“If you could please send me that report sometime soon, that would be awesome.”
Why do we say strange things like this, instead of the more direct, “Send me that report, please”?
Linguist Steven Pinker explains:
It’s a bit of a social dilemma. On the one hand, you do want the salt [in our case, the report]. On the other hand, you don’t want to boss people around lightly. So you split the difference by saying something that literally makes no sense while also conveying the message that you’re not treating them like some kind of flunky.
Unfortunately, this politness can produce unintended consequences. A one page memo turns into three. A twenty minute meeting, turns into sixty. The cumulative effect: a whole lot of wasted time and unnecessary delay.
Vineet Nayar, Chief Executive of HCL Technologies understands these costs:
So, my meetings are not polite. They are fairly blunt on both sides, and they really come down to the crux of the issues, and we are done with it pretty fast. I’ll ask right in the beginning, “What do you want?” Sometimes it’s “I need your approval.” Approved. Thirty seconds, meeting is over. Go and do what you want to do.
In the interest of speed, most of us need to learn to be blunter, when necessary. And the best way to start is to give others the permission to be blunter with you when necessary.