As the new year dawns, we take a look at five resolutions that will help improve your social skills and make the world a more courteous place.
Doom-mongers often remark that manners are in decline and that standards of behaviour are slipping. New modes of communication, notably mobile phones, are tending to make people inward-looking and cut off, and in some cases are impeding awareness of the self and other people, which is the cornerstone of good manners. At the same time, we have all observed a marked shift towards more informal manners, with much less emphasis on respect and deference, and more stress on friendliness and the desire to put other people at their ease. This should only be encouraged, and social interactions are greatly improved if we are attentive to other people and self-aware about our own behaviour.
With this in mind, we recommend taking the following steps:
•Remember the Social Niceties
Simple pleasantries such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘how are you?’, ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’ oil the wheels of social intercourse. They also have a transformative effect when things are going wrong, or you’re feeling under stress, mitigating the pressures of modern life. If you forget to use them, you will come across as inconsiderate and boorish, intent on your own interests and neglectful of everyone else.
The more you remember to use these pleasantries the more automatic they will become. People will recognise that you are polite and courteous, and you will find the world a much more friendly place.
•Chat to Strangers
Try to enjoy a friendly exchange with a stranger at least once a day and you will soon recognise that it improves your mood and make you feel the world is a better place. Whether it is a shop assistant, your neighbour on the bus, the refuse collectors or a courier, taking the encounter a step beyond basic greetings provides a moment of social interaction and will leave you with a positive afterglow.
You may choose to fall back on that good old British standby, the weather, which is always a fruitful topic. Alternatively, you might enjoy a shared complaint – the infrequent bus service or long queue. Concentrate on keeping the exchange reasonably light-hearted, whatever the topic, and you will find that you have put a smile on your face (and the other person’s).
•Be aware of your Social Footprint
We’re all aware of the concept of our carbon footprint, which measures our own environmental impact. This idea can usefully be applied to the idea of any negative impact you may be having as you mix with other people in everyday situations.
It’s just a matter of being conscious of your physical presence and the effect you are having on the people around you. This might be a simple matter, such as the fact that you’ve dumped your coat on the adjacent seat on the train, which means that nobody can use it. Or you might be listening to music on your phone in a quiet coach without headphones and disturbing your neighbours. Or you might be walking three abreast down the pavement, forcing other pedestrians to scatter as you advance. All these behaviours are caused by a lack of awareness of the negative ways in which you can impose yourself on the people around you – taking up too much space, making too much noise, impinging on other people’s territory.
If you become conscious of your footprint, you will automatically make a number of evaluations in any situation and will pre-empt any cause for complaint. You will be aware of potential sources of inconvenience or noise pollution and do your utmost to ensure that you are not causing resentment.
Most bad manners emanate not only from the tendency to be blind to your own impact (see above), but also from being oblivious to the feelings of the people around you. Spotting the lonely wallflower at a party who is in desperate need of an introduction, noticing that a heavily pregnant woman is forced to stand on the tube, being aware that your guests are shivering in your under-heated home – these are all situations that, once observed, can be easily remedied.
The key to good manners is to be attentive and empathetic, which might mean that you need to de-prioritise your own needs, look outwards and focus your consideration on the people around you.
•Be prompt in all things
This plea applies to many spheres of activity. Always being punctual is a mark of respect: it indicates that you value other people’s time and do not want to squander it needlessly. Resist the tendency, which is the result of the universality of mobile phones, to think that nowadays timings are always approximate and easily re-negotiated through texting updates. Even if you are bombarding people with a blow-by-blow account of your journey, and detailed information about hold-ups and mishaps, you are still mucking them around, forcing them to wait and inconveniencing them.
Be swift to reply to all communications. There is really no excuse, when everybody has the power of instantaneous communication at their fingertips, to be tardy about replying to texts, calls and messages. We all know how easy it is to communicate, so being forced to wait for a reply or even forced to send a “did you get my text/email?” query is all the more frustrating. Make it a rule to reply as quickly as possible to all communications; if you do not have an immediate answer, it’s always a good idea to send a holding message, which reassures the sender that you are on the case and will get back to them shortly. By ensuring that everyone you know is never inconvenienced by your inefficiency, you will be gaining a reputation as a friendly, reliable, cooperative and considerate person, which is never a bad thing.
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