While you meet a lot of people, occasionally you meet a person who stands out. She might be remarkably charismatic. He might be extremely charming and likable. She might be extremely confident, in a genuine and therefore positive way.
People who stand out for positive reasons aren’t just memorable, though—they’re also people we want to work with and do business with.
And that’s why genuinely polite people stand out. (Not fake polite—sincere polite.) They make us feel comfortable. They make us feel respected and valued. We want to be more like them.
And we want to do business with them.
Here’s what polite people never do—and what they do instead:
1. They Never Stay in Place
You’re at a party. A friend gestures to someone several steps away and says, “Let me introduce you to Bob.”
Bob sees you coming, and he stands there, waiting for you to come to him in some weird power move.
Remarkably polite people, no matter how great their perceived status, step forward, smile, tilt their head slightly downward (a sign of respect in every culture), and act as if they are the one honored by the introduction, not you.
(When I met Mark Cuban, that is exactly what he did. He heard I wanted to meet him and immediately walked across the room—where I was waiting to see if it would be OK—to say hello. The fact I remember how gracious he was tells you everything you need to know about the impression that made.)
In short, polite people never “big time” you; instead, they always make you feel like you’re big time.
2. They Never Call You What You Don’t Ask to Be Called
You’re at an event. You introduce yourself to me as Jonathan. We talk. Within minutes, I’m calling you John. Or Johnny. Or Jack. Or the J-man.
Maybe your friends call you J-man, but we’re not friends (yet), and you definitely haven’t given me permission to go full diminutive on you, much less full nickname.
Remarkably polite people wait to be asked to use a different, more familiar, name. They call you what you asked—or later ask—to be called because it’s your right to be addressed in the way you wish to be addressed.
Anything less would be uncivilized.
3. They Never Touch Unless They Are Touched First
Polite people wait for the other person to establish the nonsexual touch guidelines. (Handshakes excluded, of course.)
While I know that sounds like no one will ever hug or pat a shoulder or forearm because no one can ever go first, don’t worry. Huggers hug. Patters pat. Backslappers slap. That’s what they do.
Polite people go a step further: They never pat or squeeze or slap (in a good way), even if they are patted or squeezed or slapped. Sure, they hug back, but they don’t reciprocate other forms of touch.
Why? Some people don’t even realize they’re touching you, but they definitely notice when you touch them. That makes them feel uncomfortable, and discomfort is the last way polite people want other people to feel.
4. They Never Try to Take Before They Give
Take networking. The goal of networking is to connect with people who can help you make a sale, get a referral, establish a contact, etc. When we network, we want something (unless we’re Adam Grant, a guy who should be the poster child of unsolicited giving).
Still, at first polite people will never ask for what they want. (In fact they might never ask for what they want.) They forget about what they can get and focus on what they can provide, because they know that giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship.
Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections.
When you network, it should be all about them, not you.
5. They Never Let on They Know More Than They Should
Some people share incessantly on social media. And maybe you occasionally see what they’ve been up to.
But polite people don’t bring those things up. They talk about sports, they talk about the weather, they talk about how The Walking Dead is a metaphor for life in corporate America, but they only talk about personal subjects the other person actually discloses in person.
Maybe it seems like the person wants everyone to know about a personal subject, but in fact that’s rarely the case. So unless his or her social-media broadcasts were specifically directed to you, always wait.
6. They Never Ignore the Elephants
An acquaintance’s mom died a few weeks ago. You see him, and you’re not sure whether to bring it up.
Remarkably polite people always bring it up. They keep it simple, like, “I was sorry to hear about your mother. I’ve been thinking about you and am hoping you’re doing OK.”
Awkward? Absolutely not. You’ve expressed your condolences (which you should, and now you can both move on: Your friend is no longer wondering if and when you might mention it, and you are no longer wondering whether you should.
Where relationships are concerned, the best elephant is a dead elephant.
7. They Never Gossip—or Listen to Gossip
It’s hard to resist the inside scoop. Finding out the reasons behind someone’s decisions, the motivations behind someone’s actions, the skinny behind someone’s hidden agenda—much less whether Liam is really dating Jeannette from marketing—those conversations are hard to resist.
Remarkably polite people know gossiping about other people makes you wonder what they’re saying about you. In fact, when someone starts to talk about someone else, polite people excuse themselves and walk away. They don’t worry that they will lose a gossiper’s respect; anyone willing to gossip doesn’t respect other people anyway.
If you want to share the inside scoop, talk openly about your own thoughts or feelings—then you’re not gossiping, you’re being genuine. That’s what polite people do.
8. They Never Speak Just to Spread the Greater Glory of Themselves
How can you tell? If you’re talking about something just because it feels really good to share it, and there’s no place for the other person to add value, you’re just patting yourself on the back.
When remarkably polite people want to talk about themselves, they ask for advice—but not humblebrag advice like, “I notice you keep your car really clean; what wax do you recommend for a Porsche?”
Ask a question that shows you truly value the other person’s expertise or knowledge. The person will feel good, because you implicitly show you trust his or her opinion; you actually get input you can use. Win-win.
And totally polite.
9. They Never Push Their Opinions
We all know things. Cool things. Great things.
Just make sure you share those things in the right settings. If you’re a mentor, share away. If you’re a coach or a leader, share away. If you’re the guy who just started a Paleo Diet, don’t tell us all what to order unless we ask.
Remarkably polite people know that what is right for them might not be right for others—and even if it is right, it is not their place to decide that for you.
Like most things in life, offering helpful advice is all about picking the right spot—and polite people know the right spot is always after you are asked.
They never judge.
They don’t judge the person they are speaking to. They don’t judge other people. They don’t judge other cultures or countries or, well, anything.
Why? Remarkably polite people realize they aren’t perfect either.
10. They’re Never Bored (With You)
You meet someone, talk for 30 minutes, and walk away thinking, “Wow, we just had a great conversation. She is awesome.”
Of course, when you think about it later, you realize you didn’t learn a thing about the other person.
Remarkably polite people are masters at social Jiu-Jitsu, the ancient art of getting you to talk about yourself without you ever knowing it happened. SJ masters are fascinated by your every career step, your every journey of personal transformation, your every clever maneuver on your climb to the top of your social ladder.
They find you fascinating—and that gives you permission to find yourself fascinating. (That’s an authorization we all enjoy.)
Social Jiu-Jitsu is easy. Just ask the right questions. Stay open-ended, and allow room for description and introspection. Ask how or why or who.
As soon as you learn a little about someone, ask how she did it. Or why she did it. Or what she liked about it, or what she learned from it, or what you should do if you’re in a similar situation.
And don’t think you’re being manipulative, because you’re not. Showing a sincere interest in people isn’t manipulative. It’s fun—for you and for them. They get to talk about things they’re passionate about, and you get to enjoy their enthusiasm and excitement and passion.
And if that’s not enough, think of it this way: No one receives too much respect. Asking other people about themselves implicitly shows you respect them.
Respect is the mother of polite.
11. They Never Stop Being Polite
They don’t just turn on the charm the first time you meet. They don’t use it and lose it.
Remarkably polite people keep on being polite: partly because they know no other way to be, but also because they know there is no other way to be.
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