Levels of Politeness – Lessons from Japan

This one is also one of the many learnings from my 4 years in Japan. In Japan, it is very important to choose the right politeness level as it can make or break your relationships with your friends, clients, or your team.

Keigo is crucial and particular to Japan. However, some of it can also be easily implemented in your own day to day conversations.

In the following examples, the politeness increases as we go down the list.

1) Name? / Your Name? / Name please? / Tell me your name.

This will be the most straightforward but blunt way to ask someone their name.

2) What is your name?

Asking a question in a complete form is a basic and safest way to ask someone their name.

3) Can you tell me your name?

There is a subtle difference between this and the next one. In this way, we are making the other person DO THE WORK to complete this task. However, this one is politer than the previous version because you are asking for permission first before you can have their name.

4) May/Can I ask your name?

This one also asks for permission before you can have their name. However, in this version, you are the one who is DOING THE WORK to complete this task. You may use this with your managers and your clients.

5) Is it OK if I ask your name?

This version is politer than all the above as it is checking whether it is OK to ask for permission to have your name, and then proceed to ask. Best to converse with your clients.

Which level of politeness do you use with your friends, team, and clients?


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