I was introduced to a lovely woman recently by a friend. My friend, who knows me well, threw into the introduction the fact that I write modern etiquette programs and curriculums. Lo and behold, the same thing that always happened, happened…
When my friend suggested the three of us go out to lunch together sometime the woman responded, “I don’t want to go out to lunch with you! I would embarrass myself.” (insert uncomfortable giggle here)
I have been teaching modern etiquette to coaches since 2004 so I am used to this reaction from people when they learn about my modern etiquette/social skills train-the-trainer company. I feel bad that the word etiquette makes people feel anxious, because modern etiquette is supposed to do precisely the opposite.
Etiquette is synonymous with kindness.
Modern etiquette is not stuffy, antiquated, stodgy or snooty and there is nothing about pinkies, primness, or pomp. We practice modern etiquette to:
- put people at ease,
- show that we respect and value people,
- demonstrate integrity.
Modern etiquette is a societal code of conduct to which members of society adhere in order to stay civilized. In other words, modern etiquette allows us to brush elbows with strangers, acquaintances, friends and family without making each other uncomfortable.
Imagine a world in which people didn’t practice modern etiquette or social skills.
People would adhere to the rule of law, but how would they treat one another? Could someone reach into your grocery cart and snatch those perfect tomatoes you just spent five minutes choosing? It wouldn’t be illegal, you haven’t paid for them yet, but it would be rude and make you angry. Teachers could yell at your kids, your neighbor could tell you that your front door is ugly, diners could belch, clank, and grunt at the next table while you’re trying to enjoy your meal.
Modern etiquette protects society from our being unbearable. I don’t mind waiting in carline for my children because the people in carline adhere to the rules of modern etiquette. We smile and wave in acknowledgment of one another, we do not honk if we get impatient, we do not cut each other off, we do not blast our stereos out the windows, we move forward quickly and efficiently to keep the line moving. We could be jerks to one another but we refrain from rude behavior and use good manners because it makes carline easier and more pleasant.
Modern etiquette rules keep us inline. When people cross the line of what’s acceptable behavior, like treating an innocent person disrespectfully, members of society step in and redraw the line. Watch people closely and you will see them use micro-cues that say, “Hey, your manners are offensive and that is not okay.”
Modern etiquette is elegant in its ability to morph and change with the times. Society collectively tosses out outdated rules and inserts more fitting rules in their place. Society keeps the rules that work or loosens them up a bit so that they work a little bit better for today. Consider the introduction of the paper napkin, sure it is not as refined as linen but it sure makes life easier for busy families.
We should teach modern etiquette because it is a wonderful tool that makes society a better, warmer, kinder place to exist.
Etiquette is not something to be mocked and ridiculed because we fear being shamed or chastised for picking up the wrong fork or addressing someone incorrectly.
People with great manners are easy to be with because they do everything that they can to make you feel welcome, warm, comfortable and at ease. They might notice a manners gaffe but they would certainly never point it out and they might even make the same gaffe just to ensure your comfort.
So, if there is anyone out there who has avoided a lunch with me because you are afraid of making an etiquette error, please reconsider. I am warm and friendly and I never make the biggest manners mistake of all, correcting other people’s manners.