Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

The Value of Asking Nicely

You should add a "thank you" too!I did a small (very small) survey over the last few weeks and asked people to notice  for a week if their supervisors and managers used courtesy phrases when asking them to do something at work (and time and circumstances permitted it.)  Here are the results of 52 responses:

My supervisor or manager more often than not used courtesy phrases when asking me to do something: 21 out of 52.

Sometimes my supervisor or manager used courtesy phrases, sometimes not: 11 of 52.

My supervisor or manager rarely or never used courtesy phrases: 15 of 52.

Other responses: 5 of 52.

Here are  four of the “other responses”:

  • I noticed my boss said please and thank you to some people but never to others.  He almost never asked nicely to men but sometimes went overboard with women. That may be why he’s not liked very well!
  • My supervisor routinely barks out orders or just shoves things at me, but then he’ll come in to my area in a few minutes to see how it’s coming along and will be really nice and appreciative or offer to get things to help me.  The next time he’ll still throw things on my desk or yell an order across the room. He’s always done that and I’m used to it but most of the others get really irritated with him and some have complained. So, I guess my supervisor is sort of yes and sort of no about using courtesy phrases.
  • Toward the end of the week I told my boss about the survey and that I was interested in comparing several of the managers. She got very huffy and started bowing when she’d see me and acting like she was begging me to do things. It wasn’t meant in fun, either.
  • I have a manager who I like in most ways, but she does something that bothers me a lot…she never gives me work directly, it’s always just sitting in the middle of my desk when I come back from lunch or when I arrive in the morning. I have an in-basket but she doesn’t use that. It’s frustrating to me because not only does she not ask nicely, she doesn’t ask at all…it’s just sitting there waiting to be done. I know it’s my job, but I don’t know why she can’t talk to me when it comes to giving me work. 

There are no advantages to leaving off courtesy phrases when asking employees to do a task, and there a many reasons why we should use those phrases. What would your employees or coworkers say about you?

July 4th, 2009 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 7 comments


  1. Is it OK for me to say I was one of the ones on your survey? I said my manager is courteous when she asks me to do work. (I was on nights when I wrote that, but it will be true on the day shift too.) I sent her the link and told her about the survey. She said she was glad she had been nice for that week! 🙂

    Comment by denisek | July 5, 2009

  2. I invariably use courtesy phrases (please, could you help me with this, etc.) when I talk to staff. But, I’m sorry to say, I rarely do when I talk to my wife. I often just make a directive statement (Take my suit to the cleaners.) I don’t even thank her most of the time as I rush in and rush out again.

    I owe my wife of 45 years so much more courtesy than I do anyone else, that I’m ashamed at my failure in this area and will be changing that starting now. Thank you for your reminder!

    “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

    Blessings, Don

    Comment by Don R. | July 5, 2009

  3. Hi Tina! I did my own survey here at the S.O. and it was almost 100% that no one ever asks for anything, they just say “do this” or “do that” and it’s irritating. I listened after reading this and didn’t hear one supervisor say anything pleasant all day, not even one time. Now you see why people are unhappy here!

    Comment by Mike | July 9, 2009

  4. Nice website! I wondered if you had thoughts if there is a gender difference between people when it comes to asking nicely for things.

    Comment by S.T. | July 9, 2009

  5. Tina says: Thanks to all of you for the comments!
    Denise:You have a great workplace, I think! And you add to it!

    Don: Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful remarks. You’re so right about how we tend to not be as courteous to those to whom we are the closest. As always, you are willing to be introspective about it. But, I’ll bet you’re a wonderful husband!

    Mike: I do understand how frustrating your workplace is. I hope you and others are being upward examples by being courteous when you talk to your supervisors and to each other. Even civil might be an improvement!

    S.T.: Yes, it seems that generally women use courteous phrases to preface their remarks–sometimes to excess. The idea isn’t to beg people to do something, it’s just to be professionally courteous and not obnoxiously bossy! But, overall, women in the small survey–and in my experience–will tend to be more courteous, probably from culture and habit. Keep reading and commenting!

    Comment by TLR | July 9, 2009

  6. Hey wait a minute now! What do you mean by your comment that women are usually nicer? That sounds biased to me! And I’ve always been really nice to you! Harrumph!

    Comment by wiseacre | July 9, 2009

  7. Tina says: I don’t mean that women are invariably more courteous. But my experience has been that most women will make an effort to sound courteous–if not exactly BE courteous. 🙂

    Comment by TLR | July 9, 2009

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