The Importance of Manners
Manners are something used every day to make a good impression on others and to feel good about oneself. No matter where you are – at home, work, or with friends – practicing good manners is important.
Good manners are more than opening doors and writing thank you notes. While opening doors for others and writing notes is nice, true courtesy goes deeper. Being polite and courteous means considering how others are feeling.
If you practice good manners, you are showing those around you that you are considerate of their feelings and respectful. You are also setting standards for others’ behavior and encouraging them to treat you with similar respect.
Every culture and individual may have different rules or feelings about what is polite or is not polite. The goal of this course is to review some of the more basic and common rules of polite behavior in our society.
These rules may differ from person to person or based on situation, but there is one rule of good manners (and life, in general) that is always easy to follow – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Whether you’re eating at a fancy restaurant, in the cafeteria, or at home with friends and families, good table manners make for a more pleasant meal. While you may not need to worry about confusing your salad fork with your desert fork when dining with friends, some basic table manners should never be forgotten. Here are some easy-to-follow Do’s and Don’ts:
Table Manner DO’S
- Sit properly (and straight) in your chair
- Talk about pleasant things
- Place your napkin on your lap
- Wait until everyone is seated before starting to eat
- Watch others, or ask, if you’re not sure how to eat something
- Ask someone to pass the food, rather than reach across the table
- Chew with your mouth closed
- Don’t talk with your mouth full
- Use a knife and fork to cut your meat
- Say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” if you burp
- Say “no thank you” if you don’t want a certain dish or are full
- Say “may I please be excused” before leaving the table
Table Manner DON’TS
- Don’t talk about gross things
- Don’t ask for seconds before others have had firsts
- Don’t take more than your fair share
- Don’t overload your fork or plate
- Don’t gobble your food
- Don’t chew with your mouth open
- Don’t talk with your mouth full
- Don’t play at the table
- Don’t hum or sing at the table
- Don’t tip your chair or lean on the table
- Don’t eat with or lick your fingers
- Don’t push your plate away when you’re finished
Good phone manners are important both at work and at home. When you are on the phone with someone, your only interaction is verbal, so saying the right things is important to make the right impression.
If you are answering the phone at a job, your employer may have a specific way they would like you to answer the phone. If they haven’t told you, take the initiative and ask – it will show that you care about your performance and how your company is perceived.
If your company doesn’t have any standards for telephone procedures, follow the same standards that you would if you were answering the phone at home or at a friend’s. Speak clearly, be polite, and offer to take a message or help out if you are answering the phone for someone else.
Here are some common practices that will make you sound polite, whether talking on the phone to a friend, customer, potential employer, or complete stranger.
Answering the Phone
Some people like to let people know who they’ve reached as soon as they pick up the phone. Companies and some individuals may answer the phone “You’ve reached the John Smith Corporation” or “Hello, this is John Smith.” When in doubt, a simple “Hello” or “Hello, this is John” will do. Unless someone (such as an employer) asks you to answer the phone in a particular way, choose a style that’s comfortable for you and polite to others. Just avoid answering the phone in a way that may make the person on the other end feel uncomfortable or put on the spot (such as, “What?” or “Who is this?”)
If you answer someone else’s phone or answer for someone who is not around, you should always offer to take a message. Again, this can be as simple as saying “I’m sorry, John’s stepped out. May I take a message?” or “I’m sorry, he’s busy at the moment. May I take your name and number and have him call you back?”
If the person who is calling asks you to help out instead and you don’t feel comfortable or don’t know the answer to their questions, it is always polite to say, “I’m sorry I don’t know but I’d be happy to pass the message on to John.” Just remember to pass the message on! If someone leaves a message, be sure to write down their name, phone number, time they called and the message – then be sure to give the message to the person they were calling.
Taking messages does no good if the person they are for never sees them. Set up a system for delivering phone messages. If it’s at home, you might decide to put a notepad by the phone and write messages there, or put them on the refrigerator. If it’s at work, you may set up a ‘message box’ or agree to leave messages in a certain place (on the bulletin board, in someone’s inbox, etc.)
Wait until someone has finished their phone conversation before talking to them. If it’s urgent and you need to use the phone or talk to someone who is on the phone, don’t pick up the line and start talking. Instead, say “Excuse me, may I talk to you for a second?” or “I’m sorry, but I need to make an urgent call, do you mind if I use the phone?”
The Phone is Your Tool
There are times when the phone calls (or the people on the line) can be too demanding. Being polite doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own time or drop whatever you are doing. If you are at a job or answering someone else’s phone, it is your responsibility to be as polite and helpful as possible, including taking messages. (You shouldn’t be answering someone else’s phone if you aren’t going to take the time to help out.) However, if someone calls you at home or catches you in the middle of something urgent, it is fine to offer to call them back. You can say, for example, “I’m sorry, but we were just about to sit down to dinner, can I call you back after we finish?” or “I’m sorry, but I was just about to run out the door, can I call you when I get back?”
Nowadays, many companies call people at home to try to sell them services; it’s fine to tell these people that you aren’t interested (it’s even fine to ask them not to call you at home anymore!), as long as you do it nicely. Again, a simple “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested” or “I’m sorry but I don’t make decisions over the phone; please don’t call again” can put an end to some of these calls.
Having good manners will serve you well, not just around friends and families, but also in a work environment. Many of the things you do to be polite in casual settings are just as polite in work situations, for example, using your telephone manners, saying “please” and “excuse me”, shaking hands and introducing yourself when meeting someone new, paying attention to people when they are talking, and appearing neat and clean.
However, work situations often call for an even higher level of manners than those you use in casual situations. For example, jeans and t-shirts may be fine for hanging out with friends or going to the movies, but you may be expected to dress more professionally at work. You may answer the phone with a simple “Hello” at home, but at work, you maybe expected to state your name, the company’s name, and offer to help, “This is the Jane Doe Company, John Smith speaking, may I help you?”
Speech is an important form of communication. Every time you open your mouth, you reveal something about yourself to someone else – not just in what you say, but how you say it, so speak clearly and sincerely. Make yourself heard without shouting, interrupting or talking over others. Say what you think and how you feel, but say it without hurting others’ feelings. Some conversation do’s and don’ts include:
- Look at the person or people you are talking to
- If you haven’t met before, introduce yourself and ask their name
- Use a person’s name when talking to them
- Ask questions when you don’t understand something
- Stick to the subject
- Say nice things about people and praise those who deserve it
- It’s fine to disagree, but disagree politely
- Don’t fidget, look elsewhere, or wander off while someone else is talking
- Don’t listen in on conversations you aren’t part of
- Don’t interrupt when someone else is talking
- Don’t whisper in front of another person
- Don’t whine, tattletale, brag, or say mean things about others
- Don’t ask personal questions such as how much things cost or why someone looks or dresses the way they do
- Don’t point or stare
- Don’t argue about things that aren’t important
Some Magic Words to Being Polite
- “Thank You”
- “May I … “
- “Excuse Me”
- “I’m Sorry”
Respecting other people means you also respect their wishes. If someone tells you a secret or asks you to keep something in confidence, you should. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, it’s fine to say that you don’t feel comfortable keeping secrets — just be sure to do this before the person shares their secret with you.
There are some very rare exceptions to this rule: if you find out that someone is being hurt or is in danger and they are afraid to tell anyone, you should encourage them not to keep their secret. If that person is too afraid to talk, you may want to ask an expert (such as a doctor, therapist, or policeman) for their advice – you don’t have to give away your friend’s secret, but they may be able to help.
Consider this, someone starts to tell a story and you sigh and roll your eyes — your body is telling that person that you’re not interested in their story and find it (and perhaps them) boring. If, on the other hand, you make eye contact with them while they are talking and nod or smile in response to what they are saying, your body is telling them “I’m paying attention to what you are saying and find your story and you interesting.”
How we carry ourselves can send a message just as clearly as what we say. Standing or sitting up straight, appearing confident, looking people in the eye, and having a smile or pleasant expression gives people the impression that you are polite, confident and pleasant. Scowling, crossing your arms, slouching, or staring off into the distance (even if these are just nervous habits) may make people think that you are angry, unapproachable, or disinterested.
Actions can speak as loudly as words, so the next time you’re in a social setting, ask yourself what your body language is saying to people. If you are having a hard time judging the message your body is sending, you may want to ask friends or people you know and trust what they think. Or, you may want to get the opinion of someone who doesn’t know you as well. The MTSTCIL staff could help you if you want to work on your body language. Call the center nearest you for advice, tips, or even to set up a meeting and practice role-playing and body language in different settings.
The first thing people notice about other people is the way they look. And whether we like it or not, how you look makes an impression on people. But you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
If you look neat and clean, people will feel as though you’re the kind of person who makes an effort. A nice appearance shows that you value yourself and what other people think of you.
Putting forth a nice appearance doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money on clothes or accessories. Someone can look slovenly and messy in an expensive suit if they don’t brush their hair or clean their clothes. Someone else can appear put together in a old shirt and slacks that have been cleaned and pressed. Showing that you take care over your appearance is more important than what you wear or how expensive your hair cut is.
In addition to taking care over your appearance, it’s also important to consider if your appearance is appropriate for the situation. You may look lovely in your party clothes or feel confident in your business suit, but these would look out of place in a more casual setting such as at a picnic or at the movies.
It’s important to be comfortable in what you’re wearing, but you also want to fit in (within reason!) with what other people will be wearing. Wear what suits both you and the situation best: jeans and t-shirts are fine for friends and the movies; a nice shirt and slacks or suit is more appropriate for work; party clothes should be saved for parties or fancy occasions. The same goes for accessories and make up: glitter eye shadow and elaborate hair might be fun after work, but look odd for a business meeting; you may feel most comfortable lounging in sneakers and a baseball cap, but not at a fancy restaurant or party. Think about what the majority of people will be wearing in the situation and wear something that fits in and makes you feel comfortable.
Conclusion: Getting Along With People
How you express yourself shows the kind of person you are – rude or considerate, selfish or generous. The really polite person is tuned in to other people’s feelings and can put themselves in another person’s place. They can understand how it would feel to be new to the neighborhood or job, or what it’s like to be the shortest person in the class or the shyest person at a party. They react with understanding and with the kind of manners that matter because they come from the heart.
Treating others the way you would like to be treated is the easiest rule to follow and encourages others to treat you in kind. Even the most polite people in the world can occasionally say the wrong thing or make mistakes, but being kind, considerate, and generous on a daily basis shows true manners. We can’t police ourselves all the time, but before you say or do something, ask yourself how you would feel if others said or did that to you. The more you practice this rule, the more natural and easier it becomes.
Good manners show the best you have to offer and encourage others to be their best. Practicing these manners on a daily basis makes for a more pleasant life.
- Be thoughtful
- Be cheerful
- Be generous
- Be cooperative
- Be helpful
- Don’t be bossy
- Don’t put people down or say rude things
- Respect others privacy
- Take care of personal property