The Principle of Good Etiquette
That's the good news. This is what I call the good news slide. We're not just here to cover a 700-page manual about particular behavioral expectations. We're here to talk about where those expectations come from, and why they matter, what makes them important. There is another route into this topic. There's another way to think about this topic. There's another way to access it in a way that I think is really useful, and that's to think about the absence of etiquette, or the lack of etiquette. We heard that association when we played that word association game in the beginning. One thing I think about when I think about etiquette is the absence of etiquette. I think about rudeness, I think about incivility, I think about when people don't have it, and what that means. AP/IPSOS conducted a poll a couple years ago that was about rudeness in America. They wanted to know if people thought Americans were ruder to day than they were 20 or 30 years ago. If I were to poll this audience today, ...
how many of you think people are ruder today than they used to be? What do you think? Quick show of hands, what do you think? Americans ruder? Guess what, we got about three out of five here, something like 70% of people are gonna agree with that. We're targeting in here about where AP/IPSOS identified most people's impressions. Big surprise, I'm gonna tell you, from a family that's been in this business for five generations, every generation perceives this to be true. Every generation witnesses the changes that occur in manners over the course of a lifetime, and thinks the state of manners are in decline. I don't think this is so likely. I think it's probably much more like a pendulum that swings. I think certain manners lose their utility, fall out of fashion, the pendulum swings back, new manners emerge, some manners lose their utility, fall out of fashion, new manners emerge. I think every generation is responsible for renewing the tradition, for renewing their expectations of each other in a way that's relevant and meaningful for the time. Just out of curiosity, in the five generations that have stewarded the Post tradition, I'm curious, which generation do you think was probably the most challenging to the social order that it inherited? Do you think it's kids today? I think the children of the '60s and '70s were a bigger challenge to the social order that they inherited than today's generation. That was a generation of true iconoclasts that were trying to deconstruct the social order that they'd inherited, and they did a pretty good job of it. They did some work. It was important work, to renewing and evolving our expectations about how we treat each other and deal with each other. I think today's generation is dealing with its own particular challenges, but I don't think they're as intentional in the work of challenging the systems they've inherited. I think that they've inherited a world that's increasingly difficult for a number of reasons. I think it's getting smaller all the time. I think people are traveling more, and they're traveling more quickly. I think the technological revolution that this generation has experienced is really putting challenges and stresses on the social system it's inherited that are different than the ones the previous generations have faced. Although I'll tell you, it's always communication manners and expectations that change the most rapidly. If you were to look for the manners that change the most slowly, what do you guess? What are the manners that change the most slowly? I'll give you a hint, it was the first association I had when I asked about the word etiquette. Dining. Traditions for how you share food with other people change relatively slowly within a particular cuisine or culinary tradition. People have shared a lot of meals together. It's not likely that you're gonna reinvent that wheel sitting at your dinner table. Communication manners change all the time. They change every time the environment that we operate in changes. AP/IPSOS asked a followup question. They were curious, on a frequent or occasional basis, do you encounter people using their cell phones rudely? It's a particular type of rude behavior. Heads are nodding, I won't even ask for a show of hands because everybody has witnessed this particular type of rude behavior, something 89%, 90% of people have experienced this type of rude behavior. What does AP/IPSOS ask next? It's a very common rudeness. It's a common incivility we've all experienced. What would be useful or illuminating to know about this particular type of rude behavior?
Have you ever exhibited it yourself?
I think that's the pertinent question, so they asked, have you used your cell phone in a loud or annoying manner in the past few months? What do you say? How many people here? This is a self-selecting etiquette audience. Everyone's nodding, everyone's participating. I'll tell you, when I ask this question of live audiences, whatever the size, whether it's 10 of us sitting around a table, or I'm in an auditorium with hundreds of people, the hands don't fly up quite as quickly when this question hits the screen. About 8% of people are gonna cop to this. Is it likely that 8% of the population is responsible for the bad behavior that the other 89% of us are witnessing? It's not likely. It's possible. I will suggest or posit that it is possible that the behavior of this 8% is so egregious, is so bad that it's impacting the other 90% of us. It's not likely. What's the more likely moral to this story? What is the story that these numbers tell us about rudeness or incivility?
I think the people's perception of themselves is 'cause you're engaged. If you're using your phone, you're engaged. You're not aware of what's going on.
Something about the particular environment. When you're using the phone, you're not as aware, you're not as engaged, but there's a question of perception that's critically important here. There's a question of perception that is really relevant when we're talking about rudeness. It's easier to see rudeness in others than it is to see in ourselves. There's no question about this. We're quick to give ourselves the credit of good intentions. We're not as quick to give other people that same credit, the same benefit of those good intentions. I think the story goes little deeper than this. There's a question of perception that's fundamentally important, but I think there's something else these numbers can tell us. There's another part of this story that's one of the reasons I almost always include some version of this poll when I'm talking to audiences. I think the vast majority of rude behavior is unintentional. I don't think most people mean to be rude. I want to give you a definition of rudeness or incivility that I think is really useful. I've heard rudeness defined as behavior that impacts someone else negatively, that causes emotional harm or distress, but isn't so egregious that someone's likely to mention it to you. It's, by definition, tricky gray area territory. It's territory where behavior is impacting someone else in a negative way, causing emotional harm or distress, but it's not so bad that someone's likely to walk up and mention it to you. You're not likely to get fired over it. Someone's unlikely to confront you about rude behavior. I think that's mostly a good impulse, by the way, but it makes it difficult to combat. I think most people in this room didn't wake up this morning and say, "I'm gonna go make someone's day a little worse today. "I'm gonna go out and treat someone badly. "I'm gonna make them feel emotional harm or distress, "and they're gonna go home and have "a harder time connecting to their family. "They're gonna have a harder time "sitting down at their desk and doing their work "because of something that I do to them "when I see them first thing in the morning." It's not so likely. It's not the way most of us are programmed. It's not the way most of us are built. We don't mean to be rude, and yet it happens, it continues. 89% of people have witnessed a particular type of rude behavior. Do we not know what the expectations are around use of the cell phone? This device isn't so new any longer. Most of us have a pretty good idea about what the expectations are around polite or considerate use of a mobile device, and yet that type of rude behavior persists, partly because of our unwillingness to look at ourselves and think about what we're doing, but also because I think we don't always mean to be rude, we don't always know that we're doing it. How do you combat rude behavior? Remember when I talked about three goals on our agenda slide, and I said there are three goals that are gonna help? We're about to transition to those three goals. Rudeness is easier to see in others than in yourself, and it isn't always intentional. So you fight it. Let me introduce you to Bruno. We're gonna tell a little story about Bruno. This is an apocryphal story that was handed down through the Emily Post family. My uncle Peter heard it from my grandfather Bill Post. I called him Poppy. He was the steward of this tradition while I was growing up. He was a true gentleman, a remarkable man. I like to mention both my uncle Peter and my grandfather Poppy when I tell the Bruno story. Bruno was Emily's dog. Bruno traveled with Emily when she left New York in the summers up to a family home in Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor's incredible. There are these 30-foot tides, some of the largest tides in the world, and the homes along the shore there, along the river there, that enters into the sea, have these incredible tides. 30 feet, the water rises and falls, and there are these long docks that go to these floating docks that drift up and down with the tide. Bruno lives in a pen at one of these houses 'cause he's a big dog, and next door, there's a little dog. I'll tell you that I am a small dog owner. I never thought I would be, but I am now. I have a little toy poodle. His name is Rogu, he's amazing, I love him dearly, but Rogu is a yapping little dog. Yap, yap, yap, yap. Rogu barks at people that he knows. He barks at my mother every time she comes over, and my mother takes care of Rogu when I'm away. They love each other. He curls up on my mother's lap when I'm not there, but he barks at her every time she comes to the house. Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap. This little dog who lived next door, little toy poodle, used to torment Bruno. Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, all the time. Unfortunately, we've lost the name of this other dog to history. That wasn't part of the story that was handed down over time. There's a picnic going on one day, and a silence falls over the two houses. People look for Bruno, and he's gotten out of his pen. Now there is a general concern. You have two families, and they're looking for two dogs. There's one dog that's been tormenting another dog, and a dog that's gotten out. Sure enough, there's Bruno, and he's walking down that long dock out to the water. He's got that little dog in his mouth. This concern starts to escalate. There's nothing you can do. It's way out there, it's on the dock, everybody's watching from the two households, these two dogs. Bruno's got this little dog in his mouth. He walks out to the end of the dock, and what does he do? He opens his mouth, and he drops that little dog into the water. Little dog swims over to shore, shakes himself off, comes running home, never barks at Bruno again. My uncle Peter tells me this story, and he tells this story when he teaches about etiquette. When I first heard this story, I said to myself, "What does this story have to do with etiquette?" You're not gonna resolve most situations by pushing someone off a dock. My uncle Peter takes even longer to tell the story than I just did. I do a poor rendition of this story. When my uncle Peter tells it, it's really good for a laugh. What does this story have to do with etiquette? You're not gonna push people off a dock. Who are these dogs, Bruno? There was a relationship that was in conflict. There was a rudeness that was being experienced. Do you usually confront rudeness? No, but in this case, Bruno decided to take action. He decided to do something. In dog world, his choice was actually a pretty moderate choice. That's where the concern comes from. You don't know what a dog's gonna do. When you decide to act, it's not just that you decide to act. It's how you decide to do it that really matters. There's a quality to the actions that we engage in that's also really important here. Part of the way we're gonna combat rudeness is by thinking about what we do, by taking time to notice, to notice ourselves, to notice the way what we're doing's impacting others. Another part of how we're gonna fight rudeness, how we're gonna combat it, is, we're gonna make choices that build or grow relationships, that we're going to take care with each other, and the quality with which we interact. It's not just if you decide to act. It's how you decide to act that matters. This is the art of good etiquette. This is where we start to find the subtlety, where we start to be a good dance partner instead of a clunky dance partner. There's two concepts here, perspective matters, and how matters. These two concepts are really fundamentally important 'cause they're gonna translate us to the three goals. This is where we're gonna really embrace and start to tackle rudeness. We're gonna start to tackle that tricky and difficult gray area territory that we all experience that causes emotional harm or distress, and yet continues and persists. First thing we're gonna do is, we're gonna stop and think before we act. Second thing we're gonna do is make choices that build or grow relationships. This is perspective, and this is how. I'm so sorry, it didn't occur to me. That apology that follows an unintentional rudeness often comes with an explanation that I just wasn't thinking. It didn't occur to me, I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry. If you stop and think about what you do before you do it, you're gonna avoid 90% of the mistakes that people make. Sometimes, there's a particular manner you don't know. Usually, it's more about not realizing what you're doing is having a negative impact on someone else. Second thing you're gonna do is use a criteria to make choices that's about building or growing relationships. If you've successfully identified that what you're doing's important, that it's impacting others, you're gonna make a choice about it, you're gonna make a choice that builds or grows a relationship. We're gonna prioritize the importance of the people around us. We're gonna prioritize the quality of our interactions and relationships with others. Combating rudeness in America is about caring more than it is about me revealing some particular rule, or some codified behavior. It's about a commitment that we make within ourselves to treat other people well. That commitment's gonna lead us to sincerity in our actions. We're gonna do it sincerely. Why does it matter? It matters because we care about other people because it matters to us, not because my great-great-grandmother wrote it down in a book almost 100 years ago. Think about what you do, make choices that build relationships, do it sincerely. "Oh, please, is he really gonna tell us "to stop and think?" The word's not magic. Please, I implore you. This is the message I like to deliver the most. This is the reason I continue to do this 10 years later. If you were a group of five-year-olds, I would tell you, the magic's not in the word, it's in you. I get a lot of magic words when I do the word association game. Say please, say thank you. The word's not magic. The magic comes from your sincerity.