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Should You Include Social Pleasantries in your Communication?

From Lucio's recent feedback, I observe that I use a lot of social pleasantries in my communication.
My primary motivation is to grease the conversation and use this as a social lubricant.

Maybe pleasantries can be viewed as a habit and social expectation.
Though quite often, I mean what I say when I thank someone for their time. (for example)

The issue is I realise some people think that I am not being upfront when I include pleasantries, especially during a disagreement or when I am making a request.
Especially with direct people as Lucio has pointed out.
It can come across as "I am trying to charm them into getting what I want.".
This is not my intention, but it can come across as such.

More Descriptive Pleasantries So That It Seems Like Genuine Compliments

What I have been doing is to make pleasantries more descriptive and precise.
In the sense, I don't say

Thank you for your time.

I add in more words to emphasise potentially the same thing:

That must have taken a fair amount of time on your side.
Thank you for doing this for me.

Avoid Using Pleasantries Even If You Mean It During Heated Discussions

Sometimes it could pay to focus on acknowledging the negative emotions during the discussion.
Adding pleasantries may suggest that you don't acknowledge the gravity of the emotions involved.

Instead of saying

Thank you for taking the time to share your emotion.
I can see how this situation makes both of us feel this way.

Go straight into

I see how both of us can feel so strongly about this.

Strip away words and sounds a bit more personal.

Hey Matthew,

This is a very good question.

The usual spiel of direct/indirect, polite/less polite is that it's often cultural.

I'm not a huge believer in "intercultural communication" as if the styles were separate worlds.
Obviously there are different cultures and adapting is important, but a smooth social strategist will quickly adapt and be in no time be more socially effective than a guy who's been living in that culture for decades but who's average at social skills.

People are more similar than different after all, so I believe you can make any style work... With some tweaks.

Importantly, those tweaks are easier to make in person.

You can add all the pleasantries you want to a direct person if you tell them:

  • More directly
  • Higher power
  • Less formally
  • With a time constraint
  • With a note on "really meaning it"

For example:

Hey man, lemme quickly preface this by saying that (notice here you that "quickly" and "preface" communicate it's not like you're going to spend a huge amount of time on the pleasantries) I really appreciate you sitting here with me to straighten this out.
And I really mean this (and this conveys the fact that you're not just saying, which is one of the biggest dangers of pleasantries, but that you mean it), I appreciate keeping a good relationship.

Plus, the situational element, as you mention, including:

  • In "heated" discussions

When you're discussing something that is likely to make people edgy, emotional, defensive, or uncomfortable -or "heated", as you say- then pleasantries are more likely to seem forced and fake.

Paradoxically, pleasantries can be even more important during those discussions.
Which why you want to use them, but make them more practical and genuine -we'd call those pleasantries "collaborative frames" here.

  • Before giving feedback

Also watch out for pleasantries before you are raising an issue or want to give a feedback, as that smells "sandwich technique", which is not usually appreciated by people who've been around as that also smells "fake compliment".

  • When the "poop" is obviously going to come, and people don't want to wait around for the sweetener

I remember dating a Taiwanese girl and when she wanted to bring up something, she'd usually start with the long-winded "first, I want to tell you thank you for... And a laundry list of things".

And I'd always stop her to cut to the chase (going back to the concept that you can "train" each other to communicate in a way you both can better appreciate).

It (almost) always sounds suspicious to insert compliments and pleasantries before you want to raise a potentially sensitive topic.

Also, the more direct-style, high-powered receivers feels like: "I don't need any sweetener, I ain't no baby, and I also don't appreciate wasting time".
As Hagen said of The Godfather:

Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately

Many high-powered folks are like that.


None of the above situations means there is no place for pleasantries whatsoever.

As we said above, the style matter, as does the positioning and how "naturally" it's inserted (as a reward after someone has listened attentively VS laundry initial list, for example).

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Great post, Lucio! Two thumbs up if I could.