Barrier of Politeness

The blog this week was written by Sandy Roethler, Community Participation Assistant at The Arcadia Institute. Being polite is a hallmark of civility. It’s nice when someone holds the door for you, and when kids say, “please” and “thank you”. However, there are times when politeness can be a barrier. For example, when a co-worker keeps interrupting, we don’t want to seem impolite, so we might not stop their annoying behavior. This can be especially true if the person has a disability. People don’t want to come across as insensitive or uncaring, so they let certain behaviors go.

Yes, politeness is a necessary virtue, but in order to do our part on the job where a person with a disability is employed, we sometimes need to give direct guidance at the risk of seeming impolite. Some behaviors are hard to deal with on the job: poor personal hygiene, being too close or too loud, and being socially inappropriate (such as telling jokes, acting too silly, etc.) A common reaction is to ignore the behavior or wait for a supervisor to handle it. What ends up happening is the person never learns what behavior you can’t tolerate, so they continue to cross the line. Eventually, people start to avoid the person, or even make fun of him or her, leaving them more isolated. “Politeness” has in essence caused that person to be abandoned.

Instead, we need to cross that barrier, even if it feels rude, and speak up when we feel someone is acting outside of socially acceptable behavior. Be kind, be direct, and tell the person what behavior is not ok. For example, “Sean, you need a tissue” or “Steve, you are a little too close. Can you back up 2 feet, please?” or “That kind of joke isn’t ok for work. Tell me about your weekend instead.” Don’t beat around the bush, and don’t belabor the point. Just say what you need to say and move on. Delivering your message with respect IS being polite. It is actually a kindness that helps people stay connected.