By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
“Maralee, what are the biggest manners mistakes?” It’s a question I get asked a lot, and it’s one I’m glad to answer because people wouldn’t ask if they didn’t care. And I love it when people care, especially when it’s about manners.
There is one itty bitty “problem”: the question they ask isn’t the one they really want to know the answer to. They actually want to know about the biggest etiquette mistakes, not the biggest manners mistakes.
Manners. Etiquette. What’s the difference? Aren’t they the same things?
The two words are pretty much used interchangeably these days, but the meanings are different. And the differences are meaningful.
Manners are produced in our heart and flow out of us.
They’re similar to character traits. But even better than that, they’re the fruit our spirit produces: gentleness, thoughtfulness, truthfulness, integrity, and such. These traits were admired in, and the hallmarks of, highly regarded persons 300 years ago. They are today. They will be 300 years from now. They don’t change.
Etiquette is how we express the fruit that our spirit produces in our words and actions. But since it’s taught to us, it flows into us.
You see, etiquette is more about which fork to use, how to send a proper group text, or how to introduce your spouse to your new CEO. Etiquette changes over time. It evolves to meet the needs and sensibilities of the generation it’s serving. The internet has put the whole world, and billions of the people in it, at our fingertips. There’s not less of a need to know how to not accidentally be rude. There are billions more reasons for us to learn etiquette!
Manners and Etiquette Together Forever For a Reason
Manners and etiquette walk though life holding hands. They’re separate, but they don’t like to be separated. If you have manners but don’t know how to express them, you’re not sharing with the world the bounty of the unique fruit of your spirit. If you have etiquette but no manners, then you’re only window dressing. And like a wondrous Christmas window display in the best department store in New York City or London, as lovely as it is, no one wants to see it in February. The luster lasts only for a season.
You’ll find etiquette in every post I’ve written on this blog, but more importantly, you’ll also find manners — the manners of why following the etiquette I’m sharing helps us become the best version of ourselves while being authentic to ourselves.
So, let’s get to the heart of the matter — our manners. We’ll look at the five biggest manners mistakes, because once what is flowing from our heart is right, the etiquette is easy enough to learn, and for you it will never be mere window dressing. It will be the authentic expression of your heart!
The 5 Biggest Manners Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
In no particular order….
1. Forgetting that in shared spaces it’s not just about us. If our heart is in the right place, then following the Golden Rule should be easy. But have you noticed while spending a day in public that it seems like most people haven’t gotten the memo that there is a Golden Rule?!
The pleasantries of interacting with others are fading: holding the door for the person or persons behind you (here’s the etiquette for going through any door), dressing appropriately for the occasion because we know that what we’re wearing speaks for us from across the room to everyone in the room (here’s the etiquette of what to wear where), talking, at least for a few minutes, to strangers next to us on a plane and not tuning them out as if they don’t exist (here’s how to have a great conversation), treating wait staff and sales clerks as we would want to be treated if we had their job, giving up our seat for anyone who needs it more than we do regardless of age or gender, offering to push the buttons for others on elevators (Sometimes, the etiquette for the situation is that it’s best if you do press the buttons, sometimes it’s better if you don’t. Here’s the difference and why, explained), properly letting people know whether you’ll be at the event they’ve invited you to attend (modern RSVP etiquette, one of the most popular posts on the blog, is explained here), or not forcing others to listen to a one-sided cell phone conversation in a confined space like a public waiting room, restaurant, bathroom (yek!) or the like (using a cell phone while considering others is covered here).
Picture life as a train ride on a restored train from generations ago. We’re not in one of the private cars. We’re sharing our car (life) with other passengers, and as such, we owe the persons we’re on this journey with (whether our lives touch for minutes or decades) kindness, respect, a smile, eye contact, a word or two — or more, a helping hand, and a heart that looks for manners that makes us the cool breeze that refreshes others as the train chugs down the track on a hot summer day.
2. Forgetting to express our gratitude. Without gratitude, an entitlement mentality settles into our soul. And yet, we run through our busy lives, always meaning to contact those certain someones and thank them for the nice things they did for us or the presents they mailed us, and yet it never seems to get scratched off our to-do list. And then one day, we think to ourselves, that was so long ago, it would be awkward to thank them now. From that day forward, it never makes our to-do list again. (It’s easy to underestimate the power of gratitude, but here’s how one thank you letter saved a life and the easy 5-step formula for writing heart-felt notes. It’s a powerful post and one of my favorites.)
Gratitude is more than a common social nicety or an etiquette “must.” It’s the key to the front door of a life of contentment. It’s not only being grateful for what others have done for us, it’s also about being grateful for everything we have. If you’re going through a hard spot in life right now and find gratitude elusive because of your circumstances, try this: be thankful for what you don’t have.
It worked for me recently.
Just several months ago, my youngest son was diagnosed with a medical condition that, while thank goodness was not life threatening, was a jolt to our heart and feeling of stability. One of the things the condition does is require him to get a daily shot for the next four or five years. He already has profound learning challenges and some other medical issues. This little boy has never done anything to anyone — why would he be given such a heavy load to carry? Like all children (and myself), he doesn’t like shots. The thought of having to give him one, and of him having to receive it from me, for the next five years was a little too much for me. I was finding it hard to be grateful.
The following week after being told, Kent and I were back at the doctor’s office picking up his medicine. We asked the doctor again about the possible side effects. He assured us that in his almost 30 years of working in the field, he had very few children who had significant problems with the side effects. “In fact,” he said, “I give it to all my pediatric leukemia patients and my little ones waiting for organ transplants.”
What?! Children. Leukemia. Organ transplants.
In an instant I was bathing in gratitude. I was grateful for all the things that Corbett didn’t have and that we aren’t dealing with daily. I filled up three pages in my gratitude journal, and I could have written more. Being grateful for what I didn’t have also showed me what I had to be grateful for, and once again the maker of the universe handed me back my personal key to contentment that you can only get from Him through prayer, praise, and gratitude.
When our hearts are full of gratitude, we grow the sweetest and most bountiful crop of fruits of our spirit. It changes our whole manner of being. Trust me on this. It’s a biggie! (Again, this post on the etiquette of expressing written gratitude to others will help anyone produce a bountiful crop of gratitude.)
3. Forgetting the one(s) we’re with. Technology can pull at our attention with what feels like a pull more powerful than the strongest magnet in the world. You look at your smartphone to check one thing really quick, and then…what’s this….a link to an article, an article with photos, an article with photos of some mega celebrity’s mega-million-dollar wedding. Or it might be a great recipe. Or if you’re, say, my husband, a wealth manager, you click on the link with the article from the Federal Reserve talking about interest rates, or bank rates, or whatever it is that they talk about that moves the markets up and down and keeps him on his toes looking out for his clients’ best interests.
There’s a lot of legitimate reasons to be on-line. There’s also a time and place for everything. If you’ve arranged to, or agreed to, be with someone, kind manners will guide you to give the gift of all of your attention. Giving your attention was a promise that didn’t need to be said but was inherent when you agreed to be with the person(s). People know immediately when someone is distracted. Multitasking when it comes to giving someone your attention just isn’t possible. People who do so come off as uninterested. And that’s not a character trait anyone wants in a person they call friend, parent, spouse, boss, associate, or anything else. It’s one of the biggest manners mistakes and probably the one that happens more times a day than the others combined.
We can be on-line anytime. We can’t get back the time we’re missing with the person being left out.
4. Forgetting that we shouldn’t assume. Unless people have proven themselves to be untrustworthy, we want to assume the best. The people whispering in the corner: they shouldn’t be whispering, but don’t assume it’s about you. The friend who hasn’t returned your phone call or text: don’t assume she doesn’t like you; call back in a day and check whether she’s OK. Your boss who hasn’t said thank you for the great job you did: don’t assume your boss didn’t find your work great; simply ask whether your work was satisfactory. The spouse who seems distant: don’t assume it’s a major marriage problem; lovingly ask what’s wrong and what you can do to help.
Did you know that the first rule of manners is to never assume? It’s because assumption leads to presumption.
We’re assuming we know others’ wants, needs, or desires. Heck, half the time they’re unsure themselves, so how can we possibly know?
Don’t assume that your guest is or isn’t hungry or thirsty. Ask!
Don’t assume that your child wants a Spider-man themed birthday party. Ask!
Don’t assume that your friend wants to go with you to see the plays this season at the local theater group because you went together last year. Ask!
Ask and you won’t have to wonder or worry or accidentally assume incorrectly and leave the other person in an awkward or inconvenient position. Asking shows that you have a heart that wants to give what’s wanted.
5. Forgetting that you can disagree with someone without ever being disagreeable. When Marc, my oldest son, was graduating pre-K, printed along with all the graduates’ photos was their answer to the question, What do you want to be when you grow up?
They made it into a DVR and played it on giant screens to the clapping, cheers, and “aws” of loving parents and grandparents.
Of the 45 students, there were lots of veterinarians, dolphin trainers, mommies, fire fighters, superheroes, actors, one fairy godmother, and one United States Senator representing the Great State of Florida.
Care to guess which one was Marc? His family nickname wasn’t “Senator” without good reason!
We never push politics on him. We also don’t dissuade him. My husband is the fourth generation to be born in Orlando. Around here, that’s ancient. He’s been asked to run for political office, but our answer has always been NO!
The serving part he’d love, as would Marc, but the mean-spiritedness and the angry, even perverse, words of people on the other side of any issue would be too much stress to deal with day in and day out for four years or more.
I’ve read the most distasteful things on forums of both political parties and the personal Facebook pages of people I thought would know better.
Of course it’s OK to have an opinion and to be on opposite sides of the fence with someone on an issue. It’s just that no one has ever been dissuaded from an opinion by name-calling and verbal abuse.
But through love, one of the fruits of a good spirit, all things are possible. I’m not saying that it’s going to change the other person’s mind, but since name-calling surely won’t work, love is the better option. With it, there’s a chance, and reputations won’t be tainted by name-calling and insult-throwing.
We’re called to go the extra mile. We’re called to be the good Samaritan. When we’re busy helping anyone who comes in our path, we’ll still have time afterwards to politely state our opinions: “I’ve always seen the issue as a matter of the….” We’ll still have time to vote. We’ll definitely have time to pray. But we won’t have the time or inclination to be disagreeable. Besides, it will be too bitter of a fruit to produce in the rich soil of our spirit.
The Fruit (Manners) of Your Spirit
Etiquette and manners aren’t the same. But they do walk hand-in-hand. Having great manners means we understand there’s a lot that goes into following the Golden Rule. But that’s OK with us, because we want to follow it.
We know that it means in shared spaces we willingly lay our momentary wants or agendas down for the comfort or good of the other person. We know that gratitude opens our life up to absorb more of the good that’s all around us. We understand that nothing at the moment is more important than the moment we’re sharing with the person(s) with us. We assume the best about others, but we don’t assume we can guess what they want or what their intentions are. We ask them so that assumption won’t lead to presumption. We know that disagreements are going to happen in life. That’s fine. However, we live by the truth that we can disagree without ever being disagreeable. We would never stoop so low as to hate someone based on their opinion on a matter.
These are manners; they spring from our heart as evidence of the fruit our spirit yields. Without them, any etiquette skill we use is only window dressing. With them, we bless others and authentically grow our character and our good name.
Blessings and hugs,