JS Tip 194: Your Responses about Asking People to Do Something

Last week, we asked you if “Please” at the beginning of a request indicated an option. If it inferred the request was unimportant.


Overwhelmingly, your response was  “No.” “Please” is polite. “Please” is civil. “Please” is the magic word. (Just as your mother said. A lot of folks cited their mother’s advice.)

Several of you suggested ways to increase the strength of the request.

Add a deadline. This adds urgency: “Please turn in your report by 5:00 pm on Thursday.”

Add the reasons. This provides justification: “Please turn in your report by 5:00 pm on Thursday. We’ll consolidate the reports and get them to headquarters on Friday.” People are more willing to comply when they know the reasons why.   

A few of you cited situations where “please” may be inappropriate.

Safety portions of technical documents. “Disconnect the power before opening the access panel” is probably more directive than “Please disconnect . . . .” and probably warranted. And probably safer. Bzzzzt!

Court orders and legal papers. “Report to the correctional facility no later than . . . .” More serious. And purposefully less polite. And probably warranted.

We’re grateful for your responses. Thank you. You were great.