Why being polite is killing your company

If you're struggling to build a great company, you might have a politeness problem.

I was taught to be polite. I've gotten gifts I didn't like but said I did. I've eaten meals that weren't great but I said they were.

Manners have been around for centuries and shape our behaviors. They are a way of showing respect. And respect is important. First, being polite helps you not end up sad and alone. But it also creates opportunities. The more people who respect and like you, the more opportunities you'll have for friendships, work, etc.

When I started a company though, I realized the problem with being polite.

Being polite may lead to more opportunities but it doesn't lead to the best one: the opportunity to make something remarkable.

Great products create change. They're designed to do something different and much better than average. Politeness, meanwhile, is designed to keep things in order. To pull you toward average. But in business, average won't cut it.

RELATED: The most inspirational movies for aspiring entrepreneurs:

Inspirational movies for entrepreneurs
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Inspirational movies for entrepreneurs

The Social Network

Based on the true story of Facebook genius Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard classmates and co-founders, this movie shows us how one idea can go from a thought in casual conversation to a world-dominating platform.

This film also brings to light the drama and behind-the-scenes tensions that arise when setting out to begin a new business or venture. We learn through Zuckerberg's faults in the movie that you must stay cognizant of your actions and the way that you treat people, or you may damage relationships with those closest to you. 

Photo credit: Facebook


If this picture queues the iconic theme song to start playing in your head, you're not alone. Rocky is the ultimate underdog story, one that can inspire even the most experienced of entrepreneurs.

When being called up to fight world champion Apollo Creed, Rocky sees an opportunity and does everything he can to make the most of it.

Through physical strength, Rocky exemplifies true mental strength that has us all rooting for him and the people, quite literally, in his corner. 

Photo credit: Facebook

Jerry Maguire

In a classic awakening of the conscience, sports agent Jerry McGuire decides to write a letter to his entire company about how the hunger for deals and a profit are making it easy for everyone to lose sight of who they are.

This gets McGuire fired, and he must start his own business. With only one star football player under his management, McGuire learns what it really means to love what you do while still being able to sustain an income and sense of morality. 

Photo credit: Facebook

Forrest Gump

This classic has so much to teach us about believing in ourselves, believing in others, and how there is literally no one who can tell you what you're capable of doing other than yourself. 

As someone who's mentally disadvantaged, Forrest lives a life that's anything but limited and does it all with a smile. His determination is admirable, and at the very least, this movie will remind you to never give up on the things you want the most. Mental fortitude is the most important thing.

Photo credit: Facebook

Legally Blonde

Elle Woods is the girl you can't help but root for, right from the opening scene at the start of this movie. After getting her heart broken by her long-term boyfriend (whom she thought would soon be her fiancé), she learns that he'll be attending Harvard Law school in the fall.

Determined to both get him back and prove to him she's more than just a dumb blonde, Elle works harder than she's ever worked before (with the help of everyone she knows and loves), gets accepted to Harvard and finds herself on the defendant side of a high profile court case that forever changes her life and career.

Elle teaches us how to pool our resources and connections to get to our goals. The film also reminds us about how important friends and family are to have as a support system when you're taking on an endeavor that most people expect you to fail at.

Plus, she shows us that the seemingly impossible can become possible if you're willing to smile through it (and maybe if you put on a little pink!)

Photo credit: Facebook

Charlotte's Web

A classic tale of friendship and trust, Charlotte's Web will always inevitably give you all the feels. It reminds us all that by being kind and by simply being someone's friend, you can make all the difference.

The people who find the most success and get to where they need to be are the people who care deeply for others and expect nothing in return.

The film, as does the novel, can make anyone see that the relationships we build along the way become the best investments that we make.

Photo credit: Facebook

The Intern 

This 2015 movie starring Robert DiNero and Anne Hathaway is feel-good film about a 70-year-old retiree named Ben Whittaker who, recently widowed, is looking to come out of retirement for something fun to do. When he sees a posting for am"senior internship", Ben believes he's the perfect fit.

Ben works under the owner of a fashion website (played by Hathaway) and the two form an incredible, honest bond. Their friendship shows that the most successful partnerships and ventures come from the most unexpected places. 

It's a nice reminder that hard work, positive mentality and kindness will always be in style, no matter how old or young you are. 

Photo credit: Facebook


There's thousands of decisions you make when you build a company. If you're too polite in those decisions, your team won't create something great. You'll be afraid to say when a product stinks. You'll be scared to disagree with a company process. Gossip will happen. You'll say "yes" to things that aren't good enough. The opportunity to be great will close.

In fact, there's proof that politeness hurts performance. A 2010 survey by the Corporate Executive Board of more than 4,000 employees found that companies who rate highly on open communication returned an average of 270 percent more in value over 10 years than other companies.

Why honesty is essential to creativity

Pixar is one of the most successful animation studios ever. They've won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture for half their films. And every Pixar film has landed on the respective year's top 10 most profitable films.

According to Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, Pixar's creativity is a product of the environment they've created--one of healthy debate and honesty. As Catmull says, when it comes to critiquing work at Pixar, "Nobody pulls any punches to be polite."

It's easier to be polite than to say what's on your mind. Confrontation is uncomfortable, especially when there's a lot on the line. And in business, there's a lot on the line: your livelihood, money, relationships, and happiness.

If we say, "we are an honest company," we can't assume that everyone will instantly be comfortable being honest. Simply due to human nature and society, that won't be the case.

If one of my teammates feels it's easier to speak his or her mind with a friend than with me, we've failed. There will be some people who find it harder to be brutally honest than others. But it's up to everyone, especially company leaders, to set up an environment that makes people feel they can be honest.

If we pull from Pixar's playbook, here are three ways you can design honesty into your company.

3 ways to encourage honesty over being polite

1. Make it safe to tell the truth. If people who are seen as leaders in your company seem too aggressive, people will feel scared to disagree. Pixar aims to create a safe place for debate by making meeting reviews honest, not personal. It's all about making a better film. "As soon as we said, 'This is purely peers giving feedback to each other,' the effectiveness of the review sessions dramatically improved", says Catmull. It's human nature to defend a personal threat. So it's important to say it's not personal at the start of every meeting until it becomes clearly implied.

2. Show how to be honest without being a jerk. Every time you have a critique, add something that improves the idea. Instead of saying, "That tagline doesn't work," say, "That tagline doesn't work. It feels too long. What if you removed the first two words?" This difference might seem small but it shows your aim is to improve the initial idea. Not bash it.

3. Pass the mic. Let your team get in the habit of speaking about their ideas. Public speaking is most people's biggest fear, so start small. Do private one-on-ones. Then move to small groups. Pixar has their team show works in progress daily and invites everyone to email what they liked, what they didn't, and why to the creators. Catmull says, "Regardless of discipline or position, [everyone] gets to go at some point. We make a concerted effort to make it safe to criticize."

Too much politeness is one of the biggest problems in business today. It may not seem like a big deal but it's a silent killer.

Lots of people like to believe they say what they think. But in reality, most people don't. We assume everyone can overcome the discomfort of brutal honesty. As a CEO, I might feel comfortable saying anything to anyone. But that doesn't matter. What matters is how I help all our teammates feel comfortable challenging any idea. And sticking up for their own.

This is the only way we'll make exceptional work together.

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