Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Essence of Please

The Essence of Please

As a logical follow up to last week's column, here are some thoughts surrounding the important act of saying please. This piece of jargon is often spoken as a knee jerk reaction during a brief conversation, often with little or no real thought or feeling behind it, as is the case when phrases become habit such as the dreaded "How are you?" Do you really want to know most of the time?! Unfortunately, Please is less often heard in our daily interactions.

However as a reader explains below, this word has a lot of power and its delivery is as important as its reception.

"Please! It means everything if you are trying to start a polite and

sincere interchange. Please is a magic word as we adults are want to say

to a small child and in this day and age it is what we too want to

hear from another human being. Please is a single wave of a good wand that

creates the kindest, gentlest and most pleasant of atmospheres. Please

simplifies relationships and makes everything nice.

"Abruptly entering any retail shop or business establishment and demanding

service or an item without the introductory Please is a rude and ugly way to

behave. It's one syllable, six letters and rolls easily off the tongue. It's effortless

and yet is gone completely out of fashion. A certain sense of entitlement has

crept into our attitudes and relationships that has put Please on hold, shelved it

or sent it with the click of the delete button into cyber space. And yet without Please

we seem callous, ill bred and selfish. Please begins at home. A child asks his mother

for a cookie, but the preface for this request must be Please as in please may I have a

cookie. Nothing extraordinary in the request and surely to be filled rapidly with the

addition of the word Please.

"Please is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves and others. If you are staring

straight down your nose at the person behind the counter and refuse to indulge in a

bit of gracious behavior by using the word Please, perhaps you'd better rethink your

place in the world. Truly good manners begin with Please. Not a difficult effort and

one that will open doors, windows, hearts, and minds to you. You will ingratiate

yourself to everyone you encounter and perhaps be surprised to discover how much

friendlier people are once you regularly use Please as part of your conversation.

Please instantly displays respect for the person whom you are addressing as well as

for yourself. Because you are willing and more than able to use Please in a sentence you

will be amazed and amaze those around you with the results of using this singularly

lovely word."

Saying 'please' need not be reserved for clerks and mothers with cookies. People in your office with whom we've become familiar, family members and even our significant others deserve the same degree of consideration. Those folks closest to us are often the first ones we take for granted and unintentionally remove from the 'please' list. We certainly would say please on a first date; why not after 15 years of sharing life together with someone? I amuse myself occasionally when someone close to me asks either benignly or rhetorically for a refill in their glass or a utensil just out of reach in the kitchen without saying please. I say, "Is that the same as may I have another glass, please? We both have a laugh and recognize how meaningful such a short word can be.

I am reminded of a rule my mother had when we were growing up and which has stuck with me. When I want to speak with someone who is in another room or out of eyesight, simply speaking loudly to them to communicate a thought, to ask a favor, or to give direction is not okay. I try to remember to go within clear view of the other person. Who knows, he or she may be busy doing something which requires their full attention and your request is then rude and intrusive? I hear partners do this all the time, and it becomes especially annoying when old age and its accompanying deafness creep in.

Say please whenever you are asking someone for anything, be it their time, their opinion, or any other anything else. This seemingly small gesture speaks volumes about the respect you have for other people and ultimately the respect you have for yourself.

Children and Cocktail Parties Don't Mix

Dear Etiquette Guy:

This summer my wife and I will be hosting a family get together in our part of the country, on one of the evenings we plan to have everyone over to our house for a cocktail party before going on to dinner at a local restaurant. Although the average age of our guests is somewhere in the fifties, two members of our extended family have small children. My feelings are that a cocktail party is not a place for kids and I have no problem clarifying to our guests that this is an adult only event, should they wish to avail themselves of babysitting services or have someone volunteer to stay in the hotel and baby-sit the children for a couple of hours, good on them. There is no way I want 5 kids under the age of 10 running around our house, we don’t particularly like small children, our house is not set up for children, there are no toys, there is no room for them to go and play in while the adults socialize and I would not be able to relax while the little devils are underfoot. My experience with today’s modern parents is that expecting them to control and entertain their offspring in public is simply wishful thinking so to me, the choice is quite simple. No kids.

However my wife believes that because they are family we should just suck it up and be accommodating, giving notice that the event is adult only is rude and offence will be taken. At this point we are considering canceling the event which of course will lead to the inevitable criticism from other family members that we are too stuck up to have everyone over to our house. Do we have to accommodate the kids or is it perfectly acceptable to limit the function to adults?

Many Thanks

Martini Man

Dear Michael,

I understand completely. Now Michael, is it really sensible to cancel a cocktail party
because of children? I don't believe it is. Simply explain to the two families involved
that children are not included. They will need to get used to this idea. You are not
inventing it, nor are you the only person who feels the way you do, either about children
and cocktail parties or children in general. I understand your wife's point of view;
however, whose party is it? As hosts you call the shots. If people take offense, they are
the ones who need to do the sucking up, not you. Also, Michael, do not assume the worst
here. The parents of the children may be thrilled! I hope this helps and feel free to
carry on as the party isn't until summer and a lot of water is likely to go over the dam
between now and then.

Regards, Jay

Monday, April 12, 2010

Common Sense and Common Courtesy

Common Sense and Common Courtesy

So much of what we do today is based on common sense.

Common sense is essential to showing that we are actually

paying attention to what we are doing in our business and personal

lives, and what we are saying through our various forms of

communication. As decent folks, we are

naturally kind and friendly, primarily because that is how we like to

be treated. A healthy society relies heavily on these dynamics in

order to survive. It's just plain common sense to want to go through life

in a reasonable way, pleasantly interacting with our fellow human beings.

Occasionally, I am asked where and when the rules of etiquette started;

have they gone out of fashion; and are they really important? First of

all, the term was coined in the court of Louis XVI and meant simply

KEEP OFF THE GRASS, reminding the public to tread respectfully at Versailles.

Common courtesy was most likely practiced in prehistoric times though there is

nothing to document the practice.

Etiquette was nicely presented in the 12th century as King Arthur created a

chivalric order in The Knights of the Round Table. It was Arthur's wish that each

knight of the realm have equal status and be treated with equal

respect. He was to be seated with his knights at a round table

which had neither head nor foot. In modern society however, the common

rules of courtesy evolved through necessity and were recorded by

ancient Romans and continued through George Washington and on to Emily

Post and a whole host of self proclaimed experts. These rules of etiquette

were originally developed as a safe way of communicating with dubious new

acquaintances, indicating peaceful intentions. They evolved into

musings of how polite society ought to behave and became almost like

doctrines by the early 20th Century. Make no mistake about it though;

these notions were fabricated by a variety of persons; and yet always with a

generous helping of common sense and an acute awareness of right and wrong.

Etiquette rules are flexible, however, and just as fashions, lifestyles, and

societies change and evolve, so too do the guidelines of accepted

behavior. Their importance does not diminish however. As the result of

some world events and technological eruptions, both the business world

and society at large have relaxed these rules, in my opinion, about as

far as they can go. Common courtesy is still effectively extended when

friendships are formed and are transformed into long term

relationships. People will never lose their innate desire to woo a

potential spouse; and this is true of both sexes. We like to be

treated kindly and soon come to discover that the easiest way for that

to occur is to be kind ourselves.

In business, especially in today's shrinking world, competitive

atmosphere and increasing markets, we have the luxury in many cases to

do business with people whom we like, feel we can trust, and who share

common sense which is a human trait. Many a business deal is closed

on a golf course or during a shared meal. These venues reveal our true selves

to one another and speak volumes about our strength of character and

core values.

I find that if I take the time to slow down and temporarily leave the

rat race of life, enjoying a quiet cup of tea at the local coffee

house or having a relaxed chat at the local hardware store,

these brief sojourns can be very therapeutic.

We have a chance to listen to what our

friends have on their minds, and it gives us a chance to be empathetic and

to share a bit of our time in a selfless way. This seemingly small act

speaks volumes for how we ourselves feel about the world in which we

live, be it local or global. The ability to express our opinions

freely is a cornerstone of a free and healthy society and one which we

too often overlook and take for granted.

Another indicator of whether what we are doing or saying is correct

and respectful is to look inside of ourselves. If we feel in our

hearts that what we intend to do is kind and thoughtful and not

solely self serving and hurtful, then we're probably on the right

track. This in essence is what etiquette is all about. After all,

being kind comes naturally to us as humans.

Being sensible about and mindful of courteous behavior is never going to

go out of style nor fashion. Flexibility in the rules governing what

is acceptable behavior will guarantee that. The underlying principles

of respect for all things including ourselves will preserve what we in

the Western world have come to know as normal. Common sense is within

each of us, let us apply it daily.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Etiquette of Communicating with Young People

The Etiquette of Communications

I recently attended a great workshop with a group of local high school students and interested adults in which our goal was to learn about the obstacles to and problems associated with communication between and amongst youth and adults. The results were very revealing with education, awareness and respect being the three most important elements to improving this important dynamic. There does appear to be a missing bridge connecting generations which gradually forms over the years as we mature. The frustrations that accompany many people can be eased if we keep in mind some basic human kindness. The very birth of etiquette is based in creating a form of communication which is subtle, non-threatening, and helpful.

One of the most basic mistakes I make in communicating with someone is that I make assumptions which are based solely on the thoughts in my own mind. None of us are mind readers really, and to assume that others think or react to actions around us the same way we do can create unexpected miscommunications and misunderstandings. Therefore it is important to be clear about what we are saying. As adults, being consistent in how we speak with children provides a real sense of security to them. Parents can be especially guilty of failing here. Teachers and other authority figures such as coaches can send crossed messages easily and confuse children rather than reassure them. Clarity comes not only in the words chosen but also in the tone in which they are delivered. I notice far too often that children's opinions and feelings are discounted or even dismissed as being irrelevant. Nothing could be more disrespectful to a young person. Unfortunately this behavior teaches them how to be disrespectful to others in turn.

There is no age where respect is not appropriate. From birth to death we must all show respect to one another. We need one another in order to raise a happy family, to run a successful business, or in fact to form a healthy society.

When we address one another, we should look the other person in the eye and smile, being sincere and kind in delivering our messages. Intention is an unspoken form of communication which is quickly discerned and often times misunderstood. For people with low self esteem, almost any statement can be perceived as threatening. As adults, we need to be mindful of the delicate nature of a child's mind and feelings.

I find it interesting to hear what young people have to say. What is on their minds is important, not only to me but more significantly, to them. Understanding and being compassionate to youth and their feelings is one of the most underutilized forms of communication. Paying attention to what others are saying raises our awareness of how they are feeling. This attention also is a way of demonstrating that we in fact do care about what they are saying. Of course this is a two way street between any two people.

Young people learn from their parents and teachers. Older teens can also have a strong influence over younger youth. These influences can be either positive or negative. Learning to make responsible choices is a factor of what and how we as adults behave and function as a role model.

Learning to make friends is completely dependent on successful communications. At an early age we learn the merits of sharing and being nice to one another. We also learn how it feels when we are treated badly or disrespectfully.

As we move through life, it is important to remember that including young people in as many activities as possible forms an educational model which prepares them for adulthood. Learning the rules of sports, the etiquette of the dining table, the protocol of conducting business and so many other necessary life skills are all started at an early age.

In this season of the year where rebirth is on our minds and in our eyes; as we get our hands into the soil of our gardens; as nesting instincts guide us through Spring; perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of good communication. If we see ourselves failing to communicate in a kindly way, we could think of being more civil, more kind and more compassionate. If we are mindful of respecting all members of society and valuing all opinions, young and old, we will undoubtedly grease the wheels for a happier and healthier society.