The cost of hiding behind politeness

The cost of hiding behind politeness

From a young age we are taught to have good manners, to be polite. Showing behaviour that is respectful and considerate towards others are good values to live by.   

However, there are times when we hide behind politeness, using it to avoid the conversations that matter, which ultimately derails our success and in some cases leads to tragedy.

In the book Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson et al the authors tell the story of a jumbo jet that in 1982 crashed into a bridge linking Washington DC to the State of Virginia. The official accident report listed pilot error as the cause of the accident. The book goes on to describe that further investigation showed the real cause of the accident. The co-pilot noticed that ice was building up on the engine and wings too fast for a safe take-off, and he was getting concerned. Rather than voice his concern directly, the co-pilot continues with a series of indirect comments in an attempt to raise the danger of the ice build-up. The result was a tragic loss of life – 74 passengers out of the 79 died. The conclusion by the authors is that the real cause of the tragedy is that “the co-pilot didn’t have a method of confronting the pilot in a way that he believed was both direct and respectful”.

Most organisations have hierarchies, which should be respected but not always deferred to.   As the authors have pointed out in the above case study, blindly deferring to the hierarchy can have dangerous outcomes.

A reoccurring theme with teams is the discomfort of having robust constructive conversations that matter. This is heightened when team members feel that they can’t have a robust conversation with their managers. This avoidance is often justified as politeness.  The good news is that once you build the habit of having the conversations that matter in your team it gets easier.

What is the conversation that you are avoiding?

Where are you allowing misdirected politeness to get in the way?

How would enabling your team to have the conversations that matter benefit you, your team and your business?

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australia-based coaching and training company.

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