The word “context” is frequently used by those in the helping professions, to suggest that care be taken to understand an individual in a bigger-picture way—in the full context of his life, and not merely via a single aspect, such business identity. Western cultures tend to be “low-context,” preferring to focus in on specific aspects. In contrast, certain Asian cultures are “high-context,” believing it’s important to comprehend the character of the whole person, so it would not be impolite to ask a new business associate where she is in birth order, a bit about family history, and how or why she chose her career.
As emotional intelligence and soft skills gain importance in how we conduct business, we’re going to see a more intuitive, high-context approach to selecting candidates for jobs and suppliers for business relationships. This will require a more articulated, well-defined customer service attitude—ie, zero-tolerance for abrasive jerks.
For example, many leaders take cues from “the Waiter Rule.” Recently one of my clients took a new supplier to lunch to discuss a potential business relationship. Up until the lunch, the supplier had been genial, friendly, and alert. Things looked promising. But at the restaurant, the supplier let down his guard and was rude and condescending to a waitress who’d gotten his order wrong.
My client was startled by the change in behavior and, needless to say, the guy didn’t win the account.
Or, to quote CEO Bill Swanson of Raytheon: Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can switch the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they're interacting with. Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.