Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sunday Essay - Australian politeness & the importance of manners

I was in the supermarket. The operator was obviously new. She was getting flustered, made all the worse by the partially concealed but increasing annoyance of the woman she was serving. My turn came and the girl, she was only a girl, apologised for the delay. "You are knew, aren't you?", I said. "Take your time. I'm not in a hurry." She gave me a beaming smile and shot me through without mistakes and with speed.

It got me thinking at two levels.

The first level is that Australians are a remarkably polite people. If you don't believe me, watch how many people thank the driver when they leave the bus, for example. It's something that overseas students comment on as a distinctively Australian trait.

The second level is the importance of manners. While I have overcome many aspects of the bullying experience at a certain point in my school life. it has left me with residual behaviour patterns that can kick in in sometimes unexpected and unfortunate circumstances. Its a kind of a flight or fight response. If triggered, I can get angry. More often, I find myself unable to handle the situation; at the extreme, I can be reduced to a stuttering wreck. It generally happens where I come under aggressive attack, experience anger or, sometimes, just impatience. It's not a good trait to have in managing personal relationships.

I know that I am not alone in this response. Here one of the things that I have tried to do in my management training is to teach people ways of managing the experience.

For managers, I try to get them to learn to slow down, to listen, to get the other person talking. This can be difficult. Some managers lack the emotional intelligence to measure impact. Others are themselves insecure and compensate through aggression. Sometimes, you just have to drive through regardless of the cost. Yet, as a general rule, a little less haste and impatience generally gives you faster and better results. Less haste, more speed.

For individuals, I try to teach them coping techniques, ways of managing up, as well as ways to minimise the damage that can be inflicted. I'm quite good at it. While I can't always manage my own advice at a personal level, my understanding of my own failures does make me a more effective trainer.

In all this, I come back to a key thing, the importance of politeness and of manners. It really is the grist that holds our society together. Throw in a dash of kindness, and you have the basis for an effectively working society.            


Nicholas Gruen said...

One thing I've noticed is the extent to which really nasty blowups are often caused by something much simpler - impatience. This isn't an Olympian insight - I'll join you in the confessional here and say mea culpa. There's something quite frustrating about trying to get your point across, while the other person is resisting your doing so - with the usual mix of pure and impure motives. So it's easy to become impatient and up the ante. They then reciprocate and before long it's a big deal!

Jim Belshaw said...

That's well put, Nicholas. I do it myself. It can be remarkably hard to resist impatience when you have worked out what you want to do and meet resistance. Or someone whose personality just makes them want to explore things at length!

Bob Quiggin said...

Hi Jim. Long time etc.

I have 3 rules. First, 10 deep breaths before the unfortunate reaction. Second, let people know that you maintain an even keel by taking those breaths. Last, and most important, try to catch them in a "moment", remind them to take the breaths, and give them a big smile.

It breaks the tension, it works and then when *your* moment arrives, it's almost like an in-joke. I've been in my current position for 4 weeks now and the staff are already in on the joke.

Patience, as you note, is key. And I hate missing the bus because I'm being patiently patient. But it saves time later.

Jim Belshaw said...

It is a long time, Bob. You left me stranded in Dili! Nice technique, though! Part of being a manager (or a trainer) sometimes is being a performer. Are you back in Canberra now?

Unknown said...

Yes, in Canberra working for AusAID. Fulfilling and exciting, though (like anywhere) not without its frustrations.