The Burden Of Manners

I was in the moderator’s role in a two-person business negotiation the other day and the discussion got pretty heated. Without directly quoting the parties involved, I can tell you the exchange got so testy that the room was downright uncomfortable.

Then one party decided to cross the line--he made it personal.

As if that violation of good taste wasn’t enough, he went on to almost mock the other party for his limited interpretation of what he thought was plain and simple.

Only the accuser was wrong, too. More wrong than the victim he was mocking.

It was within the victim’s rights to fire back and simply level the raving, overzealous party. But he did not do that.

I was just waiting for it because the moment was so ripe. The other guy had set himself up for a haymaker, and you could tell even he knew it. He sat there defiantly waiting for his opponent to throw that punch, but I could tell somehow he knew he wouldn’t.

His opponent was too much of a gentleman.

I felt a twinge in my gut derived from the familiar feeling I often experience due to the burden of manners I was taught as a very young boy. This other fellow obviously had parents that taught from the same book.

My heart went out to him so much that I intervened and called out the “elephant in the room,” saying that was enough. Once I stated the obvious and the two of them went silent, I called a 10-minute break and let the air clear.

When we reconvened, both seemed to have put their guard down and the rest of the negotiation went smoothly without incident.

As they walked out of the conference room, I told the rude one confidentially that his approach had been completely uncalled for. He explained that he always handled guys like that the same way and that he knew he could push him into remittance.

I smiled through clenched teeth as he went out the door. Again, the burden of proper manners prevented me from telling this man how I really felt.

But make no mistake; this guy got what he wanted because he was more ruthless, ill mannered and inconsiderate. And you can make the argument that the other guy was the bigger man, but that doesn’t make it right, either.

Somewhere in life’s rulebook, it just seems it shouldn’t be OK for people to benefit from being rude or blunt or discourteously honest. But the fact is those people seem to get more of what they want--better seats, better places in line, the bigger piece of cake and a hundred more similar types of advantages.

I was always taught to be patient and courteous to my elders. To this day, I say “yes sir” and “no ma’am” to people all the time.

When grumpy old people push their shopping cart into my backside, I smile and apologize. When they glower at me from their sunken driver’s seat because I passed them after going 12 mph behind them for the last five miles, I shrug and mouth the word “sorry.” Then they indicate to me, with their finger, that they think I am number one and go on their way. I smile like a happy idiot.

When the waiter gives my table to another couple by mistake, even though we were next, I always try to make it comfortable. I try to make it comfortable.

Why me? Why do I feel the need to make it right? There’s that moment when the other couple looks at you and says, “Oh, uh…weren’t YOU next?”

And there I am again, hungry, irritated, but always trying to be kind. I say, “Oh, that’s OK. You go ahead. We’re fine.”

And actually, we’re not, but the burden of manners again causes me to acquiesce.

I’d like to offer you the advice that I have found great solace in asserting my way upon people by becoming equally rude and crude, but really I have experienced just the opposite.

If you’re trained the polite way, that “dark side” just does not come forth naturally and, if you have to force it, you can’t sell it. No one believes you; no one listens to you.

Here’s the one tip I can give and the one thing I have found works for me: Train yourself not to do anything and, if it is too hard for your body language to face this notion, make sure your mouth does not betray you.

Teach yourself to say nothing. It makes a strong statement.

If you apply that tactic to any of the situations I detailed above, the rants of the other party become a stark contrast to your controlled, almost amused silenced. What winds up happening is the rude one makes a conspicuous fool of himself and eventually controls his rant out of embarrassment.

Also, the whole argument dies down if you give people nothing to argue over.

But most importantly, you don’t become your own worst enemy by giving everything away simply for the sake of being polite.

Your silence creates a tension that people respond to. Just ask John Wayne, John Rambo, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood; silence has power.

We need to remember the fine line between being polite and being a doormat: A skill to master at any age.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at