When the New York Times recently asked readers to reflect on the lessons they would take from the pandemic, one Georgia woman responded: “I am not going to try to be polite anymore. I am hopefully going to become a less behaved, less likable, ballsier, more outspoken, more dangerous woman.”
Less polite is generally not something most of us consider a good thing, but according to both Elon Mplaceholderusk and leadership coach and TED speaker Madeleine de Hauke, using a global health catastrophe to rethink your ideas around what exactly it means to be rude might not only help you lead a more daring life, but might also help you get more done with less stress.
You can’t be too kind but you can be too polite.
The first order of business when talking about how much politeness is too much is to define what you mean by the word, ‘polite.’ I haven’t spoken to the Times’ reader in Georgia but I doubt very much she means she’s going to swear off saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or start refusing to help little old ladies carry their groceries across the street.
Kindness and decency are always in style (or at least should be). When she says she’s going to be less polite and more ballsy, my sense is she’s vowing to care a lot less about making other people comfortable at the expense of her own desires. No more saying yes to social invitations out of a sense of obligation or pursuing a particular life course because your parents or neighbors think you should.
And there is reason to think a little more of the sort of ‘rudeness’ that entails putting your own needs before others’ expectations is a good idea. Both hospice nurses and academic researchers attest that the most common end-of-life regret is too much time wasted trying to please others and ignoring the dictates of your own heart.
The professional benefits of being a little less ‘polite.’
So if that’s what this lady means by being a little less polite, than power to her. But being less ‘polite’ isn’t just about avoiding deathbed regrets. It can help you be more productive and happier at work day-to-day too, according to a recent TED Ideas post from de Hauke.
A leadership coach, de Hauke’s specialty is helping organizations get their meeting bloat under control so they can waste less time and achieve more. Her post is full of advice to that end, but one of her most basic tips is to re-define the word ‘rude.’
She uses Elon Musk as an example: “He once wrote an email to his staff showing them how important it is for him to have a great meeting culture in his organizations. He wrote: ‘Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it’s obvious you aren’t adding value. It’s not rude to leave; it’s rude to make someone stay and waste their time.'”
Many of us were raised to think making others even slightly uncomfortable is rude, but what if avoiding their slight discomfort makes you uncomfortable or unproductive? What’s worse, causing a meeting organizer to reconsider their guest list or wasting an hour in abject boredom?
Life, as we’ve all been reminded recently, is short. How much more productive (and happy) could we be if we redefined ‘rude’ so that wasting someone else’s time or insisting they adapt their style to suit your preconceptions was considered far ruder than saying no to a pointless meeting or allowing your personality to shine through at work?
Never stop appreciating and helping others and looking for ways to put them at ease, but maybe the post-pandemic world is the perfect opportunity to stop being quite so ‘polite.’