In my twenties, I was a reporter for a small alternative weekly newspaper in New Orleans. As such, I often answered the office phone (I also helped the editor-in-chief fill the newspaper boxes).

People who couldn’t have been nicer to me the reporter the night before at a cocktail party treated me the receptionist with incredible rudeness and condescension. But I didn’t mind: it was an opportunity to see into the innermost souls of people. 

“I’ve got your number,” I murmured of more than one person who’d been oh so cordial to the journalist and oh so rude to the receptionist. (Note to boors of New Orleans: I still remember who you are.) I am not alone in recognizing that real decency is to be seen more in the way you treat the receptionist than the VIP. 

Indeed, many CEO’s have made a similar observation, according to a USA TODAY piece on “The Waiter Rule” that appeared Good Friday:

“Office Depot CEO Steve Odland remembers like it was yesterday working in an upscale French restaurant in Denver.

“The purple sorbet in cut glass he was serving tumbled onto the expensive white gown of an obviously rich and important woman. “I watched in slow motion ruining her dress for the evening,” Odland says. ‘I thought I would be shot on sight.’

“Thirty years have passed, but Odland can’t get the stain out of his mind, nor the woman’s kind reaction. She was startled, regained composure and, in a reassuring voice, told the teenage Odland, ‘It’s OK. It wasn’t your fault.’ When she left the restaurant, she also left the future Fortune 500 CEO with a life lesson: You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she treats the waiter.

“Odland isn’t the only CEO to have made this discovery. Rather, it seems to be one of those rare laws of the land that every CEO learns on the way up. It’s hard to get a dozen CEOs to agree about anything, but all interviewed agree with the Waiter Rule.”