There is a restaurant in Lakefield, Ontario called the Canoe & Paddle. On their regular menu is a panini called the “Ultimate Grilled Cheese” which comes with smoked bacon, cheddar, asiago, tomato, and garlic butter.
On their Kids & Seniors menu they offer a grilled cheese sandwich for which the ingredients are listed as “white loaf, cheddar.” They call this the “Grilled Cheese Please.”
My wife thought that she had ordered the former. They gave her the latter.
So how did this culinary travesty occur? Well, the primary reason for the mistake was politeness. My wife is very polite, and when giving her order to the server, she had said, “I would like the grilled cheese, please.” You can see where the confusion arose.
I suspect that the secondary issue is that she was there with me and the “Grilled Cheese Please” is on the Kids & Seniors menu. Neither of us look like kids, but one of us does look like a senior. (It is not her.)
Maureen hesitated to make an issue of the mistake, because she realized that she may have contributed to it by communicating poorly. My wife is very polite and considerate of others. I am not, so I called the waiter over and he brought her the correct sandwich (and was very nice about it, which unfortunately meant that I felt compelled to tip more.)
In the legal profession, clarity in communication is key. Anything which hinders good communication is a bad thing. One would think that law firms would excel in clear, concise communication. And yet, law firms are famous for communicating poorly about all sorts of things, from instructions to Associates about what is required to be done for a client, to discussions with clients about what things are likely to cost or how long it will take to complete them.
One would imagine that this would not be the case, since communication skills are central to the professional tools that lawyers are expected to have. And yet, somehow law firms seem to expect their lawyers and staff to simply know how to communicate effectively, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Something in the recruitment, training, and quality control policies of many firms appears to be amiss.
So what does being polite have to do with any of this? One definition of politeness is “behaviour that is respectful and considerate of other people,” and it is certainly difficult to find fault with that. Where the problem arises is when people are so deferential, respectful, and considerate of those above them in the law firm pyramid, that they do not insist on getting the instructions that they need to do their jobs properly. Now couple that with people higher in the pyramid coming across as being stressed, rushed, impatient, and downright intimidating, and you can see where communication can break down.
Law firms should fix that. People do not join the legal profession because they want to live a plain grilled cheese life.