No one doubts that we are experiencing a lack of civility in today's society. What happened to saying the simple words "please" and "thank you" or "it was a pleasure meeting you." If I hear "No problem" instead of "You're welcome" one more time…
As a former Disneyland VIP Hostess and a child of very strict parents, I learned early in life, the value of treating people well. And as a mental health practitioner with a busy practice, I learned what didn't work well in interpersonal relationships. If you want to be in others "Good Graces", here are some important keys to personal and professional success:
- Remember names and pronounce them correctly.
Ask if you are not sure. When you go to the doctor's office and you are called in to see the doctor by someone screaming your last name without a salutation, do you find this endearing? There s nothing so complimentary as hearing your name.
If remembering is a challenge for you, associate the name with something familiar. For instance, I hosted a new couple for lunch recently with a mutual friend. I remembered them by saying to myself "BETSY" flag, as in Betsy Ross and "JOHN" the Baptist. Worked perfectly!
- Upon your guests arrival, take coats and offer something to eat and/or drink immediately.
When guests arrive I often serve sparkling wine or champagne immediately as it gives the message that "this is going to be a fun and festive occasion" and "it's time to celebrate". How many parties have you been to where you wait and wait to have someone approach you with an offer of hospitality? Not endearing.
- Know how to end an evening gracefully.
Whether you are the host or guest, this is always a challenge. The French signal when the evening is over, by passing sparkling water. One of the most graceful ways I have witnessed, was a dinner at the official Korean residence when the Consul General as host, stood up from the table, glass in hand, and said, "I would like to propose one final toast." Everyone at the table clearly got the message, the evening has ended.
- Let your host seat you and don't begin eating until you are invited to do so.
At Her Majesty the Queen's table, you never pick up your fork until she does and when she is finished, you are finished, even if you're really not. It shows deference. At the American table, at a bare minimum, don't begin until everyone is seated.
- Don't leave the dining table unless you absolutely have to.
French Princess Marie-Blanche de Broglie once shared with me how important it is to remain at the table during a meal. "We have a saying – We die seated in France", which speaks to how rude it is to depart from the table before the end of
the meal. Make sure you visit the WC before the meal starts. Also, your phone calls can wait.
- Bring a hostess gift when you are a guest in someone's home.
If you stay overnight vs. being a guest for a meal, your gift can be a bit more elaborate. Wine, chocolates or your homemade jam is perfect for a dinner party, but a longer stay might require a little gift basket or paying for a meal outside the home. The more you can match your gift with your host's tastes or hobbies, the better. Put some thought into it!
- Don't talk with food in your mouth!
You'd be surprised how often I see this. It may be due to the fact that people are in a hurry to express their opinion and can't wait until they finish chewing, but it appears unappetizing to the observer. Much of this avoidance of self reflection is just laziness, but it reflects bad manners. Taking perspective employees out for a meal is often part of an interview process. Successful companies don't want to hire people who wouldn't know how to demonstrate good manners and engage valuable clients.
- Be on time!
This varies depending on the culture but research before you go. When planning events for the diplomatic corps, I learned to expect that the Latin American countries would often arrive quite late, while the Chinese and Europeans would be right on time. Attendees from certain Middle Eastern countries might arrive really late or cancel. Your job is to adapt to the culture you are in. In the US, this means, be on time.
- It is your responsibility to tell your host in advance if you have allergies to food, pets or even perfumes.
Hosts need to know in advance if you can't eat certain foods or can't be exposed to pet dander. Most will go out of their way to accommodate you. They aren't mind readers. If there is no way to corral a pet, you may need to decline rather than inject epinephrine. Food issues are much easier to accommodate but it is your job to graciously inform your host ahead of time. This is very helpful to the host in planning menus.
- Say thank you when you depart. Send thank you notes.
These kindnesses are often overlooked, as we’re frequently in a hurry, but it is such an important gesture. The least formal “thank you” is an email; the most formal is a
hand written note. The latter communicates that “You took the time”, which speaks volumes about your level of appreciation. Silence communicates how self-focused you are, not to take a few moments to demonstrate your appreciation. Not a good way to endear a relationship. Sending flowers after the fact is also a gracious way of saying “thank you”.
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