Displaying Friendliness

Whereas deference politeness is only about mitigating a threat of an imposition, inclusion politeness has more to do with maintaining a relationship. It’s about showing interest in the listener and his interests and wants. When it is deliberate it may be exaggerated (e.g. Your hair looks great today), but even when the message “I care about your hair” is not sincere, the message “I care to be on good terms with you” is.

The following is not intended as a prescription for proper behavior, but rather as a clarification of inclusion politeness strategies:

Convey interest.

Target items the listener wants the speaker to notice and approve of:
Notice changes. You cut your hair!
Notice condition and need. That was a long trip, you must be tired.
Notice possessions. Lovely shoes! Where did you buy them?
Notice blunder (addressee face threat act towards himself) and minimize it. Ha! Someone got the hiccups!
The deference politeness strategy would be to ignore blunders.
Exaggerated interest can be conveyed using adjectives, tone of voice and intonation: Fantastic! I’ve never seen such a marvellous pencil!

Claim in-group membership.

Use in-group identity markers. For example, use terms of address like Mom, brother, sister, honey, cutie, guys; use nicknames.
Use in-group language, dialect or jargon.
Bring up references of shared knowledge or beliefs.
Be informal. use slang or contraction (e.g. Mind if I sit here?). Swearing, using direct speech acts and flouting Grice’s maxims show an awareness that the relationship is strong enough to cope with what would normally be considered impolite.
Use “we” instead of “you” or “me”.
Have we done our homework (teacher to student).
Let’s clean this mess (meaning “I want you to clean the mess”).
Let’s go for a walk (instead of “I want you to walk with me”).

Claim common ground.

Seek agreement. Choose a safe topic, like the weather, the irritations of waiting in line, or a a more specific topic that stems from some common context.
Making a request is often preceded by small talk on safe topics, which help impress the listener that you’re not only there to fulfill your own need, but that you care about your relationship with him.
Use repetition. Repeat what the conversation partner says to demonstrate attention, comprehension and emotional unison.
A I’m going on a vacation to Rome
B: Rome!
Avoid disagreement.
Disagreement is a dis-preferred mode of action and should be committed sparingly and with care.
I’m afraid I need to disagree with you. Elephants don’t actually fly.
I recommend listening to these podcasts to learn more: How to Handle Disagreements, Winning or Losing an Argument.
Even when you disagree, seek an element of the topic you can agree upon.
Appear to agree by stating an affirmation prior to clarifying the actual opinion. Was the apple red? Oh, yes, yes, well it actually was sort of green.
The word ‘then’ and ‘so’ point to a prior agreement, but are sometimes used as if there was a prior agreement to apply pressure: You’ll vote for me, then?
Hedging opinions. The speaker may choose to be vague about his own opinions, so as not to be seen to disagree. He can express uncertainty with expressions like sort of, kind of, in a way, I think, maybe, It looks like that from that point of view. Another way of looking at it…., Could be. It could also be….

A white lie is preferred over a flat-out rejection even when both sides know it to be a lie. You look good in this dress, I can’t lend you my car, it’s broken.


Minimize face threatening act of requesting:
Wash the dishes, or I’m calling the police.

Presuppose or assert cooperation.

I know what you want.
I know you’re hungry, so can you help chop some onions?
Negative questions presume ‘yes’ for an answer.
Wouldn’t you prefer to go for a walk?
We are already friends.
Look, you’re a pal of mine, so how about….[1]
Be optimistic, assume reciprocity. This assumption implies a commitment to future cooperation on my part.
I’ve come to borrow a cup of flour [1]
I’ll just help myself to a cookie then – thanks! [1]
You’ll lend me your car for the weekend, I hope [1]
You already know me.
Jonathan and I went bird-watching yesterday (I assume you know I have a friend named Jonathan).
You know I’m expecting guests; can I borrow some chairs?
You want what’s good for me. Give reasons and explanations for your request. If you won’t help, I’ll fail the test.
I want what’s good for you. Show sympathy and Concern. If someone tells you about a problem they’re having, it would be a serious threat to solidarity if you fail to show sympathy.
Offer, promise.
Even when a promise is false, it stresses the speaker’s cooperation and his will to avoid a face-threatening act.
We should do lunch sometime
See you soon
Give gifts.

Nonverbal cues also play part in conveying interest and friendliness: a smile, eye contact, open body posture.

People want to be liked, approved of, admired, cared about, understood, and listened to. Inclusion politeness addresses these needs.

When there is a greater social distance between the speaker and the hearer, it is more appropriate to Show Deference.

[1] Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson. Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Recommended Reading:
Power & Solidarity by Mary Shapiro

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *