For me, I think of which fork to use, how to address an envelope, and what to do with gifts you don’t like. On Tuesday, I attended our Junior League General Meeting and had the opportunity to hear a talk from Peter Post, the great-grandson of Emily Post, the woman who basically invented our modern concepts of etiquette. Originally, Anna Post, Peter’s son and Emily’s great-great-granddaughter was supposed to speak, but she was sick. Peter is also the director of the Emily Post Institute, so he is quite experienced in all things etiquette.
So what did I learn?
The first thing Peter explained was the etiquette is not about the rules.
“I don’t care what fork you use,” he said.
Peter explained that proper etiquette is really a relationship builder.
“The How in life matters. How you interact with people matters. You have choices in how you fix the problem – either it helps or hurts a relationship. How your actions are perceived by others matter.”
If we don’t consider how our actions affect others, we might lose friends, clients, opportunities, etc.
Peter says that in etiquette, we should keep three goals in mind:
1) Stop and think before you act.
2) Make choices that build relationships.
3) Be sincere in how you act, or people won’t believe you and have confidence in you. Trust is fundamental in our relationships.
Peter then shared some advice on how to deal with some timely issues that we’re all dealing with:
Political Talk: Peter says we need to recognize that your job isn’t to change someone’s mind. I think this is a really important point, because I think most of us might secretly hope that a perfectly worded tweet or link to an article will suddenly illuminate the “other side” and we’ll recruit more people for our candidate. Peter says to “stick to facts instead of a personal attack.” People get incredibly defensive when they feel they are being attacked for their beliefs, and that won’t get you far. Or just change the subject!
Holiday Parties: Peter says if you receive an RSVP, answer it as soon as possible! Even if you’re not going. Even if you’re not sure that you’re going. Keep the hostess updated so she knows how to plan, and won’t find out last minute that you’re coming. It also guarantees that you received the invitation! Most of the time, I assume that if someone doesn’t answer an RSVP, it means that a person can’t make it. But in reality, invitations are sometimes lost or forgotten. So if you have an invitation, RSVP. And if you’re missing RSVPs, make sure to follow-up, since there’s a chance they never even received it. Peter also says not to bring extra guests unless you tell the hostess, as she might not be planning enough food for extra people.
Also, if you decide you can’t come, update your RSVP right away! I have had a lot of no-shows at my parties, and I agree with Peter. It’s incredibly hurtful to make food for a certain number of guests, and then have people not come or wonder where they are.
Social Media: This isn’t really new, but maintain eye contact with people who are speaking. Whether it’s in a meeting or when you’re with friends, pay attention to the people you’re with. If you are going to check your phone or take a call, make sure it’s okay with the other person. “Checking your phone might be good for you,” Peter says, “But it can hurt the other person.”
Finally, Peter had these three words to keep in mind when it comes to etiquette:
Need more help? The Emily Post Institute has several etiquette guides. In addition to their enormous etiquette Bible, they have guides for couples, men (!), children, weddings, and more! I bought the Essential Manners for Couples, and I’ll be sure to share any tips we learn!
Do you have any etiquette tips you abide by?