Some Thoughts on Professional Etiquette, Part 2: Because One Post Isn’t Nearly Enough

Truth be told, I’m still shocked how many people read, loved, and shared my initial rant on social etiquette. For years, I wrote about clocks. Clocks under floorboards, ticking. Our heart, thumping its way to our last breath. Time has always hovered, been this great specter in my life, and sometimes I feel anxious because I know one more moment lived is a moment moving towards a life no longer lived, and I try, as much as I can, to be present in each moment. To view time as something that should be revered. I’ve lost so many years to the things and people that were not essential to my happiness, so I guess my original post was born out of a need to talk about time and how we can truly connect with other people in a way that is meaningful. In a way that makes us feel whole about how we spend our moments here because we’re all on a clock. We’re all walking with expiration dates invisibly imprinted. Morbid, maybe, but I read this extraordinary Oliver Sacks piece, which put me thinking of our collective fragility. And when have you ever known me to follow a straight line? Forget coloring in the lines; I’ve got my own coloring book.


6. You’re a Month Late or You Reschedule Our Meeting 35 Times: If I can find a post that lists 300 free resources for entrepreneurs and startups, you can learn how to master Google Calendar. Hypothetical scenario: you send a succinct, specific email to someone you admire, inviting them out for a coffee or a light bite. You arrange the time, you send a calendar invite, and you even pick the meeting point and time (1 P.M.!). The person whom you admire shows up on time, finds a spot and scans the room. Then the text or email arrives, and it reads: So sorry! I’m running 15 minutes late (which means 30 because we always underestimate our arrival time)! My subway stalled! Traffic was horrible (insert additional excuses blaming a third-party).

So let me get this straight. You email me at the time we’re supposed to meet, telling me you’re going to be late. At any point before said time, did you maybe suspect you were going to be late? And yes, subways do stall and sometimes traffic is truly an abomination, but those instances are rare if you plan right.

If you are someone who is chronically late for everything, understand that you’re not simply meeting up with a forgiving friend, who accepts that your lateness is your only flaw because you are, as a whole, this amazing human being. You’re meeting up with someone who knows you, only slightly, and your first meeting will likely form a pivotal first impression. So get right with your life and leave earlier than you normally would. If you start to see traffic en route, text immediately. I’d rather know that there is a chance you might be late than wait around hoping you might arrive before the coffee shop closes.

This may sound crazy, but in real life I’ve few professional pet peeves (although these two posts might likely suggest otherwise) and lateness is one of them. In the twenty years that I’ve been working, I’ve been late a handful of times because I realize that time is valuable commodity and if I’m asking of someone else’s time, time that would take them away from their life, family, friends and paying work, I better make sure I respect that time as much as I possibly can. If anything, I always arrive early for a meeting and will busy myself with emails or window shop nearby. Because someone who is late and chronically late, tells me that you don’t know how to organize your day and you really don’t value my time.

Same with the person who schedules a meeting and reschedules it 35 times. I’ve been guilty of this so I know this is HARD. We are busy, double and triple-booked, bombs explode in our lap at the very last minute, and every meeting carries an opportunity cost. Every moment, we’re making a cost-benefit analysis (value of meeting A vs. meeting B) and we might not even realize we’re doing it. But realize someone rearranged their schedule or took time away from the aforementioned priorities to meet with you. I’ve now employed a 3-strikes rescheduling rule: if you reschedule three times, you no longer get a meeting. I’ll do an email or Skype session or call. If I’m the culprit, I’ll offer to travel to someone’s office or a place that is conveniently located for them with dinner, or I’ll gift them something lovely as an apology.

We’re all human and busy, but try to remember that it’s not just the hour that is allocated to help you, but it’s the commute time, it’s the time that will take them to get back to what they were doing. Sometimes, that’s 2–3 hours of someone’s day just to help you, so respect that as much as you can.

Great resources for organizing your life: Meg Biram’s GSD column; Frankie’s Post on Freelancing; Lifehacker; Anything with a Janet Choi byline , Popforms; Laura Vanderkam

7. You Developed Amnesia About Your Failures and/or Some Other Random Illness That Prevents You from Remembering Who Helped You Get to Where You Are: Years ago, I published a literary magazine, Small Spiral Notebook. It was a time before online journals were ubiquitous, and after six years of publication and some minor fame, I folded the journal in pursuit of other projects. I was humbled to have published great writers, many of whom went on to publish stories and books and win prizes. I edited and published their first stories–stories before they had found their voice–and I’m reminded of grace when Leigh Stein tweeted, with jubilation, that I’d published her when she was 19. Leigh is an acclaimed writer and feminist whom I admire, and I smiled reading that tweet because it told me that she appreciated the whole trajectory of her career, not simply from the time when she had “made it” and onward. Every publication, rejection, feedback, interaction brought her to where she was now, and she understood the power of the big picture and how it shaped her writing and career. Maybe I’m projecting, maybe she wasn’t thinking any of these things, but I see so many people hide or discredit their failures or people they used to know who may not be in the fancy set they run with now.

I read an article a while back about how failure is a must for people to succeed. Failure implies that we stood on the precipice of something other and made the decision to leap. Yet people all too often equate falling with failure, and failure is something to rub out, hide. Often, I talk about my failures (and trust me, there are many of them) and how they led me to where I am today. For example, I was under so much stress at my last job that I ended up becoming, for a brief time, the leader I would never want to be. I was abrasive, noxious, and I remember how my words brought a team member to tears. I remembered that two years later when I wrote her a note of apology for my failure as a manager and a leader. But I used that failure to step back and evaluate the quality of the life I’d been leading and the example I’d been setting for others. I’m vocal about my failures and proud of all the people I’ve known who have gotten me to this great place where I can write posts like these. Don’t set aside or ignore your old mentors and peers in favor of The Shiny Object Syndrome. Level the playing field, continue to practice kindness, because again, you never know when people you used to know may come back in your life in a different capacity.

Be cognizant, honest, and humble about how you got where you are–it’s that easy.

8. You Got Fancy and Forgot What it Was Like to Be Small: From business to publishing to blogging, I’ve seen all of the places in which I’ve played plagued with the sickness that is arrogance. At one point, you begin to notice an invisible line between the echelon and the plebeians. These stars (whether self-appointed or cultivated by their community) were, at one point in time, small. They didn’t have much traffic, readers or experience, and they worked (or didn’t) to get to a point where they can stand behind an invisible rope and wave to all those clamoring for entry. I’ve seen many who cling desperately to their minor fame, becoming suspicious or resentful of anyone that has the potential to threaten that fame. What they fail to see is that we win by allowing others to shine. We’re successful if we’ve played a selfless role in someone else’s success. There’s no nobility in hoarding your success.

Perhaps this is the flipside of the “pick your brain” point-of-view, but I think it’s important that once you’ve achieved some semblance of success, you pay it forward. This can take on a myriad of forms: mentorship (1:1 or broad-based with Twitter chats, site Q&As and videos that answer questions on a broader scale while saving you time), donation of your time or services for pro-bono passion projects, participation in conferences, gratis, where you’re able to give advice to those who are starting out in their career, or create content that is selfless in nature. I mentor a lot of people in varying stages of their careers, have read manuscripts in nascent stages and have donated hours to give free advice on passion projects.

You may not have all the time at your disposal, but make a point to allocate some of it to those coming up in the ranks, much as like how someone helped you get to where you are today.

9. You Make Excuses Instead of Apologies: There is a certain breed of people who just can’t apologize–even when they know, deep down, they’re wrong. They’ll displace blame, they’ll talk about how they’re sorry you were offended or hurt. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness or frailty–rather, I see as a remarkable sign of strength. Years ago, I snapped at a direct report in a meeting and she approached me after and told me that they way I’d treated her was wrong, that I shouldn’t have been cross with her so publicly. Without hesitation I said she was right, and not only did I apologize, in our next team meeting I apologized to the team for how I’d mistreated that direct report. I relayed that my behavior was not an example that should be followed.

Today I read an incredibly succinct and smart post on why talented employees may be jumping ship. Staci makes many salient points, but at the core of her piece is the concept of responsibility and accountability. How management owns up to how they treat their employees and, quite frankly, themselves. If we were more honest, humble, apologetic when the time calls for it, we’d go further, farther.

This post was originally published on my blog.

P.S. Missed the first post? Read it here.

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Felicia C. Sullivan

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Published Novelist & Seasoned Marketer. I build brands + tell stories. Newsletter: Hire me: