As a small-business owner, you probably strive to be relatable and friendly to your staff. After all, you want your employees to like working for you and enjoy their responsibilities. While being polite and nice may make you feel better about yourself, it won’t help you get things done.
You can, in fact, be too polite, says business coach Barbara Pachter, and the problem is that your employees will eventually stop taking you seriously.
“If you’re in a leadership position, you need to be polite and powerful,” says Pachter, author of the book The Essentials of Business Etiquette. “It’s about balance. You can be a little friendly, but you should also hold people accountable.”
How do you know if you’re being too polite?
1. You smile too much. A smile may be a pleasant thing in any other setting, but constantly having a smile plastered on your face in a business setting may make you seem weaker, less dominant or less serious. While these characteristics may make you easy to work with, they won’t help you lead or gain respect. In no way is anyone advocating not smiling, but keep it in check.
2. You use passive language. Never use phrases such as “I was just wondering” or “Would you perhaps…,” because they make you seem like you have low self-esteem, Pachter says. When you start your sentences off with “I think,” you are telling the other person that you’re unsure about the answer. Instead, when giving your opinion about something, say “I suggest” or “I recommend,” Pachter advises.
In addition, Pachter advises to listen to your voicemail message before you send it to someone to determine how you speak and how much detail you’re giving. Are you initiating too much small talk or using language that makes you appear weak?
3. You apologize too much. If you spill something on someone, you should definitely apologize, but if you start saying “I’m sorry” too much, it can detract from your professional image. Pachter advises only saying "I'm sorry" once. You're not sorrier the sixth time you say it than you were the first time you said it.
4. You don’t confront people. If you’re in a leadership position and something is wrong, you need to confront it immediately. However, some people have such a great need to have others like them that they don’t want to confront them at all.
If you find yourself avoiding someone because you don’t want to have that conversation with them or complain about them to others instead of speaking to the person directly, you are making a huge mistake as a leader. Even worse, if you’re a leader who likes to think that everything’s fine when it’s not, you may soon find your entire office collapsing around you.
While you should keep these etiquette rules in mind, you should also remember that you shouldn’t be so unfriendly and tough that no one understands how to speak to you. If you’re incredibly demanding, your employees will have a tough time telling you when something is wrong. This will likely result in unresolved problems in the future.
The bottom line is that you need to be taken seriously, but also friendly enough that people can be open and honest with you.
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