Is it polite to say 'please'? Or strategy?
Is it polite to say 'please'? Or strategy?

Is it polite to say 'please'? Or strategy?


Is it polite to say 'please'? Or strategy?

Saying the word 'please' is not polite, but rather a tactic, a recent study has revealed.

From a young age, most children grow up learning to say 'please' as a polite way to ask for something.

Such words are called 'magic words', where children's various wishes or demands are politely suggested by teaching them courtesy and respect.

A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles - UCL suggests that 'please' is not always meant to show politeness.

Instead, the word 'please' is used as a strategic tool, used in certain situations to remove potential conflicts or obstacles.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed academic journal 'Social Psychology Quarterly', was conducted by sociologists at UCL.

Research has shown that people use the word 'please' less often than expected, and more often than not, people use the word 'please' in response to the word 'no'.

For example – when someone says 'please' when asking someone to pass water on the dinner table or asking for a lift to the airport, the unwritten meaning is that the person saying please is probably unwilling to help or busy with something else. As a result, the word 'please' is added to give a little more emphasis to the request.

Various findings from these studies suggest that teaching children to be sensitive to specific situations may be more effective than teaching them 'one-size-fits-all' or one-size-fits-all rules about politeness.

“Any general rule, such as saying 'please' or 'thank you', does not take into account any particular situation. And it's not always about respect or politeness," said Andrew Chalfone, a graduate student at UCL and lead author of the study.

"And this approach may not be very effective." Even after saying 'please' in some cases, it risks backfiring.

“Saying 'please' in the wrong context can sound a bit pushy. This makes the willingness to help others uncertain."

Andrew Chalfone and his colleagues, UCL sociologists Giovanni Rossi and Tanya Stivers, analyzed 17 hours of video-recorded conversations between their own family members, friends and colleagues for the study.

These recordings are naturally captured in a variety of environments. Examples include homes, workplaces and outdoor areas.

Participants in this study came from diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, who generally spoke British and American English. However, it did not include matters such as written or oral business transactions and telephone solicitations.

The study, which monitored more than 1,000 people's requests, found that the word 'please' was used 69 times, seven per cent of the time. And in most cases the word is used, when there is danger of falling into the face of an obstacle. Nor did respectability, gender differences, or the relative size of the request play a role.

About half of the test takers were found to use the word in cases where the requester had previously experienced reluctance or had previously had the request rejected.

For example, a woman was asked by her husband to sit at the table for dinner, but repeatedly saying 'please' did not work.

Meanwhile, in a third of cases, the person being solicited is busy with other work. For example, a man uses the word 'please' to request his wife to make soup, despite knowing that his wife is busy washing baby bottles.

But interestingly, children use the word 'please' in similar situations as adults. In an observational video, a teenage girl asks her mother to buy a dress using the word 'please' just to feel rejected. Because his similar request was rejected earlier.

"Each community has its own set of rules that define what constitutes polite behavior," says Andrew Chalfone.

"We want to understand whether these rules are followed in everyday life, or whether there are special rules."

By studying different real-life contexts, researchers hope to develop better models for understanding the dynamics of social behavior.