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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Daily Habits of Naturally Polite People

Some people seem to have been born with empathy to spare. If you're not one of them or just need some help with those awkward moments, you'll definitely want to read on for small and simple ways to be kinder to all.

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They remember the names of people they meet

Easier said than done, right? Studies show that most people have trouble remembering the names of people they meet. If you’re like the rest of us, etiquette expert Evie Granville—also a writer and a podcaster for Modern Manners for Moms and Dads—suggests associating the name of someone new with a memory or person in your life. For instance, “I might say something like, ‘Oh, your name’s Lauren? I still remember the first friend I made in elementary school—her name was Lauren, too,'” she says. Check out these other tricks that will help you remember names.

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They smile

“Naturally polite people smile,” Granville says. “When we walk into a room with a smile on our face, we’re inviting others to interact with us.” Why? Because our smiles are actually contagious. According to a Swedish study, people can’t help smiling back when they’re greeted with a smile. In other words, it takes people more effort to resist a smile than to simply follow the same expression. Be inspired by these reasons to smile more.

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They know how to listen

Granville says that naturally polite people make an effort to demonstrate when they’re engaged and listening to others. This means they not only respond with a smile or nod but also ask smart questions. “When we feel heard, our attitude toward the listener can dramatically improve,” Granville says. “Naturally polite people know this.” Read on for advice on how to become a better listener.

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They think before they speak

“Just because you don’t care for your neighbor’s landscaping doesn’t mean they need to know it,” etiquette expert Lisa Grotts says. “Think before you speak, and resist the urge to engage if your words will be reproachful.” Heather Nelson, author of Just Stop: 10 Things Everyone Should Stop Saying, says that polite people also slow down before they speak. “Polite people are those who shave precious seconds off their to-do list in order to be 100 percent more courteous of the people around them,” she says.

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They dismiss drama

“If drama comes up in a mommy group or girls’ night out, for example, the polite people are going to stay quiet or offer a different perspective,” Granville says. “Even if someone is gossiping, that doesn’t mean you need to lower yourself to their level,” Grotts adds. “Acknowledge it and move on by changing the subject. It’s a bit like shaking someone’s hand without pulling away—you just gently let go.”  Try this single magic phrase to stop any rumor before it spreads.

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They make an effort to mingle at a party

“Don’t be a wallflower,” Grotts says. “Make your host feel happy she invited you. Then you’ll be invited back.”

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They don’t complain

“Never ask for special favors such as, ‘Do you have another kind of cheese?” or say, ‘If the wine isn’t white, I’m not drinking it,'” Grotts says. “It’s one evening of your life. You can eat when you leave.” Grotts also says that particularly polite guests say thank you to their host not once, but twice, after the party ends. “Call or email the next day to say thank you and then mail a written note,” she recommends. Check out these touching stories that show just how meaningful a simple thank-you note can be.

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They send texts and emails thoughtfully

“We’ve all made the mistake of putting something in writing, only to later regret it,” Grotts says. “If you put something in writing, sit on it. Send it to yourself and give it 24 hours. You may have a change of heart—or at least a change of words that are kinder.”

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They give compliments with caution

According to Granville, polite people avoid giving compliments tied to someone’s weight or physical appearance—especially if the receiver is a parent. “I don’t know any mom or dad who’s eager to talk about their physical appearance, save for maybe a new hairstyle,” she says. “When you comment on someone’s weight or physical appearance—for instance, if you’re telling a new mom, ‘Wow, you look amazing. You’ve lost all of your baby weight!’—what you’re really doing is saying, ‘I’m noticing your body.’ Even if you’re saying something nice, it might not feel that way to the person receiving the compliment.” Not all compliments should be vocalized. Beware of some compliments that can be interpreted as insults.

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They don’t judge

Granville says that this is one of the most important traits of polite people. “Never assume you know what is going on in someone else’s life. You don’t know if someone’s had a death in the family one day or been up all night with their baby,” she says. “When a parent is holding a crying child walking the aisles of Target, give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re probably doing the best they can to finish their errands before things get worse.”

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They know when (and how) to say no

“Saying no takes a great deal of courage,” Grotts says. “But saying it can be liberating—and, just like anything else, it takes practice.” The good news is there are ways for us to be both assertive and gracious when we say no.

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They’re prepared

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve dealt with a few meltdowns in public. But if you’re a polite parent, you might remember a particularly terrible meltdown and prepare yourself for the next time it’s bound to happen. “Your errands ran longer than expected and you’ve got ‘hangry’ kids? Grab those granola bars from your bag,” Granville says. “On a flight with a screaming toddler whose ears are popping? Good thing you bought a bottle of water on board! When we anticipate our children’s needs (before they become problems), we can keep them happy—and, in turn, keep others around us happy.”

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They master empathy

According to Grotts, etiquette is ultimately measured by how you make another person feel. “If they walk away feeling like a million bucks, you’ve done your job. If you say something to offend them, they may not be your friend in the future,” she says. “It’s very difficult to backtrack once you’ve already crossed that line.” Polite people know this and treat others accordingly. When we approach difficult or controversial conversations with empathy, the outcomes of those conversations immediately become positive—or, at worst, neutral. This allows us to cultivate stronger relationships that will last a lifetime. Next, read on for 50 etiquette tips you should always follow.

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is a contributing writer for Reader’s Digest covering Culture, Advice, Travel and Home Improvement. Her work has also been published in Country Living, The Pioneer Woman and Business Insider, among other outlets. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.