Has Politeness Become Passé?
At a Washington, DC conference I recently attended I approached another participant – a 20-something digital native – and asked him a technical question about a computer glitch I couldn’t resolve. He sighed and patiently explained what I needed to do. Then he surprised me by saying, “Please don’t ask me another question unless you GTS it first.”
GTS? WTF does that mean?
Seeing the quizzical look on my face, the uber-hip dude took a moment to decipher the acronym for me. Turns out GTS is digital speak for “Google That Sh*t.” Who knew?
At first I felt like a boomer who didn’t get the memo that it’s not cool to seek advice these days, and for the next little while I didn’t dare ask anybody anything without researching every aspect of it to avoid annoying them. But then I thought about it some more, and realized that young man was right – to a degree.
With so much information available at our fingertips, not doing our homework can be, well, lazy. Yet, even though it’s more efficient to look things up on our own, I can’t help but wonder if doing so all the time is having a negative impact on our ability to share information and have meaningful conversations.
This discussion isn’t new. I remember meeting an executive at a corporate reception a couple of years ago who was bemoaning the fact that he’s just too busy to deal with what he called “the niceties” of peer-to-peer communication. According to him, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to swap insignificant comments of courtesy. When he said, “I wish people would just get to the point” it struck such a chord in me that I Tweeted about it, suggesting that maybe he’s missing the point:
Today's Civilitweet: Someone told me they have no time for 'niceties'-they want to get to the point. Perhaps they're missing the point?—
Sue Jacques (@TheCivilityCEO) February 22, 2011
The fact that we’re even having a conversation about the basics of social intercourse is disturbing. Yes, times have changed, and so have our methods of communication. But have we gotten to the point where we have to worry about the appropriateness of saying thank you? Has it become necessary for us to walk on eggshells because asking a genuine question could potentially aggravate someone? Do we really live in a world where prefacing a request with the word please is considered going over-the-top?
The answers to those questions can be found in two words: perspective and sincerity. It’s common to get frustrated when the same person asks us the same question for the umpteenth time, and most of us can relate to the rolling of eyes or shrugging of shoulders when we lose patience with someone’s unwillingness to figure things out on their own. That’s where perspective comes in. You’ve been there and done that, so before airing your exasperation, take a second to consider where the other person is coming from.
It’s a short leap from curt to courteous, and I urge you to take it. You have every right to express your sincere gratitude, ask for clarification and exchange pleasantries, despite how other people may respond.
And for those of you who are disturbed by discourse, please understand that most of us don’t say “nice” things to take up your valuable time; we say them because we mean them. Before you blow people off due to your schedule, consider how you’ll feel when a person who’s guidance you need doesn’t have time for you or someone you went out of your way to help can’t be bothered to say thanks.
Getting too caught up in busyness may mean losing out on business. Civility is the new currency, so if you want to succeed, please continue to punctuate your conversations with politeness. Thank you!