The Politeness Protocol: Exploring the Psychology of Control in Social Dynamics

Mind Media Tech Double Circles
Mind Media Tech Double Circles

The Psychology of Likability and Politeness as Social Control

In this episode of PsyberSpace, host Leslie Poston explores the intricate and often controversial dynamics of likability, politeness, and professionalism. Focusing on their roles as tools of control, the episode delves into how these constructs influence power dynamics across race, gender, and age, particularly in the American context. Various studies and research are highlighted, examining how societal norms perpetuate biases and inequalities, impacting minority groups and women disproportionately. The episode also discusses the psychological aspects of these social expectations and their pervasive influence on personal and professional lives. Strategies for challenging and redefining these norms to foster inclusivity and diversity are explored, encouraging a reevaluation of how likability and professionalism are judged.

  • 00:00 Introduction to Social Power Dynamics
  • 01:41 The Psychology of Likability and Control
  • 02:50 Politeness and Professionalism as Tools of Control
  • 04:59 Whiteness and the Need for Approval
  • 07:47 Generational and Gender Dynamics
  • 11:28 Consequences of Non-Conformity
  • 15:58 Breaking Free from Social Constraints
  • 18:27 Conclusion and Further Reading

I promised a reading list for those wanting to explore breaking out of the Politeness Protocol at work and in life. Here it is – let me know in the comments what books you would add to the list. some may not seem directly linked to Politeness as Control until you dig into them, but they are all part of that process.

  • “So You Want to Talk About Race” Ijeoma Oluo
  • “White Women” Regina Jackson and Saira Rao
  • “Nice White Ladies” Jessie Daniels
  • “The Origin of Others” Toni Morrison
  • “Against Civility: the Hidden Racism in Our Obsession with Civility” Alex Zamalin
  • “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” Arlie Hochschild
  • “Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm” Robin Diangelo


  1. Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P., & Beninger, A. (2011). The dynamics of warmth and competence judgments, and their outcomes in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 31, 73-98. Summary: This article explores how perceptions of warmth and competence influence social interactions and professional outcomes, highlighting the impact of stereotypes and biases.
  2. DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press. Summary: DiAngelo examines the concept of white fragility and how it hinders genuine anti-racism efforts, focusing on the need for white individuals to confront their own biases and privilege.
  3. Erickson, R. J., & Ritter, C. (2001). Emotional labor, burnout, and inauthenticity: Does gender matter? Social Psychology Quarterly, 64(2), 146-163. Summary: This study investigates the relationship between emotional labor, burnout, and inauthenticity, with a focus on gender differences in these experiences.
  4. Heilman, M. E., & Chen, J. J. (2005). Same behavior, different consequences: Reactions to men’s and women’s altruistic citizenship behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(3), 431-441. Summary: This article examines how gender influences reactions to altruistic behavior in the workplace, highlighting the different consequences faced by men and women.
  5. Hernandez, T. K. (2020). On the prevalence of racial discrimination in the United States. Indiana Law Journal, 95(1), 207-232. Summary: Hernandez discusses the pervasiveness of racial discrimination in the United States, emphasizing the need for systemic change and the acknowledgment of historical and ongoing inequalities.
  6. Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. University of California Press. Summary: Hochschild introduces the concept of emotional labor and explores how it is commodified and regulated in various professions, particularly in the service industry.
  7. Jones, K. P., Peddie, C. I., Gilrane, V. L., King, E. B., & Gray, A. L. (2016). Not so subtle: A meta-analytic investigation of the correlates of subtle and overt discrimination. Journal of Management, 42(6), 1588-1613. Summary: This meta-analysis examines the correlates of subtle and overt discrimination, highlighting the negative impacts on individuals and organizations.
  8. Kray, L. J., & Kennedy, J. A. (2017). Changing the narrative: Women as negotiators—and leaders. California Management Review, 60(1), 70-87. Summary: Kray and Kennedy discuss the challenges faced by women in negotiations and leadership roles, emphasizing the need for changing narratives and expectations.
  9. Lau, D. C., & Murnighan, J. K. (1998). Demographic diversity and faultlines: The compositional dynamics of organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 325-340. Summary: This article explores the concept of demographic faultlines and how they influence group dynamics and outcomes in organizational settings.
  10. Livingston, R. W., Rosette, A. S., & Washington, E. F. (2012). Can an agentic Black woman get ahead? The impact of race and interpersonal dominance on perceptions of female leaders. Psychological Science, 23(4), 354-358. Summary: This study investigates how race and interpersonal dominance affect perceptions of female leaders, particularly focusing on the experiences of Black women.
  11. Manne, K. (2017). Down girl: The logic of misogyny. Oxford University Press. Summary: Manne examines the logic and manifestations of misogyny in contemporary society, highlighting its systemic nature and the ways in which it upholds patriarchal power structures.
  12. Oluo, I. (2018). So you want to talk about race. Seal Press. Summary: Oluo provides a comprehensive guide to discussing race in America, addressing common challenges and offering strategies for productive conversations.
  13. Remedios, J. D., Snyder, S. H., & Lizza, C. A. (2016). Perceptions of women of color who claim compound discrimination: Interpersonal judgments and perceived credibility. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 19(6), 769-783. Summary: This study examines how women of color who claim compound discrimination are perceived by others, focusing on interpersonal judgments and perceived credibility.
  14. Richeson, J. A., & Shelton, J. N. (2007). Negotiating interracial interactions: Costs, consequences, and possibilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(6), 316-320. Summary: Richeson and Shelton explore the challenges and opportunities in interracial interactions, discussing the psychological costs and potential for positive outcomes.
  15. Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2001). Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. Journal of Social Issues, 57(4), 743-762. Summary: This article investigates the prescriptive gender stereotypes that lead to backlash against agentic women, highlighting the social penalties faced by women who deviate from traditional gender roles.
  16. Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons.,+Gender,+and+Sexual+Orientation-p-9780470491409 Summary: Sue examines the concept of microaggressions and how they manifest in daily life, focusing on the experiences of marginalized groups based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.
  17. Swim, J. K., & Hyers, L. L. (2009). Sexism. In T. D. Nelson (Ed.), Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (pp. 407-430). Psychology Press. Summary: This book chapter provides an overview of sexism, its various forms, and its impact on individuals and society.
  18. Torino, G. C., Rivera, D. P., Capodilupo, C. M., Nadal, K. L., & Sue, D. W. (Eds.). (2018). Microaggression theory: Influence and implications. John Wiley & Sons. Summary: This edited volume explores microaggression theory, its development, and its implications for understanding and addressing various forms of discrimination.
  19. Turco, C. J. (2010). Cultural foundations of tokenism: Evidence from the leveraged buyout industry. American Sociological Review, 75(6), 894-913. Summary: Turco examines the cultural foundations of tokenism in the leveraged buyout industry, highlighting how organizational culture and practices contribute to the marginalization of underrepresented groups.
  20. Williams, J. C., & Dempsey, R. (2014). What works for women at work: Four patterns working women need to know. NYU Press. Summary: Williams and Dempsey identify four patterns that women face in the workplace and provide strategies for navigating these challenges and achieving success.
  21. Wingfield, A. H. (2007). The modern mammy and the angry Black man: African American professionals’ experiences with gendered racism in the workplace. Race, Gender & Class, 14(1/2), 196-212. Summary: Wingfield explores the experiences of African American professionals with gendered racism in the workplace, focusing on the stereotypes of the “modern mammy” and the “angry Black man.”
  22. Wirth, J. H., Bernstein, M. J., & LeRoy, A. S. (2015). Atypical combinations and white space. Social Psychology, 46(6), 348-359. Summary: This article investigates the concept of “white space” and how atypical combinations of race and gender influence social perceptions and interactions.
  23. Yogeeswaran, K., & Dasgupta, N. (2010). Will the “real” American please stand up? The effect of implicit national prototypes on discriminatory behavior and judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(10), 1332-1345.
  24. Zamudio, M. M., & Rios, F. (2006). From traditional to liberal racism: Living racism in the everyday. Sociological Perspectives, 49(4), 483-501.
  25. Zou, L. X., & Cheryan, S. (2017). Two axes of subordination: A new model of racial position. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(5), 696-717.
  26. Watts, R. J. (2003). Politeness. Cambridge University Press.
  27. Holmes, J., & Schnurr, S. (2005). Politeness, Power, and Provocation: How Humor Functions in the Workplace.
  28. Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage.
  29. Eelen, G. (2001). A Critique of Politeness Theories.
  30. Locher, M. A., & Watts, R. J. (2005). Politeness theory and relational work.

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