By Jon Michail
We engage in protocol and etiquette daily; whether we do so effectively or not is another matter.
Observing protocol and etiquette is about much more than just knowing which fork to use at a dinner party – although if you do find yourself dining formally wouldn’t you rather know?
At the heart of all the rules of etiquette is the value of respect. Giving up a seat to someone who needs it on the train or helping a friend with the dishes after a dinner party, are simple gestures that show respect and care for the needs of others.
Take for instance the RSVP – most events that require one indicate that you are important to the person who asked you – is that person important to you as well? Help them out. They need to know how many chairs and how much food they’ll need for the event, or they wouldn’t have asked you to RSVP. It’s just good manners. And observing good manners never goes out of style because it is about maintaining good relationships.
Before you conjure up images of finishing school girls balancing books on their heads, think about the ways in which we still take note of body language and its appropriateness to a situation.
I’m sure you can think of a time you’ve seen a politician give either an insincere or over-aggressive handshake. This is a social gesture that we still take note of, and failure to get it right will change our opinion of a person.
The rest of our body language has an impact too – not just on how we are perceived, but on how we feel within ourselves.
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED Talk “Your body language shapes who you are” was watched by millions. The talk has sparked much thought, debate, and research in the years since. The idea coming out of Cuddy’s talk was that “power posing” could increase levels of testosterone and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain.
Though Cuddy felt that the findings of her research were oversimplified in explanations following her talk, and research is still ongoing, what we do know is that our body affects our mind and attitude. And posture has a big part to play.
When it comes to etiquette in language, English speakers get off lightly compared to others. Take for instance the personal pronoun “you”. In German, “you” can be translated as either the informal “du” or the formal “Sie”, depending on a person’s age, social status, and how well the two of you are acquainted. Failure to get this distinction right can still cause offence.
Ladette to Lady with Jean Broke-Smith
In an article written for the Guardian focusing on changing attitudes to etiquette in the younger generations, etiquette and grooming expert Jean Broke-Smith explained:
“I’m working more than ever, and with people from all kinds of backgrounds, from girls who work in TV to girls from council estates who want to better themselves. People want to learn about top-to-toe grooming – hair, make-up, dress sense and posture – but they don’t know where to go.”
People understand that image is important, and at the end of the day, you want the ability to control how others perceive you, rather than stumbling around blindly and accidentally causing offence.
Knowing which situations do and don’t require certain formalities is part of understanding protocol and etiquette.
Like grammar and usage, once you have learnt proper protocol and etiquette you can decide when to keep, bend, or break the rules. You can create a good impression by signing off correctly on a job application, and know at the same time that perfect spelling isn’t necessary for a text message to your best friend.
So, sit up straight and tall, send that RSVP you keep setting aside, and remember:
- Posture, deportment, and body language matter. These things affect not only how you are perceived by others, but also how you feel within yourself.
- Observing protocol and etiquette in language (when speaking or writing) is a simple way to show respect and avoid causing unintended offence.
- Certain situations do require a more formal approach, and knowing the correct protocol gives you the confidence to go into a situation prepared. To feel at ease rather than out of place.
Observing social norms often means putting others above ourselves – making sure they feel valued and respected. And I’m sure that’s something we can all appreciate.
The rules of Protocol and Etiquette represent the fourth aspect of what we at Image Group International like to call ‘The 7 Aspects of Authentic Image Management’TM – a part of the IGI Personal Branding System.TM This is more than just a slogan – the word authentic is there for a reason. Research shows we live in the most distrustful time in history. Our team want to work with you, to create the absolute best outcomes for your business and life.
I’ll be releasing a series of videos covering these 7 aspects, and I’d like to invite you to view them. I hope that they will give you further insight into the power of authentic image management, and how to grow your power and influence. How’s that sound to you?
Jon Michail is a veteran coach with a Who’s Who clientele, the CEO and Founder of Image Group International, an Australian-based corporate and personal brand image advisory and coaching organisation that conducts transformational seminars, workshops and one-on-one coaching in over four continents. He is recognised as Australasia’s No. 1 Image Coach.