in salutation when a letter is addressed to a group. "Dear Friend" is permissible in general letters sent out to persons of both sexes. Honorary titles should be used in the address when they take the place of "Mr.," such titles as Reverend, Doctor, Honorable (abbreviated to Rev., Dr., Hon.,) and the like. Titles should not be dropped except in the case of personal letters.
Special care should be taken with the outside address. State abbreviations should be used sparingly when there is a chance of confusion as in the case of Ga., Va., La., and Pa. "City" is not sufficient and should never be used. Nor should the name of the state ever be omitted even when the letter is addressed to some other point in the same state, as from New York to Brooklyn. And postage should be complete. A letter on which there is two cents due has placed itself under a pretty severe handicap before it is opened.
It is astonishing how many letters go out every day unsigned, lacking enclosures, carrying the wrong addresses, bearing insufficient postage, and showing other evidences of carelessness and thoughtlessness. In a town in New England last year one of the specialty shops received at Christmas time twenty different lots of money—money orders, stamps, and cash—by mail, not one of which bore the slightest clue to the identity of the sender. Countless times during the year this happens in every mail order house.
The initials of the dictator and of the stenographer in the lower left-hand corner of a letter serve not only to identify the carbon, but often to place the letter itself if it has gone out without signature. The signature should be legible, or if the one who writes it enjoys making flourishes he may do so if he will have the name neatly typed either just below the name or just above it. It should be written in ink (black or blue ink), not in pencil or colored crayon, and it should be blotted before the page is folded. The dictator himself should sign the letter whenever possible. "Dictated but not read" bears the mark of discourtesy and sometimes brings back a letter with "Received but not read" written across it. When it is necessary to leave the office before signing his letters, a business man should deputize his stenographer to do it, in which case she writes his name in full with her initials just below it. A better plan is to have another person take care of the entire letter, beginning it something like, "Since Mr. Blake is away from the office to-day he has asked me to let you know——"
The complimentary close to a business letter should be "Yours truly," "Yours sincerely" or something of the kind, and not "Yours cordially," "Yours faithfully" or "Yours gratefully" unless the circumstances warrant it.
In writing a letter as a part of a large organization one should use "We" instead of "I." A firm acts collectively, no one except the president has a right to the pronoun of the first person, and he (if he is wise) seldom avails himself of it. If the matter is so near personal as to make "We" somewhat ridiculous "I" should, of course, be used instead. But one should be consistent. If "I" is used at the beginning it should be continued throughout.
Similarly a letter should be addressed to a firm rather than to a person, for if the person happens to be absent some one else can then take charge of it. But the address should also include the name of the addressee (whenever possible) or "Advertising Manager," "Personnel Manager" or whatever the designation of his position may be. The name may be placed in the lower left-hand corner of the letter "Attention Mr. Green" or "Attention Advertising Manager," and it may also be placed just above the salutation inside the letter. Sometimes the subject of the letter is indicated in the same way, Re Montana shipment, Re Smythe manuscript, etc. These lines may be typed in red or in capital letters so as to catch the attention of the reader at once. If a letter is more than two pages long this line is often added to the succeeding pages, a very convenient device, for letters are sometimes misplaced in the files and this helps to locate them.
A business letter should never be longer than necessary. If three lines are enough it is absurd to use more, especially if the letter is going to a firm which handles a big correspondence. Some one has said with more truth than exaggeration that no man south of Fourteenth Street in New York reads a letter more than three lines long. But there is danger that the too brief letter will sound brusque. Mail order houses which serve the small towns and the rural districts say that, all other things being equal, it is the long sales letter which brings in the best results. Farmers have more leisure and they are quite willing to read long letters if (and this if is worth taking note of) they are interesting.
All unnecessary words and all stilted phrases should be stripped from a letter. "Replying to your esteemed favor," "Yours of the 11th inst. to hand, contents noted," "Yours of the 24th ult. received. In reply would say," "Awaiting a favorable reply," "We beg to remain" are dead weights. "Prox" might be added to the list, and "In reply to same." "Per diem" and other Latin expressions should likewise be thrown into the discard. "As per our agreement of the 17th" should give place to "According to our agreement of the 17th," and, wherever possible, simplified expression should be employed. Legal phraseology should be restricted to the profession to which it belongs. Wills, deeds, and other documents likely to be haled into court need "whereas's" and "wherefores" and "said's" and "same's" without end, but ordinary business letters do not. It is perfectly possible to express oneself clearly in the language of conversation (which is also the language of business) without burying the meaning in tiresome verbiage. And yet reputable business houses every day send out letters which are almost ridiculous because of the stiff and pompous way they are written.
The following letter was sent recently by one of the oldest furniture houses in America:
Herewith please find receipt for full payment of your bill. Please accept our thanks for same.
Relative to the commission due Mrs. Robinson would say that if she will call at our office at her convenience we shall be glad to pay same to her.
Thanking you for past favors, we beg to remain,
Yours very truly,
Contrast that with this:
DEAR MRS. BROWN:
We are returning herewith your receipted bill. Thank you very much.
If you will have Mrs. Robinson call at our office at her convenience we shall take pleasure in paying her the commission due her.
Yours very truly,
Here is another letter so typical of the kind that carelessness produces:
I have your letter of the 27th inst. and I have forwarded it to Mr. Stubbs and will see him in a few days and talk the matter over.
I remain Yours sincerely,
Would it not have been just as easy to write:
DEAR MR. THOMPSON:
Thank you for your letter of the 27th. I have forwarded it to Mr. Stubbs and will see him in a few days to talk the matter over.
In the preparation of this volume a letter of inquiry was sent out to a number of representative business houses all over the country. It was a pleasure to read the excellent replies that came in response to it. One letter reached its destination in the midst of a strike, but the publicity manager of the firm sent a cordial answer, which began:
Your very courteous letter to Mr. Jennings came at a time when his mind is pretty well occupied with thoughts concerning the employment situation in our various plants.
We shall endeavor, therefore, to give you such information as comes to mind with regard to matters undertaken by the company which have contributed to the standard of courtesy which exists in the departments here.
We select another at random:
It pleases us very much to know that our company has been described to you as one which practises courtesy in business. We should like nothing better than to have all our employees live up to the reputation credited to them by Mr. Haight.
As for our methods of obtaining it——
Contrast these two excellent beginnings with (and this one is authentic, too):
In reply to yours of the 6th inst. relative to what part courtesy plays in business and office management would say that it is very important.
Routine letters must be standardized—a house must conserve its own time as well as that of its customers—but a routine letter must never be used unless it adequately covers the situation. There is no excuse for a poor routine letter, for there is plenty of time to think it out, and there is no excuse for sending a routine letter when it does not thoroughly answer the correspondent's question. The man who is answering a letter must put himself in the place of the one who wrote it.
This is a fair sample of what happens when a letter is written by a person who either has no imagination at all, or does not use what he has.
A woman who had just moved to New York lost the key to her apartment and wrote to her landlord for another. This answer came:
Replying to your letter, will say am sorry but it is not the custom of the landlord to furnish more than one key for an apartment. Should the tenant lose or misplace the key it is up to them to replace same.
The woman felt a justifiable sense of irritation. She was new to the city and thought she was taking the most direct method of replacing "same." Perhaps she should have known better, but she did not. Buying a key is not so simple as buying a box of matches and to a newcomer it is a matter of some little difficulty. She was at least entitled to a bit more information and to more courteous treatment than is shown in the letter signed by his landlordly hand. She went to see him and found him most suave and polite (which was his habit face to face with a woman). He explained the heavy expense of furnishing careless tenants with new keys (which she understood perfectly to begin with) and was most apologetic when he discovered that she had intended all the time to pay for it. It would have been just as easy for him in the beginning to write:
I am sorry that I cannot send you a key, but we have had so many similar requests that we have had to discontinue complying with them.
You will find an excellent locksmith at 45 West 119 St. His telephone number is Main 3480.
I am sending you the key herewith. There is a nominal charge for it which will be added to your bill at the end of the month. I hope it will reach you safely. It is a nuisance to be without one.
Imagination is indispensable to good letter writing, but it is going rather far when one sends thanks in advance for a favor which he expects to be conferred. Even those who take pleasure in granting favors like to feel that they do so of their own free will. It takes away the pleasure of doing it when some one asks a favor and then assumes the thing done. Royalty alone are so highly privileged as to have simply to voice their wishes to have them complied with, and royalty has gone out of fashion.
At one point in their journey all the travellers in "Pilgrim's Progress" exchanged burdens, but they did not go far before each one begged to have back his original load. That is what would happen if the man who dictates a letter were to exchange places with his stenographer. Each would then appreciate the position of the other, and if they were once in a while to make the transfer in their minds (imagination in business again) they would come nearer the sympathetic understanding that is the basis of good teamwork.
The responsibility for a letter is divided between them, and it is important that the circumstances under which it is written should be favorable. The girl should be placed in a comfortable position so that she can hear without difficulty. The dictator should not smoke whether she objects to it or not. He should have in mind what he wants to say before he begins speaking, and then he should pronounce his words evenly and distinctly. He should not bang on the desk with his fist, flourish his arms in the air, talk in rhetorical rushes with long pauses between the phrases, or raise his voice to a thunderous pitch and then let it sink to a cooing murmur. These things have not the slightest effect on the typewritten page, and they make it very hard for the girl to take correct notes. No one should write a letter while he is angry, or if he writes it (and it is sometimes a relief to write a scorching letter) he should not mail it.
It is said that Roosevelt used to write very angry letters to people who deserved them, drawing liberally upon his very expressive supply of abusive words for the occasion. Each time his secretary quietly stopped the letter. Each time the Colonel came in the day after and asked if the letter had been sent. Each time the secretary said, "No, that one did not get off." And each time the Colonel exclaimed, "Good! We won't send it!" It came to be a regular part of the day's routine.
Inexperienced dictators will find it good practice to have their stenographers read back their letters so they can recast awkward sentences and make other improvements. It can usually be discontinued after a while, for dictating, like nearly everything else, becomes easier with habit.
A considerate man will show special forbearance in breaking in a new girl. Different voices are hard to grow accustomed to, and a girl who is perfectly capable of taking dictation from one man will find it very difficult to follow another until she has grown used to the sound of his voice. It is like learning a foreign language. The pupil understands his teacher, but he does not understand any one else until he has got "the hang of it."
The training of a good stenographer does not end when she leaves school. She should be able not only to take down and transcribe notes neatly and correctly. She should be able to spell and punctuate correctly and to make the minor changes in phrasing and diction that so often can make a good letter of a poor one. The most fatal disease that can overtake a stenographer (or any one else) is the habit of slavishly following a routine.
"Many young fellows," this is from Henry Ford, "especially those employed in offices, fall into a routine way of doing their work that eventually makes it become like a treadmill. They do not get a broad view of the entire business. Sometimes that is the fault of the employer, but that does not excuse the young man. Those who command attention are the ones who are actually pushing the boss.... It pays to be ahead of your immediate job, and to do more than that for which you are paid. A mere clock watcher never gets anywhere. Forget the clock and become absorbed in your job. Learn to love it."
The position of secretary is a responsible one. Frequently she knows almost as much about his business as her employer himself (and sometimes even more). He depends upon her quite as much as she depends upon him, though in a somewhat different way. It takes personal effort together with native ability to raise any one to a position of importance, but personal effort often needs supplementing, and many business houses have taken special measures to help their employees to become good correspondents.
In some places there are supervisors who give talks and discuss the actual letters, good ones and bad, which have been written. They go over the carbons and hold conferences with the correspondents who need help. In other places courtesy campaigns for a higher standard of correspondence are held, while in others the matter is placed in the hands of the heads of the various departments, acting on the assumption that these heads are men of experience and ability or they would never have attained the position they hold.
The president of a bank which has branches in London and Paris and other big foreign cities used every now and then to stop the boy who was carrying a basket of carbons to the file clerk and look them over. If he found a letter he did not like, or one that he did like a great deal, he sent for the person who wrote it and talked with him. It was not necessary for him to go over the letters often. The fact that the people in the office knew that it was likely to happen kept them on the alert and nearly every letter that left the organization was better because the person who wrote it knew that the man at the head was interested in it and that there was a strong chance that he might see it.
What is effective in one place may not be so in another. Each house must work out its own system. But one thing must be understood in the beginning, and that is that the spirit of courtesy must first abide in the home office before the people who work there can hope to send it out through the mail.
Roughly speaking there are eight types of business letters which nearly every business man at one time or another has to write or to consider.
The first is the letter of application. The applicant should state simply his qualifications for the place he wants. He should not make an appeal to sympathy (sob stuff) nor should he beg or cringe. He should not demand a certain salary, though he may state what salary he would like, and he should not say "Salary no object." It would probably not be true. There are comparatively few people with whom money is no object. If it is the first time the applicant has ever tried for a position he should say so; if not, he should give his reason for leaving his last place. It should not be a long letter. A direct statement of the essential facts (age, education, experiences, etc.) is all that is necessary.
Many times the letter of application is accompanied by, or calls for, a letter of recommendation.
No man should allow himself to recommend another for qualities which he knows he does not possess. If he is asked for a recommendation he should speak as favorably of the person under consideration as he honestly can, and if his opinion of him is disapproving he should give it with reservations.
At one time during the cleaning up of Panama there was considerable talk about displacing General Gorgas and a committee waited on Roosevelt to suggest another man for the job. He listened and then asked them to get a letter about him from Dr. William H. Welsh of Johns Hopkins. Dr. Welsh wrote a letter praising the man very highly, but ended by saying that while it was true that he would be a good man for the place, he did not think he would be as good as the one they already had—General Gorgas. The Colonel acted upon the letter confident (because he had great faith in Dr. Welsh) that he was taking the wise course, which subsequent events proved it to be. "Would to heaven," he said, "that every one would write such honest letters of recommendation!"
The general letter of recommendation beginning "To whom it may concern" is rarely given now. It has little weight. Usually a man waits until he has applied for a position and then gives the name of his reference, the person to whom he is applying writes to the one to whom he has been referred, and the entire correspondence is carried on between these two. In this way the letter of recommendation can be sincere, something almost impossible in the open letter. It is needless to add that all such correspondence should be confidential.
The letter of introduction is, in a measure, a letter of recommendation. The one who writes it stands sponsor for the one who bears it. It should make no extravagant claims for the one who is introduced. He should simply be given a chance to make good on his own responsibility. But it should give the reason for the presentation and suggest a way of following it up that will result in mutual pleasure or benefit. It should be in an unsealed envelope and the envelope should bear, in addition to the address, the words, "Introducing Mr. Blank" on the lower left-hand corner. This does away with an embarrassing moment when the letter is presented in person and enables the host to greet his guest by name and ask him to be seated while he reads it.
Letters of introduction should not be given promiscuously. Some men permit themselves to be persuaded into giving letters of introduction to people who are absolute nuisances (it is hard to refuse any one who asks for this sort of letter, but often kindest for all concerned) and then they send in secret another letter explaining how the first one came about. This really throws the burden on the person who least of all ought to bear it, the innocent man whom the first one wanted to meet. No letter of presentation is justified unless there is good reason behind it, such, as for instance, in the following:
This is Mr. Franklin B. Nesbitt. He has been in Texas for several months studying economic conditions, and I believe can give you some valuable information which has resulted from his research there. He is a man upon whom you can rely. I have known him for years, and I am sure that whatever he tells you will be trustworthy.
It is a common practice for a business man to give his personal card with "Introducing Mr. Mills" or "Introducing Mr. Mills of Howard and Powell Motor Co." written across it to a man whom he wishes to introduce to another. This enables him to get an interview. What he does with it rests entirely with him.
Sales letters are a highly specialized group given over, for the most part, to experts. Their most common fault is overstatement or patronizing. The advertisements inserted in trade papers and the letters sent out to the "trade" are often so condescendingly written that they infuriate the men to whom they are addressed. It is safer to assume that the man you are writing to is an intelligent human being. It is better to overestimate his mentality than to underestimate it, and it is better to "talk" to him in the letter than to "write" to him.
Sales letters are, as a rule, general, not personal, and yet the best ones have the personal touch. The letter is a silent salesman whose function is to anticipate the needs of its customers and offer to supply them. In this as in any other kind of salesmanship it is the spirit which counts for most, and the spirit of genuine helpfulness (mutual helpfulness) gives pulling power to almost any letter. The one which presents a special offer on special terms specially arranged for the benefit of the customer wins out almost every time, provided, of course, that the offer is worth presenting. There is no use in declaring that all of the benefit is to the subscriber. It would be very foolish if it were actually true. Once a man went into a haberdashery to buy a coat. The shop owner unctuously declared that he was not making a cent of profit, was selling it for less than it cost him, and so on and on. The man walked out. "I'll go somewhere where they have sense enough to make a profit," he said.
A sales letter should never be sent out to a large group of people without first having been tried out on a smaller one. In this way the letter can be tested and improvements made before the whole campaign is launched. The results in the small group are a pretty fair indication of what they will be in the large one, and a tremendous amount of time and money can be saved by studying the letter carefully to see where it has failed before sending it out to make an even bigger failure.
On the face of things it seems that an order letter would be an easy one to write, but the mail order houses have another story to tell. Order blanks should be used wherever possible. They have been carefully made and have blank spaces for the filling in of answers to the questions that are asked. In an order letter one should state exactly what he wants, how he wants it sent, and how he intends to pay for it. If the order consists of several items, each one should be listed separately. If they are ordered from a catalogue they should be identified with the catalogue description by mention of their names, their numbers and prices. One should state whether he is sending check, money, stamps, or money order, but he should not say "Enclosed please find."
The commonest form of letter of acknowledgment is sent in answer to an order letter. If there is to be the least delay in filling the order the letter acknowledging it should say so and should give the reason for it, but even when the order is filled promptly (if it is a large or a comparatively large one) the letter of acknowledgment should be sent. Then if anything goes wrong it is easier to trace than when the customer has no record except the copy of his order letter. The letter of acknowledgment should simply thank the customer and assure him of prompt and efficient service.
Complaints should be acknowledged immediately. If there is to be a delay while an investigation is made, the letter of acknowledgment should simply state the fact and beg indulgence until it is finished. Complaints should always receive careful and courteous attention. Most of them are justified, and even those that are not had something to begin on.
The letter of complaint should never be written hastily or angrily. It should go directly to the root of the trouble and should state as nearly as possible when and where and how it came about. One should be especially careful about placing the blame or charging to an individual what was really the fault of an unfortunate train of circumstances. The tone should never be sharp, no matter how just the complaint. "Please" goes further than "Now, see here."
Collection letters are hardest to write. They should appeal to a man's sense of honor first of all. It is a cheap (and ineffective) method to beg him to pay because you need the money, and rarely brings any reaction except rousing in his mind a contempt for you. The first letter in a series (and the series often includes as many as six or eight) should be simply a reminder. Drastic measures should not be taken until they are necessary, and at no time should the letters become abrupt or insulting. In the first place, it is ungentlemanly to write such letters, in the second it antagonizes the debtor, and if he gets angry enough he feels that it is hardly an obligation to pay the money; that it will "serve 'em right" if he does not do it.
Advertising is a sort of letter writing. Each advertisement is a letter set before the public or some part of the public in the hope that it will be answered by the right person. It enters into an over-crowded field and if it is to attract attention it must be vivid, unusual, and convincing. Increasingly—and there is cause to be thankful for this—exaggerated statements are being forced to disappear. In the first place the ballyhoo advertisers have shouted the public deaf. They no longer believe. In the second place advertisers themselves have waked to the menace of the irresponsible and dishonest people who are advertising and are taking legal measures to safeguard the honor of the profession.
One of the most successful advertisers of modern times was a man who carried the idea of service into everything he did. For a while he had charge of soliciting advertising for automobile trucks for a certain magazine. Instead of going at it blindly he made a careful study of the map of the United States and marked off the areas where automobile trucks were used, where they could be used, and where they should be used, and sent it to the manufacturers along with a statement of the circulation of the magazine and the advantages of reaching the public through it. The result was that the magazine got more advertising from the manufacturers than it could possibly handle. It is very gratifying to know that this man succeeded extraordinarily as an advertiser, for not once during his long career did he ever try to "put one over" on the public or on anybody else.
No advertisement should be impertinent or importunate. During the war there was a splendid poster bearing a picture of Uncle Sam looking straight into your eyes and pointing his finger straight into your face as he said, "Young man, your country needs you!" The poster was excellent from every point of view, but since the war, real estate companies, barber shops, restaurants and whatnot have used posters bearing the pictures of men pointing their fingers straight at you saying, "There is a home at Blankville for you," "Watch out to use Baker's Best," and "You're next!" After all, Uncle Sam is the only person who has a right to point his finger at you in any such manner and say, "I need you." And besides, there is the moral side of it. Imitation is the sincerest flattery, but the dividing line between it and dishonesty is not always clear. And the law cannot every time prosecute the offender, for there is a kind of cleverness that enables a man to pilfer the ideas of another and recast them just sufficiently to "get by." It would be very stupid for a man not to profit by the experience of other men, but there is a vast difference between intelligent adaptation of ideas and stealing them. This is more a question of morals than of manners, for the crime—and it is a crime—is usually deliberate, while most breaches of manners are unintentional and due to either carelessness or ignorance.
House memoranda are letters among the various people who are working there. They should be brief, above all things, and clear, but never at the sacrifice of courtesy. Titles should not be dropped and nicknames should not be used although initials may be. Memoranda should never be personal unless they are sent confidentially. An open memorandum should never contain anything that cannot be read by every one without reflecting unfavorably upon any one. And it is wise to keep in mind—no matter what you are writing—that the written record is permanent.
MORALS AND MANNERS
It has become a habit of late years for people to argue at great length about right and wrong, and what with complexes and psycho-analysis and what with this and that, they have almost come to the conclusion that there is no right and wrong. Man, so they have decided, is a frail and tender being completely at the mercy of the traits he has inherited from his ancestors and those he has acquired from his neighbors. What he does is simply the result of the combination of circumstances that have made him what he is. There is some truth in it, of course, but what there is is no bigger than a mustard seed, and all the volumes that have been written about it, all the sermons that have been preached upon it, and all the miles of space that have been devoted to it in the newspapers and magazines have not served to increase it. Most of us never give any one else credit for our achievements and there is no more reason for giving them blame for our failures. A gentleman is "lord of his own actions." He balances his own account, and whether there is a debit or a credit is a matter squarely up to him.
The pivot upon which all right-thinking conduct involving relations with other people turns is the Golden Rule, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." It is to the moral what the sun is to the physical world, and just as we have never made full use of the heat and light which we derive from the sun but could not live without that which we do use, so we have never realized more than a small part of the possibilities of the Golden Rule, but at the same time could not get along together in the world without the meagre part of it that we do make use of. The principle is older than the Christian Era, older than the sequoias of California, older than the Pyramids, older than Chinese civilization. It is the most precious abstract truth that man has yet discovered. It contains the germ of all that has been said and written about human brotherhood and all that has been done toward making it an accomplished fact. And if to-morrow it were to vanish from the earth we should miss it almost, if not quite, as much as we should the sun if it were to go hurtling off into space so far away that we could neither see nor feel it. In the one case there would be no life at all on earth, in the other there would be none worth living.
The Golden Rule amounts to no more than putting yourself into another person's place. It is not always easy to do. Half of the people in the United States have very little idea of what the lives of the other half are like and have no special interest in knowing.
"What," we asked the manager of a bookshop which caters to a large high-grade clientele, "do you find your greatest trouble?"
"Lack of imagination on the part of our customers," he answered promptly, "a total inability to put themselves into our place, to realize that we have our lives to live just as they have theirs. If we haven't a book in stock they want to know why. If we don't drop everything to attend to them they want to know why. If anything goes wrong they want to know why, but they won't listen to explanations and won't accept them when they do. They simply can't see our side of it. And they make such unreasonable demands. Why, last year during the Christmas rush when the shop was fairly jammed to the door and we were all in a perfect frenzy trying to wait on them all, a man called up to know if his wife was here!"
It is not always easy to see life, or even a small section of life, from another person's point of view. A man very often thinks housework practically no work at all (the drudgery of it he has never realized because he has never had to do it) and a woman very often underestimates the wear and tear and strain of working in an office and getting a living out of it in competition with hundreds of other men. Marie Antoinette had no conception of what it meant when the French people cried for bread. It seemed impossible to her that a person could actually be hungry. "Why, give them cake!" she exclaimed. It may be pretty hard for a man who is making $10,000 a year to sympathize with the stenographer he hires for $600 or $700 a year, or for her to see his side of things. But it is not impossible.
Very few of us could honestly go as far as the novelist who recently advocated the motto: "My neighbor is perfect" or the governor who set aside a day for the people in his state to put it into practice. We happen to know that our neighbors are, like ourselves, astonishing compounds of vice and virtue in whom any number of improvements might be made. It is not necessary to think them perfect, only to remember that each one of us, each one of them, is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, that every man has a right to a square deal.
In the ancient world there were four cardinal virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, and discretion. In the modern world of business there are only two. Others may follow, but these two must come first. Justice, we mean, and kindness. No man was ever really a gentleman who was not just and kind, and we think it would be almost impossible for one who is, whatever his minor shortcomings may be, not to be a gentleman. Just to his employees (or to his employer), to his customers, to his friends, to himself, and this justice always tempered with kindness, the one quality giving the firmness necessary in dealing with people, the other the gentleness which is no less necessary.
In the first place, and this is one of the corner stones of justice, industrial life must be made safe for the worker. And it is a job in which he has as large a part as the man who hires him. Under present conditions one workman out of every eight is injured during the year and the accident is as often his fault as it is that of his employer. In some instances efficient safety devices are not provided, in others they are not made use of.
Special kinds of work, such as that in which the laborer is exposed to poisonous fumes, to sand blasts, dangerous chemicals or mineral dusts, need special protective devices and men with sense enough to use them. The employer cannot do his share unless the worker does his, and the worker is too quick to take a chance. The apprentice is usually cautious enough, but the old hand grows unwary. Ninety-nine times he thrusts his arm in among belts whirling at lightning speed and escapes, but the hundredth time the arm is caught and mangled. And there is nothing to blame but his own carelessness.
WHO AM I?
I am more powerful than the combined armies of the world.
I have destroyed more men than all the wars of the nations.
I am more deadly than bullets, and I have wrecked more homes than the mightiest of siege guns.
I steal, in the United States, alone, over $300,000,000 each year.
I spare no one, and I find my victims among the rich and poor alike, the young and old, the strong and weak. Widows and orphans know me.
I loom up to such proportions that I cast my shadow over every field of labor, from the turning of the grindstone to the moving of every railroad train.
I massacre thousands upon thousands of wage earners a year.
I lurk in unseen places and do most of my work silently. You are warned against me but you heed not.
I am relentless.
I am everywhere—in the house, on the streets, in the factory, at the railroad crossings, and on the sea.
I bring sickness, degradation and death, and yet few seek to avoid me.
I destroy, crush or maim; I give nothing but take all.
I am your worst enemy.
I AM CARELESSNESS
Any kind of carelessness which results in injury (or is likely to result in it), whether the injury is mental or physical, is criminal. No plea can justify building a theatre which cannot stand a snowstorm, a school which cannot give a maximum of safety to the children who are in it, a factory which does not provide comfortable working conditions for the people employed there, or allowing any unsafe building or part of a building to stand.
There is a factory (this story is true) which places the lives of the majority of its employees in jeopardy twice a day. There are two sets of elevators, one at the front of the building for the executives and their secretaries and visitors, one at the rear for the rank and file of the employees. Since there are several hundred of the latter the advantages of the division are too obvious to need discussion. We have no quarrel with it. But the apparatus upon which the elevators in the rear run is so old and so rotten and so rusty that there is constant danger of its breaking down. Three times already there have been serious accidents. The men who are hired to operate the cars rarely stay more than a week or so. Protests have been sent in but nothing has been done. The management knows what the conditions are but they have never stopped to realize the horror of it. It is not that they value a few dollars more than they do human life, but that they simply do not stop to think or to imagine what it would be like to have to ride in the ramshackle elevator themselves. In the offices of this factory there is an atmosphere of courtesy and good breeding far beyond the ordinary—in justice to the people there it must be said that they do not know the conditions in the rear, but the management does. And the management is polite in most of its dealings, both with its employees and outside, but polish laid over a cancerous growth like this is not courtesy.
There are three essentials for good work: good lighting (it must be remembered that a light that is too glaring is as bad as one that is too dim), fresh air (air that is hot and damp or dry and dusty is not fresh), and cleanliness (clean workrooms—and workers—clean drinking water with individual drinking cups, and in places where the work is unusually dirty, plenty of clean water for bathing purposes.)
In the matter of salaries—economically one of the most important questions in the world—the employer should pay, not as little, but as much as he can afford. No man has a right to hire a girl (or a boy either) at less than a living wage and expect her to live on it. The pitiless publicity which was given the evil of hiring girls at starvation wages some years ago (in particular through the short stories of O. Henry, "the little shop-girl's knight" which, according to Colonel Roosevelt, suggested all the reforms which he undertook in behalf of the working girls of New York) did much in the way of reform, but there is much yet to be done.
Money has been called the root of all evil. It is not money, but greed. Greed and thoughtlessness. Sir James Barrie says stupidity and jealousy, but both these might be included under thoughtlessness. Men who are generous almost to a fault when a case of individual need is brought before them will hire girls at less than any one could exist on in decency. When they meet these same girls in the hall or when they come directly into contact with them in their work they may be polite enough, but their politeness is not worth a tinker's curse. Justice must come first. Only if the employer pays a fair day's wage can he expect a fair day's work. "Even then," he protests, "I can't get it." And this is, unfortunately, in large measure true. As Kipling said some few years ago, and it still holds,
From forge and farm and mine and bench Deck, altar, outpost lone— Mill, school, battalion, counter, trench, Rail, senate, sheepfold, throne— Creation's cry goes up on high From age to cheated age: "Send us the men who do the work For which they draw the wage."
"I can't even get them here on time," the employer's wail continues. The employee may respond that the employer is not there, but this has nothing to do with it. Most people are paid to get to their work at a certain hour. They have a daily appointment with their business at a specified time. It is wise and honorable to keep it. Tardiness is a habit, and, like most others, considerably harder to break than to form, but punctuality also is a habit, not quite so easy to establish as tardiness because it is based on strength while the other is based on weakness. Most of us hate to get up in the morning, but it is good discipline for the soul, and we have the words of poets as well as of business men that
Early to bed and early to rise Is the way to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Time is one of the most valuable of commodities. More people are discharged for coming in late than for any other reason, not excepting (we believe this no exaggeration) "lay-offs" during dull seasons. Slipping out before the regular time and soldiering on the job fall into the same classification with tardiness. Such practices the employee too often looks upon as a smart way of getting around authority, blithely ignoring the fact which has so many times been called to our attention: that what a man does to a job is not half so important as what the job does to him. The material loss which comes from it is the least of its harms.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but he is duller yet if he tries to mix them. Intense concentration during working hours followed by complete rest is the only way to make a contented workman, and it is the happy workman (just as it is the happy warrior), in spite of all that is said about divine discontent, who counts for most both to himself and to his community. There is a gladness about earnest eager work which is hard to find in anything else. "I know what pleasure is," declared Robert Louis Stevenson, "because I have done good work."
Gossiping, idling, smoking, writing personal letters during working hours (these usually on the firm's stationery), and a thousand and one other petty acts of dishonesty are ruinous, not so much to the house which tolerates them (because it cannot help itself) as to the person who commits them. Telephones are the cause of a good deal of disturbance during business hours in places where employees spend an appreciable amount of time on personal calls. In some organizations they are prohibited altogether; but in most they are allowed if not carried to excess. It is not business people who need education in this so much as their friends who have never been in business and seem unable to realize that personal calls are not only annoying, but time-killing and distracting.
Part of the unrest and unhappiness among employees is due to the fact that vast numbers of them are working not at what they want to do but at what they have to do, marking time until they can get something better. It is very commendable for a man to be constantly watching out to improve himself, but it does not in the meanwhile excuse him from doing his best at the job for which he is drawing pay. It is dishonest. It is unsportsmanlike. It is unmanly.
The question of salary is, from whatever angle it is approached, a delicate one. "My experience is," observed David Harum, "that most men's hearts is located ruther closter to their britchis pockets than they are to their vest pockets." It is a tender subject, and one that causes more trouble than almost any other in the world. Employees who are trusted with the payroll should not divulge figures and employees who are on the payroll should not discuss and compare salaries. Jones cannot understand why Brown gets more than he does when he knows that Brown's work is not so good, Brown cannot see why Smith gets as much as he does when he is out two or three days in the week, and Smith cannot see why he has not been made an executive after all the years he has worked in the place. There are many sides to the matter of salary adjustment and they all have to be taken into consideration. And the petty jealousies that employees arouse by matching salaries against one another only serve to make a complex problem more difficult.
There is only one base upon which a man should rest his plea for an increase in salary, and that is good work. The fact that he has a family dependent upon him, that he is ill or hard up may be ample reason for giving him financial help or offering him a loan, but it is no reason why his salary should be increased unless his work deserves it. Paternalism is more unfair than most systems of reward, and the man who comes whimpering with a tale of hard luck is usually (but not always) not worth coddling. Years of experience, even though they stretch out to three score and ten, are not in themselves sufficient argument for promotion. Sometimes the mere fact that a man has been content to stay in one place year after year shows that he has too little initiative to rise in that particular kind of work and is too timid to try something else.
Another big cause of trouble among men working in the same organization is rigid class distinction. When a man hires others to work for him he invites discontent; when he hires them to work with him there may be dissatisfaction, but the chances of it are lessened. A business well knit together is like any other group, an army or a football team, bound into a unit to achieve a result. At its best each person in it feels a responsibility toward each one of the others; each realizes that who a man is is not half so important as what he does, and that
... the game is more than the player of the game And the ship is more than the crew,
or, as another poet with a Kiplingesque turn of mind and phrase has it,
It is not the guns or armament Or the money they can pay. It's the close cooeperation That makes them win the day. It is not the individual Or the army as a whole, But the everlastin' team work Of every blooming soul.
Each man is directly responsible to his immediate superior. He should never, unless the circumstances are unusual, go over his head and he should never do so without letting him know. It should be impossible, and is, in a well-organized house, for men coming from the outside to appeal over a member of a firm. Responsible men should be placed in the contact positions and their responsibility should be respected. Salesmen are warned not to bother with the little fellow but to go straight to the head of a firm. Like most general advice, it is dangerous to put into universal practice. The heads of most firms have men to take care of visitors, and in a good many instances, the salesman helps his cause by going to the proper subordinate in the first place. It is all very well to go to the head of a firm but to do it at the expense of the dignity of one of the smaller executives is doubtful business policy and doubtful ethics.
"Passing the buck" is a gentle vice practised in certain loosely hung together concerns. It is a strong temptation to shift the accountability for a mistake to the shoulders of the person on the step below, but it is to be remembered that temptations, like obstacles, are things to be overcome. The "buck," as has been pointed out, always passes down and not up, a fact which makes a detestable practice all the more odious. One of the first laws of knighthood was to defend the weak and to protect the poor and helpless; it still holds, though knighthood has passed out of existence; and the creature (he is not even good red herring) who blames some one else for a fault of his, or allows him to take the blame, is beneath contempt.
When a mistake has been made and the responsibility fixed on the right person the penalty may be inflicted. If it is a scolding or a "bawling out" it should be done quietly. Good managers do not shout their reprimands. They do not need to. The reproof for a fault is a matter between the offender and the "boss." No one else has any concern with it, and there is no reason why the instinct for gossip or the appetite for malicious reports on the part of the other employees should be satisfied. The world would be happier and business would be infinitely more harmonious if each person in it could realize that his chief aim in life should be to mind his own business or, at least, to let other people's alone.
Private secretaries and other people in more or less confidential positions are many times tempted to give away secret information, not so much for the benefit of the person to whom it is given as to show how much they themselves are trusted. Nearly every one who holds a responsible business position receives items of information which are best not repeated, and if common sense does not teach him what should be kept private and what should be told, nothing will. It should not be necessary for the superior to preface each of his remarks with, "Now, this must go no further."
Matters concerning salaries should always be confidential, and so should personal items such as health reports, character references, and so on, credit reports, blacklists, and other information of a similar nature. It is compiled for a definite purpose and for the use of a limited group of people. It is unethical to use it in any other way.
The reason for dismissing a person from a business organization should be kept private, especially if it is something that reflects unfavorably on his character. But the reason should always be given to the employee himself. He may not listen, and most of the men who have had experience in hiring and firing say that he will not, but that is his own responsibility. The employer has no right to let him go without letting him know why. And the employee should listen—it may not be his fault but he should check up honestly with himself and find out. The same thing that lost him this place may lose him another, and a good many times all that he can get out of being discharged is a purification of soul. It is a pity if he misses that.
Discharging a person is a serious matter, serious from both sides, and it is not a thing to be done lightly. Most houses try to obviate it in so far as possible by hiring only the kind of people they want to keep. "Our efforts toward efficiency" (we quote from one manager who is typical of thousands) "begin at the front door. We try to eliminate the unfit there. We do not employ any one who happens to come along. We try by means of an interview and references and psychological tests to get the very highest type of employee." No human test is perfect, however, and there are times, even in the best regulated houses, when it becomes necessary to dismiss persons who have shown themselves unfit.
It is not always a disgrace to be discharged and it is not always a step downward. It may be because of business depression or it may be because the man is a square peg in a round hole. Sometimes it is the only experience that will reduce a man's, especially a young man's, idea of his own importance to something like normal proportions, the only one that will clear his mind of the delusion that he is himself the only person who is keeping off the rocks the business for which he is working, in which case it is one of the best things that could have happened to him.
A roll call of famous or successful men who were fired would take up several reams of paper, and it is a pretty rash personnel manager (not to say brutal and unfair) who will throw a man out like a rotten potato and declare that he is absolutely no good. Besides, he does not know. All that he can be sure of is that the man was not qualified for the job he was holding. And he should think twice before giving a man a bad name even if he feels certain that he deserves it. At the same time he must protect himself and other business men from incompetent, weak, or vicious employees. If after his dismissal a man sends back to his former employer for a recommendation, the recommendation should be as favorable as possible without sacrificing the truth.
When a man breaks his connection with a business house, whether he does so voluntarily or involuntarily, his departure should be pleasant, or at the least dignified. It is childish to take advantage of the fact that you are going away to tell all of the people you have grudges against how you feel about them, and it is worse than a mere breach of good manners to abuse the house that has asked you to leave. If it has done some one else an injustice, talk about that all you please, but on your own account be silent. Even if the fault has been altogether with the house it does not help to call it names. Self-respect should come to the rescue here. This is the time when it is right to be too proud to fight.
For a long time it has been held bad ethics for the members of one trade or profession to speak disparagingly of their competitors, and we have grown accustomed to say that you can judge a man by the way he speaks of his rivals. This has limits, however, and in some instances a mistaken idea of loyalty to one's calling has led to the glossing over of certain evils which could have been cured much earlier if they had been made public. It is all very well to be generous and courteous toward one's competitors but the finest courtesy in any business consists of doing whatever tends to elevate the standard of that business.
Every man likes his business to be well thought of, and most businesses have organized for the promotion of a high standard of ethics as well as for the development of more efficient methods. Notable among these, to mention one of the most recent ones, is the Advertisers' Association. There was a time when the whole profession was menaced by the swindlers who were exploiting fraudulent schemes by means of advertising in magazines and newspapers, but to-day no reputable periodical will accept an advertisement without investigating its source and most of them will back up the guarantee of the advertiser that his goods are what he represents them to be with a guarantee of their own. No publication which intends to keep alive can afford a reputation of dishonesty, and the efforts of the publishers toward cleaning up have been seconded by the association to such an extent that any person or corporation that issues a deceptive advertisement, whether or not there was intent to deceive, will be prosecuted and punished.
There was a time when a man could do almost anything within the law in a commercial transaction and excuse himself by saying "business is business." Happily this is no longer true. Business men have not grown perfect but they have raised their standards of business morality as high as their standards of personal morality. They have learned that business and life are one, that our lives cannot—and this has a number of disadvantages—be separated into compartments like so many tightly corked bottles on a shelf. We have only one vessel and whatever goes into it colors what is already there. And it is significant to remember that muddy water poured into clean water will make it muddy, but that clean water poured into muddy water will not make it clean. It takes very little ink in a pail of milk to color the whole of it, but it takes an enormous amount of milk to have any effect on a bottle of ink.
Business men have also learned that the only way to build a business that will last is to lay its foundation on the Golden Rule, and many a man who might otherwise sidetrack the principles of integrity holds by them for this reason. "Honesty," declared one of the most insufferable prigs America ever produced, "is the best policy." He was right. Prigs usually are. It is only because they are so sure of it themselves that they irritate us.
It is a fact, in spite of the difficulty Diogenes had when he took up his lantern and set out to find an honest man, that most people like to pay their way as they go, and the business men who recognize this are the ones who come out on top. They do not say that the customer is always right nor that he is perfect, but they assume that he is honest and trust him until he has proved himself otherwise. The biggest mail order house in America never questions a check. As soon as an order is received they fill it and attend to the check afterward. Their percentage of loss is extraordinarily small. Distrust begets distrust, and the perversity of human nature is such that even an honest man will be tempted to cheat if he knows another suspects him of it. The converse is equally true. There are, of course, exceptions. But the only rule in the world to which there are no exceptions is that there is no rule that holds good under all conditions.
In the preceding pages we have looked over the field of etiquette in business in a general way, and have come to the only conclusion possible, namely, that the basis of courtesy in business is common sense, and that whatever rules may be given must not be followed slavishly, but must simply be used as guide posts. In the pages which follow we shall go into detail and watch courtesy at work among certain groups and individuals.
Let us take, for example, a big concern which employs a thousand or more people. We shall begin with the president.
President of a Big Organization. Here is a man who bears a heavy responsibility. He has not only his own welfare to look after but that of the men and women who work with (we like this word better than for) him. His first duty is to them. How can he best perform it?
It is a matter of fact that few men rise to such positions who are not innately courteous. It is one of the qualities which enable them to rise. For this reason we shall take it for granted that the president needs no instructions. Already he has learned the great value of courtesy. But this does not protect him always from discourtesy in other people.
Every man who holds a high position in a big organization is besieged with visitors, but no one so much as the president. He is a target for cranks and idlers and freaks as well as for earnest business men who want to help him or to get help from him. Thousands during the course of a year come to call on him. If he saw them all he would have to turn over the presidency to some one else and devote himself to entertaining visitors. Many of those who come ask for him when he is not at all the man they want to see, but they have been taught in the schools of salesmanship or they have read in a magazine that it never pays to bother with the little fellow, but that they should go straight to the top.
Every minute of the time of the president of a big company is valuable (all time is valuable, as far as that goes), and it must be protected from the people who have no right to infringe upon it.
You would think that the vice-presidents and the managers and the various executives would be his best protection. They are not. It is the person who is placed at the front door to receive visitors. We shall consider him next.
The Man at the Door. As a matter of fact, this person is usually a girl, many times a very young and irresponsible one, because great numbers of business men have not yet realized the importance of the position. A well-poised girl or a woman who has had wide experience in handling people can fill the place quite as efficiently as a man, and a great deal more so if the man has not been chosen because he has the quick sympathy and ready tact so necessary in taking care of the needs of a miscellaneous assortment of callers.
In the house we are observing the person at the door is a young man who began as a messenger boy, and who, because he did what he was asked to do cheerfully instead of sullenly, with a "Certainly, sir," and a smile instead of a "That's Bob's business" and a frown, was made manager of the messengers, and then first assistant of the man at the door, and later, when that man was given another position, was promoted to his place. The job commands a good salary and offers chances of promotion. The young man likes it.
A visitor comes, a young salesman, let us say, who has had little experience. This is only the second or third time he has tried to storm the doors of big business. He asks at once for the president. He does not give his card because the school where he learned his trade cautioned him against doing so. (He is perfectly correct, and he would have been equally correct if he had given it. The more formal style is to send in the card.) The man at the door sees at once what kind of man he has to deal with.
"The president is busy," he answers—a safe remark always, because if he is not he should be; "maybe I can do something for you."
The salesman explains that he has an attachment to increase efficiency of typewriters. He would like to show the president how it works.
"Oh, you don't want Mr. President," the host answers. "You want Mr. Jones. He attends to all such things for us. Will you be seated here in the reception room," motioning toward the door which is at one side of his desk, "while I find out if he is busy?"
This concern is very conservative about buying new attachments and new machinery of any kind, but it is ever on the alert to discover means of increasing its output and saving its manpower. Almost any new idea is worth a demonstration.
If the man at the desk has an intelligent messenger boy—and he should have—he sends him in to Mr. Jones. The boy finds Mr. Jones busy. He will be free in about fifteen minutes and then will be glad to see the salesman. The man reports to the visitor and asks if he cares to wait. He does. The host offers him a magazine and asks him to make himself comfortable while he goes back to his desk to attend to the next visitor.
This one also wants to see the president.
"The president is in conference just now," the young man replies. "Perhaps there is something I can do for you in the meanwhile if you will tell me what you want."
"It's none of your business," he answers rudely. "I want the president."
The chances are against a man of this sort. He may be a person the president wants to see, but the odds are ten to one that he is not.
"I'm sorry but you cannot possibly see him now. He is busy."
"When will he be free?"
"It is hard to tell. These conferences sometimes last an hour or two, and I am sure he will not see you even then unless you tell him why you want to see him. He is a very busy man."
The visitor sputters around a few minutes and it develops that he is selling insurance. The young man knows that the president will not see him under any circumstances. He is already heavily insured, as every wise man should be, and he cannot be bothered with agents who are trying to sell him larger policies.
"I'm sorry," the young man repeats, "but I am sure there is no use in letting him waste your time. He is already carrying a heavy policy and he positively refuses to talk insurance with anyone, no matter who it is."
This should be enough for the salesman. What the young man says is true. It would be a waste of his time as well as the president's. He does not care half so much for the salesman's time—there is no reason why he should—but notice how tactfully he tells him that the head of the organization has no time to spend with him.
There is a certain rough type of salesman (we use the word salesman here in the broadest sense, as the salesmen themselves use it, to cover all the people who are trying to convince some one else that what they have is worth while whether it is an idea or a washing machine or a packet of drawings)—there is a certain rough type of salesman who tries to bluster his way through. He never lasts long as a salesman, though unfortunately he survives a good many years in various kinds of business. Even he must not be turned away rudely.
"I'm sorry," the young man says to a person of this sort, "but the president has given positive orders that he must not be disturbed this morning. He is engaged in a very important transaction."
The next man who approaches the door has an authentic claim on the president. It would be as great a calamity to turn him away as it would be to let some of the others in. He presents his card and says that he has an appointment. A truly courteous man, whenever possible, arranges an appointment beforehand. The young man takes the card, waves toward the reception room, and asks him to be seated while he finds out if the president is busy. He telephones to the secretary of the president, tells him who is calling, and asks if the president is ready to see him. If the answer is affirmative he asks if he will see him in his office or out in the reception room. It is much easier to get rid of a visitor from the entrance hall or reception room than from an inside office. If he says that he will see him in the reception room the girl reports to the visitor that he will come in a few minutes, offers him a magazine, and asks him to make himself at home. If the president says that he will see the visitor in his office the young man sends one of the messenger boys to usher him through the building.
Now it may be that this man had no appointment with the president, but that he has used it as a pretext to break through. In this case, the secretary answers, after consulting his schedule, that the president has never heard of such a person and has no such appointment. A man of this sort is not worth a minute's consideration. He has shown himself dishonest at the outset with a petty contemptible dishonesty, and the temptation is to pitch him out on his head. But the young man says quietly:
"His secretary says that the president has no appointment with you. I am afraid you have come to the wrong place. It must be some other Mr. Beacon."
There is a note of finality in his voice which convinces the visitor that there is no use in going further.
The next visitor is a woman who has come to have lunch with a friend of hers who works in the accounting department.
"It is fifteen minutes before time for lunch," the young man answers. "I can call her now, of course, but if you would rather not disturb her, I'll tell her that you will wait for her in the reception room until she comes for you."
The woman thanks him and agrees that it will be much better not to disturb her. The young man offers her a chair and a magazine and invites her to make herself comfortable.
It grows monotonous in the telling for him to ask each of the visitors exactly the same questions (never exactly the same, of course) in the same cordial tone of voice and to tell them to make themselves comfortable in exactly the same way, but the means of attaining success in such a place lies in the fact that he greets each visitor as if he were the only one he had to attend to, and that he is, for the time being, at least, completely at the visitor's service. It is not so much what the young man says as the way he says it. "Good morning" can be spoken in such a way that it is an insult.
The Girl at the Telephone. It is nerve-racking to stand at the door to receive callers, but it is much more so to sit at the switchboard and receive messages. The only point of contact is through the voice, but it is remarkable how much of one's personality the voice expresses. If you are tired your voice shows it; if you are cross your voice tells it; if you are worried, your voice betrays it. It is possible for one (everyone) to cultivate a pleasing voice. The telephone companies have learned this, and there is no part of her equipment upon which they spend more time and effort than on the voice of the telephone girl. It is interesting to know that their very excellent motto, "The voice with the smile wins" did not spring into being without thought. On the early bulletins this clumsy phrase was printed: "A smiling voice facilitates service."
The girl at the telephone, even though she receives a thousand calls a day, must answer each one pleasantly and patiently. Some people call without a very clear idea of what they want, and the fact that business houses have so many different names for exactly the same job often makes it difficult for them to locate the person they are asking for, even when they are fairly sure who it is they want.
"May I speak to your personnel manager?" comes the query over the wire to a girl who has never heard of a personnel manager.
"I'm sorry, I did not quite hear you."
The person at the other end repeats the word and the girl is sure she had it right the first time.
"We have no personnel manager here. Maybe there is some one else who would do. If you will tell me what you want——"
"I want a job."
"Just a minute, please, I'll connect you with our employment manager."
Advertising engineers, executive secretaries, and many others are old jobs masquerading under new names.
More business men complain of the girl at the telephone than of any other person in business. She must, under the handicap of distance, accomplish exactly what the man at the door does, and must do it as efficiently and as courteously.
No matter how angry the one who is calling becomes, no matter how profane he may be, no matter what he says, she must not answer back, and she must not slam the receiver down while he is talking. Perfect poise, an even temper, patience, and a pleasant voice under control—if she has these, and a vast number of the telephone girls have, she need not worry about the rules of courtesy. They will take care of themselves.
The numbers that a girl in a business office has to call frequently she should have on a pad or card near the switchboard so that she will not have to look them up. Many business men ask the girl at the board to give them Blank and Blank or Smith and Smith instead of giving her the numbers of the two concerns. She then has to look them up, quite a difficult task when one has the headpiece on and calls coming in and going out every minute. To stop to look up one number often delays several, and it is a duty which should never devolve upon the girl whose business it is to send the calls through. The man who is calling, or his secretary, if he has one, or a person near the switchboard stationed there for the purpose should look up the numbers and give them to the operator.
An efficient girl at the telephone sends numbers through as quickly as is humanly possible, but even then she is often scolded by nervous and harassed men who expect more than can really be done.
Mr. Hunter has called Main 6785. It is busy. He waits. Hours pass. At least it seems so to him, and he grows impatient.
"What's the matter with that number, Miss Fisher?"
"I'm still trying, Mr. Hunter. I'll call you when they answer."
The line continues busy. Mr. Hunter looks over the papers on his desk. His nervousness increases. He takes down the receiver again and asks what the trouble is. He does not get the number any more quickly this way, but it would be hard to convince him that he does not. The girl says quietly again that she is still trying. He clings to the receiver and in a few minutes she answers triumphantly, "Here they are," and the connection is made.
The telephone girl in a big concern (or a little one) is constantly annoyed with people who have the wrong number. When it happens ten or twelve times in the course of a day—fortunately it is not usually so often—it is hard for her to keep a grip on her temper and answer pleasantly, "This is not the number you want," but the snappish answer always makes a bad situation worse, and the loss of temper which causes it drains the energy of the person who makes it. It is not merely the voice with the smile that wins; it is the disposition and temperament to which such a voice is the index.
The Secretary. The next in the line of defense is the president's secretary. To him (and we use the masculine pronoun although this position, like a good many others, is often held by women even in the biggest organizations, where the responsibility attached to it is by no means small)—to him the president turns over the details of his day's work. He arranges the president's schedule and reminds him of the things he has forgotten and the things he is likely to forget. He receives all of his visitors by telephone first and many times disposes of their wants without having to connect them with the president at all. He receives many of the callers who are admitted by the man at the door and in the same way often takes care of them without disturbing the president. He knows more about the petty routine of the job than the president himself. He is accurate. He is responsible. He is patient. He is courteous.
In order that he may be all these things it is necessary for the president to keep him well informed as to what he is doing and where he is going and what he is planning so that he can give intelligent answers to the people who come, so that he can keep things running smoothly when the president is away, so that he can answer without delay when the president asks whether he has a luncheon engagement on Thursday, and what he did with the memorandum from the circulation manager, and who is handling the shipping sheets.
Men who have their minds on larger matters cannot keep all the details of their jobs in mind, but it is significant to know that most successful business men know with more than a fair degree of accuracy what these details amount to. Some secretaries feel very superior to the men who employ them because they can remember the date on which the representatives of the Gettem Company called and the employers cannot. The author knows a chauffeur who drives for a famous New York surgeon who thinks himself a much better man than the surgeon because he can remember the numbers of the houses where his patients and his friends live and the surgeon cannot. The author also knows a messenger boy who thinks himself a much bigger man than one of the most successful brokers in Wall Street because the broker sometimes gives him the same message twice within fifteen minutes, the second time after it has already been delivered.
The secretary comes to the office every morning neatly clad and on time. The hour at which his employer comes in has nothing to do with him. There is a definite time at which he is expected to be at his desk. He is there.
He opens the letters on his desk—and those addressed to the president come first to him—and sorts them, throwing aside the worthless advertising matter, saving that which may be of some interest, marking the letters that are to be referred to various other members of the house, and placing them in the memorandum basket, piling into one heap those that he cannot answer without first consulting the president, and into another those which must be answered by the president personally. Intimately personal letters often come mixed in with the rest of the mail. No man wants a secretary whom he cannot trust even with letters of this sort, but almost any secretary worth having will feel a certain amount of delicacy in opening them unless he is requested to do so. When these letters are from people who write often the secretary grows to recognize the handwriting from the outside of the envelope, and therefore does not need to open them. In other cases it is sometimes possible to distinguish a personal from a business letter. These should be handled according to the wishes of the man to whom they are directed. Many business men turn practically everything—even the settlement of their family affairs—over to their secretaries. It is a personal matter, and the secretary's part in it is to carry out the wishes of his employer.
By the time the mail is sorted the president has come in.
He rings for his secretary, telephones for him, sends a messenger for him, or else goes to his desk himself and asks him to come in and take dictation. There is no special courtesy or discourtesy in any of these methods. It depends on how far apart the desks are, how busy he is, and a number of other things. He does not yell for his secretary to come in. He manages to get him there quietly. It is not necessary for him to rise when the secretary enters (even if the secretary is a woman) though he may do so (and it is a very gracious thing, especially if the secretary is a woman) but he should greet him (or her) with a pleasant "Good-morning."
The secretary takes his place in the comfortable chair that has been provided for him, with notebook and pencil in hand and at least one pencil in reserve. He waits for the president to begin, and listens closely so that he may transcribe as rapidly as he speaks. If he fails to understand he waits until they come to the end of a sentence before asking his employer to repeat. It is much better to do so then than to depend on puzzling it out later or coming back and asking him after he has forgotten what was said.
Telephone interruptions and others may come during the dictation but the secretary waits until he is dismissed or until the pile of letters has disappeared.
When the president has finished it is the secretary's time to begin talking. He consults him about the various letters upon which he needs his advice and makes notations in shorthand on them. He reports on the various calls that have come in and the house memoranda. A good secretary reads and digests these before turning them over to his employer, and in most cases gives the gist of the memorandum instead of the memorandum itself. It saves time.
The president's secretary usually has a secretary of his own, a woman, let us say, or a girl whose preliminary training has been good and whose record for the year and a half she has been with the company has been excellent.