A reader writes: "What's happened to common courtesy? I'm a marketing consultant, and I've noticed increasing numbers of people don't return phone calls..."

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What’s happened to common courtesy? I’m a marketing consultant, and I’ve noticed increasing numbers of people don’t return phone calls, expect my time for free and don’t even show up for scheduled meetings. How do I handle such common rudeness?

Courtesy is no longer common. The good news is, if you return phone calls and e-mails, respect others’ time and keep commitments, you’ve got a competitive advantage over most folks.

The bad news is, most professionals won’t return the favor.

So you have to set up your business practices to assume rudeness and be pleasantly surprised if you experience courtesy.

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Here are some tips:

If you need someone to return a phone call within a specific time, give him/her some motivation for doing so. For example, your time will be booked, you’ll be out of town, or a deadline the caller cares about will expire.

Assume lack of promptness on e-mails and voice mail, and call people for action or information well before you need it.

Create financial penalties for folks who blow off appointments or commitments. Setting up cancellation policies, asking for part of a project fee upfront and establishing rush fees all help.

Make your limits clear at the start. If you don’t want to give away your time, have an assistant call or let people know you have only five minutes to talk.

Huffiness rarely gets people to change their ways. Setting up rewards they care about and consequences they want to avoid works beautifully. A big part of the problem with assuming courtesy these days is that many people don’t share your value system, and so you’re bound to be disappointed.

By building your business so that courtesy isn’t an option but a requirement for people who work with you, you’ll screen out people who are demanding and won’t value your expertise.

These people make poor customers and will further damage your business by referring their rude buddies. You’ll also get an emotional paycheck when you go to work because you’ll adore your customers and feel respected.

The last word(s)

Can I get away with not giving two weeks’ notice before I quit my job?

Sure, as long as you enjoy the acrid scent of bridges burning.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube.