Recently a man in his twenties asked me how he could improve his social skills. He was poorly dressed, quite abrupt and didn’t thank me for my advice about practising his conversational skills and taking an interest in other people. After speaking to him it dawned on me that he needed to improve his manners more than his social skills, but the two are intrinsically linked.
I like what the Irish novelist Laurence Sterne said about manners, “Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.” Manners do define your relationships with other people. So what are the absolute fundamentals of good manners?
1. Do unto others as you would have them to do you
That essentially means that you should treat other people with the same respect and regard that you’d like to be treated with. Be friendly, kind, courteous and helpful. If you want to be treated well in this world then treat others well. If everyone behaved in this way the world would be a better place!
2. Be generous with your smiles
At the end of the day nothing you wear is more important than your smile. A smile sends the signal of peace and love to the world. A smile is the equivalent of a dog with a wagging tail. it tells everyone you meet that you are friendly and won’t bite them! A smile also acknowledges the presence and importance of other people.
3. Greet people properly and make eye contact
In France if you walk into a shop you say a firm ‘Bonjour’. Here in Australia we just shuffle into shops failing to treat the poor retail assistant as human. Treat every person with respect and look into their eyes when you meet them. Greet work colleagues and acquaintances by name. Don’t just go for an informal ‘hey’. When you greet friends and family, go in for the hug. Let them know you are truly happy to see them.
4. Dress with style
I’m Italian. I believe in the art of dressing well. The costume designer Edith Head once famously said, “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Another way of putting it is that clothes maketh the man and the woman. I believe in dressing for the occasion. Look presentable and always be clean and shiny. It is disrespectful to other people to look slovenly and dirty. Dress as though you care!
5. Polish up your small talk
A good way to expand your small talk is to add on follow-up questions. For example you may ask someone where they live, but follow that up with “how do you find that area?” Ask someone what job they do and then follow that up by asking how they came to work in that industry. If you meet at an event ask them how they enjoyed the event followed by a question on how often they attend such events. Expand the chat and answer any questions asked of you with at least two sentences. Never answer with one word.
6. Be quick to offer praise and congratulations
The old saying goes, “If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything.” But if you can say something nice, then say it and expand on it. Congratulate people for accomplishments, large and small. Praise people for their good work. Show that you notice and care, and value other people’s endeavours.
7. Say good good-byes
Take the time to acknowledge people when they leave. Walk them to their cars. Thank them for making the effort to come to see you. You could even go all out and wave goodbye.
8. Always say your pleases and thank-yous
We insist that children learn these because they make other people feel appreciated but as adults we forget these fundamentals! Everyone needs to be acknowledged and respected – the barista who made your cappuccino, the postman, even the bus driver. You might also want to go in for that dying art of writing thank-you notes or in the very least thank-you emails. If you catch up with an old friend for lunch send a thank-you email the next day and say how much fun it was! This is another way of letting people know they are cared for and valued.
9. Open doors for others
Regardless of whether you’re a man or woman occasionally hold the door open for a stranger just because it’s a nice thing to do. You can practise other acts of random kindness like letting someone with less groceries in front of you at the checkout.
10. Give up your seat on public transport for anyone who looks tired
Occasionally you can offer your seat to a stranger with the preface, you look tired. They may or may not take it, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate the offer. Always offer a seat to people travelling with young children. Travelling with children is a challenge.
11. Speak well and listen well
We live in an age where it is acceptable to swear but people also value manners and politeness. Volume wise, speak at only the level you need to be heard. Don’t interrupt people when they are talking or cut people off. Practise the art of good listening and pay attention to what people are saying. Listen attentively. Ask questions about what they have told you to demonstrate you’ve taken the information on board. Avoid talking nonstop about yourself. Don’t bitch or complain. That says more about you than what or who you are talking about.
12. Don’t do private things in public
Don’t pick your nose, put your make-up on or scratch in public. There is a bathroom for these activities. As your mother would say, “Keep yourself nice”. When you are out, put your best self forward.
13. Use your best table manners, even with the family
Okay you know the basics. Don’t speak with your mouth full, don’t chew with your mouth open, keep your elbows off the table. Don’t slurp, noisily chew or crunch. Don’t reach over people but instead ask politely for others to pass you dishes or bowls. Don’t take food off other people’s plates. Wipe your mouth with a serviette.
14. Turn your phone off
When you are with people, be truly with people. That means you need to turn your phone off! It is just annoying to have to listen to someone else’s phone call and it is even more annoying when you want that person to be paying you some attention!
At the end of the day good social skills and good manners can be summed up in one word – RESPECT – respect for the people around you.
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.