I don’t wanna say I knew this all along, but really… I sorta did.
There’s something eerie about overly polite people — people who will throw compliments your way within minutes of meeting you, or offer to do all sorts of nice things for you, when they barely know you.
It makes you want to figure the person out. Who are they and why are they being so damn nice?
Let me introduce you to a study called “Linguistic Harbingers of Betrayal.” It just might help to shed a bit of light on the topic.
The study, conducted by researchers from Cornell University, the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado had participants engaging in a game called “Diplomacy” in which they were broken up into countries that represented Europe before the first World War.
The game is designed in such a way that players spend their time negotiating, forming alliances with other ‘countries’ (players) and, most importantly in the context of this study, betraying those alliances when they deem it necessary.
This isn’t just a great way to push your friend to finally break up with their monster of a partner on game night – it’s also a great way to learn about how humans form and break the alliances necessary to play the game.
Austria is very polite and positive in its reply, and appreciates Germany’s support and generosity. They have been good allies for the better part of the game. However, immediately after this exchange, Austria suddenly invades German territory. The intention to do so was so well concealed that Germany did not see the betrayal coming; otherwise it would have taken advantage first.
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Unless someone is a complete psychopath (but even then), they’re not going to come right out and make it clear that they’re about to rip you off. What will they do instead? They’ll be polite and conversational. Maybe they’ll even offer to do something extraordinary for you.
Y’know, like those sketchy scam artists who try to sell you timeshares when you’re on vacation and offer to take you out to lunch afterward.
What’s especially interesting about the “Diplomacy” study, is the language cues that researchers found to be accurate indicators of impending betrayal. One such cue was a sharp decrease in politeness of individuals right before they betrayed their ally.
This can even indicate that the betrayal was planned far in advance, as opposed to a simple stumbling-upon of opportunity.
What’s even more interesting, is that by working off these indicators or clues, a computer program was able to predict betrayal in advance 57% of the time!
Now, of course, you can see how all of this might lead someone to become really cynical and wary of anyone who shows politeness early on in a friendship or a relationship.
The important thing to remember is that there are other reasons for someone to be incredibly polite. Maybe they think you’re cute.
There will likely be other circumstantial clues hinting at this person’s manipulation of you if something is amiss.
So basically what I’m saying is, don’t read this into every scenario you come across. Appreciate politeness when it comes across as genuine.
And when it doesn’t? Well, you probably had a gut feeling, didn’t you?