Etiquette tends to be one of those words that people cringe and scowl whenever they hear it. It makes people think of reprimands, classism, or “that horrible moment when…”. But it doesn’t have to be so. The basis of etiquette is being kind, considerate, and respectful.
Yes, etiquette is about rules. And although some rules make you scratch your head, most make sense because etiquette is about being aware of the people around you… being aware of their presence, their feelings, even their idiosyncrasies… and then making them feel comfortable in your presence.
The specific details like knowing which fork to use or which dress to wear will matter little if you have already offended those around you. You would be amazed how much a genuine smile, a joyful attitude, and a simple “sorry“ will overshadow any faux pas you may make.
Here are 8 basic rules of etiquette to follow:
Say please and thank you often.
This is an easy one, but it is also easily forgotten. Sometimes, we take for granted people’s generosity. We must all remember no one owes us generosity. No one owes us execellent service. No one owes us their time. When we receive it, it is gracious to express our gratitude and appreciation. You should not want others to feel unappreciated, taken advantage of, or disrespected. If you can help alleviate those negative feelings with just a couple of words, why wouldn’t you?
Say excuse me when it is appropriate.
If you need to interrupt someone, begin explaining a wrong, ask a question, or to apologize – an excuse me is an easy way to begin. Just a couple of words, no more than 2 seconds, can make someone else feel a bit better about whatever you have done or are about to do.
Say I am sorry whenever you are wrong.
Just 3 small words can calm a situation down. There’s nothing worse than a long-standing argument or ill-will that could have ended from the start with these three simple words. If you made a mistake, acknowledge it. Let the other person know you respect them enough to say you were wrong.
Help others in need.
It doesn’t matter if it is a guy or girl, a poor person or a rich person, a young body or an older one… when someone is having a difficult time, who they are does not and should not matter. We all cry. We all bleed. We all suffer.
If an older person is having a hard time picking up something, and you are abled, pick it up. If a young neighbor needs money to catch the bus and you have money to spare, gift it over. If a co-worker needs your advice, share your time and wisdom. Simple actions go a long way in making others feel better.
Treat others with respect and consideration.
Don’t call someone ugly names. Don’t yell unless it is necessary. If you are in a place to meet someone, a stranger or friend, don’t ignore the person. Don’t say mean things. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Don’t let it slam in their face. Don’t talk with your mouth full of food. Ever had food spit in your face when someone did this? How did it feel? Do your best to cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze. Ever been coughed on? Not only does it feel disgusting but it is also unhealthy. Again, the key to etiquette is making the person next to you feel comfortable in your presence.
Now, how do you make the person next to you feel comfortable? First, you must actually want to do so. To be welcoming is not just a learned ability, it is also a desire.
Second, pay attention to how you feel with different people. Ask yourself: What makes you feel comfortable and uncomfortable? What makes you feel happy and sad? What conversations and random experiences inspire and lift you up? What experiences have made you angry, sad, or bitter?
Spend time going over past behaviours and experiences in your mind. Pay attention to the actions committed and the words said. At this point, you should begin to see how people’s behaviours influence yours; how they can affect your day; and how one simple gesture can make you feel welcome or like a queen, even if only for a day.
From this point, you should have a basis to work on. You now know what makes you feel welcomed and emotionally lifted. So, use that knowledge when you interact with others. Spread good vibes. Good vibes have a way of attracting the most wonderful of friends, experiences, and gifts.
Respect people’s personal space.
When you approach someone, give them arm-length space to acknowledge you first, before stepping closer. If you are on friendly terms you can then step closer for a handshake, hug, or kiss on the cheek.
When you don’t give someone enough room to know you are near and to recognize you, you risk unsettling the person. This unsettling produces a negative energy, like fear, even if only for a second. It’s best to avoid this.
When speaking to people it’s also best to stay an arm-length away. This allows the other person to see your entire body frame while speaking to you, offering them a sense of safety. Ever notice how much safer you feel when a threat is several bodies away versus right next to you? These are innate security features we all have in us.
The less you know someone, the more reasonable space you should give. For example, do not stand right behind someone at an ATM machine. Do not kiss the cheeks of a stranger unless it is culturally expected. Do not enter the bathroom with a friend unless it is culturally and personally accepted. Each culture has their own rules. Some ask for more space, some less. Read up on them when in doubt.
Respect people’s property.
No one likes having their property destroyed without permission. Respect that. Just think how you would feel if your neighbor took your car for a joyride and wrecked it.
Remember property is bought, gifted, or inherited. It holds some sort of meaning, value, or security to the owner. When you disrespect it, you cause the owner distress. This negative production should be avoided at all cost.
Always think about how you will feel. Then think about how others may feel. This is the first step to being “considerate”.
This rule is the most important rule in our book. To respect yourself, you must first know what respect is. Not until you know what respect is, can you truly respect others, consciously and unconsciously. The first step is to learn what does self-respect mean to you and what does it entitle.
Self-respect is relative. It means different things to different people. So, read up on it if you haven’t already. Then, make a list of what you expect from yourself and from others. For example, some believe self-respect includes bathing everyday to avoid embarrassing situations, or dressing appropriately whenever possible, or saying kind words to oneself, or thanking oneself verbally, or showing oneself gratitude with gifts.
Again, self-respect is relative, but it is important. If you do not show yourself respect, it will be hard for others to respect you. In general, people follow examples not ideas. If you allow others to see yourself disrespected, by yourself or by others, you will invite more disrespect. On the other hand, if you respect yourself and demonstrate for others how important self-respect is for you, you will encourage them to be more respectful around and to you.
We all know consciously and unconsciously each others limits and tolerances. Is there someone you would not say a curse word in front of, be tardy with, discuss a certain subject, or introduce certain people? Pay attention to your behaviour around people – with your boss, co-workers, friends, family members, elders, and strangers. Do you see any differences in your behaviour? If yes, why are you different with them?
Remember to be kind to others does not mean you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of or dishonored. Know how you want to be treated and then, start demanding it, from yourself and from others.