One of the chapters in my Conflict in the Workplace: Causes and Cures is The Tyranny of Pleasantness. The general theme of the chapter (which comes from a much longer article I wrote with Bob Finnochio) is that there is danger in “going along to get along.”
We are so busy not hurting anyone’s feelings, being politically correct at all times, and never disagreeing with someone else’s decision that we fail to communicate what we really know and believe. To tell someone they are wrong is a guarantee to get chastised by someone in supervision.
I was thinking about this because something reminded me of the student trip I accompanied to Europe a few years ago. Although we visited some wonderful places, the way we were treated by the tour company, the accommodations offered and a host of other things were, to be polite – sub-par. If one of us complained to the teacher who had invited us to join her on the tour, she took it personally. It was as though we were insulting her – but she was as fooled by the promotional hype as were the rest of us.
We’ve gotten so thin-skinned that if, for example, you tell someone they have a stain on their shirt, they react as though you were saying the shirt was hideous, therefore their taste is hideous and you think they are evil and awful.
Why have we reached a point where the slightest disagreement leads us to hateful reactions and loss of goodwill? When did we stop being real and decide the socially appropriate way to be is to always smile and never say an unkind word about anything at any time?
My belief: be honest – if you have something to say, say it – without insulting the person – mention the item, or the behavior or the specific about which you are disappointed – without generalizing or attacking the individual his/her self.
If we remain euphemistic we run the serious danger of being misunderstood. Let me remind you of one horror story that makes this point.
Many years ago there was a man who went crazy and shot out a bunch of people. He believed that by acting as “Rambo” he would be able to get a real date with the woman he had been “courting.” (That’s in quotes on purpose – because he didn’t know how to court properly.) She, never wanting to hurt his feelings, was too polite in telling him she wasn’t interested in him – and he, wrongly believed he had a chance with her. Now, I hasten to add before anyone attacks me – I am not blaming the victim. She and the others at the location were victims of a mind gone crazy. However, this and other similar tragedies might have been averted had a clear and convincing statement that she was not at all interested in dating him been communicated early in their work relationship.
We’ve gotten so bad at the way we handle disagreement that people with a different point of view as ours are considered by some as evil, dangerous, stupid and other pejorative terms – instead of a mere recognition that they hold a different point of view. If we stopped being so thin-skinned about it, we might learn that their point of view has validity and we might learn something from them – and also, might teach them that our point of view has validity.
BUT, if we exaggerate every disagreement, because we have to be kind and euphemistic, we will never get to learn from each other.