There’s a fine line between being polite and being a pushover, and it’s a line that I’ve danced along for the majority of my life. Chaulk it up to a consequence of my incredible awkwardness, but speaking up for myself in person has always been more than just a little bit challenge. Like, a whole lot more.
It wasn’t until I watched the most recent episode of The Big Bang Theory that I realized this struggle between polite and awkward is very real. At the beginning of the episode, Sheldon recalls, “You know, once I ordered an Uber by accident. I just got in it and went somewhere.” Granted, I have yet to use the Uber app, but this snafu is striking similar to some too-recent moments when my politeness cost me. Thankfully, I’m finally learning how to do something about it.
You May Have Got Me for Lunch…
At the beginning of the school year, a coworker and I were working on a project together before an evening event. She asked me if I was interested in ordering dinner, and I quickly said yes. Saving money be damned when I’m crossing over into hangry territory. Somehow, I ended up picking up the food without getting repaid. Ever. Sure, there were a few polite gestures when I returned with the meal and a few more promises of cash the following day, but I knew almost immediately that that money was as good as gone. I could have spoken up in the days following, but I was never quite sure what to say.* Plus, my dad always cautioned me not to foot the bill on the promise of a shared check if I wasn’t willing to cover the whole cost. In this case, the extra $7 probably wasn’t worth jeopardizing an-otherwise-wonderful work relationship.
This past week, I picked up treats for an after-school celebration of a few dozen students who participated in a scholastic competition.** The night before, three other teachers and I were emailing back and forth in terms of permission slips received, food allergies, and whatnot. One teacher offered to pick up juice boxes and napkins. I offered to grab snack bars and cookies. Another coworker chimed in that since I was already heading to the store, I should scoop up everything and we’d just split the cost four ways. My dad’s advice clanged in my head, but the email wasn’t a question. It was a blanket statement. So I obliged. Because I’m incredibly
polite gullible spineless. Two of my coworkers repaid me on the spot. The final holdout – the person who suggested the errand in the first place – originally asked if I would prefer cash or a gift card. At this point, I’d gladly accept either.
…But It’s My House
Those instances of being overly polite at work won’t break the bank. They’re annoyances. They’re nuisances. They’re tiny little insults that I can mostly overlook. Mostly.
But just recently, we started renovating our second bathroom, and that’s when I could definitely see the dollar signs flying out the window when it came to being too nice. We had used this contractor and his crew for two other projects, including the upstairs guest bathroom that makes me head-over-heels happy whenever I look at it now, so we thought we knew what to expect. After all, this renovation was taking place a mere month after the last.
The first sign that things were amiss was when we came home to find the lights in our guest bathroom weren’t working. Neither was the new bathroom fan. Then, we couldn’t turn on our TV in the master bedroom. It turns out that two of the workers tried to move the can lights before the electrician came, never turned off the power, crossed the wires, and wreaked all sorts of havoc on everything connected to that circuit.
I mustered up the courage to put Mr. P up to the job of calling the contractor, who happens to be vacationing in Florida. He was deeply apologetic over the phone, yelled at his workers in a separate call, and promised to pay for a new motor or a new fan, whatever was necessary. I felt a little bit guilty, but mostly I felt pretty satisfied that things would be made right. I felt like I was maturing, growing a backbone.
Imagine my surprise the following day when the same workers asked Mr. P and I where we purchased the fan. After naming the big box store, they told us that they were going out to pick up some materials and would let said store know that they sold us a faulty fan. They’d be back with a replacement in no time. Mouth hanging open, I watched them head down the driveway and contemplated changing the locks before they came back.
Fast forward to yesterday. Mr. P and I were both off work, but neither of us intended to babysit the workers all day. When we both came back from running separate errands, I noticed it felt unusually drafty in our house. I had turned the thermostat down to 65 since they said they would be opening and closing the door on occasion. What they didn’t tell us was they actually planned to leave the door between our house and our garage open all day to keep their tools in working order.
It was a balmy 23 degrees without the windchill outside, and our furnace was chugging along mightily to compensate. Refusing to stand for this wastefulness, I meekly inquired about the kerosene heater that the contractor told me his crew was equipped with. After assuring me that they had no idea what I was talking about and had no heater in their possession, they offered to cut all of the ceramic tile in our house for the next few days instead. In an effort to stave off the head spinning and fire breathing that he could sense was about to happen, Mr. P fled to the nearest home improvement store to purchase a heater, while I punched in the number for the contractor.
In our three years of home ownership, I’m given to understand that a certain degree of things going a little sideways is to be expected. However, this current project has underscored the fact that it’s time for me to learn how to be a little less polite. After promptly reaching out to the general contractor, we received repeated assurances that all would be handled. I’m not sure when or how this particular story will end, but I can tell you that finding my voice hasn’t been a bad thing. In fact, I might just speak up about that lunch. Maybe.
* “What the heck? How can you stand owing people money? It practically gives me hives to be indebted to anyone” seemed a little overbearing.
**I refuse to accept the fact that pizza parties are only for athletes. My uncoordinated self has to believe otherwise.
So Tell Me…Has being polite ever cost you? Are you ever afraid to speak up?