The magic word? Face-work and the functions of 'please' in everyday requests

Chalfoun, A., Rossi, G., & Stivers, T. (2024). The magic word? Face-work and the functions of 'please' in everyday requests. Social Psychology Quarterly. doi:10.1177/01902725241245141.
Expressions of politeness such as 'please' are prominent elements of interactional conduct that are explicitly targeted in early socialization and are subject to cultural expectations around socially desirable behavior. Yet their specific interactional functions remain poorly understood. Using conversation analysis supplemented with systematic coding, this study investigates when and where interactants use 'please' in everyday requests. We find that 'please' is rare, occurring in only 7 percent of request attempts. Interactants use 'please' to manage face-threats when a request is ill fitted to its immediate interactional context. Within this, we identify two environments in which 'please' prototypically occurs. First, 'please' is used when the requestee has demonstrated unwillingness to comply. Second, 'please' is used when the request is intrusive due to its incompatibility with the requestee’s engagement in a competing action trajectory. Our findings advance research on politeness and extend Goffman’s theory of face-work, with particular salience for scholarship on request behavior.
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