This Smart 2020 Resolution Will Make People Trust You More (and It Costs Nothing)

'May I have your attention please? Thank you.' Also: 7 other things worth a click. Oh, and Happy New Year!

May I have your attention please? Thank you.

I have an idea for a resolution for 2020. Some of you do it already, and you're probably the better for it.

For the rest of us, it costs nothing, it takes almost no time, and there’s actually some research that suggests it makes people trust you more.

The resolution? It’s simple.

Be more polite.

‘Best answers’

A study last year in the journal MIS Quarterly suggests that being more polite makes people’s arguments more persuasive.

The researchers—Shun-Yang Lee of the University of Connecticut, Huaxia Rui of the University of Rochester, and Andrew Whinston of the University of Texas at Austin—studied conversations on Stack Exchange, which is a network of question-and-answer websites and communities.

Key finding: The more polite an answer was, the more likely it was to be rated highly and chosen as the "best answer."

It's not totally foolproof. If the person offering an opinion was already perceived as a true expert, that helped overcome impolite responses, the researchers said.

But all things equal, polite answers seemed more reliable to readers.

‘Please jump out of this airplane’

When I first heard about this, I thought of the one time I went skydiving (pre-parenthood, by the way).

This was a tandem jump, where you get about an hour of training, and you're physically attached to an experienced skydiving instructor.

(If you zoom into the photo below, that’s me in the purple. I’m upside down. The instructor is wearing the white jumpsuit. You can just make out the airplane at the top of the photo.)

A friend went with me that day. The qualified skydivers we jumped with clearly knew what they were talking about.

In fact, I remember that while this single jump was a major life event for me, it was one of five or six they each did that day alone.

But I also remember that my friend felt a lot less more nervous than I was, once we got going.

We realized that it was because the instructor she was jumping with was gruff and direct: “Arms up. Stand here. Move over there.”

Mine was a lot more polite: “Okay, put your arm there, please? Great. Now stand up here, and we’ll lock these first two carabiners. Perfect.”

Zeal of a convert, thank you

My mom reads these emails. I suspect she'll find it funny that I'm writing about politeness. (She already knew about the skydiving.)

She grew up in Montreal, before marrying my dad and moving to the U.S.

My brothers and I used to insist when we were young that while people might say “please” and “thank you” in Canada, Americans weren’t anywhere near as polite.

This was a bone of contention at times, when she’d try to correct us. Yet here, I am, all these years later, writing to thousands of people—with the zeal of a convert.

Just ask my preschool-aged daughter. Man, the number of times I’ve stopped her and said things like: “What’s a better way to ask that?”

Then she’ll respond with something like: “Ugh. Fine. Dad can you please draw Santa and his reindeer and a sleigh and presents and name them all??”

(Okay. Sure. This photo is from over the weekend. She’s got me wrapped around her finger, as long as she says “please.”)

So, for 2020: Lose weight, stop your bad habits, be more mindful. Jump out of more airplanes, draw more pictures.

Whatever it is that you plan to resolve for the new year is fine.

Just do whatever you resolve to do politely. Everyone will trust you more. So says science.


Your “other things worth a click” are below.

But I just wanted to say Happy New Year before we get there! Next time we talk, it will be 2020.

January 1 will also mark the two-month anniversary of Understandably. Thanks to everyone who helped me launch it (most of all, that means everyone who subscribed)!

If you want to help out, the #1 thing you can do is to (a) forward this email to friends, (b) encourage them to sign up, and (c) share it on social media.

Technically that’s three things. Sorry. But thank you.

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7 other things worth a click

  1. Brazil fined Facebook $1.6 million for improper sharing of user data. This is like fining me 11 cents. (Reuters)

  2. Wait, should we all be using encrypted calendars? (Venturebeat)

  3. Things that are about to be in the public domain, as of Wednesday: Rhapsody in Blue, all of Buster Keaton’s silent films, and Agatha Christie’s book, The Man in the Brown Suit, and many other titles. (Lifehacker)

  4. Earlier this year I came across a fascinating 2002 story from the New Yorker: "The Real Heroes Are Dead: a love story." It's about Rick Rescorla, who was the head of security at the World Trade Center, and who perished on 9/11. Turns out, it was the #2 most-viewed New Yorker story "from the archives" during 2019. Here's the list of the top 25. (The New Yorker)

  5. Speaking of “from the archives.” In 2014, I wrote a listicle for Inc.: “17 things happy people say every day.” Even though it’s more than five years old, 87,000 people read it during 2019. Numbers 15 and 16 are especially relevant. (Me, on Inc.)

  6. Proof (as if needed) that we are 100 percent divided: President Trump and former President Obama tied as the “most admired” men in America (18 percent of people polled named each of them). (Gallup)

  7. The U.S. population is growing at the slowest pace “in decades.” (U.S. Census Bureau)

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I wrote a bit about the politeness study at Inc.