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The Concept of the Theory of Politeness

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Politeness theory specify on how and why we protect, promote, and preserve one’s dignity particularly in embarrassing situations. Politeness theory also suggests that all individuals should be maintaining an appealing face in different circumstances.

There are two different types of face to improve communication throughout people, which are positive face and negative face. Positive face includes a person’s need to beloved, appreciated, and esteemed by another person. Hence, sustaining positive face includes using behaviors to assure that these important members continue to view you in the situation. One the other hand, negative face presumes a person’s will to act freely, without constraints or bothering from others. It is no doubt that achieving positive and negative face contemporaneously is challenging. To gain others’ agreements often restricted with autonomous and freely behavior. It assumes that human beings are reasonable and goal achieving with respect to attain face needs. One of the examples for positive face is the appreciation of individual achievements such as, ‘I really like the way you’ve done this’ or, ‘I really like the way you did this part, I think this other part might be better if we change into that.’ The speaker is bringing their own perspectives and suggestions to the hearer. Furthermore, negative face included ‘I’m sure you won’t want to do this’ or, ‘you know much more about this than I do’ the speaker recognize the hearer’s right to make their own decisions making, thus attending to the hearer’s negative face needs.

Applying politeness theory in interpersonal relationship would turn into two persons develop a relationship where they respect, dedicate to, sacrificing for each other and also acknowledges the positive and negative face needs of the other and it deteriorates when they don’t. Interpersonal relationships offer several situations in which skillful communication is necessary to sustain goodwill and respect between the different parties involved.

The situation happened within two person that named Anthony(A) and Billy(B), A work part-time at a liquor store. When he got off his shift, he found that the front tire of his bike was completely broken due to an apparent leak. His workplace is six miles away from his apartment which will take two hours of walk to arrive home. So, A planned to call B for a ride home. Although B is at home doing some readings for his project, but it would interrupt him for driving A across town and pick him up.

Interruptions are not ideal while trying to study or work on papers and A’s request was not only taking the time, but also costing B the time and effort of refocusing on his project. A’s goal of getting a ride home was threatening to B’s goal of having a fruitful work. In order to reach A’s desire, A would need to implement the use of a politeness strategy. Avoidance is a method of ignoring the problem so as not to cause any awkwardness, while another method is to mention a problem without making a request.

Negative politeness involves confessing regret for making the request, while positive politeness applies compliment and praise. Negative politeness involves many qualifying phrases such as “sorry for disturbing you” or “I recognized that you’re occupied” before making the request. Positive politeness can convince the other that we have good faith in their character. Hopefully, they will agree with our sentiments and act accordingly as a favor.

A uses the negative politeness to explained B about the sad incident and hoping that B would understand A’s difficulties. A asked B “what he was doing” in order to show understanding of B has work to do. A made the request clearly as “if he could come pick me up” so that B will not misunderstanding A automatically expect him to respond the favorable, which would obstruct his ability to respond freely. And finally hope for a ride. When B came to pick A up, A offered to repay B by buying him a dinner at a restaurant. It shows that A is willing to pay for the kindness and have a feeling of worthen the time.

To conclude, politeness theory provides a strong system which allows individuals to enhance effective communication and interpersonal with insight and understanding. It is very common that communication and interpersonal relationships occur in our daily basis. A simple conversation could turn into a more complex issue between each others.


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  5. Positive and negative face. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2019, from
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  7. PDF. (2004, September 16). Retrieved October 13, 2019, from

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