I was reading Jeffrey Toobin's fine piece on American Supreme Court Justive John Paul Stevens in The New Yorker (You can read it on line here), when I came across Toobin's detailing of one of Stevens' habits. "Stevens tends to weigh in at oral argument at around the halfway point, and he does something that none of his colleagues do: he asks permission. 'May I ask you a question?' or 'May I ask you this?' "
My thoughts immediately turned back to the first boss I ever had. Ken Giles. The legendary, hall of famer Sports Editor of the Brampton Guardian (and of the Bramalea Guardian, which is where I started my sports writing career while in Grade Ten at Bramalea Secondary School). In the decade and a half that he was my boss, he NEVER, EVER told me to do anything! Not once. EVERY single command was put into the form of a question. Would you ... Can you ... Always a question that I never, of course, ever declined. But it was a matter of civility to a most civilized man. And he'd say please a lot too. And this from a man who the town named an arena after. And it's the Ken Giles Arena, NOT the Ken Giles Memorial Arena.
It shaped my professional life. I assumed all bosses behaved similarly. Heck, even the Boss's boss, tended to behave similarly. Robert King, the publisher through much of my Guardian years, also believed in the principle of not barking out commands. I can be forgiven if I thought business worked that way.
It doesn't, of course.
As a result, these two men are undoubtedly responsible for my inability to hang onto a job for much of the last three decades. Just kidding! I'm hardcore unemployable. Which is why I work for myself and only get into verbal battles with myself these days. But my professional upbringing has had an effect on how I do handle my interactions with fellow workers (the bosses still have 'issues' with me). As bellicose as I am, and trust me, I am, I try to say please and make the request a form of question. And I strain to remember to say thank you, even when, theoretically, I'm thanking them for doing their job. I don't always succeed.
Afterall, I'm not Ken Giles.