Two Little Words

I’m very big on manners.  I was always taught to say please and thank you, call adults by their last name unless otherwise instructed, and to be polite to people regardless of their own attitudes and demeanor.  In the workplace, my need to be polite is magnified, as I have to deal with my coworkers in a friendly manner as well as deal with whoever may come in the office or call with an issue or concern.  It can be challenging, especially when people yell at me over the phone about things that are out of my control, but I make due and just make fun of them later in private or take a walk around the building to cool down.  It does take more effort to be nice at times, but I think it’s worth the effort.

I received an email this morning from one of my coworkers that just rubbed me the wrong way.  We have had a new person handling all time card entries for our civilians and this new person has been making mistake after mistake.  His paychecks are a mess, as well as everyone else’s, so he wanted to get copies of his time cards for the entire month of December in order to try to get his issues fixed.  I don’t mind getting these to people at all, but the way he asked just bothered me.  It wasn’t “can you get this for me,” it was “Need a copy of what I submitted.”  No “thanks” at the end, no “please” anywhere, nothing remotely polite.  Just “need a copy” with the expectation that I’d get right on it.


I sat on the request for as long as I could, which was about an hour since I can’t stand to have things unfinished.  I sent the information along to him, expecting some sort of response.  Nada.  I know he’s here because he’s been sending me memo requests all day, along with follow-up emails fifteen minutes later to see if they have been forwarded to our branch chief.  If you can do all that, sir, the least you can do is type THANKS in a reply email and make me feel like I didn’t just waste my time pulling up documents that you should have already had and emailing them along to you.

An employee’s daily duties don’t warrant constant thank you’s, but it is nice to give them a nod in appreciation now and then if they are helping you out.  Everyone loves a compliment and it can work to increase productivity and lighten the mood.  When an employee does something that goes outside the scope of their duties however, especially when it’s in response to a request for help from you, you owe them a please when asking and a thank you when the task is complete.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the ask is, it needs to be presented politely and rewarded with a bit of gratitude.  It doesn’t even have to be sincere as long as it is said in some form or another.  Expecting heaps of praise after helping a coworker file some papers is silly, but you are well within your rights to expect and receive a thank you.


Part of the reasoning behind the lack of thank you’s is that certain people feel that they are above other people, therefore they can make demands rather than requests and expect them to be fulfilled without another word.  Perhaps they have seniority over you, maybe they’re the head of their department down the hall, or they just might see themselves as more valuable than you.  Whatever the reasoning, this view of “I matter more than you” can cause people to forget basic manners and turn requests into demands.  Working your way into a position of power is something to be proud of, no doubt, but it won’t kill you to throw a thank you to the person who empties your trash every once in a while.  It’s not about doing it because you have to, it’s about doing it because it’s the right thing to do.

Another reason is that we’re simply used to rude people.  I’ve had more doors slam in my face than held open for me, I get bumped into more than I hear “excuse me,” and I get flicked off by drivers who cut me off in traffic.  It’s not surprising that we forget our manners in the workplace after dealing with rude people in virtually every other area of our lives.  It’s even forgivable in a way for someone who has dealt with angry customers for eight hours to then be a bit snippy with their coworkers.  That all said, it’s still the wrong path to go down.  Your coworkers shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re beneath you or as if they don’t matter just because you’re having a crummy day.


As I was typing this, two emails came in for me, both requests to set up a total of eight teleconferences.  The request was as follows:  “I am trying schedule a teleconference.  [Dates, times]”  That’s it.  Broken English and all.  Honestly, I don’t need to get a bucketload of “pleases” to process something, but I at least would like it phrased “Can you schedule these for me?”  The one person in my office who requests the most and who is also busy as all hell always throws me a please and a thank you for handing her conferences.  Getting these two emails from my coworker just bummed me out.  I was planning on ending this on a positive note but now I’m left feeling as if there is zero hope of things ever getting any better.

At the very least, I urge you to take a minute and think about how you interact with people.  Do you say “get me ___” or do you say “can I get ____?”  Do you say thank you or do you remain silent, assuming a thank you was implied?  Are you generous with compliments and words of thanks or do you think it’s undeserved when people are “just” doing their job?  Are you happy with what you get from others or do you feel that you deserved a word of thanks after going out of your way to assist a coworker or supervisor?  Do you think that all of us can maybe do a little better than we’re doing now?  Will you make an effort?


About Jamie C. Baker

“Long time no see. I only pray the caliber of your questions has improved.” - Kevin Smith

Posted on January 31, 2013, in Work and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. You are right people aren’t as polite as they once were. I believe we might be able to change things.I doubt it will be overnight. So keep your chin up and keep at it. Hugs, Barbara

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