Members in the Media

How rude: When politeness backfires

Dr. Aidan Feeney has a few thoughts about politeness. Essentially, he thinks it has the ability to cost lives.

“The more serious the situation, the more likely you are to be polite and the more room there is for confusion,” says Feeney, a professor at the school of psychology at Queen’s University, Belfast, and co-author of a new paper entitled “The Risk of Polite Misunderstanding,” published last week by the Association of Psychological Science. “We’re motivated to protect the face of the people we’re speaking with, but when delivering bad news, or explaining a grave situation, a lack of bluntness makes a high-stakes situation much more grave.”

Feeney and his cohorts – who include Wim De Neys and Jean-Francois Bonnefon, a professor who has spent almost a decade researching politeness at the Universit de Toulouse in Bonnefont, France – are not out to incite a wave of rudeness, though. For the most part, Feeney says a little politeness in everyday society is just fine.

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