Too Polite?

Chapter 117 of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works

by Adam Khan

YOU WERE TRAINED FROM Day One to be polite and attentive to the wishes of others because, of course, it is the courteous thing to do. And when you're courteous, people won't be upset with you as often and you'll avoid uncomfortable confrontations and awkward moments.

It's perfectly understandable that parents would want their child to be polite. Parents don't like to be embarrassed. Besides, they want to help the child avoid being shunned by their peers. Being rude makes enemies. So does being selfish.

So it is important for parents to train their children to be courteous.

But there is also such a thing as "too much of a good thing." Courtesy and kindness can be overlearned — to the point where the person doesn't even know what he wants any more — where he'll stand there and listen to the worthless ramblings of an idiot who just likes to talk, without the guts to be "rude" and excuse himself because he's got better things to do.

Someone who has overlearned politeness will be too easily persuaded by family members that such-and-such is right and good, only to figure out later that it's not right and good for him, now that he thinks about it.

When you don't know what you want — when politeness dominates self-awareness — other people's wants hold the floor for lack of opposition. They win by default, as when two parties are scheduled for a hearing and one of the parties doesn't show. The one who shows up wins automatically by default. continue story below

What's lacking when you're too polite is a healthy level of selfishness. If you've been trained from early on to suppress your own wishes, you may suppress them right out of existence. And that doesn't benefit anybody.

This kind of unhealthy politeness only happens in relation to others. Just about everyone can pursue their own agenda when they're by themselves. It is in the presence of other people that the social inhibitions laid down in childhood exert their powerful influence. What they influence are our feelings.

What's missing is a simple knowledge of what we want, what we ourselves would like to see happen, and the willingness to try to make it happen — even when someone else might not like it. And what's needed is the willingness to say what we want.

If you are suffering from excess courtesy, here's what to do: Start small. In little situations every day, make small goals. Ask yourself "What do I want here?" or "What do I think would be the best thing to happen in this situation?" And then try to make it happen.

Inevitably, you'll run into someone else with a different agenda. This other person has a different outcome in mind. She doesn't know about your goal. So you need to let her know what you want.

Sometimes you'll feel like you're being rude. Sometimes the other person will think you're rude. If, like you, she's been overtrained in courtesy and undertrained in healthy selfishness, she'll take up your agenda and help make it happen, or at least she won't oppose you.

If, on the other hand, she is able to say what she wants, the two of you can negotiate. One way or the other, you need to know what you want and you must be willing to speak up about it.

Know what you want and speak up about it.

Where did our rushing, high-pressure culture come from? And what can you do to create peace of mind in your own life? Read more about it in:
We've Been Duped

Here's a completely unconventional anger management technique, and really whole new way of life that prevents much of the anger and conflict from ever starting:
Unnatural Acts

Here's a way to deal with conflict without getting angry, and coming to good solutions:
The Conflict of Honesty

Dale Carnegie, who wrote the famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People, left a chapter out of his book. Find out what he meant to say but didn't about people you cannot win over:
The Bad Apples

An extremely important thing to keep in mind is that judging people will harm you. Learn here how to prevent yourself from making this all-too-human mistake:
Here Comes the Judge

The art of controlling the meanings you're making is an important skill to master. It will literally determine the quality of your life. Read more about it in:
Master the Art of Making Meaning

What if you already knew you ought to change and in what way? And what if that insight has made no difference so far? Here's how to make your insights make a difference:
From Hope to Change

next: Right Makes Might

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, January 2). Too Polite?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: August 11, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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