Be Polite

Being polite is a matter of etiquette; it's about respect, and being considerate of people's feelings, culture, and values. It does not seem difficult, but for many people it remains a challenge. While some people have no interest whatsoever in politesse, if you're reading this you're probably wondering how you can improve your etiquette. At the very least, you might want to know how to avoid being rude or boorish, which can put off the people around you. Being polite is also a good way to make friends.


General Politeness

  1. Be gentle, not forceful or insistent. This doesn't mean you need to act like a meek, quiet pushover. It means that when you do something, offer something, or make a request, you do it without pressuring the people around you and making them feel like they're being pushed into a corner.
    • For example, if you're having a conversation, it's one thing to ask a question or offer your opinion, but it's rude to push the matter when someone has expressed discomfort (verbally or non-verbally) about the subject.
    • Even if you're trying to help, like offering to pay for lunch or wash the dishes, don't be too insistent. If the person says "No, thank you, I've got it" then say "Please, I'd really love to help." If they still say no, then let it go. They obviously want to treat you, so let them, and return the favor some other time.
  2. When in doubt, observe others. How are they greeting and addressing each other? What are they doing with their coats? What kinds of topics are they discussing? Different settings require different standards of formality, and those standards often define what is polite and what is not.
    • A work-related dinner, and holiday gathering, a wedding, and a funeral will all demand a different, but generally somewhat more formal tone than a party with a group of friends.
  3. Be nice. Always be courteous, as you might meet this person again in another setting and wouldn't want to have caused negative memories that would give you a bad standing. If someone annoys or even insults you, don't get into an argument. Say "Let's agree to disagree" and change the subject, politely debate, or simply excuse yourself from the conversation.
  4. Start a conversation by asking questions about the other person. Try not to talk about yourself too much—if they want to know (or are polite) they'll ask. Be confident and charming. Do not hog the conversation, that is arrogant and boorish. Look interested and listen to the answers.
    • Don't look over the person's shoulder or around the room when they are talking, or let your eyes linger on the hot new guest who just walked in. That implies you are distracted or not interested—that your conversational companion is too trivial or tedious to bother paying attention to.
  5. Shake hands firmly and look your acquaintance in the eye when doing so. You might want to practice this a bit so you don't squish people's hands, depending on how strong you are. That would make them feel uncomfortable. Beware especially when shaking hands of women who are wearing rings. Too much pressure can be very painful.
    • Remember too that many people with an "old-school" etiquette background (especially if you are in Europe) find it inappropriate to offer your hand for a handshake to a lady or an older gentleman if you are a gentleman, or to an older lady, if you are a lady. Always greet the other person first, but wait for them to extend their hand. On the other hand, if you are the older person or lady, keep in mind that if you do not extend your hand, the other person may feel rejected, as he or she is not permitted to shake your hand. Usually this situation only takes half a second in checking whether the other person is moving towards you for a handshake. Be alert.
    • Do not approach someone with an already outstretched hand. That is pushy. If you want someone to know you are moving towards them, establish a firm eye contact and smile, maybe opening your arms a little (bent at the elbow) to make a welcoming gesture.
  6. Know the proper dinner etiquette. For silverware, go from the outside, in. Place your napkin on your lap, and do not add anything to the table that was not there when you got there (cell phone, glasses, jewelry). Put your purse between your feet, under your chair. Women should not apply makeup at the table. It is rude and demonstrates a lack of refinement. If you want to fix your makeup or check if something is in your teeth, go to the restroom.
  7. Have a laugh which shows you are having fun, without being loud. Loudness either indicates arrogance or insecurity. A charming polite person makes another person feel good. Keep this goal in mind, be considerate of other people's needs and opinions. Don't make derogatory remarks towards any kind of ethnic, political or religious groups under any circumstances.
  8. Be graceful and show elegance. Carry yourself smoothly, with a sense of calm, yet involved in the moment. People will notice this subtle charm and this will help you greatly.
  9. Be aware that etiquette and manners vary depending on the cultural region you are sure to study the local customs before you travel!

Polite Responses

  1. Respond to the situation appropriately. For many social situations, there are general guidelines for polite conversation. The ability to listen to what the other person is saying, and responding thoughtfully, without sarcasm, insult, or being overly-casual, are key to smooth interactions. Here are some examples:
  2. Personal greetings. If you're speaking with peers, say hello by name, and if appropriate, extend the greeting to be welcoming. The polite response is in keeping with the greeting. For example:
    • "Good morning, Jess."
      • "Good morning, Peter."
    • In this case, both the greeter and the greeted keep it short, professional, and courteous. Here's another example, extending it a bit:
    • "Good morning, Jess, good to see you today."
      • "Thank you, Peter. It's good to see you too."
    • If you're greeting somebody above your peer group—perhaps your boss, an important person, or somebody else who "outranks" you socially, it's best to keep it formal. For example:
    • "Good morning, Jess."
      • "Good morning, Mr. Jones."
    • If Mr. Jones says "Call me Peter," by all means do. But do not do so until invited.
  3. Phone greetings. Politeness when it comes to phones depends entirely on the situation. If you're in a business environment, how you answer the phone will depend in large part on your position in the company. The way you answer an outside call from a potential customer might be something like this:
    • "Hello, ABC Corporation, this is Mr. Applemore speaking. How may I help you today?"
  4. Don't bark. There is a trend, for internal calls, to answer by barking out your department. Even if it's common practice, it's far better to actually speak politely:
    • "Sales." This might as well be a robot answering the phone. It conveys no sense that there's anybody on the line that cares about anything. A better approach would be:
    • "Sales, this is Eleonore. How can I help you today?"
  5. Introductions. This common situation often leaves people wondering what to say, and who should say it. Here are some guidelines.[1]
    • Formal situations. In formal situations, you don't "introduce" people, you "present" them. There is a hierarchy involved:
    • The younger or less-accomplished person is always introduced to the older or more accomplished person:
      • "Mr. Elder, may I present Mr. Green?"
    • A gentleman is always presented to a lady:
      • "Ms. Jones, may I present Mr. Davis?"
    • Presidents, cardinals, and reigning monarchs are all presented to, regardless of age, sex, or station:
      • "Mr. President, I have the honor to present Ms. Jones of Portland, Oregon."
    • Informal situations. Informal situations have much the same guidelines as formal situations—younger to older, less accomplished to more accomplished, women to men—but without the worry of societal banishment should you get it wrong! Also, you can "introduce" one to another, or omit the word altogether, thus:
      • "Mr. Elder, may I introduce Mr. Green, from accounting?" Alternately, a simple exchange of names works as well:
      • "Mr. Elder, Mr. Green." While there's no formal presentation here, "rank" is established by inflection. The name of the elder is said in the form of a question, and the name of the younger is spoken as a simple statement: "Mr. Elder? Mr. Green."
    • The polite response when you are introduced is simply, "How do you do?"
    • Mr. Jones, may I present Ms. Abernathy?" Ms Abernathy says "How do you do." Mr. Jones may respond as desired.


  • Remember to say please and thank you.
  • Try not to interrupt people when they're talking to someone else or in the middle of something.
  • Be polite to the servers (and tip appropriately if you are the host).
  • It is always much worse to be caught in a lie than to tell the truth.
  • Don't put elbows on the table or reach over people for the salt and pepper. Always ask if they can please pass it to you.
  • Tailor your behavior to the occasion. You can be more loose at a family party then at a society dinner. This goes for clothing, too. If you are unsure what kind of event you will be attending, ask what kind of party/restaurant/bar it is so you can come prepared. Nothing is more unpleasant than standing in the middle of a formal cocktail party in leather pants and biker boots—unless it's standing in the middle of a biker bar in a tuxedo.
  • Never "help yourself" unless whoever it is, you are with, says you can.
  • Never insist if someone has refused. It makes you look like you can't take 'no' for an answer.
  • Don't forget to respect the person you are facing.
  • Treat everyone the same no matter their background, race, appearance, etc.
  • Take your hat off when greeting someone, entering a room, and when the national anthem is being played/sung.

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Sources and Citations