Being Polite Buys You Time And Leaves Doors Open

Being Polite Buys You Time and Leaves Doors Open

Most of us practise good manners at key times, such as when meeting new people, and in formal settings. But what does it mean to live a life of politeness? Paul Ford writes on Medium how to be polite and the great benefits that practice has.

Picture: gwaar/Flickr

He says:

What I found most appealing was the way that the practice of etiquette let you draw a protective circle around yourself and your emotions. By following the strictures in the book, you could drag yourself through a terrible situation and when it was all over, you could throw your white gloves in the dirty laundry hamper and move on with your life. I figured there was a big world out there and etiquette was going to come in handy along the way.

[...]My ability to go to a party and speak to anyone about anything, to natter and ask questions, to turn the conversation relentlessly towards the speaker, meant that I was gathering huge amounts of information about other people.

Being polite — imagining there's a buffer around everyone — allows you to treat everyone equally:

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don't have to have an opinion. You don't need to make a judgment. I know that doesn't sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life's riches.

That little distance politeness gives you, he concludes, buys everyone time to get comfortable expressing enthusiasm and warmth with each other.

The whole post is a wonderful read.

How to Be Polite [Medium]


    " It’s just a little rule nestled in my brain, filed under Prostitutes. There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of similar just-in-case rules...."

    "...The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same."

    This seems to me to be a massive contradiction - politeness is one thing, but boxing people up into categories which subsequently define how you deal with them is a bit silly imho. why not just be yourself? sure, you may find that some people take an instant dislike to you, but then those people probably wouldn't end up being long term friends or whatever anyway, because you'd always have to be the "polite" version of you in order to maintain a conversation. the corollary is that, if you just act like yourself, while you might not make as many acquaintances at parties, the people that take an instant shine to you like you for who you actually are, not for the polite facade that you put on in order to make small talk.

    also, 'what do you do' is the WORST conversation starter ever...just saying

      You can have fun with it if you try, though. Subvert the trope.
      "What do you do?"
      "I'm in finance."
      "Now, see, that's interesting that when I asked what you do, you nominated your job." Along with follow-ups, "Do you LIKE what you do? Is there anything you'd rather do? Let's talk about that. How much research have you done into it? What draws you to it?"

      It can be a bit contrived, but if you can see the other person is bored and/or receptive to playing with a conversation with a stranger, it's a decent way to pass the time in an interesting way. Seriously... People tend to be better-informed, more animated, and more confident when discussing their passions, and that always makes for more fun listening.

      Other thoughts on what to ask strangers up-front:
      I remember a thought exercise posed, "What question would you ask your long-lost child?"
      I figured: "What do you play?"

      They could reply with a sport, an instrument, a video game, 'the market', or if they're being cute, 'heart-strings' or similar. You can learn a lot about someone from how they interpret an open question. There's going to be a pretty big difference between someone who answers the question, "What do you play," with "centre-forward, mostly," compared to even just the sport's name. It's like they assume you're talking about a specific sport. If someone says, "Violin," they've got a different story and different priorities to someone who says, "First chair Violin."

      And maybe, y'know, you'll get lucky and find someone who replies back with a video game title or genre.

        yeah true - even just asking it in a different way generally prompts better responses - couldn't agree more about asking people about their passions though. my experience is that most people aren't that passionate about their work though. even just, 'what are you passionate about' or 'what excites you' tend to get interesting responses

        btw i really like "when i asked you what you do, you nominated your job", that's gold!

          Heh. You'd have to be careful, but it's a bit of a wank line. Everyone knows that the social norm is 'what do you do' relates to employment. Like you mentioned, I'd rather avoid 'what do you do' altogether, but as ham-fisted as it is, a segue is a segue.

    edit: duplicate post *fp

    Last edited 05/09/14 11:35 am

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now