No ‘maybes’ about it

I was raised to be polite.  In 10th grade, after I’d answered a teacher’s question with what I thought to be aplomb, the smartest person in class turned around and said, “You know what you are?  You’re obsequious.”

I thought of course that she was paying me a compliment, but I wasn’t quite sure.  She saw that I was smiling still and said, “You don’t know what that word means, do you?”


“Look it up.  You’ll see.”

And it was me!  I was in fact, ‘subservient to a fault’.  I still am.  I find it easy to put myself in a service mode – a parent, a client, and, as it turns out, even people working on my behalf.

Because of this blessing-curse, I found myself, as a Producer of corporate media, able to harness the talents of people – often much older than me – through the use of humble requests.   ‘If you have time, do you think you might be able to…’   It’s what I call the ‘little-boy-lost’ approach.  “Maybe you could help me…”  It worked beautifully for my sales efforts, and, I thought until recently, for carrying out my desires from those supporting my production efforts.

Well, as much as the idea of the ‘request’ (vs. an order) is still, in my view, the only way to engage others (respect for the individual and all that), I’ve recognized that I was taking this subservience to a level that was unnecessary, and, worse yet, counter productive to clear communication of my desired outcome.

Example: “Maybe you could spend an hour or two developing something…”

Maybe?  Perhaps?   I realized these simple words of politeness were leaving open the possibility that I wasn’t sure what I actually wanted to have that person do.

“I thought I asked you do that,” I’d say, miffed that my authority was being undermined.

But when I went back to the emails, it became clear.  I was leaving it ambiguous, giving the requestee an option.  Thanks to my Business Partner and other coaches, I’ve been issuing more direct requests; ones that allow me to hold the person more accountable and better insure that things get done.

“Can you please spend an hour or two…,” still sounds polite, but it forces the recipient to be accountable.

It’s semantics.  But, in communications, it’s usually the communications that are the problem.  As it is with so many aspects of life, directness in business communications can be a valuable trait.


2 thoughts on “No ‘maybes’ about it

  1. I think there is a place for suggestion and the “maybe”-it can open the door for teams to be creative and empowered. Direct requests are driven by need and a clarity of that need. Both methods of leading can be effective, they can also create very different results.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ms. Herring! I know in talking with you that you have much to teach others in management techniques. Please comment and post in this blog (and in Green Ink’s LinkedIn) as much as you can!

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