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15 Signs You’re Actually Too Polite

You can take politeness too far—it's time to stop apologizing for everything!

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Constantly complimenting people’s appearance

“Oh, you look so skinny!” “Your dress is gorgeous!,” or “Your eyes are the most stunning shade!” may seem like nice compliments at first but compliments about appearance are shallow and may not be received in the same manner you intended, says Bonnie Tsai, etiquette expert and founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. Plus, if you do it constantly, say whenever you meet someone, it can feel overwhelming and insincere. “Offer a sincere compliment on their achievements instead,” she says. And avoid these 16 compliments that are actually insults at all costs.

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Giving long answers to questions

You may think you’re being extra polite by giving someone every bit of information they might want in response to a question but most of the time people simply want the basic facts, particularly in a professional setting, says Maryanne Parker, a business and social etiquette consultant in San Diego, author of Posh Overnight, and founder of Manor of Manners. Long answers run the risk of your listener simply tuning you out, she adds. “Keep your answers short and to the point, they’ll ask follow up questions if they need more information,” she says. If someone you’re talking to is breaking this etiquette rule, take note of these polite ways to end a long conversation.

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Holding eye contact for too long

Some eye contact is a polite way to let the other person know you’re interested and engaged in what they’re saying. But some people take the “maintain eye contact” rule too far and turn it into an aggressive staring match or an uncomfortable crazy-eyed death stare, says Jeff Larsen, LMFT, a manner expert and licensed psychotherapist. “Go for a genuine eye-to-eye contact and then look away every once in a while,” he says. It should feel natural. If you’re not sure, ask a friend to practice with you. Are you doing any of these 14 behaviors that make you look like a jerk?

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Being a yes man or woman

Are you the go-to person when people need a favor? While that is a good sign you’re polite, it is something that can easily be taken too far. “You may feel great at the moment when you agreed to help because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, but it could end up negatively impacting your relationship due to resentment and exhaustion,” Tsai explains. Not to mention that if you get overwhelmed and end up not being able to deliver that would be more impolite than simply refusing to do it in the first place. Instead, try incorporating some of these daily habits of naturally polite people into your routine.

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Using too many superlatives

Saying something is “awesome” or “fantastic” can be a nice compliment but when everything is “AMAZING!” or “FABULOUS!” then you’ve crossed the line from polite to irritating, Larsen says. Use superlatives sparingly and when they are warranted, otherwise they become meaningless, he says. You’ll also want to follow these 50 little etiquette rules everyone should practice.

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Hedging your opinions

There’s a difference between trying to see all sides of an issue and trying to be everything to everyone by never actually saying what you think. “You may think you’re being polite by agreeing with everyone but in reality it makes you look weak and indecisive,” Parker says. There are ways to share a dissenting opinion without being offensive or confrontational. Take note of these rude American manners that are polite in other countries.

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Apologizing for every little thing

Saying “sorry” is a basic rule of politeness but some people use it inappropriately, apologizing for everything. “Being overly apologetic or expressing it in situations where it isn’t necessary can indicate that you have low self-esteem which can cause people to take advantage of it,” Tsai says. Even if you’re not taken advantage of, many people find constant apologizing to be very irritating or may wonder why you’re so afraid of them. Are you also guilty of saying these things polite people always say?

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Touching people inappropriately

A firm handshake is polite. After that, physical contact gets murky with what’s considered appropriate depending very much on the situation and the people involved, Larsen says. You may think that giving someone a big bear hug or rubbing their shoulders is a nice way to show your affection but you run the risk of making them very uncomfortable, particularly if the genders are opposite. Keep your hands to yourself, as a general rule, he says. Check out these other secrets your body language may be revealing about you.

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Always deferring to others’ preferences

Letting other people make all the decisions may feel appropriate, particularly when you’re dealing with higher-ups in a business setting. However, always asking others to choose puts you at a disadvantage because they will learn not to take you seriously, Parker says. Making others order for you at a restaurant is 20 rude restaurant mistakes you need to quit ASAP.

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Failing to speak up

 

Listening is an important part of politeness—and many people don’t do enough of it—but if you never speak up that’s a problem too, Tsai says. “Being too considerate of others and their right to speak costs you the opportunity to share your insight and personality,” she says. A conversation is a two-way street and it works best when both people use it. Make sure you’re being polite with your tech too: Avoid these 11 times your AirPods make you seem rude.

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Being ultra PC

Being PC, or “politically correct,” is a two-edged sword. Done right, it can help you be accepting and respectful of people with different lifestyles, beliefs, or cultures. But this is one polite habit that can definitely go too far, Parker says. “Many people think being polite is never offending anyone, ever,” she explains. While you should do your best not to be offensive, it isn’t possible to please everyone and being super PC all the time may make you sound affected or patronizing. Instead, focus on being a good listener and knowing how to apologize when you do mess up. Here are some more habits polite people have in common.

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Clearing the table when others are eating

“Clearing up the dirty dishes may seem like a considerate gesture but if others are still eating, it can be perceived as a signal to end the meal or that you’re telling them to leave,” Tsai says. And if you’re not the host, it can even come off as quite rude, as if you think the table isn’t clean or you’re taking over hosting duties. Always wait until people are finished eating and if it’s not your home, ask first if you can help tidy up. We’re not the only ones who sometimes struggle with how polite we should be (at Thanksgiving, these mistakes are extra impolite). Here are all the times the Emily Post was not so polite.

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Giving one-word answers

People worried about oversharing may think they’re being polite by keeping their answers extremely short. But while a concise answer is polite, one-word answers almost never are, Parker says. “Answering just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can feel curt and dismissive,” she explains. (And this includes electronic communications. A little explanation is always welcome. This is one of the manners every parent should teach their kids.

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Skipping all the small talk

Small talk gets a bad rap these days and many people cite small talk as something scary or difficult. So you may think that by skipping the “How are you?” or the “You enjoying this weather?” you’re doing everyone a favor by getting straight to the point. While you shouldn’t obfuscate your answer, there’s a lot to be said for making a little polite conversation first, Parker says. It helps people feel comfortable and establishes a relationship. Just avoid the big no-no’s of politics and religion. If you’re stuck for something to say, try one of these 37 conversation starters that will make you seem interesting.

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Turning down compliments

“You’re so smart!” “Oh no, I’m just a lucky guesser! I’m really a giant idiot!” You may simply be trying to look politely humble by downplaying compliments—and a little self-deprecating humor can be great—but constantly putting yourself down makes you look bad and makes others uncomfortable, Parker says. Learning how to graciously accept a sincere compliment is a polite skill everyone should master, she says. This can also be one of the 11 telltale signs you’re being passive aggressive without even realizing it.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.