There are occasions, when telling people that I provide training on the subject of Etiquette & Protocol, that they look at me like I have an extra head. Every now and then I can even see their internal dialogue written on their face: ‘that’s so old-fashioned’, ‘she’s clearly living in the past’, ‘oh no, she’s going to critique everything I say and do’. This last one is the most common; at a recent event the host of my table looked up as I approached and exclaimed, more-or-less in jest, ‘great, I’ve got the etiquette expert!’ (I don’t by the way, unless asked.)
I put these responses down to the fact that many people equate etiquette with ‘rules’ – rules that govern our every move, and get us into trouble if we don’t follow them.
Yes, there are rules when it comes to etiquette and protocol but though they can seem frivolous, they are actually very helpful. Many stem from common sense and are in place to help us navigate business and social settings; some are driven by interacting with other cultures; others, leftovers of bygone eras, fading into the past.
However, I believe, firmly, that etiquette is so much more than simply a set of rules. You can take your pick of words and phrases: etiquette, courtesy, civility, polite behaviour, consideration for others – but when it comes down to it, all of these ensure that we carry out our daily interactions – be they business meetings, hosting an event, or passing someone on the street – in a thoughtful, kind manner, which, in turn, shows others that we value their time and attention.
I don’t view the ‘rules’ as being stiff, old-fashioned directives. I see them, instead, as the tools we use to give us the confidence and freedom to interact with others under any, and all, circumstances. Sometimes it is about which fork to use – and if you know which fork to use you can ignore your place setting and pay attention to your guests.
And, the great thing about knowing the rules is knowing how, when and where you can break them.