May 21-27 is National Etiquette Week”

With a week devoted to an observance of “etiquette” in May, it’s a good time to generate some more awareness of our conduct—manners, if you will—so people can be better armed for the behaviors and attitudes that will serve them well in their business and personal lives.

So I’m going to offer a primer—just a general overview—on etiquette here.  Let’s start with a definition. The dictionary defines etiquette as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.”  Now, here’s the problem with that definition—it conjures up images of people drinking tea out of delicate china cups with their pinkie fingers extended. For that reason, I don’t like the term “etiquette.”

Emily Post, the manners maven of the early 20th century, once said, “Etiquette is the science of living.” Ah, now that’s better. Given that it’s all about our behaviors and attitudes—the dynamics of our interactions in our business and social life—I choose to call this concept Business and Social Dynamics.  There are other terms I like, as well: presence, professionalism, emotional intelligence. Why is this concept so important? When our behaviors are positive and professional, we have a powerful and credible presence—we’re noticed and taken seriously.  When we practice these skills, we’re more likable.  And when we’re more likable, our interactions are more productive, our environment is more pleasant, and our desired outcomes are usually more successful. We “stand out”!

What are some of these dynamics?

  • Show interest in others. Nothing—and I mean nothing—is a stronger likability factor.
  • Be a good listener. Pay attention when others are talking, hear what they’re saying, and let them know you’ve heard them by responding appropriately.
  • Don’t interrupt someone who is talking.
  • Resist trying to top another person’s story.
  • Practice basic good manners: say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” when appropriate.
  • Learn to make proper introductions. Whenever possible, you say the name of the more important person first.
  • Strive to learn and remember people’s names. Repeating the name, asking for its spelling, committing to remembering it, and making word associations will help.
  • Mind your dining manners. Don’t talk with your mouth full, learn place settings so you know which glass is yours (everything you drink from is on the right), choose your utensils from the outside in, put your napkin on your lap when you sit down at the table and leave it there until you rise to leave.
  • Return phone calls and email promptly.
  • Show enthusiasm and energy in everything you do—nothing is more contagious.
  • Compliment good ideas and good work.
  • Strive to make others feel comfortable—whether it’s a newcomer, a customer, a guest, a junior associate.


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