The risk of polite misunderstandings


We review evidence showing that politeness taxes mental resources and creates confusion about what is truly meant during interactions. While this confusion can be useful in low-stakes situations, it can have negative, even dangerous consequences in high-stakes situations such as flying a plane in an emergency or helping a patient decide on a course of treatment. Unfortunately, high-stakes situations are especially conducive to politeness-based misunderstandings. Although policies that discourage politeness in high-stakes situations are undergoing empirical assessment, we suggest that research is needed on the nonverbal cues that help people disambiguate polite statements.

Current Directions in Psychological Science
JF Bonnefon
JF Bonnefon
Behavioral Scientist