What is etiquette and why is it necessary? These are two questions that are often asked. Webster’s Dictionary defines etiquette as “the conduct of procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.” There are many other technical definitions such as Webster’s, but the best is a combination of many sources. Etiquette is a guideline for respectful and socially acceptable behavior in all phases of life. Contrary to popular belief, etiquette is not a list of strict, outdated rules for the wealthy. If we know what type of behavior is acceptable in our more casual world, we can navigate any situation with confidence and grace. While etiquette still encompasses table manners, thank you notes, proper introductions, good grammar and so on, the basic tenets are respect for all people and their customs, the ability to put others and oneself at ease in any situation, recognition of a person’s experience and personal ethics. The Golden Rule is a great example of these qualities.
So how does etiquette enter into our daily lives? We have social interaction every day with family, friends, neighbors, business colleagues, clients, service staff— the list goes on and on. Think of etiquette as a “how to” navigate life and the application of common courtesy in the sticky situations that may occur. It is true that times have changed to a more casual lifestyle with lots of electronic communication (see Writing Letters in an Email World Part 1 and Part 2). However, the general principles of social interaction have stayed pretty much the same. Basic etiquette can prevent embarrassing situations and help build self confidence socially and professionally. Knowledge of the proper way to handle most situations will prove valuable in all phases of one’s life.