Folks lament the loss of politeness in our society, for valid reasons. Elected officials take polarizing stances and use language that demonizes those who disagree with them. Users of social media hide behind perceived anonymity to post hurtful rants. Civility in public service dies on the vine and diplomatic negotiation itself feels endangered.
But I take heart; politeness appears to be thriving in our work and private life! Unlike the political arena which perpetually places opposing viewpoints against each other, most businesses alive in 2013 have been forced to eliminate their entrenched battles. There is little room for chronic inter-departmental dysfunction anymore. What gets one promoted these days are “team” behaviors on behalf of the entire organization.
However trust, and therefore real team performance, can suffer under a veneer of politeness. Yes, that’s what I’m saying: when it comes to effective interpersonal communication maybe we’ve become too polite for our own good.
ODS students and readers know that I’m a huge fan of manners and courtesy because trust requires personal caring and respect. But openness is equally important. I recently blogged about the icky place, defined as “that pivotal spot in any interpersonal communication that reveals vitally important and often uncomfortable emotion or information.” When people are willing to go to the icky place and constructively deal with the frequently sensitive core of an issue or conflict, then mutual trust is strengthened automatically, stress is relieved and bonds are forged.
Polite But Unhelpful Behavior
Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure our moms taught us that polite people don’t go to the icky place, certainly not on purpose. And if we somehow find ourselves in that weird and awkward position then we should blow the whistle and exit quickly with a face-saving approach. Many of us heard “try to make everybody ‘okay’ as fast as possible so you don’t risk offending someone.”
Taken too far, any one of these polite behaviors can keep an issue at arms-length that really should be resolved right now:
- Lowering the standard (10 minutes late to a meeting isn’t that bad…)
- Steering a conversation away from sensitive subjects (do you have any baby pictures?)
- Using humor, joviality, or even good-natured sarcasm
- Waiting until a meeting is over to discuss an important topic or disagreement
- Feigning disinterest (oh, changing to office uniforms is just fine with me)
- Remarkable tolerance for pain (thank you, sir, may I have another?)
- Surrender (I’m game for anything; let’s go)
Be Polite But Get REAL
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work in cities and rural areas in the USA, Brazil, Chile, and Europe. Today I happen to live in north-central Ohio with both Amish and “English” neighbors. With a few notable exceptions almost everyone in my life has been polite. Not everyone is real.
We often settle for getting along, working together, or other versions of “good enough”. If we want more trust in our lives, the good and bad news is that it starts with us. We must become more transparent, more open, and therefore more vulnerable over time. But we get to be as civil and caring as we’ve always been. We simply must practice stepping out, which occurs by choosing to go to the icky place and working through the challenges together.
The alternative is straightforward. We go through life very nice and polite, evading people and/or issues. One day we may reach a point of no return and then surprise ourselves and those around us by ending our job, friendship or our marriage. As we know, not everyone is worthy of our trust. But unless we show up as our real selves, others don’t get a fair chance to earn it. We’ll talk more about how to do this in future blog posts.
So let’s have a little less politeness at home and at work so we can get down building more open, collaborative trust with each other. And while we’re at it, perhaps more of us regular folk can take our gifts of diplomacy and run for office – where it is sorely needed these days!
Looking for a fresh perspective on communication, leadership and trust? Invite Bruce Hendrick to speak at your next event or training opportunity! His highly engaging speaking style is proven to stimulate changed behaviors in the real world. Bring Bruce’s 28 years of in-the-trenches change leadership, keen insight and a love of helping others to your business soon.
Bruce grew up in a middle class family in the Akron, Ohio area that, like many families, was deeply affected by a loved one’s mental illness. Overcoming these daily challenges led to the resiliency and resourcefulness that helped prepare him to lead others as an adult.
Bruce counts himself blessed to share his life with his wife Donna and their three wonderful children: daughters Kelly and Kara, and son Kirk. As time permits Bruce enjoys golf, writing and learning how to live in the country.