The Problem With Being Polite

Little white lies are part of the lubricant that keeps the cogs of the social machinery running. For instance, if someone tells a bad joke, we usually smile. We don't tell them they're not funny, because that would be rude and might hurt their feelings. The problem (according to Joyce Ehrlinger, a professor of psychology at Florida State University) is that sometimes these little white lies can be dangerous if people take them too seriously and become overconfident in their abilites. In such cases, being less polite would help to deflate the ego of these people and bring them back to reality. Ehrlinger explains:

"There's definitely no harm in some types of overconfidence, and I am not suggesting that we should stop living in a polite society. The worst that might come from someone believing that they are funnier than, in reality, they are is a bit of embarrassment or wasted effort auditioning for 'America's Got Talent.'"
That said, she argues it's important to note when politeness might come at a cost. There are many times when overconfidence carries serious consequences.
"Overconfident doctors and lawyers might offer their patients or clients poor advice," she said. "There are ways in which overconfidence is dangerous, and it might be important to set aside politeness in the service of helping people avoid the perils of overconfidence."

I can see a problem here. If the overconfident person is your boss, or someone with power over you, it wouldn't be a good idea to risk insulting them. In such cases, how do you ever guide the person back to reality?


Posted on Mon Jul 30, 2012


With a well placed hoax!

Get that expert-in-his-own-mind to publicly pontificate on something that later turns out to be an inflatable Nessie.
Posted by Andy L  on  Mon Jul 30, 2012  at  08:43 AM
When someone is truly dreadful, it isn't a problem. The dilemma is if they are simply not good.

In college, I was tinkering with majoring in photography. A very nice classmate was very intent on it. Problem is that she wasn't good at it. I'm an outspoken guy, but in this case I was truly flummoxed. So was our professor. He had no problem tearing into me or the star pupil when we deserved it, but didn't want to crush this girl's spirit.

Years later, I was making an educational video. One actress was great in the audition, but proved to be awful in performance. Fortunately, we had to change a location and used that as a way to rewrite her lines such that we cut her part down to almost nothing.
Posted by GatoRat  on  Mon Jul 30, 2012  at  07:58 PM
I think it's probably a lot better for everyone to say nothing at all, or in the case of the not so funny joke, just deliver the smile. Since I don't 'get' most jokes, that's sort of natural for me.

I'm a graphic artist and have been considered 'professional' for 40 years, not because I'm necessarily good, but because some people have actually paid me for pieces. I know artists are a dime a dozen. I draw, paint, animate, design cloth and clothing because I like my world and frankly, I could care less if anyone else does or not.
Posted by hulitoons  in  Abingdon, Maryland  on  Thu Aug 02, 2012  at  04:23 AM
In the case of the overconfident boss I guess it comes down to the question of "opportunity cost". If the overconfidence leads to minor cost in opportunity then it's not so bad. But if the opportunity cost has potential to cause people to lose their jobs then it's probably worth being the "dissenting voice" in meetings.
Posted by Peter  in  Melbourne, Australia  on  Sat Aug 04, 2012  at  04:43 PM
There's a simple way to deal with overconfident bosses: malicious compliance. If you know very well that what they propose will be a disaster, and they haven't changed their mind when you explain why it wouldn't work, just obey them. Do what they want you to do and let it bite them in the ass.
Posted by Devil Master  in  somewhere  on  Thu Jul 18, 2013  at  10:22 AM
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