Six Sigma
Last Word


Phil's Journal
Philip Crosby

Dealing With Bad Manners

Nice people often unconsciously irritate those who like them by doing things that are impolite or just plain rude. They do these things without realizing that they are distressing others, and the offended don't want to offend in return by telling the irritating person about the rudeness. As a result there is an element of discomfort built into the relationship.

 I can remember two incidents along this line. A manager who reported to me when I worked for a large manufacturing organization slurped when he drank his coffee. You could hear him even above the roar of a press shop. He did this unconsciously, and he didn't even notice when others winced or looked askance. I couldn't send him to deal with customers or my bosses because his behavior may have reflected poorly on me.

 Another manager at the same company had bad breath. He was very good at his job but kept getting bypassed for promotion. When he reported to me, I was 15 years younger and a lot less capable than he was. But his breath offended, and the big bosses didn't want him in their offices.

 I finally decided that there was no way to handle these situations except directly. So I invited the slurper into my office for a cup of coffee. As soon as we were settled, I took a sip of the coffee and made as much noise as I could. Then I set the cup down and looked at him pleasantly. His cup was paused halfway to his lips. He then raised it to his mouth, sipped quietly and set the cup down. Finally he stood up, extended his hand and left the room, never to slurp again.

 It was not possible to solve the second manager's problem in the same way, so I took him for a walk around the outside of the building and hinted around about personal cleanliness habits. He didn't respond. So I said something about body odor and the old "B.O." foghorn that a soap company used years ago. Its theme was "Your best friend won't tell you." I asked him if I was his best friend, and he replied that he hoped we were friends but that he already had a best friend.

 "Well," I said, pumping up my courage, "you need to know that your breath offends people and that is the reason you have never reached the level in the company that you deserve."

 "My breath? I smell bad?"

 I nodded. He turned and walked away. I found out later that he had gone to see his dentist, who confirmed that there was halitosis present but that it wasn't locally caused. After many tests and analyses, the doctors realized that he had an allergy. The result was that the breath problem was cured. Today he is a senior executive of a different large corporation that won't let him retire.

 Both of these men have thanked me regularly over the years for helping them, but this was a situation within a company. How about the real and personal world? The rules are different there. What do you do when a friend, someone you really like to be with, does something that bugs you?

 One of my golfing pals had a habit that really bothered me. He would sink his putt and then pick up the flagstick and stand there while I was trying to concentrate on my putt. He said that he did it to "speed up the game." But the rest of the players felt they were being hurried. One of the primary aspects of the game of golf is to show courtesy toward those with whom you are playing. Thus, let the other players play and don't interfere.

 He ignored all of this until we were having lunch after a round and I mentioned that I had read about a player that was assigned a two-stroke penalty during an amateur tournament for tending the flagstick without the permission of the player whose turn it was to play. My friend thought this was untrue until he went to the pro shop and borrowed a copy of the rules. There, in section 17.2, it was all spelled out.

We all laughed about it, and he never picked up a flag again.

 The message is that it's not necessary to put up with something that hurts a relationship--but the correction must be done with love.


About the author

 Philip B. Crosby, a popular speaker and the founder of Philip Crosby Associates--now PCA II--is also the author of several books, including Quality and Me: Lessons from an Evolving Life (Jossey-Bass, 1999). To order a number of products, visit his Web site at www.philipcrosby.com or call (800) 223-3932. .

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