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A simple way to reduce workday friction

A simple way to reduce workday friction

The practice of courtesy is an effective antidote to the stresses of organizational life

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Hamburger Management—the curse of all ultra-macho organizations—has no time for politeness or courtesy. In the faster, cheaper world of “winner takes all,” it’s fine to tell lies (called “spin”), deceive others (called PR), and bluff or cheat your way to success (called office politics). But taking the time to deal politely with others is classed as a pointless waste of effort that doesn’t add to the “bottom line.”

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This is yet another foolish, short-sighted mistake of that most mistaken of management techniques.

Courtesy and good manners exist as the “oil” that helps all kinds of contacts run without unnecessary friction or wear. It was assumed once to be the distinguishing mark of a civilized society — which may explain why today it is becoming rare.

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It’s a bad mistake to see good manners as nothing more than empty rituals of a more formal way of living. Informality and courtesy are perfectly happy bedfellows. What distinguishes courtesy is not formal ritual but a natural concern for the other person—a wish to interact with them in a way that preserves or enhances their dignity and sense of well-being. You can do that and still be as relaxed and informal as you wish.

Helping life run smoothly
I called courtesy and good manners the “oil” in human relationships, at home or at work. It’s a particularly apt analogy.

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If you try to run a piece of machinery without lubrication, you will ruin it. Before final burnout and total seizure of all moving parts, there will be a great deal of heat, considerable wear and damage, and the spaces between surfaces will be filled with all kind of fragments and grit.

An organization without sufficient attention to simple courtesy suffers in much the same way.

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A great deal of heat, hostility, aggression, and anger is generated rather quickly. As people rub up against each other, they cause irreparable damage and “wear”, twisting each other out of shape and distorting attitudes. All the minor, inevitable irritants of human life—the “grit” that would have been smoothed away by the lubrications of courtesy—build up until they scour relationships with pain and frustration.

Over time, more and more energy and effort has to be expended to keep the social machinery moving at all—an expenditure of energy that would be entirely unnecessary in a more civilized environment. Small sections probably burn out and stop working. People are permanently damaged. The atmosphere is thick with the smell of tension and friction.

There’s no excuse for such a situation—certainly not the one that goes: “business is about making money, not pandering to people’s feelings.” We all know perfectly well what to do. Organizations may resemble machines in many ways, but they aren’t only machines. They’re also complex human societies, with all the strengths and problems that brings.

Returning to civilized modes of working isn’t being weak or non-competitive. It isn’t based on ignoring financial and commercial realities in favor of “touchy-feely” idealism. It’s a hard-headed response to seeing the amount of waste and damage being inflicted by callous approaches to coping with organizational reality and doing something about it.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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