A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mind Your Manners

(Above: Emily Post)

I belong to a discussion group, and it's a lot of fun except for one thing: One of our members has started to make nasty personal digs at another member.
It's become so annoying, the rest of us have been talking about how to tell him that he's being rude.
Then I got a brainstorm: This was clearly a case for Sarah Kidder, etiquette expert extraordinaire.
And, of course, she had the perfect advice: "Don't tell him he's being rude. That will just turn it into a power struggle between the two of you. It isn't about him, and it isn't about you; it's about the group. So just say, 'This isn't being helpful. Let's get back to business.'"
So I did. And it worked. The guy behaved himself for the rest of the meeting.
Kidder, who lives in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland, numbers socialites, corporate executives, students and rock stars among her clients. She also does pro bono work with ex-cons.
"Once they realize that the principle that they used to get them through prison - treating others with respect - is the same thing that will get them that first entry-level job, it liberates them," she says.
For Kidder, treating people with respect is the very essence of etiquette, and she says it can be applied to almost every situation.
"People associate etiquette with being prissy or think it’s just table manners, but they've forgotten that it's about each and every interaction you have with every walk of life. There are ways of doing things that are key to relationships whether you are a gangbanger, Mafioso, cop, executive or student. It’s about relationship management, and etiquette is the key to good management."
I was 15 minutes tardy for our interview appointment, so I apologized for being late. I was tempted to explain that I got tied up in a traffic jam, but decided not to.
"You did the right thing," she told me. "Nobody cares why you were late. A simple apology will do. Anything more is over-talking, and it's a bad idea for two reasons.
"First, when you make excuses, you make it all about you, not the apology. Secondly, it can make you sound like you're lying, even if you're not, because that's what people do when they lie: They over-talk."
Other examples of over-talking: "I did not have sex with that woman" and "I was just hiking on the Appalachian trail."
So what did she think of Tiger Woods' apology?
"It was so self-centered - nothing but me, me, me! And it was a classic example of over-talking. He could have accomplished all he needed to do in a few short sentences - 'I had the honor of being a role model, and I blew it.' That's not the same thing as saying, 'You worshipped me and I messed up.'"
Currently, Kidder is putting the final touches on an etiquette book for the 21st Century, with lessons on manners taken from James Bond movies.
"Spies are great examples because they use good manners to blend in and rude behavior when they're trying to cause a scene. And they rarely over-talk"
Until the book comes out, Kidder says that you can't go wrong if you remember to use these four short magic phrases to avoid over-talking: "please," "thank you," "I'm sorry" and "excuse me."
Enough said.

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