Most of you like me were no doubt taught from a very early age the importance of manners. These protocols shape our behaviour towards one another and these considerations of others help to shape our communal society. Anyone with small children will know how unnatural many of these behaviours are and that learning to control the impulsive behaviour of our instincts takes many years of repetition!
However in many organisations and teams the conformity and apparent calm those manners bring can actually be a significant break on the effectiveness of teams. Here are some reasons why:
Diagnosis requires feedback.
In order to understand what is going on in a situation, leaders and managers need feedback. You cannot move forward and develop performance without this diagnosis. Unfortunately trying always not to cause offence inhibits this. Leaders don’t provide honest feedback to individuals on performance and team members don’t tell leaders what they really think. Most company appraisal processes seem to rank all employees at the top of their peer group! Clearly that cannot be factually accurate but the intent – not to offend, to provide encouragement and avoid confrontation, though worthy is in it’s own way highly detrimental to the integrity of the organisation.
Good decisions require debate.
Decisions that involve complex and ambiguous information and which have numerous stakeholders, who are often seeking diametrically different outcomes from each other are not resolved with manners. A process of constructive dissent, where ideas are challenged and argued over is actually pretty essential to making good decisions. But most teams are petrified of conflict because they can’t distinguish between an idea and the person who proposed it. In other words to attack the idea is the same as to attack the person. To avoid conflict and preserve the harmony of the group it’s very common that teams wont say what they really mean.
Finally many management teams and leaders seem paralysed by the need to find consensus and to please everyone. Consensus is generally a terrible way to make a decision as it involves diluting ideas in order to bring everyone on board.
This desire not to cause offence and to be liked bungs up the critical faculties of leaders. The result is either that unpopular decisions are delayed – indefinitely if possible – or that good ideas are neutered by special pleading.
Good manners certainly have their place; a workplace without them would be pretty frightful. But the invidious white lie that soothes is often the harbinger of a general malaise in integrity. Effective feedback, honest criticism and impassioned debate should all be seen and encouraged as signs of rigorous good health.
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