by Dawn Stanyon
Civility: Not just for Knights in Shining Armor
I’ve spoken with many corporate professionals about civility and business etiquette over the past nine years. Why, you may ask, would I do such a thing? It was my job. I worked with The Emily Post Institute for almost nine years.
For those of you who don't know who the heck Emily Post is and why she has an institute: she wrote the book Etiquette in 1922 and was one of the best-known personalities of the Twentieth Century. It was a useful and popular book because it was published at a time when people were immigrating to America and emigrating from rural communities to cities. People wanted to learn how to fit in and be upwardly mobile. Emily wrote about social norms in a practical and accessible manner. Emily's great- and great-great-grandchildren update that tome, write other books on the topic, conduct education at corporations and train trainers to be etiquette experts (several Ovation trainers are graduates).
It's not surprising to me that I ended up promoting and selling etiquette education and relationship building skills. At the age of five, I had my stuffed animals on a rotating schedule designating where they would sleep on my bed so that no one felt slighted. In 5th grade, my teacher Mrs. Lauder sketched a picture of me in my autograph book (autograph books used to be a thing) and underneath she wrote, "Thoughtful Dawn." My parents were Canadian. So, working at Emily Post for me was like a salad fork for salad or a red wine glass filled with Pinot Noir. Hand in glove is what I’m saying here.
People fall into two camps when they respond to the trigger words of civility and etiquette. They either have a positive association (“My parents taught me to respect others. When I was a child, we always wrote thank you notes together. And now I hand-write thank you notes to my prospects and clients.”); or a negative association (“Hey, my grandmother used to smack me if I put my elbows on the table. So what are you going to teach us, whether or not to hold our pinky up?”). I get it. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences.
It is because we all come from different cultures, belief systems, and family dynamics that these principles are so important in the workplace and beyond. They offer a framework to better communicate with others. Etiquette is simply they way we treat each other – the way we build relationships. The lady herself wrote, “Whenever two people come together and their behavior affects one another, you have etiquette.” Pretty simple and not fancy at all.
For me, it boils down to this:
- Be kind.
- Be considerate.
- Be respectful.
- Be honest/authentic.
- Think beyond yourself.
Civility isn’t about knights in shining armor anymore; and etiquette isn’t about always using the right fork. Whether you are navigating a situation with a co-worker or standing in a crowded line at a coffee shop, civility is about treating people with consideration, respect and honesty and consistently striving to do so.
How about we carry this generosity of attitude forward beyond this week? I’ve created a handy-sticky-note-that-doesn’t-actually-stick for you to print out, cut and then tape onto your monitor as a reminder. And as Bill and Ted said, “Be excellent to each other.”