Forget What You Were Told, Saying “Please” and “Thank You” CAN be Rude

We were taught to mind our P’s and Q’s when we were kids; to say please when asking and thank you when receiving what we asked for. And that’s usually nice (though I’ve never really understood the true semantic value that ‘please’ adds).

‘Thank You’ brings with it a sense of appreciation and gratitude for what has happened. Whereas ‘please’ seems to be a tool for getting what you want or for making the other person feel like they have power over you. I suppose the types of pleases that work the best have a pre-conceived gratitude, and empathy weaved through them.

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‘Would there be any chance I can borrow your lawnmower? Mine just packed up while I was cutting the grass. You’d be an absolute life saver, I’m sorry to disturb you on your day off, I know this is the last thing you want to be doing.’

No ‘please’ needed. In fact in my opinion, a please would sound out of place. It is implied by what comes after the question, especially in identifying both the context of the problem (it’s urgent) AND the context of the solution, i.e. empathetically acknowledging that he is having a day off so this request is therefore above and beyond.

There are two different mindsets that drive two types of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (beyond the small dinner table stuff).

1. Servant < Master

Please: You see the person in a higher social standing, above you on the ladder, or with some position of authority over you, and you ask them for something that you genuinely need from them. You have no expectation, just hope. Like the example above you make your plea with pre-conceived gratitude and empathy weaved through it, and explain how positively responding to your request might also benefit THEM (you’d be an absolute life-saver – not literally true, but tells them how much it would mean).

Thank you: You are genuinelly grateful that they complied with your plea and are personal, passionate and empathic in the way you respond.

‘Thank you so much for lending me the mower, it did the job so well. If it wasn’t for you, my grass would still only have half a hair cut. I really appreciate you giving up time on your day off to help me. What are you up to the rest of the weekend?’

Gratitude is shown by much more than the words ‘Thank You’, and that is what happens within the servant-master mindset – you are changed somehow and respond passionately and enthusiastically to what has been done.

2. Master > Servant.

Please: You feel like you can get whatever you want from this person. They work for you, are of lesser social standing, younger, or ‘inferior’ in some other way, and you feel entitled to ask them for whatever you like.

“Please can I have that on my desk first thing Monday morning?”

You say ‘please’ but there is no choice. It’s not a question, it’s a demand disguised by pleasantaries. You expect it to happen without listening to their answer – you don’t care that they’ve got something planned for the weekend. It’s the please of power, the entitled sense of ‘do what I ask of you’.

Thank You: You barely even noticed how much it took for them to carry out your request. You give little more than a ‘thanks for doing that’, or even ‘did you get that thing on my desk this morning?’, to which they say ‘yes sir’, ‘oh ok, thanks, I haven’t been in yet’. You don’t empathically align your gratitude to the amount that it would take to fulfil your request.

Then there are ‘thank yous’ for the unexpected things.

Thank You as an Expression of Power

When someone has gone above and beyond the call of duty, coming at it from the master > servant perspective you tend to turn it around and make it all about you. A thank you can then become a power word and resented when you are expressing gratitude for something you didn’t ask.

For example, if someone gets sick and tired of the messy state of a room or office (a collective space), and decides to tidy it up and organise things better, then they don’t want to hear ‘thank you’ from you if they have perceived you as too lazy to bother doing it in the first place, too ‘self-important’ and ‘too good for that job’ even though it’s your responsibility.

Or you’ve been saying for months that you would do something that needed doing (fixing, cleaning, sorting something etc) and then one day you find that someone else has done it. The truth is, they didn’t do it for you. They did it because YOU HADN’T, and they had been waiting, desperate for it to be done for too long. So again, saying ‘thank you’ in this situation feels more like a slap in the face than a hug of gratitude.

So these two mindsets are attitudes we can choose between. We can be entitled or we can be humble. We can be grateful or we can be presumptuous. It all comes down to empathy. Or we can choose a third way – a real relationship.

Do we approach our relationships seeking to really understand the other person, and to feel what they feel within the encounters that we have? Or do we have a non-negotiable agenda that we are trying to carry out?

Do we use our P’s and Q’s as a way of manipulating, as pleasant words instilled in us as children, useful for getting what we want? Or do we use them to enhance, encourage and empower other people in what they do and the value they bring to our lives? 

Why do we want our children to mind their P’s and Q’s?

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