From a young age, most of us learn that being polite is important. It's how you make a good first impression. It's how you convey respect. It's how you need to act if you want to be respected in return.
While all of this may be true, it turns out that there are unexpected negative consequences to politeness. Surprisingly, these consequences may prevent you from growing your business to its full potential.
In other words, being too polite can cost your business money.
In a recent survey conducted by the Trades Union Congress in the United Kingdom, one-fifth of bosses said they didn't confront their employees when they were late or took a long lunch. Twenty percent admitted they didn't challenge fraudulent expense reports. Why? Because they didn't want to make anyone feel awkward. In short, they were worried about being impolite.
I've seen too much of this: entrepreneurs who won't discuss performance issues with their employees, question inflated pricing with vendors, or ask for help--all because they don't want to push the envelope.
This error in a leader's judgement is costing businesses money. And it shows that, while good leaders should strive to be kind to their employees whenever possible, there are the times when a line needs to be drawn. Politeness can only guarantee so much success; a good leader is aware of when politeness goes too far.
Being too polite can prevent you from getting ahead.
Beyond consequences to businesses and organizations, being too polite can have personal ramifications as well.
In the workplace, the people who get ahead are often the people who put themselves forward. For instance, when people get salary increases, promotions, or other perks, it's often because they ask for them.
Many of us, however, learn that asking for things simply isn't polite. If that's you, it could mean that you're getting passed up for opportunities that you deserve.
This problem is particularly acute for women, and entire books have been written on the topic. (Be sure to read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In.) As former bank executive Sallie Krawcheck told NPR, a part of the problem is simply that men ask for things and women don't. She says that "when men enter a negotiation, they're focused on coming out the other side winning. And when women enter a negotiation, they're more focused on coming out the other side with the relationship intact." Women, in short, are focused on politeness. And it's not getting them anywhere.
Being too polite can raise red flags.
Politeness can be a way of showing respect, but it can also be a way of lulling people into a false sense of security. A recent study revealed that people who are "excessively polite" are also the most likely to betray their peers.
Furthermore, when you're polite at all costs, it can be a way of masking your true feelings and opinions, whether you're aware of it or not. Instead of sharing your genuine self, you couch your opinions in polite rhetoric. And that distance can make it harder for others to relate to you.
So think long and hard about your politeness habits: Do they help or hinder your relationships with your colleagues? And while politeness is a crucial tool for building relationships, remember that sometimes you need to disregard the rules and advocate for yourself.