This article engages with the notions of discernment and volition, developed by Ide (1989), in order to consider how the concept which these phenomena describe could be reintroduced into second-wave critical analysis of politeness and impoliteness. It is our contention that these terms have been used in a way which polarizes cultures, so that various East Asian cultures are characterized as 'discernment cultures' whilst Western cultures are seen as 'volitional'. We argue that this polarization is problematic as it does not capture politeness behaviour beyond certain stereotypes, and as such it fails to address the complexities with which a cross-cultural examination of politeness needs to cope. Nevertheless, we believe that the cross-cultural phenomenon which Ide attempted to capture should not be completely ignored. Thus, we reconceptualize the notions of discernment and volition, by focusing on discernment, and we integrate this concept into a framework (Kádár 2013) based on convention and ritual, hence providing a way of using the term discernment in crosscultural (and intercultural) analysis.