I Promise You Won't Learn A Thing From This Blog

The official blog for author Ashley Chappell. Check back every week for a few laughs at my expense or, if you know the love-hate process that is writing, commiseration.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

You're in Trouble Now... She's Being Polite!

Don't Care
All Customer Service Employees need this book
Yes, I'm trying to stir the pot again.

I made the following statement on Facebook this week to see what reactions people would have: “There is a vast difference between being 'nice' and being 'polite.’” A few people, and I have to believe that they are among those rarities who are actually nice all of the time (yes, they do exist but I am unfortunately not one of them), argued that there is no difference between the two words. For most of the discussion, however, I found that people do tend to notice distinct differences between these two words and what they meant to them.

I bring this up for two reasons: 1) Being a word nerd, I’m fascinated by how two words meaning essentially the same thing conversationally (despite specific definitions) and used interchangeably so often can evolve to conjure such specific reactions, and 2) I realized that the ‘polite’ person that I was talking to on the phone was not a ‘nice’ person at all. In fact, I was pretty sure that she was giving me the finger while she was saying, “Bless your heart,” safely from her end of the phone line.

Old lady
You probably grew up across the street from this lady

For those not familiar with southern sarcasm, ‘Bless your heart’ can sometimes be a meaningful expression of sympathy, but more often than not it’s a southern lady’s socially acceptable way of saying “Why the hell do you think I care?”

Now I’m wondering about my own responses to people and feeling slightly guilty. You know what I mean... The phone rings at work and, blast that caller ID, it’s one of those people you'd rather give extraneous body parts than have to deal with. But, since you have a job to do for which you are being paid, on goes that plasticine smile with the glazed eyes as you say, “No, you’re no problem at all, really, how can I help you?” All the while your imagination is dreaming up scenarios in which it would be acceptable for you to scream “Go away already you horrible person!”

See? Polite, but not nice.

Now that I’ve given you the set up, what do you think? What do these two words mean to you? 


  1. I am so glad I am such a nib nose that I have to check out all my new followers! Love the humor. I'll be back next Thursday. :)

  2. I'm so glad you stopped by! You've had me laughing all week as it is :-) Nice to meet you!

  3. Nice is when I do something for someone out of genuine concern for them. I'm nice when I volunteer for the Toys For Tots Christmas drive. I'm nice when I step in to help an old lady out when she dropped her groceries.

    I'm polite when I have an angry customer who is not satisfied with the goods he'd purchased at the store where I work. I want to slap the shit out of him, but I can't. I'm polite when I turn off my phone during the movies, even though I think it's a stupid policy because I can't hear anything over the yapping teenagers goofing off in the seats behind me.


  4. Yes, that is so true, Diane! Polite is also when I keep myself from flipping off a rude driver for cutting me off because I see they have kids in the car...

  5. I've had to work for years being polite and eventually I turned kind of nice. LOL

  6. Ashley, I'm in your corner. That last bit about being on the job and having the person you'd least like to speak with call you is undoubtedly taken from real life - not just yours, but mine and countless others.

    Well done, and well said.

  7. Fake politeness is everywhere, isn't it? It's kind of hard to find genuine concern sometimes.

  8. George – you are right that I took it partly from my own work. And the funny part is that I’m one of the lucky few in that I have the good fortune of truly liking everyone that I work with. I’ve got a great group of folks and great relationships with them. But on those days when I’m piled under stress and working away on something and that one person who always needs a little extra hand-holding just to finish a sentence calls.... that’s when I learn that patience is a virtue of mine that needs some spit ‘n shine.

  9. Kelly - Yes, it's hard to find and that is so unfortunate! Especially when that customer service rep is in a sensitive industry, such as medical or insurance. Chances are that if you're dealing with people in either of those fields you're going through a potentially terrible time and REALLY need someone to care or, at the very least, sound like they do.

  10. Oh My!! Love it. I think I ended up being 'polite' for the last many years at work under the mounds of paperwork and goals.

    Maybe I'm learning to become 'nice' again

    Great article


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