I remember one time being ‘courted’ over lunch to get involved in a business deal. It was a reasonable deal and I was on the fence about getting involved hence the lunch meeting. It started well and I began buying into the vision being presented. Then it went downhill fast. The waiter brought the menus out and the guy I was lunching with told him rudely to go away and come back in 10 minutes. I remember pushing back in my chair and thinking ‘this just got interesting’. During the rest of the lunch my counterpart continued to be dismissive and rude towards the waiter. While the food was great I began losing my appetite for the deal.

The odd thing was when he switched his attention back to me he was extremely charming and attentive. Almost Jekyll & Hyde-like. But he was ‘faking’ it and I knew he had revealed his true self through his interactions with the waiter. Even though the deal was a good one (on paper) at the end of the lunch I politely declined my involvement. My reasoning was that if he could treat a waiter just trying to do his job as poorly as he had what’s he going to be like with the pressures of leading a fast growth business with limited time and resources? How will he build and manage a team when the pressure is on?

You can learn a lot about people from how they treat waiters in a restaurant. It might not all be good. In my case the behaviour of my lunch partner cast doubts in my mind about his inter-personal skills and how this may manifest itself in the pressures of building an early stage business.

What I do know is that it costs little to be courteous and respectful. The courtesy ‘test’ is repeated daily in how we behave in everyday circumstances, whether that is in a shop, restaurant or call centre. If you treat every interaction as a precious gift in which you can learn something new, even if it only lasts for a moment, then you well might learn something new and useful. Or you can demean the waiter, go home without a business deal done and wonder what happened. The currency of courtesy shouldn’t be under-estimated.

Great ideas and opportunities can come from the most unexpected places. Accessing them might not take much more effort than being courteous and open-minded to that guy next to you in the coffee line or the taxi driver taking you home. Or the waiter serving you lunch. But you’ll never know if in-built prejudices get in the way of finding out. What is important is to be respectful, humble and inquisitive with all the people you meet no matter who they are, what they do and where they come from.

Everyone does important work and has a unique life with rich experiences and their own story to tell. And they are ALL interesting. The key to unlocking those stories, ideas, imaginations and inspirations is to simply treat people the way you would like to be treated. It’s nothing more than that…


Image: Janne Iivonen