Adam wrote to me about the use of the word please in his company. A word that is supposed to warm up a message is making him question people's motives.
Adam shared these examples, which I have disguised slightly. He is wondering whether they seem manipulative. What do you think?
- What do think of my suggestion, please?
- Do you think we should sign the two-year contract, please?
- David, thanks for your recommendation. Please schedule a meeting with Lei and me to discuss it.
- Randi, can you cover the front desk during the meeting, please?
- Who was the last person to use the conference room, please?
The only example that sounds natural is Number 3. In the other sentences, tacking on a please is awkward at best. At worst, it comes across as either whiny or impatient–or in Number 5, a bit ominous. Those impressions are all unfortunate, especially if the writer used please simply to be polite rather than pushy.
These revisions accomplish the same goal without awkwardness:
- Please let me know what you think of my suggestion. Thanks!
OR–I'd love to know what you think of my suggestion.
OR–Have you had a chance to consider my suggestion? I would enjoy knowing what you think of it.
- Do you think we should sign the two-year contract?
OR–What is your opinion of the two-year contract?
OR–Please let me know whether you recommend the two-year contract.
- [I thought the example was fine as is. Here is a less directive version:]
David, thanks for your recommendation. Would you please schedule a meeting with Lei and me to discuss it?
- Randi, can you please cover the front desk during the meeting?
Number 5 should probably be scrapped altogether. In many companies, it's easy to find out who used the conference room most recently. But if it is not easy, this approach may be more honest, depending on circumstances:
I don't know who used the conference room last, so I need to remind everyone that we do not have daily janitorial service. That's why it's important to leave the conference room clean for the next group that wants to use it.
I agree with Adam that these pleases are not effective. So what can he do? He might try saying–not writing–something like this to the writers in question.
When the word please is tacked on to a message, I'm not sure how to read it. Sometimes it feels–to me–like an exclamation or frustration. What do you intend when you add please to a question?
With that opening remark, he can work toward helping his coworker or coworkers be more successful–and polite.
I live in the upper lefthand corner of the continental United States, and I may be linguistically biased on this question. I welcome your comments, please.
Just kidding about the please.