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How to Be Polite, by Paul Ford

Stashed in: #lifehacks, #love, Influence!, Emotion, Listen!, Empathy, Attention, Awesome, Music Videos!, Remind Me, Etiquette!, Give and Take, Medium, Most Important Stash Ever, No touching!, communication

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Sort of convinced this is the Panda's secret...

It's the stubborn power of politeness over time!

Most people don’t notice I’m polite, which is sort of the point. I don’t look polite. I am big and droopy and need a haircut. No soul would associate me with watercress sandwiches. Still, every year or so someone takes me aside and says, you actually are weirdly polite, aren’t you? And I always thrill. They noticed.

The complimenters don’t always formulate it so gently. For example, after two years ago at the end of an arduous corporate project, slowly turning a thousand red squares in a spreadsheet to yellow, then green, my officemate turned to me and said: “I thought you were a terrible ass-kisser when we started working together.”

She paused and frowned. “But it actually helped get things done. It was a strategy.” (That is how an impolite person gives a compliment. Which I gladly accepted.)

She was surprised to see the stubborn power of politeness over time. Over time. That’s the thing. 


One way to be polite is by not touching people unless they specifically invite it. You’d be amazed at how often people screw this up; just search the Internet for “touch black woman hair” and marvel at the number of articles, posts, and guides.

maybe, but i find people like being touched by a polite woman. :)

i don't think it has ever backfired on me.  but i also don't go up to a black woman saying, "ooooh!" touching her hair like she's on display for my enjoyment.  that's just dumb.

You're right. Polite women can touch. But polite men should keep their hands to themselves. 

you posted that at 11:11!!  wish time!

I wish I was a little bit taller. I wish I was a baller. 

haha!  :)  that's a good song.

Yeah, 1995. Compare with the 2013 "I Wish" from Cheryl Lloyd:

He's giving away the secret!!

Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me. I will share it with you because I like and respect you, and it is clear to me that you’ll know how to apply it wisely: When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”

Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult. I once went to a party and met a very beautiful woman whose job was to help celebrities wear Harry Winston jewelry. I could tell that she was disappointed to be introduced to this rumpled giant in an off-brand shirt, but when I told her that her job sounded difficult to me she brightened and spoke for 30 straight minutes about sapphires and Jessica Simpson. She kept touching me as she talked. I forgave her for that. I didn’t reveal a single detail about myself, including my name. Eventually someone pulled me back into the party. The celebrity jewelry coordinator smiled and grabbed my hand and said, “I like you!” She seemed so relieved to have unburdened herself. I counted it as a great accomplishment. Maybe a hundred times since I’ve said, “wow, that sounds hard” to a stranger, always to great effect. I stay home with my kids and have no life left to me, so take this party trick, my gift to you.

A friend and I came up with a game called Raconteur. You pair up with another Raconteur at a party and talk to everyone you can. You score points by getting people to disclose something about their lives. If you dominate the conversation, you lose a point. The two raconteurs communicate using hand signals and keep a tally on a sheet of paper or in their minds. You’d think people would notice but they are so amused by the attention that the fact you’re playing Raconteur escapes their attention.

Master this phrase: "Wow, that sounds hard."

Politeness buys you time.

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.

There is one other aspect of my politeness that I am reluctant to mention. But I will. I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities. What does the jewelry feel like in your hand? What do the celebrities feel like in your hand? Which one is more smooth?

This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time.

Warmth and enthusiasm make people suspicious. A little distance buys everyone time.


Wow, who knew an article on politeness could be so deep and thoughtful? To me, the writer goes beyond politeness to a foundation of human connection. Very thought-provoking. 

Truth. The author Paul Ford has blogged and tweeted as @ftrain for years: 

I do note that most of what he calls being polite I would call ACTIVE LISTENING.

the truth is, people want attention and they love to get it.  so give it.  people like that!

Give people attention AND be genuinely interested in what they say. Ask questions. 

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