Politeness Principle With Maxims

The Etiquette of Conversation: The Politeness Principle With Maxims

The politeness principle and maxims are two tools you can use to navigate social situations in which you don’t know how to behave. The politeness principle dictates that people should be treated with kindness, respect, and dignity—without going so far as to compromise your integrity or theirs. Maxims are helpful guidelines on proper etiquette and good reminders of the basics of common courtesy. Now that you know what politeness principles and maxims are, read about the specific ways you can apply them to your everyday conversations.

What Is the Politeness Principle?

The politeness principle is based on a set of maxims that deal with conversation etiquette. These maxims are known as face-saving techniques, which protect the person being spoken to or spoken about while allowing all parties involved to save face (save their honour, dignity, and self-respect).

One famous maxim, what goes around comes around, deals with this issue by warning against revenge in kind. It advises people not to do unto others what they don’t want to be done unto themselves. In other words, don’t dish out insults if you don’t want them returned. Another maxim advises us not to kill off someone’s request with a flat no – it could mean we never get anything from them again.

How To Develop Manners

To have better manners, start with good intentions. For example, if you have to cancel a lunch date at the last minute because your car broke down, this is what you should do; call or text them right away and be apologetic about the inconvenience it causes. After that, specific general etiquette rules may not be as apparent as remembering to hold doors open for people or checking your food before you eat something.

Politeness Principle With Maxims
Politeness Principle With Maxims

For instance, if someone tells you they’re moving in a few months but asks if they can stay on their couch until then, politely tell them no because it would be unfair to impose on their new living situation. If someone asks for your opinion on their new haircut and you think it looks terrible, don’t just say so bluntly- instead, say I like it when you wear your hair long, or I don’t know what I think yet.

Be a Good Conversationalist

Good conversationalists are effective communicators who know how to talk to people. You’re probably a good conversationalist if you enjoy talking, have an opinion on almost everything, like people, are happy being the centre of attention or love a good debate.

If you don’t enjoy talking much or often feel shy when it’s your turn to share your thoughts with the group, you’ll need to strengthen your public speaking skills. Do not be afraid to ask for feedback from your friends about what you can do better next time! They may give some helpful tips that will make all the difference in future conversations.

Do Not Misrepresent Yourself

You will never, ever win if you misrepresent yourself. Misrepresenting yourself means not being honest about who you are or not telling the truth. A lack of truthfulness is more than likely going to end badly for you. So what should you do? Tell the truth in every way possible. That’s it! Be yourself and tell the truth at all times.

It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in. If people know they can trust you, they’ll have faith in your abilities. Not only will this make them like you more as a person, but they’ll also take your ideas seriously because they know that they can believe everything that comes from your mouth (or keyboard).

Do Not Criticize Someone Else’s Work

Politeness Principle With Maxims
Politeness Principle With Maxims

You’ll want to avoid criticism at all costs. If you’re not a subject matter expert on the topic, you should never judge someone else’s work. Nothing is worse than a well-intentioned criticism with unintended consequences for the person it is aimed at.

An excellent saying is never to say anything negative about something if it cannot be fixed. For example, you don’t tell your friend she looks terrible in her new haircut because there’s no going back now. In the same vein, make sure your comments are respectful when critiquing others’ work to avoid discouraging them from trying again.

Hold People Accountable for Their Actions

In social interactions, people should be accountable for their actions. This means that a person is morally obligated to abide by the principles outlined in maxims or truisms, such as Don’t talk about yourself so much or Don’t be vulgar. If one disregards these principles, then the person is not being polite.

However, politeness is an ambiguous term because there are some situations where breaking these rules is acceptable. For example, if you are at a party with friends and your friend spills his drink on you, you may use humour to lighten the mood instead of calling him out on it (Don’t point out when someone makes a mistake).

Do Not Put Anyone Down – Even in Jest

One of the most commonly used maxims is Do not put anyone down, even in jest. As well as saying something nice to others, trying to find the good in others is essential. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and by finding someone’s good qualities, we can get along with them better. In other words, what separates us from one another is not our different character traits but our bad ones.

If you can be polite about your flaws, you should also be polite about everyone else’s. It also encourages self-awareness because if you don’t see the best in yourself, you won’t see it in others.

Practice Good Manners Whenever Possible

Exercising good manners is a central tenet of politeness, but it’s also essential to building solid relationships. We may not always be able to say please or thank you, but making eye contact when we talk to someone, not interrupting people when they’re speaking, and looking at the person we’re speaking with can all help strengthen our relationships.

It’s best to avoid saying anything that might cause discomfort, so we should avoid talking about religion or politics unless prompted. And if someone asks for a specific time frame, like, Can I have my laptop back tomorrow? Then it would be better to give them a yes or no answer instead of suggesting something else that might take more time, like It shouldn’t take more than half an hour.


It’s hard to master the art of conversation truly, but hopefully, this politeness principle will help you on your way. For example, the maxim Repartee is an instance where you answer someone funnily. This is called banter because knights traditionally used it in older times during sword duels to distract their opponents during battle.

Nowadays, we use these types of jokes as icebreakers at business conferences. A word of caution, though: These types of jokes are only appropriate if everyone present is already friends with each other, or else they might be taken as mean-spirited comments that don’t show respect for others.

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