How to be Polite

See Also: Balancing Politeness with Honesty.

Being polite means being aware of and respecting the feelings of other people.  We may not always notice politeness but we usually notice rudeness or inconsiderate behaviour.

This page takes a step back and covers some of the fundamentals of building and maintaining relationships with others.  We provide examples of the most common behaviours that are considered polite.

Politeness can and will improve your relationships with others, help to build respect and rapport, boost your self-esteem and confidence, and improve your communication skills.

Many of the points raised on this page may seem obvious (in most cases they are common-sense) but all too often social manners are overlooked or forgotten.  Take some time to read through the following points and think about how being polite and demonstrating good social etiquette can improve your relationships with others.

It is easy to recognise when people are rude or inconsiderate but often more difficult to recognise these traits in yourself. Think carefully about the impressions you leave on others and how you can easily avoid being considered ill-mannered or ignorant.

Politeness Guidelines

You can apply the following (where appropriate) to most interactions with others – friends, colleagues, family, customers, everybody!

Always use common sense and try to behave as appropriately as possible, taking into account any cultural differences.

  1. Say hello to people – greet people appropriately, gain eye contact and smile naturally, shake hands or hug where appropriate but say hello, especially to colleagues and other people you see every day. Be approachable. Do not blank people just because you’re having a bad day.
  2. Take time to make some small talk - perhaps mention the weather or ask about the other person’s family or talk about something that is in the news. Make an effort to engage in light conversation, show some interest, but don’t overdo it. Remain friendly and positive and pick up on the verbal and non-verbal signals from the other person.
  3. Try to remember things about the other person and comment appropriately – use their spouse’s name, their birthday, any significant events that have occurred (or are about to occur) in their life.  Always be mindful of others’ problems and difficult life events.
  4. Always use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  Make sure you thank people for their input or contribution and always include ‘please’ when asking for something. If somebody offers you something use 'Yes please' or 'No thank you'.
  5. Praise and/or congratulate others on their achievements.  Praise needs to be seen as genuine – this can be difficult if you feel jealous or angry.

  1. At work be polite and helpful to your subordinates as well as your bosses.  Respect and acknowledge the positions, roles and duties of others.
  2. Use appropriate language – be respectful of gender, race, religion, political viewpoints and other potentially controversial or difficult subjects.  Do not make derogatory or potentially inflammatory comments.
  3. Learn to listen attentively - pay attention to others while they speak – do not get distracted mid-conversation and do not interrupt. (See our pages on Listening Skills for more.)
  4. Respect other people's time.  Try to be precise and to-the-point in explanations without appearing to be rushed.
  5. Be assertive when necessary but respect the right of others to be assertive too.  (See our pages on Assertiveness for more.)

  1. Avoid gossip.  Try to have positive things to say about other people.
  2. Apologise for your mistakes.  If you say or do something that may be considered rude or embarrassing then apologise, but don’t overdo your apologies.
  3. Avoid jargon and vocabulary that may be difficult for others to understand – explain complex ideas or instructions carefully.  Do not appear arrogant.
  4. Respect, and be prepared to listen to, the ideas and opinions of others.
  5. Dress appropriately for the situation.  Avoid wearing revealing clothing in public and avoid staring at others who are wearing revealing clothing.  Avoid being dressed too casually for the situation. (See our page: Personal Appearance)

  1. Use humour carefully.  Aim not to cause any offence and know the boundaries of appropriate language for different situations. (See our page: Developing a Sense of Humour)
  2. Practise good personal hygiene.  Wash and brush your teeth regularly, change your clothes and use deodorant. Avoid strong perfumes, after-shaves or colognes.
  3. Be punctual.  If you have arranged to meet somebody at a certain time make sure you are on time, or even a few minutes early.  If you are going to be late let the other person/people know as far in advance as you can.  Do not rely on feeble or exaggerated excuses to explain lateness.  Respect other people’s time and don’t waste it. (See our page: Time Management for more information.)
  4. Always practise good table manners. When eating around others avoid foods with strong odours, do not talk with your mouth full or chew with your mouth open, and eat quietly.  
  5. Do not pick your nose or ears, chew on your fingers or bite your fingernails in public.  Also avoid playing excessively with your hair.

Good manners cost nothing but can make a big difference to how other people feel about you, or the organisation you are representing. When you’re polite and show good manners others are more likely to be polite and courteous in return.

You can improve your face-to-face or interpersonal relationships with others in many different ways – SkillsYouNeed has numerous pages providing in-depth advice and discussion on specific topics related to interpersonal skills.

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