In this first article of this series Manners: A Lost Art, we will begin building the foundation of our behavior by discussing the basics of good manners. Many of us learned these as children growing up, but sometimes we lose sight of the importance of politeness in the hectic, often rude world in which we live. Good manners may sound a bit old fashioned, but there is more to it than archaic rules governing behavior. When we display good manners, we convey respect and consideration towards those around us, which will assist in fostering positive relationships.
Use the polite phrases.
Always use the polite phrases in your daily conversations: “Please”, “Thank you”, and “You’re welcome”. These polite phrases carry far more weight than we often realize. The phrases “Excuse me” and “Pardon me” can be used in multiple situations: if you must make a necessary interruption to enter or exit a conversation, to make a request (sometimes an awkward request) of someone, to leave a table, or to apologize.
Also, remember to use polite greetings, such as “Hello”, “Good morning”, “Good Afternoon”, and “Good Evening”. Even when you are familiar with someone, using a polite greeting is more complimentary than “Hi”, “Hey”, “What’s up?”, and other common greetings. If you do not already use the polite phrases, make a conscience effort to begin including them in your conversations. After a while, you will develop a habit, and it will become natural.
Use respectful language.
Making use of respectful language implies consideration for those around you and can assist you in avoiding bad impressions. Use proper titles and manner of address, such as “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, “Sir”, “Ma’am” if the addressee is someone unfamiliar with you, in a superior position than you, or older than you or use the manner of address the individual has expressed a preference for with those familiar with you. It is important to speak clearly, not mumbling nor slurring; use your best speech and pronunciation; and do not speak too loudly nor too fast. Depending upon the situation, you may want to avoid colloquial expressions—there are appropriate times and places for casual, laid-back conversation. You should use “Yes” and “No” instead of “Yeah” or “Yup” and “Nah” or “Nope”.
Respectful language also means avoiding cursing, disrespectful words and phrases with negative connotations, insulting and degrading conversation, gossip, crude jokes, and bodily functions. Also, it is disrespectful to make a habit of interrupting others, to change the subject of a conversation abruptly, or make yourself the center of conversation through boasting or bragging.
One of my pet peeves is when an individual responds with a loud, obnoxious “What?!” or “What is it?!” or “Huh?” when he or she hears his or her name called. This rude method of response was very common with children when I was growing up, and now I witness it in public venues, such as grocery stores and restaurants, and even in the workplace. More polite and respectful responses would be: “Yes?” or “Can I help you?” If you need to ask someone for clarification, you should ask: “Could you say that again, please?”, “Pardon?”, or even “I’m sorry?”
Sincerely Apologize and Graciously Accept Apologies.
Sincere apologies are also an important part of good manners, and making and accepting apologies demonstrate grace and maturity that is often lacking in today’s world with the too prominent “no fault” attitudes. Apologies, when given in earnest, can even defuse volatile situations, because many people find it difficult to remain angry with someone who has openly admitted his or her error or wrongdoing and sincerely asks for forgiveness.
While admitting our faults or mistakes may not always be easy, it is the morally right course of action. Some may believe that apologizing somehow shows weakness and frailty, but the opposite is actually true. It takes a strong, mature individual to recognize his or her mistake, to openly admit this wrong by asking for forgiveness, and then to learn from the mistake. Likewise, it takes a strong, mature individual to accept an apology from and grant forgiveness to the one who wronged you in some way.
Extending common courtesies to others.
Common courtesies go beyond the polite phrases and respectful language to include attitude and actions. Everything from holding the door for someone, man or woman, following you closely in or out of a building; holding the elevator if there is room for more passengers; opting to take the stairs, if feasible, than an elevator when there is a crowd; allowing someone with only a few items to go ahead of you at a store check-out if you have a cart-full of items; parking farther back in a parking lot to allow the closer spaces for those with a greater need for proximity to the building entrance (disabled, elderly, pregnant women, etc.); leaving a tip at a restaurant; sending Thank You Cards to express your gratitude; smiling instead of frowning even if you are having a bad day; offering your seat to a pregnant woman or elderly individual; and much more. These common courtesies tend to be “small” actions, but they can have a profound impact on someone’s day. In addition, showing courtesy to those around you can improve your own attitude, because helping others, even if it is something small, gives you a sense of satisfaction, contentment, and happiness.
At the same time, common courtesy means there are some behaviors that you avoid, such as staring (this includes ogling an attractive man or woman); loud or noticeable gum chewing and bubble-blowing; leaving a mess behind you, whether at a restaurant, office, or home (Parents, this means cleaning up your children’s messes. Pet owners, this also means cleaning up your pet’s messes when you take them for walks or out in public.); and not returning something to the way you found it. (Gentlemen, this includes not putting the toilet seat down. If it was down when you entered the bathroom, be sure to put it down before you leave.)
Depending upon the situation and the company you are with, you may also need to take into consideration those little things that others may find irritating: sniffling, cracking knuckles or popping joints, itching, obnoxious laughter, etc. If you know that a certain habit causes someone annoyance, you show that you care for and respect that person by avoiding said habit in their presence. Basically, common courtesies means intentionally creating a comfortable environment for those around you instead of thinking of yourself first.
Table manners are important.
When dining in public or invited to a meal, sometimes it seems that table manners have gone the way of the dodo and dinosaurs… extinct. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is: chew with your mouth closed. Chewing with your mouth open (partially or widely) is more than disrespectful to the other guests—it is disgusting. Also avoid smacking, slurping, burping, and other loud noises.
Other points that you should consider include using utensils properly, not like a shovel; cut your food into bit-sized pieces; do not put too much food into your mouth at one time; use your napkin; and your posture: slouching, elbows on the table, and reaching across the table should be avoided. Politely ask for items to be passed to you instead, and use “Excuse me” when leaving the table. It is also advisable to avoid blowing your nose, picking your teeth, or answering a call or text message on your cellphone at the table. If it most be done, politely excuse yourself from the table. If, for some reason, you cannot leave the table, apologize to the other guests before and after.
Self-awareness and grooming your personal image.
While appearance is not everything, the reality of this world in which we live is that often appearance plays an important role in first impressions and how people perceive you. Right or wrong, appearance discloses a lot about a person, and so it is equally important for you to groom your personal image. First and foremost is personal hygiene and cleanliness; it is perfectly acceptable to show respect for yourself by allowing time for proper hygiene: bathing, clean hair and face, brushing teeth, washing hands, and wearing clean, unstained clothes. You should buy clothes that compliment your body type and complexion and shoes that are both nice and comfortable. Make sure that you dress appropriately for the occasion: for example, do not wear shorts when it is snowing outside, go to a business meeting wearing jeans and flip-flops, or do your gardening in your church clothes. When you take care of yourself, you will find that you are comfortable in your own skin and have renewed confidence.
Though one aspect of your personal image is your clothing choices, it is more than just wearing the right clothes for the right occasion. You need to be aware of how you present yourself in private, public, informal, and formal settings. It is also realizing what your appearance—cleanliness, neatness, clothing choices, and deportment—says about you. How is your posture? What does your facial expression convey to others? Can your tone of voice be misunderstood or taken the wrong way?
Using polite phrases and respectful language, apologizing and accepting apologies, extending common courtesies to others, table manners, and self-awareness and grooming your personal image are all important components to basic manners. Though we covered these basics rather quickly, remember that we were laying the foundation that we will be building on in future articles.