Winning the Business

Minding Your Manners Creates Better Teams

A simple ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ may be the secret to a stronger proposal team

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Perhaps it is because I am from the notoriously friendly Midwest, but I have noticed that I rarely hear a “please” or “thank you” once a proposal deadline starts rolling. An easy—and often overlooked way—for proposal managers to improve team engagement and proposal quality is by simply minding their manners. There’s no need to send sympathy flowers when an author misses a deadline or to shy away from providing direct feedback; just be kind.

Did team members go radio silent or stop attending status calls? Are you worried they aren’t even working on the proposal?

Proposal managers often get the reputation of being tough as nails, without exception. There is certainly a time and place for that trait, but I ask you to consider using the following soft skills a little more often. After all, they are what make you better at your job than a robot would be.

  • Smiling improves content quality. Think of the worst proposal team you were on. Who made it that way, and why? For me, the worst experiences usually originated from a highly skilled subject matter expert (SME) berating the team. Because the SME is crucial to the proposal’s completion, this behavior often goes unquestioned, and the resulting bad attitudes kill productivity. For most people, being recruited to work on a proposal is already like taking a trip to the DMV, so when faced with disrespect, they disengage. I have listened to great ideas and win themes that were never presented during team discussions because someone in the room was discouraging feedback through his or her tone and expressions. Relax, smile, and encourage participation from the entire team.
  • Listening encourages progress. Did team members go radio silent or stop attending status calls? Are you worried they aren’t even working on the proposal? It is easy to think that they are just dodging the work, but often there is another reason. Maybe they have never written a proposal and do not know what to do, or they have a personal issue. Offering some understanding usually foresees and prevents roadblocks.
  • Saying “thanks” relieves tension. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter or missed a family event to meet a proposal deadline? I have, and it wasn’t awesome. Even less awesome is coming into work afterward and having someone make demands before you even sit down. Chances are that someone on one of your proposal teams will make a sacrifice to meet a deadline. Something as simple as a “thank you” helps to relieve the stress. Most people just want their efforts to be acknowledged.
  • Knowing when to keep quiet prevents mistakes. Emotions run high as deadlines approach. When this happens, it is good to ask yourself if what you are about to say contributes to a better proposal document, or if it is just unnecessary commentary. Stick to the facts, because when it is the eleventh hour, negativity only slows down the process and creates stress that can lead to mistakes.

Egos don’t write proposals; productive employees do. So, the less miserable the process, the more productive the proposal team is going to be at creating quality content.

Egos don’t write proposals; productive employees do.

If the idea of being nice still seems unbearable, think of it as playing the long game. You will eventually need a favor to meet a deadline, and just how many times have you willingly lined up to do a favor for the office Cruella de Vil? Probably none.

Rachel Brown is a senior proposal manager for Mackson Consulting, an IT and professional services firm in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She can be reached at

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