Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

A few days ago, prior to business hours, there was a knock on the door of my shop and a man from a local business greeted me with the “news” that he was there to work on one of the systems that we need to keep our business running. We had no previous notice.

What followed were hours of being unable to continue our operation, resulting in loss of revenue and patience! Had the man shown some respect (not to mention compassion for our situation), it might have gone smoother.

However, his mood was brusque, and his attitude was far from sympathetic and he didn’t care about our needs. It got ugly, and obviously I am still upset.

More Than Irritated in Irvington

Dear M. T. Irritated, one of the many truisms that run through my head from time to time is “you catch more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar.” Was the workman doing his best for good customer relations? No. Could he have poured water on a potentially fiery situation? Yes. But, as my grandmother would say, “Did you bring out the sugar?”

Please don’t misunderstand me. From what you write, you were entirely within your natural right to be upset, maybe more than upset. You don’t give details about how you responded. It is usually more effective to calmly explain your side of the situation and keep cool (at least on the outside) hoping that an agreement, if not at least a civil atmosphere, can be obtained.

Sometimes actions that mirror those worthy of sainthood are our best defense against an onslaught of bad manners. That, in your case might include assuring the workman that you know he is only following orders, telling him you understand he has a schedule to meet, and asking him to wait until you speak with his office. Then, whether he continues to be brusque or not, call his place of business to see if a mutually convenient time could be established. If there is no good alternative,  remaining calm and allowing the workman to get on with the job with only necessary interaction is wise. The job will be finished sooner and most likely with more attention paid to the skill required than to an atmosphere of hostility.

I suspect there is more to your story than you were able to share in a letter here. If there were strong words exchanged, it is likely that you witnessed another truth; returning anger with anger just breeds greater anger.

To any scenario involving interpersonal conflict, my response would have been similar. Civility is far from easy sometimes but, more often than sometimes, it pays off for those who employ it.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at