As a professional etiquette instructor, I receive many of questions every day. When is it acceptable to use a mobile phone at work? What should I say in a thank-you note? What’s the correct way to eat soup? It is ever appropriate to wait before replying to a wedding invitation? Do you have to wait for a whole table to be seated at a buffet before you start eating?
But the one question I’m almost never asked is the most obvious and important of all: Why do manners matter?
It’s a good question. Why should we take the time to learn social etiquette? Why bother to do things in the “right” way?
There are many possible answers.
Basically, manners — or what some call rules of etiquette — are guidelines for helping us get along well with others. From earliest childhood through later life, these rules provide us with a structure. Once we’ve learned the rules, we have a sense of “best social practice” and know how to act in a variety of circumstances.
Manners are not complex or mysterious. They are simply a way of showing respectful behavior to others and getting along well with everyone: family, friends, bosses, customers, colleagues, and casual acquaintances.
Displaying good manners can be as simple as opening a door, saying “excuse me,” answering an invitation promptly, going out of our way to serve a customer, helping someone with their coat, or eating in public without offending those around us.
Every day — whether we’re in school, at work, at a job interview, in a family setting, at a party, on a bus — we find ourselves in circumstances where good manners can help us through a situation.
For the child who knows how to meet adults and shake hands, manners provide confidence and ease, especially as they encounter in new situations.
For the middle school student, manners training can make social life easier including “netiquette” (online etiquette), the polite use of cellphones and texting.
For the high school student, good manners can guide many behaviors, as those in this age group make the transition to the adult world, college and work preparation.
For college students, good manners can lead to more successful job interviews.
And adults well trained in basic etiquette skills will benefit both professionally and socially.
In the coming weeks, I'll be taking a more detailed look at specific manners and why they’re important in everyday life. I’ll share my experiences as an etiquette instructor. And I’ll answer your questions as to what manners are appropriate in a given situation. (If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know.)
I invite you to submit your comments and questions to me at Catherine@manhattanmanners.com.
And let the mannerly conversation begin!