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Personal Etiquette

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Dr Algirdas Makarevicius

Staring At A Person When Speaking With Him

It is not for nothing that the eyes are called the windows to a person’s soul. Eye contact creates a strong connection between two people and also creates an impression of sincerity and trustworthiness.

• Look at a person when being introduced to him/her, maintain the eye contact even while speaking. Eye contact with another person shows your interest in him/her. It also forces you to pay attention to what s/he is saying.
• Make soft eye contact, i.e. look into the other person’s eyes, and then shift your gaze to other parts of the person’s face occasionally.
• While speaking with a group of people, look at one person for a few seconds and then shift your gaze to another.
• Making eye contact does not mean that you try and stare a person down with an intense pupil-to-pupil gaze. Staring at a person is the quickest way of making him uncomfortable and so, putting him on the defensive.


Is Shaking Hands An Accepted Norm?

A handshake is a universally accepted way of greeting people, as also a universal source of worry! While everybody has their own theory about the correct way to shake hands, the general rule is to keep the handshake firm, brief and as far as possible, dry.

• On being introduced, offer your right hand. Smile and make eye contact. Offer a greeting.
• Keep the handshake firm and brief. This is not a show of strength, so don’t try and cripple the other person. At the same time don’t let the handshake be a half-handed, limp, wet fish sort of grip.
• Do not attempt to hold hands till introduction is over. A good handshake lasts for about 3 to 4 seconds.

If you offer a handshake and it is refused, just withdraw your hand. Under most circumstances you have followed protocol while the other person has been ungracious in refusing to respond.

Are Your Listening Skills Up To The Mark?

How often have you found yourself talking to somebody who was not interested in listening to you or was more interested in getting his point across? How do you avoid falling into the same trap?

• First of all, listen actively. Maintain eye contact with the speaker. Remind yourself that you have something to gain from this.
• Participate enthusiastically! Ask questions, and pay attention to the answers. Clarify doubts, but don't overwhelm the speaker with the force of your voice and opinion.
• Wait for the other person to finish speaking. Avoid interrupting unnecessarily, and don't consider every conversation as a forum for airing your views!

If the speaker is rambling, and cutting into time you cannot possibly spare, make your excuses politely. After all, you just might be in his shoes tomorrow!


Maintaining An Arm's Length

Have you ever had someone stand so close to you that you could feel their breath on your face? And did you move back, only to find the other person move in closer? That was an invasion of your personal space!

• Personal space is the area around the physical self that a person considers his. Moving in too close or standing too far away can create discomfort. Be alert for signs that a person is uncomfortable with how close you are standing to him/her.
• In urban
and in most Western countries, an arm's length, or about 3 feet is an accepted norm.
• In some European countries like
Italy and Spain and in most South American countries, people tend to stand much closer. In most Arab countries too personal space is less than the accepted Western norm. In Japan
however, people prefer to stand further away.

Personal space is not only a 'personal' but often a cultural issue too. Respect it!


Royal Manners That Matter

"Punctuality Is The Politeness Of Kings,’’
-- Louis XVIII

There’s no excuse for lateness, not in a social situation, and definitely not in a business environment. Nobody likes to be kept waiting, and it reflects very badly not only on your organization, but also on you, personally, if you make a habit of being late.

• Apologize first, and then take the appropriate action. You have made someone wait, and you might have caused a colleague to take on your work in addition to his own.
• When you are delayed, try, as soon as is possible, to inform the person expecting you that you cannot make your appointment on time. Tell them how long you are going to be delayed, and if they cannot wait, reschedule your appointment.
• When giving an excuse for being late, make sure that it is plausible, and as far as possible, truthful. However, there’s no need to go into the fascinating details of how, and why, you were delayed.
• Be on time or just a few minutes early. That you happened to be free, or in the neighbourhood, is no reason to drop in on someone way ahead of schedule. Most people work on tight schedules and cannot be expected to drop everything and entertain you.


The Art Of Conversation

If you think that conversation is about competition, then you’re talking about a debate. If you think it’s about interesting gossip, then you’re thinking kitty party. And if you like the sound of your own voice…then you should be reading this! Good conversation is an art that can value add to your personality everyday, provided you keep the following pointers in mind:

• Never thrust your opinion on another person.
• If you are as important as you think you are your actions will speak for you. Don’t boast.
• People will gossip. However, think twice before you speak about anyone. Don’t be critical or insulting of someone who is not there and when the gossip turns mean or malicious, don’t do it.
• Avoid talking about salaries and commissions, and promotions you feel should have been rightfully yours.
• Sex – whether it is about your sex life or another’s, about a colleagues sexual orientation or about office affairs, don’t discuss it.


Manners Speak Louder Than Words

“Your manners are always under examination, and by committees little suspected, awarding or denying you very high prizes when you least think of it."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, the least suspected committee may well turn out to be your next employer and the prize, your ideal job! You just never know. So, if you happen to travel a lot, hobnob with clients and visit other offices as part of your work schedule, ensure that your manners are impeccable and your visiting etiquette, intact.
So, how good is your visitor etiquette? Evaluate yourself by going through these simple but effective rules.

• Be punctual. If you are 5 minutes early, even better. This indicates that you respect other people’s time.
• Don't stroll into a place as if it’s your own.
• Be polite to everyone you meet irrespective if it’s the receptionist or the CEO.
• If the office that you are visiting needs you to sign in, and take a visitor card, comply with the protocol. You could supply the receptionist with your visiting card.
• While waiting, don't try to chat up the receptionist, in case your feeling bored!
• While waiting in someone's office, don't touch anything on his desk or around his room. Similarly, his reading material is his own, and is not there for you to kill time with.
• Carry your own pens and note pads; it looks very unprofessional when you ask to borrow these.
• Get your work done and leave. This is not a social visit so don’t grab every opportunity to chitchat.
• On your way out, remember to thank the receptionist!  


Smarten The Way You Speak

Your voice and the way you use your words, plays a large role in the kind of impression you make upon a person. Your speech patterns are very revealing, not only of your social and educational background, but also of your mood and confidence levels. It helps to have a deep and attractive voice, or a sweet and clear one, but even if you don’t, you can cultivate a very pleasant manner of speaking.

• Pay attention to the pitch and volume of your voice. To get a good idea of how you sound to others, tape your own message in an answering machine and play it back; if you sound loud enough or shrill enough to give a bagpipe competition, consciously.
• As long as your speech is clear, and your grammar correct, don’t worry too much about accents. If, however, your speech carries very strong local influences, you could easily be misunderstood, and so, it definitely pays to soften a pronounced regional accent!

Infuse your voice with enthusiasm. Watch out for bad language and sarcasm. It’s not impressive or funny to anybody other than you.


First Impressions

Every single person you meet, every single day of your life, sizes you up in the first few minutes of meeting you and it is true that you are judged by the way you look. A business environment is no different. While ability is the deciding factor, no doubt, the first impression is formed on the basis of appearance, speech and demeanour. And it's usually long lasting! Use these tips...

• Give enough importance good grooming. You don't need to be a slave to fashion, but being neat, clean and smartly dressed goes a long way in creating good impressions. While your personal sense of style may be exotic and eye-catching, office dress codes usually demand a more subdued look. Choose clothes that can weather the corporate climate in your office and industry.
• Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. Forget trying to ape the voice a radio broadcaster, but you can definitely infuse some enthusiasm in your voice and speech. Avoid swearing and be aware of when your voice gets shrill, your attitude gets naggy and your tone aggressive.
• Carry yourself with confidence. Be pleasant and positive in your dealings with others. It’s the little things that add up.
• A little time and energy spent on personal hygiene, diet and exercise, is the quickest and most effective way of increasing your attractiveness quotient.

Pay attention to body language. Fidgeting, picking at your face and clothes, and crossing and uncrossing of your legs are some of the most common and obvious signs of nervousness. Consciously eliminate them from your behavior pattern.



Everybody loves a compliment. Sometimes however, if you are insincere or effusive, this simple act can go very wrong. Perfect the art of giving and receiving compliments gracefully.

• Don’t hesitate to show your appreciation of people or of jobs done well. Praise a specific task, quality, or look; it sounds insincere if you shower praise continuously and indiscriminately. If a colleague sports a hairstyle you wouldn’t force on your dog, don’t pretend it is the best look he’s ever had.
• Accept a compliment graciously. A smile and a ‘Thank you, I really worked hard on the project’, is a far better response than acting extremely humble and brushing off praise. At the same time, don’t behave as if everything you say or do is outstanding, and a compliment is merely your due!
• Use discretion while making comments. You never know when they could be used against you. Like for instance, it’s not appropriate to comment upon a colleague's physical attributes, even if you think she can give your favourite pin-up a run for her money. This could amount to sexual harassment in someone else’s eyes!

How Good is Your Hello?

Answering a phone call is as easy as picking up the phone and saying "Hello"… or is it?! In spite of the telephone being a very frequently used means of communication today, many people still struggle to use it in an effective manner.

• Pick up the phone within the first few rings.
• A 'Yes', is probably the rudest way of answering a call, and simply saying ‘Hello’, doesn’t help the caller in any way. Identify yourself, and your company, and offer to help.
• Always have pen and paper at your desk so that you don’t have to scramble for them when you have to take down information.
• Be aware of background noise, like music for instance. If it is within your control, shut it off.
• Be courteous. End the call on a positive note, or at the very least, by thanking the person for his time. Don’t slam the phone down on the unsuspecting caller, just because you have said all you wanted to!


Memorising Names

Are you one of those people who have a fantastic memory for faces, yet can’t recollect a name to save your life? Have you ever greeted someone you know, carried on a conversation with them, and heaved a sigh of relief when you escaped without having to admit that you couldn’t remember their names? Try these tips, and you may just never be in that kind of situation ever again!

• Make an effort to maintain eye contact and listen carefully when being introduced. Focus on them, and not on the familiar or interesting face you can see over their shoulder! Repeat the name when responding to the introduction.
• Use the name at least once within the first few minutes of having heard it; ask the person to spell the name or ask for its meaning or origin.
• If you have been given a business card, later, make a note on it about any distinguishing characteristic that reminds you of the person.


Know How To Make Intelligent Small Talk?

Introductions have been made; you’ve made eye contact, smiled, said ‘Hello’, and smiled again. This gives way to a pregnant pause. You feel awkward. Someone in the group clears his throat and then everybody rushes in, desperate to say something. There is embarrassed laughter! Sounds familiar? So, what do you say after you say hello! Plenty, if only you make an attempt.

• The easiest way to start and keep a conversation going is to get people to talk about themselves. Ask how they know the host, or what they do. Just make sure you’re not asking your host, or your boss, this question!
• Be well informed. Everyone has access to newspapers and magazines. Keep yourself up to date on political and social events.
• Relax, and show a genuine interest in those around you. Don’t worry too much about pronunciation or accents or vocabulary. More can be achieved by you being your natural self than by your best attempts to impress the other person.


Is A Thank You Note Important?

The road to etiquette hell is paved by good intentions and a lack of action! How often have you promised yourself that you would thank someone for their hospitality or for a lovely gift, and have promptly forgotten about it, till you saw them again? Remember that a thank you note can go a long way. You will be remembered well, it can lead to new opportunities, and you never know when you will need the contact, the friendship and the assistance from this person again.

• Be prompt in sending a thank you note. It should go out the next day or, if you are travelling, as soon as you reach your home or office.
• Invest some time in writing your note of thanks. If that is not possible, at the very least, sign a typed note. Include a comment saying how much you enjoyed the stay, meal, or gift, but don’t be effusive in your praise.
• Remember however that it is not necessary to write thank you notes to a friend for an informal dinner at his house, to a prospective client for meeting with you for coffee and discussions, or to your colleagues for every day courtesies. Anything more than a simple ‘thank you’ or phone call of appreciation, would seem pretentious in this case.


Do You Smell Clean?

If people routinely flatten themselves against a wall as you pass by, maybe it’s time to stop and ponder why. An honest friend will provide the answers and good personal hygiene, the solution.

• Sweat by itself is not offensive; it is only when you give it time to react to bacteria, that it develops its unique repulsive properties. Daily baths and generous usage of deodorants should take care of this problem. Remember perfume is not a substitute for a shower!
• Blow into your cupped hands vigorously. If your breath makes your head spin, you need urgent dental assistance! Visit your dentist regularly. The daily routine of brushing, flossing, and gargling with mouthwash takes care of most problems, but to keep your breath fresh, you also need to watch out for strong smelling foods and the occasional rumbly stomach!
• Pay attention to your feet; shoes and hot Indian summers don’t make for good partners. Make sure you use cotton socks, and do dust your feet with an odour absorbing powder. Never, ever, use the same pair of socks two days in a row!



Today’s business and social environments require close interaction between people, so it’s only fair that we subject those around us to as few strong personal odours as possible.

A body need not be synonymous with strong odour, good or bad. Good personal hygiene takes care of body odour. Very strong perfumes are offensive too, especially in the close confines of office spaces. Use only the mildest fragrances for the office.
• Remember that just as you have a right to the food of your choice, your colleagues also have a right to work in an atmosphere that doesn’t reek of your lunch. Save strong smelling foods for meals away from office.
• Smoking is another major offender. The smell of stale smoke lingers in your clothes, and in your breath, skin, and hair. If you have to smoke, as far as possible, pick a well-ventilated place. Use breath mints generously. Be scrupulous about hygiene and launder your clothes regularly.



Some times when dealing with others, our desire to be hospitable intermingles with what should be considered good manners. This series of articles will analyze various hospitable circumstances and seek to determine the manners that must be displayed in these situations.
This first sequence of the hospitality series will be dealing with houseguests.
It's summer time and a lot of us are planning vacations to visit family and friends, but just because these are people you are comfortable with, it does not give you room to forget your manners. So whether you are visiting or hosting, please remember the following.

For the visitor:

1. Announce your plans to visit at least a week before coming.
Recently, I got home late (around
10:30 pm
) and I heard someone outside of my apartment say, "Yoo-Hoo": A signature call from a certain relative. I was too out done. I'd been in and out of town for weeks. My bags and luggage littered the entry way AND my curlers and makeup decorated my bathroom sink. Now, for the record, I'm in no way what you'd call a neat freak, but I do want people to present my home in the best manner possible. But when this person showed up - unannounced - I was robbed of that right. On top of that I hadn't gone shopping, and I live alone so there was virtually nothing there to eat or drink besides bread and water!!!
Do you get where I'm going with this??? Be nice to your host and let them know when you plan to drop by (if it is alright with them!).

2. Bring everything you would bring if you were going to a hotel.
Do not expect your host to know exactly what you want and when you want it. Do bring:

Your toothbrush and toothpaste.
Your hair gel and special brushes.
That shower gel you love so much.

As a standard rule, I always bring a washcloth and towel, just to be on the safe side. You may be thinking that some of these are things that the host should know to provide, but let's say that they don't. Wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry?

3. Remember that just because you are on vacation, it doesn't mean that your host(s) is(are).
Just like you, your hosts have jobs and lives that have not been put on hold for your vacation. Be considerate of things like bedtimes and curfews, personal space and the rules of the household. Do NOT disrupt your host(s) lives with your vacation.

For the host:

1. Put everything out front.
You should immediately let your guests know what rules / pet peeves you have right off the back. If you are having problems with something that your guest has done or is doing, let them know, but please do so with kindness. You don't want to offend anyone who does, in fact, scrape their teeth against their silverware when that just bugs you.

2. Don't feel that you are room service.
You don't have to bring them breakfast in bed, or their newspaper perfectly rolled. In terms of special treatment, while they are at your home you don't have to go out of your way to make them comfortable. You should treat them as a part of your family, and if there is something you wouldn't do for someone who lived with you, don't do it for them. However, do not treat them with utter disregard either. Direct them to the things they need with courtesy, but keep in mind that they are out of their comfort zone and are unfamiliar with their surroundings.

3. Try to put yourself in their shoes and help them have a nice time.
When you are staying with others, the worst feeling is being made to feel like you're imposing on your hosts. So give them the freedom to make your home their home. If you can't do that, then maybe you should suggest that they stay at the Quality Inn.

If done right, having houseguests can provide a nice time to visit with friends. But if caution is not taken, and manners not minded, the outcome can be disastrous. Making both you and your guest wishing they hadn't come. And since that's not the intention, try to always keep in mind the golden rule of etiquette: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.


Cell-phone etiquette is really just common courtesy. Most people today have mobile phones. In fact, many people cannot imagine how they ever got along without a portable phone. However, many people also complain about cell phone users. People complain about other people loudly discussing personal matters in public places. They complain when cell phones ring in movie theaters and concert halls. They complain about people driving too slow, and not paying attention to where they are going because they are talking on a cell phone. And they complain about people walking around talking to people who aren't there.

Whenever a new communications technology becomes popular, it changes the way society is organized. Society has to invent rules for the polite way to use the new devices. Our social etiquette, our rules of politeness for cell phones, is still evolving.

Cell-phone etiquette apply to most public places. Always try to keep your phone ringer as low as possible or put your mobile phone on vibrate, so it does not distract the people around you. A good time to leave your phone at home, or at least in the car, would be at a funeral, wedding or some event along those lines.

Basic Cell phone etiquette rules

Switching it off. Know when to turn it off or vibrate it, e.g.  meetings, movies, worship, seminars, etc . 

Be brief. When you get a call and you are with friends, keep the call short.

Permission. It is correct etiquette to inform others at the beginning of the meeting that you are expecting an important call and get their permission.

Do not scream. Speak in a lower-than-normal voice, you will be heard by the caller, and not others in the room

Do not distract. Avoid talking where you may be distracting to others.

Driving. It is not only very dangerous, but also unlawful in most countries  to drive and talk on your cell phone

The most important thing you can remember about manners and etiquette is to always treat others the way you like to be treated - and that is with respect. Think before you speak, smile and be considerate of people. Good manners are life skills that can take you far in the workplace and in social situations. If you possess good manners, people like to be around you. If you don't, they will avoid you like the plague.

Violations of etiquette, if severe, can cause public disgrace, and in private hurt individual feelings, create misunderstandings or real grief and pain, and can even escalate into murderous rage. Many family feuds have their beginnings in trivial etiquette violations that were blown up out of proportion.

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