Mary: Please do this for me in this particular way.

Joe: Hmm. Are you sure about that? This other way might be better.

Mary: I don’t really see what you’re seeing.

Joe: Here is an example. Are you sure you don’t want to do it the other way?

Mary: I like my way. Just do it.

This may not seem like a communication failure, but it is. Here’s the rub: from the beginning, Joe had no intention of completing the task Mary’s way. For whatever reason–maybe it doesn’t conform to company standards, maybe his boss told him not to, maybe it really does look hideous–Joe needs to finish the job his way. In his effort to be polite, he was too accommodating, He never hinted to Mary that he actually had very little flexibility, and now he’s stuck.

Unfortunately, I think we often sacrifice clarity in our effort to be polite. Being polite does not mean a person can’t stand his ground. It simply means he should do it in a way that is not rude or offensive and that is as respectful as possible. Not addressing an issue directly just leads to more frustration later, after both parties realize they are not only at an impasse, but that they have also wasted a lot of time getting there.

In the case of Joe and Mary, here’s how I think the scenario (which really happened, by the way) should have played out.

Mary: Please do this for me in this particular way.

Joe: I’m sorry, Mary. I have to do this for you this other way, and here’s why.

Regardless of how the conversation continues, both Joe and Mary are starting with a clear picture of the challenge in front of them. Be clear and direct; just be nice about it.

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