Watch CBS News

See every business relationship from both sides

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY "Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do criticize them, you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes" - Jack Handey

I've always loved that quote from Saturday Night Live's fictional author of "Deep Thoughts" -- it's equal parts hilarious, and (unfortunately) all too true when it comes to many business and personal interactions

When we have the protective bubble of technology and geography, the power of rank, the fallback defense of "company policy," and other barriers to quality relationships, it's too easy to lose sensitivity and abuse those relationships.

A few months ago I wrote about empathy as the single most important guiding word in customer service. But the importance and value of empathy extends way beyond our daily dealings with customer service. Empathy -- the ability to walk that mile in another's shoes -- can and should guide us in virtually all of our dealings with people:

When someone is trying to sell you something, remember that you (or your business) are trying to sell things too.

Obviously that's not to say you should entertain every unsolicited, inappropriate cold call, unwelcome front-door solicitation or e-mail blast that comes your way. It simply means that if someone is respectfully and professionally approaching you with a legitimate, appropriately-targeted sales pitch or offer, treat him with the same respect and courtesy you'd appreciate from your own properly-targeted prospects. We are all in business to make sales, and you can say no without wasting time or being rude.

When you're dealing with your customers, remember that every day you are someone's customer too.

This requires virtually no explanation; anything that would annoy, offend or alienate you as a customer is certain to do the same to the people who pay for your goods or services. This simple, reversed-role sensitivity is at the very core of outstanding service.

When working with your suppliers, remember that you are probably supplying something too.

This most often applies when the time comes to pay your bills. Many companies often have no compunction to stretch payments, while dogging their own customers for prompt remittance. Obviously many consider this to be "cash flow 101": Get paid as quickly as possible, pay as slowly as possible. Some businesses have no choice at times -- if the money's not there, it's not there. As someone who's started and run small businesses, I get the challenges, believe me. But an upstanding, empathetic company remembers that the other businesses it works with have the same challenges, and handles the A/P vs. A/R challenge in the most forthright manner possible.

If you need extra time to pay, at least try to ask for it, don't just take liberties and ignore the calls. If you need to get paid faster, offer early payment discounts if you can. Or simply put in your terms (and enforce consistently) that you can't sell to customers who regularly pay late. It's a hard stance, to be sure, but it is more upfont and professional than chasing people for money while dodging those chasing you.

In your interactions with employees, never forget that you were, or are, someone's employee too.

We've all seen, heard of, or had "bosses" who treat their people in a way that they themselves would never tolerate. Employees are at least as important as customers (I happen to be of the school of thought that they are more important, because without them you can't make your customers happy); the enlightened employer treats them that way.

When people make mistakes, remember that you've screwed up too.

'Nuff said.

At the end of the day, if you can't "relate" -- and more importantly, act accordingly -- you can't possibly maximize the quality of your business relationships. This is simple, golden-rule stuff, but like so many business basics, they are lessons easily forgotten. Maybe keep a shoe on your desk... or at least a mirror.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Samira Khan

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.