Sunday, January 20, 2008

Being Polite

I think very few people would disagree that to be an effective manager one should always be polite? This does not rule out the need to express a full range of emotions when required. However, I feel the subject of politeness needs more careful attention than might be expected.

Last week my secretary pointed out to me that a candidate applying for a position with The Bayard Partnership had been very abrupt with her, to the point of being rude, treating her with a serious lack of respect. When I mentioned this sorry state of affairs to one of the Bayard Partners, he said ‘one should always be polite. However, in moments of extreme emotion, if one’s base instincts take over and one becomes rude, then this is only excusable if you were rude to your superiors or peers’. Thus being rude to anyone that you might consider to be a subordinate is never excusable.

So what should we consider as being polite or impolite? For me personally it is quite simple:

1. You should always show people the level of courtesy that you enjoy receiving yourself (note that I do not use the word ‘expect’ here, expect is far from adequate).
2. You should always make the effort to express your genuine respect for those around you in the form of polite greetings and ‘thank yous’ for services rendered.

Examples of impoliteness (for me) include:

1. Not saying thank you
2. Not greeting someone at the start of the day, when you have clearly made eye contact.
3. Not listening to someone when they are talking to you
4. Not getting back to people when you say you will (even if you have no further news to tell them)
5. Keeping people waiting without an explanation
6. Not letting people know your intentions by not using your indicators when driving a vehicle on the public highway
The list continues……

At the time of writing I have just come back from a business trip in Lisbon, where from our arrival to departure, my colleagues and I witnessed the most courteous and friendly interaction with everyone from Taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, waiters and shop assistants. Politeness seems to be the norm in Lisbon, let’s hope we can export it to Brussels and any other city where customer service is so often seriously lacking?

1 comment:

Matthijs said...

Harry, I fully agree with the first part of what you consider as being polite. One should not do to another what oneself feels as unpleasant. However, I do have a bit of a problem with the second part, especially the usage of should always in combination with genuine respect in the form of polite greetings.

What is in fact respect? According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary respect of persons is either partiality or favour shown especially to the powerful or deferential esteem felt or shown towards a person.

If we take the former most of the time this respect is driven by fear. I can imagine that in certain work-situations with a powerful boss, especially the ones which are managing on power and politics, this could be the case. And if I greet such a boss, I am not doing that for being genuinely polite but just for preventing the worse. In addition, such a boss is out of own experience from time to time bruising a sub-ordinate or a secretary. Therefore, it will make my day if somebody is not greeting him or her out of disgust.

If we take the latter, I know for sure that I do not have a deferential esteem for all those around me. And if I greet a person for whom I don’t have that kind of esteem, I don’t do it for showing courtesy but just for being polite because my parents told me so. It’s definitely not genuine. It’s quite often the same when a person poses the question how are you? and one answers immediately with I am fine and you?. Therefore, it will make my day if somebody is genuinely greeting me.