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Politeness Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Politeness Theory

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

We maintain two kinds of face: 

  • Positive face, when others like, respect and approve of us. 
  • Negative face, when we feel that others cannot constrain us in any way. 

Both of these may be threatened when someone makes a request of us.

This causes a dilemma, as if I ask in a pleasant way, positive face is satisfied but negative face may lead them to think they can take advantage of us. The reverse is also true, as defensive talk will threaten the positive face.

Conformance to the social rules of politeness is treading a central and safe path which neither threatens nor signals that you may be threatened.

Politeness means acting to help save face for others. 

Example

When I am with my boss, I show positive face. When I am with the new guy (who seems pretty incompetent) I show negative face.

So what?

Using it

Build trust by being polite. Use negative face with out-group people or those who would dissuade the other person. 

Defending

Just because a person is polite it does not mean they have good intentions towards you.

See also

Social Norms

References

Brown and Levinson (1978)

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