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By Cara Beth Lewis

Social etiquette… that is a pretty broad category. “Social etiquette” can really be implemented everywhere we go, and is arguably the most important form of etiquette. Whether you are at work, at a restaurant, at a friend’s house, or anywhere else that other people may be present, the knowledge of proper social etiquette is key to a pleasant experience.

Last week, in the first article of BladenOnline’s Etiquette Series, the term “Etiquette” was explained in basic terms (What is Etiquette?). In today’s article and the weekly articles to come, Etiquette will be broken down by category, in detail.

To recap from last week, etiquette is based on three principles according to the legacy of Emily Post. Those three principles are consideration, respect, and honesty.

When it comes to social etiquette, conversation and communication is really what it comes down to. There are key practices to remember as you interact with others that can help you avoid involuntary rudeness and ease the conversation, according to Emily Post’s etiquette principles.

  1. Think. Think before you speak. Think as you listen. When it comes to proper etiquette, being thoughtful is crucial. Before you speak, ask yourself: “Is this appropriate? Is this offensive? Is this intrusive? Is this interesting?”

  2. Listen. Instead of focusing on what you should say, just listen to what the other person is saying. Here are some tips for sharpening your listening skills (from Emily Post):

  • Empty other thoughts from your mind and concentrate on what the person is saying.

  • Make eye contact, nod occasionally, and intermittently say, “I see” or “Really?” to indicate that you not only heard but understood what was said.

  • Once you’ve picked up the rhythm of the other person’s speech, you’ll be able to inject longer confirmations without seeming to interrupt.

  • If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation, a habit that comes naturally to a good listener.

  1. Personal space. Keeping a comfortable distance between yourself and the person you are speaking with can prevent several uncomfortable situations from occurring. Emilypost.com recommends being no closer than eighteen inches apart.

  2. Body language. When we speak, we use more than words. Our facial expression, the way we stand, eye contact, and other mannerisms are open to the interpretation of the person we are speaking to. The following is from Emily Post:

  • Posture when standing or sitting. Slumping or slouching while speaking to someone conveys laziness, disinterest, and disrespect.

  • Facial expressions. A smile denotes warmth, openness, and friendliness, but don’t overdo it. A frown or furrowed brow suggests anger or worry, even though your words may be positive.

  • Eye contact. Looking into the other person’s eyes shows your interest in the conversation, but try not to stare.

  • Gesturing and fidgeting. Using your hands to emphasize a point is fine, but gesturing nonstop is distracting.

  • Nodding. Too much positive head nodding can make you appear overly eager to please, especially in a business environment.

  • Pointing. Pointing can be misconstrued and also attracts attention to a person who probably doesn’t want to be the object of curious glances and stares.

As I said before, thoughtfulness and consciousness is key. In every situation, be mindful of your actions and words. Understand that actions and words can be interpreted differently than they were intended due to poor presentation.

Yes, social etiquette goes beyond conversations. However, typically social interactions revolve around conversations. Understanding how to politely converse with others is the first big step on the path of proper social etiquette.

“Good manners will open doors that even the best education cannot.” – Clarence Thomas

Stay tuned for upcoming articles in BladenOnline’s Etiquette Series. A new Etiquette article will be published each Monday.