Everyone is Secretly Telling You What They're Thinking: How to Read the Signals
Politeness theory draws from face theory. It was developed in the mid-1980s by two Stanford University researchers to expand on how the concept of face relates to politeness. The concept of face is something that is emotionally invested. It can be lost, maintained, or enhanced. The creators of politeness theory assert that everyone has two different types of face: positive face and negative face. Positive face is defined as the individual's desire for his or her wants to be appreciated in social interactions.

Negative face is defined as the individual's wish for freedom of action and freedom from imposition. This theory relies on the assumption that most speech acts -- whether these acts be requests, offers, or compliments -- inherently threaten either the hearer's or the speaker's face wants, and that politeness is involved when redressing those face-threatening acts (FTA).
Therefore, drawing from these assumptions, there are three main strategies for performing speech acts. These strategies are positive politeness, negative politeness, and off-record politeness. The goal of positive politeness is to support or enhance the audience's positive face. These strategies highlight friendliness and camaraderie between the speaker and the audience. Positive politeness communicates that the speaker's wants are in some way similar to the audience's wants. Negative politeness, on the other hand, seeks to soften the encroachment on the audience's freedom of action or freedom from imposition. These speech acts are often characterized by hedging, indirectness, questioning, and presenting disagreements as opinions. In off-record politeness, the speaker breaks conversational norms on the assumption that the audience can infer the intended meaning.

The weightiness of the speech act determines the type of strategy employed, and the amount it is employed. Weightiness is determined by three factors: the perceived social distance between speaker and audience, the perceived power distance between speaker and audience, and the cultural ranking of the speech act. Cultural ranking is determined by the degree to which the FTA is considered threatening within a specific culture. For example, in U.S. culture, asking a woman if she has gained a few pounds carries a high cultural ranking, while in other cultures it does not carry the same weight. Based on the speaker's calculation of the weightiness of the speech act, the speaker will decide which strategy to employ and to which degree. The next step is then for the speaker to determine the appropriate words they will use to accomplish the selected strategy.

Let us illustrate this concept with an example. You notice that your friend has gained a few pounds – like 20. Your friend has always been fit, so you are concerned. Because this is your friend, the perceived social distance between you and her is relatively close. That is, your level of intimacy permits you to say something. Also, because this is your friend, the power distance between you is minimal. It's not like she is your boss or your friend's mother. However, this speech act carries with it a high degree of cultural ranking in U.S. culture, as a woman's weight is culturally a sensitive topic. You have some choices as to the most appropriate approach to take in addressing this issue with your friend. You can choose positive face redress, if you like. Recall from above that positive face redress involves respecting the individual's desire for her wants to be appreciated in a social context, and emphasizes friendliness and similarity between the speaker and audience. Examples might be the following:

  • "Wow I swear I've been putting on a few pounds lately. Quitting the gym has taken its toll on me. How about you – are you still going to the gym?"

  • "I always put on weight when something is stressing me out. I just can't stop eating the foods that I love so much that aren't good for me. Does the same thing happen to you?"

  • "I've always loved that you've always been so fit and in fact have envied that about you. Is everything okay?"

These are examples of positive face redress, because they emphasize friendliness and similarity between the speaker and audience.

You might also choose to employ negative face redress, which, you will recall, seeks to respect the audience's freedom to do as she pleases, and freedom from imposition. Examples might be the following:

  • "Has your diet changed? Have you been indulging more in the foods you love rather than forcing yourself to stick to lots of salads?"

  • "Well I have some clothes to give away but I'm not sure they're your size right now. Some of it's pretty cute would you like to look at it anyway?"

As you can see, the examples in the second set seeks to preserve and respect your friends right to do as she pleases with her own body and her own lifestyle choices. At the same time, they point out the fact you have noticed your friend's weight gain and would like to talk to her about it.

The third option is off-record politeness, and relies upon your friend's ability to infer your intended meaning. Examples might be the following.

  • In response to your friend asking you what you did this weekend, you say, "I went to the gym. Did you?"

  • In response to your friend's comment that she wants to watch a certain movie, you say, "I'd like to cook some healthy low-cal food."

  • Your friend remarks that she needs to go to the store. You say, "Great! Let's walk!"

In these examples, the issue of your friend's weight gain is addressed implicitly. If she chooses, she can completely ignore your references, and the conversation won't miss a beat.

Additional theories of politeness exist, but this one is probably the most well-known and most common. It demonstrates the different types of face needs that people have, and the careful calculation of protecting face for both yourself and your audience. The examples here relate to a friend's weight gain, but of course, the same principles apply in any sensitive subject – including giving and receiving constructive feedback and criticism.

In the context of giving and receiving constructive feedback and criticism, issues of relationship closeness and relationship power differentials may come into play perhaps more than the cultural weight of an issue to be discussed. Typically, one knows when he or she is about to receive feedback and/or criticism, though this may not be the case in a discussion of weight gain. As a result, the cultural weight due in the context of giving and receiving feedback and criticism is typically less than discussing your friend's weight gain with her, although the other factors that go into the calculation of weightiness in giving and receiving feedback and criticism might carry greater weight. In any event, what you say should be carefully calculated to minimize the face threat to yourself and your audience, especially in the context of such an inherently face-threatening act as giving and receiving feedback and critiques.


The idea of emotional intelligence has gained traction in public awareness since Robert Goleman's work in the 1990s. His two books Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Working With Emotional Intelligence (1998) enjoyed popular success, inserting these ideas into the mainstream public awareness. Goleman defines emotional intelligence as "the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships."
The fundamental idea behind emotional intelligence is that emotions can be understood in communicating effectively. This awareness is an important first step in becoming more emotionally skilled at how we deal with our own emotions and the emotions of others. Goleman posits two important components of emotional intelligence: personal competence and social competence. Personal competence involves three components. The first is self-awareness, which is emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence. The second is self-regulation, which is self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, and innovation. The third component is motivation, which is achievement orientation, commitment, initiative, and optimism.

Social competence involves two components. The first of these is empathy, which is understanding others, developing others, service orientation, leveraging diversity, and political awareness. The second component of social competence is social skills, which includes leadership, communication, influence, change catalyst, conflict management, building bonds, collaboration and cooperation, and team capabilities. Goleman's work can respond to an entire area of books, more than 400 available on Amazon at last count, all claiming to define emotional intelligence in one way or another and provide strategies for building and improving one's emotional intelligence, particularly in the workplace.
To help elucidate this discussion of emotional intelligence, it might be useful to review categories and classifications of emotions. Myriad classification systems exist with regard to emotion; we will choose one without asserting that it is more correct than any other. We use it because it's clear. Researchers have defined emotion as "the body's multidimensional response to any event that enhances or inhibits one's goals." For example, your nervousness before a job interview has to do with possible goal interference. The possibility of the interview going poorly interferes with your desire to obtain the job. If the interview goes poorly, your goal of obtaining this job is inhibited. Floyd classifies emotions into three fundamental areas: joyful, sad, and hostile.
Joyful emotions include happiness, love, passion, and liking.

Happiness is the condition of contentment, pleasure, and good cheer. Universal expressions of happiness include smiling, laughing, and being energetic, and when we see these expressions we interpret them as happiness. When we feel happy, we tend to want to share our happiness with others, by approaching them in reconnecting with them.

The emotion of love can be subcategorized into many types: romantic love, love for friends, love for family members, love for God, and love for the self. It is a feeling of caring for, feeling attached to and feeling committed to someone. Love is a remarkably powerful, and can cause people to do things that don't otherwise make much sense – such as leave behind everyone and everything they have ever known for a chance at a life with someone they love on the other side of the world. In romantic relationships, love can be accompanied by passion, which is joy and surprise coupled with experiences of excitement and attraction. Because passion is partially fueled by novelty and surprise, it is often present in the early stages of a relationship, but begins to fade over time.

The positive evaluation of another person is the emotion of liking. When you like someone, you enjoy spending time around him or her and view that person's behavior positively. Liking is different from love, in that liking is the positive evaluation of someone, while love is a commitment to that person. Therefore, love and liking are separate emotions, and it is entirely possible to experience one without the presence of the other. When we like someone, we tend to engage in behaviors such as smiling, touch, and close proximity to the person. We also go out of our way to spend time with people we like, because we enjoy their company.
Sad emotions include sadness, depression, grief, fear, and social anxiety.
Sadness usually results from some form of loss, and involves feeling unhappy, sorrowful, and discouraged. When we lose someone or end a relationship, we experience sadness. Losing someone can certainly mean loss to death, but it can also mean loss to a mental illness or because they moved far away. Expressions of sadness are pretty consistent across cultures, and tend to include frowning, crying, disengaging from normal activities, and speaking quietly, slowly, and without energy. Sadness is a normal emotional response to loss, but depression is a physical illness. Depression is characterized by excessive fatigue, insomnia, weight changes, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. Clinical depression is deeply debilitating, and can lead to job loss, relationship strain and loss, and social isolation. Profound sadness in response to a loss is known as grief. Rather than a single emotion or emotional experience, researchers suggest that grief is the process of dealing with a grave loss.

Our minds and bodies react with fear when we perceive danger. Fear triggers certain responses in our brains and includes increased heart rate and breathing rate, pupil dilation, and elevated stress hormones. These physiological changes make us aware of the danger and give us the necessary energy to respond to it. The purpose of fear is to keep us safe from harm. Our typical response is to withdraw from the situation and protect ourselves, at least long enough to assess the situation and determine the best way to deal with it.

When our fear is about making a good impression on others, this is known as social anxiety. You might experience this when you are meeting your boyfriend's parents for the first time, in a job interview or on your first day on the job, or when giving a public address. In each of these situations, you want to make a good first impression. The fear of not doing so produces social anxiety. This is a normal response to new situations, but when this anxiety becomes chronic or begins to interfere with quality of life, normal social anxiety may have progressed into the realm of a related mental illness known as social anxiety disorder.

The experience of these sad emotions makes us want to withdraw from social interaction. Sometimes we just need time alone to deal with our emotion. Interestingly, when we see that someone else is experiencing one of these sad emotions, our tendency is to want to draw near to them to help soothe them. It's important to remember that they may need time alone, just as we do.

The final category of emotions is hostile emotions.
These include anger, contempt, disgust, jealousy, and envy. When we feel that we have been wronged, we experience anger. We might express this anger with yelling, throwing things, making unpleasant facial expressions, or even physically attacking the person we feel wronged us. Anger is a natural and normal emotion, but an inability to control it has been shown to have adverse physiological effects, such as elevated risk of serious health problems, weakened immune systems, and slower healing from wounds. When we experience contempt, we feel that we are better than someone else. Contempt expressions include insulting or mocking others, putting people down, belittling or making fun of people, and suggesting that the other person is stupid or incompetent. These behaviors send messages of judgment, disapproval, and disrespect.

Disgust occurs when we feel repulsed by something offensive. This might be a foul odor, or a message or image that you find profoundly offensive, or people whose values, beliefs, or behaviors you a poor. Disgust motivates you to avoid, reject, or expel that which is generating this emotion.

Though often used interchangeably, jealousy and envy are very different. Jealousy is a perception that a relationship is being threatened by a third-party. Envy is the desire for something someone else has. Jealousy often occurs in romantic partnerships, but can occur in any important relationship. Envy occurs only when something is important to us. For example, you only envy someone's high income if you want that for yourself.

Hostile emotions, like joyful emotions, influence the way we interact with others. Hostile emotions, however, are generally unpleasant to experience and challenging to relationships. It's important to learn constructive ways of managing your emotions rather than seeking to suppress them.

Emotional intelligence

With some clarifications of, and distinctions between, normal human emotions, we are now prepared to elaborate on the idea of emotional intelligence. In short, emotional intelligence means that people are able to recognize their own emotions, reflect on them, understand them, and manage their expression. Researchers suggest there are three steps to the emotional appraisal process.
The first step is primary appraisal, which is an assessment of whether the emotional arousal is positive or negative. This can be achieved by asking yourself the question, "How do I feel?"
The second step is secondary appraisal, which is an assessment of the quality and intensity of the emotion, and determining a coping strategy. The question you can ask yourself in this step is, "What specific emotion or combination of emotions am my feeling right now? Is it really anger? Or is it actually jealousy?"
In the third step, reappraisal, questions might include, "What is the best way to express this in this situation?" While happiness and love might find easy and immediate expression, anger or jealousy might be best left unexpressed for the moment -- and the intensity moderated -- perhaps by changing the environment that is causing the emotion. If we decide that emotional expression is the right thing to do, controlled verbal statements are generally preferred. This means that it's better to verbalize, "I'm feeling angry (or annoyed, hurt, afraid, or jealous) right now because…" This description helps your listener understand and hopefully empathize with your emotional state, while emotional outbursts, such as yelling, sarcasm, or unkind statements only arouse negative emotional responses, and escalate the situation.

In the context of giving and receiving constructive feedback and criticism, it is important to be aware of our emotions and practice this appraisal and reappraisal process so that the experience can be truly constructive.