Over the years, Ms. Manners has attended many professional conferences, campaign events and after-5:00 work gatherings. Of course, all things being equal, Ms. Manners would rather be home with a good book. But she has observed a number of social dos and don’ts, many of which are especially relevant now as political events and holiday parties are being added to our calendars.
Why highlight these issues, you ask? The simple truth is this: we’ve all got a little, invisible 3x5 card circulating about who we are, what we represent, and how we get things done. The way we conduct ourselves is largely responsible for the details included on that imaginary card. And ultimately, it’s the card that influences not just our own careers, but also the organizations we represent.
So we’ve got to get it right.
The simple truth is, we all are guilty of these faux pas, gaffes and missed cues from time to time. Some of the lessons Ms. Manners is about to share appear on her own 3x5 card (yuck) and represent knowledge gained the hard way. Here goes:
- Watch the body language—both your own, and that of others. The old tropes apply. Don’t cross your arms and legs lest you seem unwelcoming/closed off. Don’t approach a conversation where people are clearly huddled in serious one-on-one dialogue. Don’t fidget.
A side benefit? If you’re on your own and observant, you can have fun watching the body language of others. Count the number of parents in the room (they’re the ones unconsciously swaying gently from side to side, in a rhythm they’ve learned from carrying their little ones around). Watch to see who’s intimidated by the person they’re talking to (they’re probably looking at the floor). The opportunities are endless!
- Make sure your eyes are on target. If you’re looking around the room, trying to find someone better/more important to visit, be aware it’s not going unnoticed. In fact, Ms. Manners is on the receiving end of that action a LOT and, as a relatively unimportant person, she finds it unnecessarily sad. Ms. Manners also tends to mentally label people who do that as insincere climbers, more interested in themselves than in anyone else.
Be present. Be engaged. With your eyes, as well as with your scintillating wit.
- And, speaking of wit… Laughter is always fun. But you don’t always have to be the one telling the jokes. Trying to be the noisy center of attention is never tasteful, particularly if you’ve been drinking. You’re 3x5 card looks better if you relax and take your cues from the people around you.
- Know when to walk away. The universal cue for this is the final-sounding “Well, it’s sure good to see you. We have to get together for coffee sometime,” or even just the sing-song “Well.” Hear it, and let the person you’re addressing move on to another conversation.
- Follow the rules we all learned from old Seinfeld episodes. Don’t be a “close talker” or a “low talker,” and don’t double-dip your chips.
- Watch your eating… It sounds basic, but bad table manners are happening all the time. People talk with their mouths full, eat noisily, slurp, and otherwise forget the fundamental rules of public behavior when they’re out and about. It’s HIGHLY off-putting, and makes people want to get away.
- …And your drinking. It doesn’t matter if you are on Mackinac Island and the booze is free. You’re still working and you need to behave that way. People know who’s intoxicated and you can believe that information is on the 3x5 card. It inhibits trust, erodes credibility, and presumes a lack of self-control. What’s more, you are likely to forget key conversations or violate someone’s privacy without thinking when your BAC gets too high.
If you’re worried about someone pushing a drink on you (and people do try, all too often—don’t be that guy either), order tonic water with a slice of lime. Everyone will think you are drinking gin and leave you alone.
- No sexual peccadillos. Enough said.
- Don’t overshare. Yes, you want to make a good impression. But don’t do it by offering insider details on your organization, key issues, gossip, or other topics that could buy you trouble later. Unless you want it printed on the front page of the local newspaper, keep it to yourself.
- Above all, be professional. It is better to come and leave quietly than to break some obvious rules and be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Enjoy your events, make good connections, and behave like the 21st-century Citizen of the World that you are.
This is a busy time of year, but it’s also a time filled with opportunities for professional growth. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way.
Ms. Manners (aka Stephanie)