Polite or effective – it’s up to you!
Polite or effective – it’s up to you!
Most workplaces don’t have an open and accepting culture. Instead of being frank and to the point, we’re “nice” to each other so as to avoid awkward or unpleasant situations. Unfortunately, this massively undermines our ability to be effective and ultimately hurts profitability. The fear of conflict, misplaced concern and stifled opinions create a deadlock. You can either continue being polite or learn how to be courageous and start communicating. Work is not a cocktail party
First, let me be clear: the opposite of being polite is not being rude or impolite. The politeness I am talking about is the kind of politeness that is loaded with too much consideration. The kind of politeness that you adopt when you speak to people you don’t have a close relationship with, like strangers at a cocktail party.
However, in a large, complex business project where colleagues are dependent on each other and the result is directly correlated to good cooperation, politeness is a big problem. In order to be a functional team, deliver great service quality and be highly profitable, straightforward and open dialogue is essential.
Culture of politeness
Recently, I worked with an organisation whose events management team was struggling to cooperate with any of the other departments. It was too painful to give them assignments because they insisted on complicated processes and many of the team had a poor attitude and were totally uninterested in serving their internal customers. Consequently, people in other departments found ways of going around them in to get their work done. Very often this meant taking time away from their own tasks and adding to their already heavy workload. This had gone on for years. Ultimately, a few individuals were responsible for the disfunction of this department but because the organisation had such a long-established culture of politeness, no one had the courage to give them feedback that might prompt them to change their behaviour.
Why is it that we think it is impolite to be straightforward and honest? One reason is that we so often confuse politeness with respect and concern. We think – often subconsciously – that all three are the opposite of being straightforward and honest. However, it is quite possible to be straightforward and honest and show respect and concern for someone.
At work we strive to be professional. The word professional is often used to refer to the opposite of too personal or private. “At this company, we are professional” means “here we talk about the job and do not burden anyone with matters of a private nature.” However, when I Googled the word “professional” I found one definition that reads: “striving for performance that benefits business activities.” Well, straightforward and open communication aligns perfectly with the goal of doing things that benefit business activities since the root of so many organisations’ challenges is poor communication!
Another myth that hinders straight and honest communication is the notion that being straight and honest isn’t kind. Rationally, we know this isn’t true but nonetheless our workplaces are bound by this held assumption.
So why aren’t we straightforward and honest with each other? Above all, because it’s convenient. It means we don’t have to bring up things that are awkward, or give any honest feedback, or confront any tensions in our professional relationships. It’s much easier to avoid the discomfort these issues would dredge up. We also avoid all the risk that comes with being straightforward and honest.
But being polite is costing us – in terms of efficiency, service quality, customer relationships, personal development, sick leave and profit. If we added up these costs, would we change our opinion? Or would we stick to being polite? Talking straight and giving feedback that empowers the recipient is a core part of Tuff Leadership Training’s courses.
CEO, Tuff Leadership Training