The Law of Two Feet

To ‘be British’ is often and stereotypically regarded as being overly polite and frustratingly apologetic; apologising when someone bumps into you, saying sorry for tripping over bag left in the aisle of a train and simply pretending you’ve heard what someone’s said because asking them to repeat it for a third time is just awkward.

There’s a time and a place for this behaviour, I actually don’t mind it too much as it often keeps the world a bit more free flowing and easy to bare. Those times when you get a bashed in the shoulder as a passer by tries to scoot past a crowd could cause stress and anxiety yet we’re programmed to apologise for our own existence in an effort to relieve the tension. Surprisingly it works, until you’re in a meeting.

Sometimes we have the opposite reaction, we’ll sit silently apologising as a meeting descends into an unproductive mess of passive aggressive conflict. Tumbleweeds sail across the table as that one voice cuts over the conversation with the conviction of clarity but the comprehension of a heffalump. It’s all very British to avoid conflict wherever we can, we let them have their say, the disruption passes and we try and get on with something more useful.

I’d love to see silent politeness in meetings trumped by the law of two feet. In short, everyone is given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution. The idea that we should all being responsible and self aware enough to acknowledge when we’re not being helpful is one that is equally British and polite. Switching the responsibility from the group as a whole to each individual. If things aren’t working out the way you’d hoped, the “polite” thing to do is going off to do something else.

the "polite" thing to do is going off to do something else

I don’t mean to say that I want to see an end to people challenging ideas or learning from each others questions as that’s exactly what the law of two feet is trying to aid but if you’re in a discussion and you feel like you’re sat at the wrong table, we should feel empowered to remove ourselves from the situation.

Does anyone use this already? If so, how successful is it?