December 4, 2012

Competitive intelligence involves dealing with people as well as with secondary sources.  In our practice, we have times when we deal quite a lot with government offices, primarily at the state and local levels.  We are typically trying to get copies of documents filed with a municipality, county government, or state office.

The procedure is relatively simple.  Most states have freedom of information (FOIA) or open records laws that require governments to provide copies of records as long as the people asking for them specify what records they are looking for, and agree to pay for copying costs, in some cases search costs.

What do I have found over the years is that being polite may be as critical to successful research assignment as being precise is.

What do I mean?

In talking with my partner in all things, Carolyn Vella, I happened to mention that I had been trying to get some documents from a local government.  The local government office assigned someone to this and I received an email back after a day or two, saying that only one document had been filed, but that the office expected another document to be filed later.

Now, why did that person mention the document to be filed later?  Because when I first received an acknowledgement of the request, which told me it be would handed it off to someone else, I replied by email, “Thanks”.  When I received the information that only one filing was available now, I again thanked the sender, now a different person.  I later sent a follow-up email, asking whether or not I could be informed when the second document was available to the public.

Realize that this government unit did not have to tell me this.  The office could have simply said “please contact us again later in the year or next year, and renew your request”, which would’ve been totally proper and which I would’ve done.

However, the individual with whom I was dealing sent back an acknowledgement saying, essentially, certainly.  That individual then added a smiley face.  That made me smile as well.

Being polite in person, over the phone, or in emails will never hurt you.  In some cases, it may well help you.  The likelihood that, during the course of one or two or three years, we will contact the same person in the infinite number bureaucracies we have in the United States is remote, but such things happen.

Treating people nicely improves your results.  It also improves your life.  Few things can cause more distress than getting upset at the inaction or the failure of another person or institution.  If you adopt a positive attitude when you are talking with or emailing people, even smiling during a telephone conversation (believe me, people can tell), you’ll get along better with others and might even make your job easier.  It will certainly make it more pleasing.


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