Relationship Politeness

Here is a brief section on relationship politeness that will appear in the next edition of Interpersonal Messages. A great deal more could be said about politeness in relationships; this brief passage is just designed to raise the issue.

Not surprisingly, your level of politeness will vary with your relationship stage.
Politeness is greatest during the contact and involvement stages—you want to put your best foot forward if the relationship is to be established and perhaps moved forward.
During the intimacy stage, you’re likely to relax your politeness, at least the rules of politeness that would operate in social settings. As noted earlier, as the relationship becomes more interpersonal, the rules that guide the relationship are not so much the rules of society as they are the rules established by the individuals themselves. With intimates, you know each other so well that you feel you can dispense with the “please” and “excuse me” or with prefacing requests with, for example, “Can I please ask you a favor” or “Would you mind helping me here?”
Relaxing politeness as in intimacy, however, is not necessarily a good thing; in fact, politeness during the intimacy stage helps to maintain the relationship and ensure relationship satisfaction. Relaxing politeness too much may be interpreted as a decrease in caring and respect for the other person which will increase dissatisfaction and perhaps move the relationship away from intimacy.
During the deterioration and dissolution stages, you’re not likely to be concerned with politeness. You may even go out of your way to be impolite as an expression of your dislike or even hostility. In some cases, of course, the dissolution of a relationship is an amicable one where politeness would be relatively high with perhaps the idea of remaining friends but at a less intimate level than previously.
If you wish to repair the relationship, then you’re likely to be extremely polite, perhaps on the same level as during the contact and involvement stages. Your politeness in starting and growing the relationship is likely to be echoed in your attempts to re-start (or repair) your relationship.


Interpersonal Communication around the World

Zaklady Mezilidske Komunikace (a Czech translation of Essentials of Human Communication, 6th edition) has just been published and arrived today (I’m very happy to say) and reminded me of something I read in an introductory interpersonal textbook: “formal study of interpersonal communication occurs almost exclusively in the United States.” This statement is simply untrue and gives the impression that people in other countries don't recognize the importance of interpersonal communication study. A few examples from my own books (and I’m sure other textbook authors could add their own examples): Three editions of my Interpersonal Communication Book have been published in Chinese (two by Chinese publishers and one by a Taiwan publisher), two editions of Messages have been published in French, and editions of Essentials of Human Communication and Human Communication (each dealing with interpersonal communication in some depth) have been published in Indonesian, Czech, and Greek as well as in adaptations published in New Zealand and Canada. The study of communication in all its forms is definitely not unique to the US; it is alive and well throughout the world.


Conversational Politeness

The following is a section on politeness that will appear in the chapter on conversation in the revision of Interpersonal Messages.

Conversational Politeness
Conversation is expected (at least in many cases) to follow the principle of politeness. Six maxims of politeness have been identified by linguist Geoffrey Leech (1983) and seem to encompass a great deal of what we commonly think of as conversational politeness. Before reading about these maxims take the following self-test to help you personalize the material that follows.
Test Yourself: How Polite Are You?
Try estimating your own level of politeness. For each of the statements below indicate how closely they describe your typical communication. Avoid giving responses that you feel might be considered “socially acceptable;” instead, give responses that accurately represent your typical communication behavior. Use a 10-point scale with 10 being “very accurate description of my typical conversation” and 1 being “very inaccurate description of my typical conversation.”
_____ 1. I tend not to ask others to do something or to otherwise impose on others.
_____ 2. I tend to put others first, before myself.
_____ 3. I maximize the expression of approval of others and minimize any disapproval.
_____ 4. I seldom praise myself but often praise others.
_____ 5. I maximize the expression of agreement and minimize disagreement.
_____ 6. I maximize my sympathy for another and minimize any feelings of antipathy.
How did you do? All six statements would characterize politeness and so high numbers, say 8-10s, would indicate politeness whereas low numbers, say 4-1s, would indicate impoliteness.
What will you do? As you read this material, personalize it with examples from your own interpersonal interactions and try to identify specific examples and situations in which increased politeness might have been more effective.
The maxim of tact (Statement 1 in the self-test) helps to maintain the other’s autonomy (what we referred to earlier as negative face, pp. 00-00). Tact in your conversation would mean that you do not impose on others or challenge their right to do as they wish. For example, if you wanted to ask someone a favor, using the maxim of tact, you might say something like, “I know you’re very busy but. . .” or “I don’t mean to impose, but. . .” Not using the maxim of tact, you might say something like, “You have to lend me your car this weekend” or “I’m going to use your ATM card.”
The maxim of generosity (Statement 2) helps to confirm the other person’s importance, the importance of the person’s time, insight, or talent, for example. Using the maxim of generosity, you might say, “I’ll walk the dog; I see you’re busy” and violating the maxim, you might say, “I’m really busy, why don’t you walk the dog; you’re not doing anything important.”
The maxim of approbation (Statement 3) refers to praising someone or complimenting the person in some way (for example, “I was really moved by your poem”) and minimizing any expression of criticism or disapproval (for example, “For a first effort, that poem wasn’t half bad”).
The maxim of modesty (Statement 4) minimizes any praise or compliments you might receive. At the same time, you might praise and compliment the other person. For example, using this maxim you might say something like, “Well, thank you, but I couldn’t have done this without your input; that was the crucial element.” Violating this maxim, you might say, “Yes, thank you, it was one of my best efforts, I have to admit.”
The maxim of agreement (Statement 5) refers to your seeking out areas of agreement and expressing them (“That color you selected was just right; it makes the room exciting”) and at the same time to avoid and not express (or at least minimize) disagreements (“It’s an interesting choice, very different”). In violation of this maxim, you might say “That color—how can you stand it?”
The maxim of sympathy (Statement 6) refers to the expression of understanding, sympathy, empathy, supportiveness, and the like for the other person. Using this maxim you might say “I understand your feelings; I’m so sorry.” If you violated this maxim you might say, for example, “You’re making a fuss over nothing” or “You get upset over the least little thing; what is it this time?”

The Values of a Communication Course

I wrote the following letter to my nephew as he takes his first communication course and I wanted to impress on him the tremendous values he'll get out of the course. And then I thought it might be of interest to other students taking their first course.

Hi, Michael—
I hear you’re taking a communication course. Congratulations! It was a wise move on your part. And if it was required, then it was a wise move on the part of your college. I know you’re going to profit tremendously from this course if you apply yourself, which I’m sure you’re going to do. But, to motivate you perhaps a bit more, let me remind you of just a few of the benefits you’ll get from learning the theory and skills of communication. One day I should write a book about the values of communication study because I think many students don’t realize just how important communication is. I know that many students (before they entered my classroom, of course) think that since they’ve been communicating for some time that they therefore know how to do it and so don’t need a course in communication. And while it’s true that they know how to communicate, what is also true is that they can learn to communicate more effectively and in ways that will prove more personally satisfying. And that’s where your communication course comes in; it will provide you with the knowledge and the skills you’ll need to make your own communication more effective.
Communication is simply a major part of your world and if you’re going to understand this world, you need to understand communication—what it is and how it works, what it can do and what it can’t do. The more you understand about how communication works, the more you’ll find yourself in control of communication and the greater will be your skills for accomplishing a wide variety of goals.
At the start, consider that it’s through communication that you reveal who you are to others, or more accurately, who you want them to see you as. And so you use what we call “impression management strategies” to get people to like you, to find you attractive, to believe you, to follow you, to excuse you when you make a mistake. And, of course, these are strategies of communication; you create the impression of yourself that you give others through the messages you send and the way you receive or listen to the messages of others.
The skills of interpersonal communication will be largely responsible for the relationships you develop, maintain, or dissolve—your friendship, romantic, family, and work relationships. In fact, it would be difficult to visualize any interpersonal relationship without recognizing the central role that communication plays in every stage of a relationship—from development, through involvement and intimacy, and perhaps through deterioration, repair, and dissolution. Understanding how communication works at all stages of relationships will enable you to more effectively navigate your own movement through the relationship mazes you’ll find throughout your life so that you develop relationships that are satisfying, mutually productive, and that simply make you happy.
Your success in getting a job and in rising in the organizational hierarchy will be largely based on your communication skills. I will spare you the citation of studies, but the upshot of a tremendous amount of research is that communication consistently emerges as the single most important quality that employment interviewers look for in a candidate (yes, even more than a knowledge of the candidate’s major). And they look for that quality simply because that is the quality that is most important for the job—for just about any job you can think of.
A great part of your work life will likely be spent in groups—whether face-to-face or virtual. And your success in these groups, as a member and as a leader, will largely depend on your communication abilities. Understanding how groups operate, the stages they go through, the roles of members and leaders, the available decision making processes, and lots more will enable you to function more effectively in a wide variety of work (and social) groups. As you go up the organizational ladder and increase your role in civic life, the role of communication will become even more important and you’ll need the skills of public speaking. Understanding different audiences; the new technologies of public speaking; the role of research, evidence, and supporting materials; organizational strategies; and, how to use these insights in preparing and presenting speeches will enable you to effectively inform and persuade large audiences—a crucial skill for management.
Well, Michael, this is a long way of saying that there will never come a time in your life when communication will not be a major factor influencing your satisfaction and your success. So, study hard; there’s lots to learn. And, you’ll be rewarded.


Nonverbal Politeness

Here is a very brief (too brief actually) section on nonverbal politeness (which will appear in the next edition of Interpersonal Messages)--offerred more in the nature of a stimulus for considering the role of nonverbal messages in politeness/impoliteness than in presenting an exhaustive list of dos and don'ts.

Often we think of politeness as a verbal skill, but our gestures and nonverbal cue can also signal polite or impolite behavior.
Maintaining eye contact with the speaker—whether at a meeting, in the hallway, or on an elevator—communicates politeness. It says that you are giving the person the consideration of your full attention. Eye contact that is too focused and too prolonged is likely to be seen as invasive and impolite.
Using certain adaptors in public—for example, combing your hair, picking your teeth, or putting your pinky in your ear—would be considered impolite. And, not surprisingly, the greater the formality of the situation, the greater the perception of impoliteness is likely to be. So, for example, combing your hair while sitting with two or three friends would probably not be considered impolite (or perhaps only mildly so) but in a classroom or at a company meeting, it would be considered inappropriate.
Strong cologne or perfume can often be impolite. While you may enjoy the scent, those around you may find it unpleasant and intrusive. Much like others do not want to hear your cell messages, they probably don’t want to have their sense of smell invaded either.
Touching another person may or may not be considered impolite, depending on the relationship you have with the other person and on the context in which you find yourselves. The best advice to give here is to avoid touching unless it’s part of the culture of the group or organization. The handshake, on the other hand, is not only a permitted form of touching, it is often essential. Some guidelines for the handshake—something we often do mindlessly and, as a result, less effectively than we might, will be presented in a future post.


Politeness and Verbal Messages

Here is a little piece that will appear in the chapter on verbal messages in the next edition of Interpersonal Messages.

Message Meanings Vary in Politeness

It will come as no surprise that messages vary greatly in politeness. Polite messages reflect positively on the other person (for example, compliments or pats on the back) and respect the other person’s right to be independent and autonomous (for example, asking permission or acknowledging the person’s right to refuse). Impolite messages attack our needs to be seen positively (for example, criticism or negative facial expressions) and to be autonomous (making demands or forcing another to do something).

Politeness and Directness
Directness is usually less polite and may infringe on a person’s need to maintain negative face—Write me a recommendation, Lend me $100. Indirectness—Do you think you could write a recommendation for me? Would it be possible to lend me $100?—is often more polite because it allows the person to maintain autonomy and provides an acceptable way for the person to refuse your request (thus helping to maintain the person’s negative face needs).
Indirect messages allow you to express a desire without insulting or offending anyone; they allow you to observe the rules of polite interaction. So instead of saying, “I’m bored with this group,” you say, “It’s getting late and I have to get up early tomorrow,” or you look at your watch and pretend to be surprised by the time. Instead of saying, “This food tastes like cardboard,” you say, “I just started my diet”. In each instance you’re stating a preference but are saying it indirectly so as to avoid offending someone.
The differences between direct and indirect messages may easily create misunderstandings. For example, a person who uses an indirect style of speech may be doing so to be polite and may have been taught this style by his or her culture. If you assume, instead, that the person is using indirectness to be manipulative, because your culture regards it so, then miscommunication is inevitable.
Photo 5.3

Politeness and Gender
There are considerable gender differences in politeness (Tannen, 1994b, Holmes, 1995; Kapoor, Hughes, Baldwin, & Blue, 2003; Dindia & Canary, 2006). Among the research findings are, for example, that women are more polite and more indirect in giving orders than are men; they are more likely to say, for example, “it would be great if these letters could go out today” than “Have these letters out by three.” Men are more likely to be indirect when they express weakness, reveal a problem, or admit an error. Generally, men will speak indirectly when expressing meanings that violate the masculine stereotype (for example, messages of weakness or doubt or incompetence). Women’s greater politeness is also seen in the finding that women express empathy, sympathy, and supportiveness more than men. Women also apologize more than men and women make more apologies to other women whereas men make more apologies to women.

Politeness Online
Internet communication has very specific rules for politeness, called netiquette (Kallos, 2005). Much as the rules of etiquette provide guidance in communicating in social situations, the rules of netiquette provide guidance in communicating over the Net and are of major concern to just about everyone using computer-mediated communication (Berry, 2004; Fuller, 2004). These rules are helpful for making Internet communication more pleasant and easier and also for achieving greater personal efficiency. Here are several netiquette guidelines:
• Familiarize yourself with the site before contributing. Before asking questions about the system, read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Lurk before speaking; read posted notices and conversations before you contribute anything yourself. Lurking (which, in CMC, is good) will help you learn the rules of the particular group and will help you avoid saying things you’d like to take back.
• Be brief. Communicate only the information that is needed; communicate clearly, briefly, and in an organized way.
• Don’t shout. WRITING IN CAPS IS PERCEIVED AS SHOUTING. It’s okay to use caps occasionally to achieve emphasis. If you wish to give emphasis, highlight _like this_ or *like this*.
• Don’t spam or flame. Don’t send unsolicited mail, repeatedly send the same mail, or post the same message (or irrelevant messages) to lots of newsgroups. As in face-to-face conflicts, don’t make personal attacks on other users.
• Avoid offensive language. Refrain from expressions that would be considered offensive to others, such as sexist or racist terms. As you may know, software is now available that will scan your e-mail, alert you if you may have broken an organizational rule, and give you a chance to revise your potentially offensive e-mail (Schwartz, 2005).
A special case of online politeness concerns the ever popular social networking sites, a topic noted in Table 5.1.

Table 5.1 Social Networking Politeness
The social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace have developed their own rules of politeness. Here are several:
1. Refuse a request for friendship gently or ignore it. There’s no need to go into great detail about why you don’t want to be friends with this person. And if you’re refused, don’t ask for reasons. Social networkers consider it impolite to ask for reasons why your request is refused.
2. Engage in social networking foreplay before asking someone to be your friend. For example, send a personal message to the person complimenting the person’s post.
3. Avoid writing anything negative on a person’s wall or posting unflattering photos of another person or messages that will embarrass another person or generate conflict.
4. Don’t use social networking information outside the network. It’s considered inappropriate and impolite to relay information on Facebook, for example, to those who are not themselves friends.
5. Avoid asking to be friends with someone who you suspect may have reason for not wanting to admit you. For example, your work associate may not want you to see her or his profile; if you ask, you put your colleague in an awkward position. You might use indirect messages; for example, you might say that you want to expand your networking to work colleagues and see how your colleague responds.



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