Proverbs and sayings are often useful shortcuts. We use them to express what we believe to be true in just a few words. In the real world, however, some things that people believe to be true, things they may even use as the basis of their lives and decision-making, just don’t work.
Don’t worry! I’m not setting up to delve into the bowels of religion or politics. But let’s look at two sayings that we hear over and over, in and out of the arts community. These happily bandied-about phrases are presented as charming, hopeful even throwaway/filler statements, useful in those moments when you don’t know what else to say. But they are far more often used to justify and redirect attention from mistakes, or even deliberate wrong. As we navigate the tricky process of building successful professional relationships. these are two fallbacks that are probably doing you more harm than good:
“It never hurts to ask”
It would be lovely is this were true, but in reality, there are many times when asking for a “favor” can hurt your credibility:
- Charm doesn’t make up for your mistakes or for a lack of organization:
- Did you forget to send information when you were supposed to? Own up to it, but don’t get bogged down in excuses. Start with the real truth, then look for a real solution.
- Remember that there are only so many times you can call in favors and ask for special treatment. Don’t let it become a habit, and don’t become known for a pattern like this.
- If you must seek something special, make it as easy for them as possible — have your ducks in a row, and make sure the delay doesn’t cost them anything, as if they give in, it will cost them time and effort. In the same vein…
- Be aware that considering and responding to the question itself is essentially a favor: the approach is taking valuable time from the person whose help you need.
- Bear this in mind as you phrase the question, and make it OK for them to choose not to respond — they may just have too much going on.
- Be prepared for a “no”. If that’s the answer, accept it gracefully, so you have a hope of “yes” in the future.
“It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.”
Actually, it’s often not. This phrase is a favorite with a whole lot of folks who believe themselves to be good people — and they may be. But it’s almost always a rationalization for doing something wrong, phrased with what they believe to be the charm that will relieve them of consequences. More than that, it’s just naïve and self-focused. In the music world, we usually hear this justification for risk taken related to:
- copyright infringement
- stealing and “forgetting” to return property (see also copyright infringement!)
- “last-minute” schedule conflicts / tardiness / no-shows
- failing to pay bills and debts
Some decisions to take action (or not) involve calculated risk. Express permission isn’t always available, but breaking rules and policies can hurt your relationships more than you realize. Acting with integrity is crucial, and a failure to include consequences in your consideration is actually negligence. Start with doing the right thing. Make a real effort. Don’t just assume it will all be OK because you “don’t mean any harm”. And remember: feigning ignorance won’t do your reputation any good. People are just as reticent to work with the clueless as they are with the untrustworthy.
Let’s be better than this! We’re all (hopefully) in constant growth, but if these are phrases you’re tempted to utter to wiggle out of a tough conversation, try to stop wiggling, and face up to what’s really happening. If you can resist the truism and deal with the real situation with a more open, honest attitude, you’re more likely to gain respect, and be the person they want to work with again. You’ll probably also learn something, and you’ll be better able to avoid the problem in the future.
In the meantime, please don’t use either of these sayings in front of me. I may have other words for you.