Being Polite Can Be Key to Getting & Keeping a Job
When you were growing up there were likely people around you who stressed the importance of a few simple words–please, thank you and I’m sorry. This is exactly why we have songs line Please & Thank You as part of Barney’s musical repertoire, but just because you learned something when you were young is not a reason to discard it in your adult professional life. (Of course, applying these words in life outside of work isn’t a bad idea either.) Yet, people tend to treat these words as though they need to use them sparingly because we have a limited supply. The tendency can create all kinds of havoc when you are hoping to locate new work or even keep/move up in your current job.
To be completely transparent I probably over please and thank you and likely say I’m sorry too quickly in simple situations and less than I should in more complex ones. The perfect balance can be akin to alchemy but is gold all the same. I tend to think of the words that I, and we, use as having a strategic purpose. The tone you choose to say of these phrases will support or negate the words, too.
Don’t skimp on please. One of the actions that can hurt you the most is making people feel as though you are taking their help or support as a given. We don’t always know how long a search is going to take It doesn’t matter if you are asking for a professional introduction from someone you think you know super well, are seeking directions or scheduling from support staff in the course of your interview process or need someone to take a pass at version x of your cover letter. Just because someone is your relative or went to school with your best friend doesn’t mean you can dispel kindness. The same rules apply when you are in your job. No matter where they sit in relation to your ‘power’ you should still apply your pleases generously.
No rational individual hears please and thinks that your use of please demonstrates weakness. And the irrational individual is going to create the narrative that they want anyway.
Be generous with thank you. The please serves to get us in the door and increases the likelihood that our requests will be well met. The thank you gets across that (1) you were listening to those who raised you (2) you are someone who shares an appreciation for the effort another has made which will serve you when you come around seeking help at some point in the unpredictable future and (3) you show maturity particularly when they can’t meet your request. I hold in great regard those who respond well to disappointing news with a Thank you for considering the request and making an effort.
Some folks will shoo away a thank you because they think it is part of their job or the least, they can do. I can sometimes end up there in an effort to encourage a person to continue reaching out because some people have in their mind a specific limit of frequency of making a request that is pretty arbitrary. I’m probably more likely to say of course rather than you are welcome, but I do appreciate the words.
Be judicious with your I’m sorry. This one can feel loaded and there has been a great discussion about how men and women apologize differently. A 2010 study showed that both apologized about 80% of the time they thought what they did was offensive. However, the threshold that women use for committing an offense was much lower than men. I likely apologize out of wanting to make sure others are comfortable and ensuring that we can get to the important work we have before us. I tend to view people who apologize less as weak and more as people who want to move the work forward. However, there are those who will see that differently.
In the search, when you can be so dependent on the goodwill of others, I would suggest more often leading with I’m sorry because your goal is to get the introduction, interview, etc. unless the situation exhibits some kind of behavior that indicates that this is going to be a bad fit and you really want to test an employer’s response.
My resident Anglo-experts advises me that his countrymen are the greatest users of the word “sorry”. They have about 200 meanings for the word, one of which is “I’m definitely not sorry.” But in this case, what I’m suggesting is, you don’t necessarily have to be sorry to say it. If saying it gets you to the point in a search where you’re in control and can make decisions for yourself, then you might choose to appear more apologetic than you actually are, just to do so.
Be strategic on how you use these words as they can make all the difference in your choices.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.