Navigating politeness and etiquette can be tricky, given the evolving landscape of social norms. Mistakes happen, and it’s understandable, especially considering the shifts in etiquette over the past decade. Sometimes, efforts to be polite may lead to counterproductive behaviors arising from an overcorrection to avoid impoliteness. Striking a balance is vital, and seeking guidance from an etiquette expert can be invaluable.
According to one expert, politeness revolves around kindness, respect, cooperation, and prioritizing people in every situation. By shifting the focus from complex rules to considerations of empathy and helpfulness, making the right choices becomes more straightforward. If you’ve found yourself entangled in these nuanced politeness pitfalls, peruse the list below to identify and shed these well-intentioned yet problematic habits.
Replying “Thanks” to a Group Email
“When people simply [reply] ‘thanks’ to the whole group. If everyone does that, it creates a tidal wave of emails that don’t add any information,” says another person.
While it might seem polite to keep everyone informed by hitting “reply all” in group emails, it’s important to consider the daily email overload many individuals face. Reserve “reply all” for information relevant to the entire group, as indiscriminate use can create considerable inconvenience. Navigating through numerous replies to locate essential details becomes cumbersome. Instead, demonstrate good email etiquette by responding only to those requiring the information. If you want to acknowledge an email receipt, opt for a direct response to the sender to streamline communication and enhance overall email efficiency.
Saying “No Worries”
“Saying thank you is definitely a polite habit, as is acknowledging gratitude—as long as you choose positive phrasing,” says one person on the thread.
Responding with phrases like “no worries,” “no big deal,” or “no problem” when someone expresses gratitude, while not impolite, may inadvertently make the other person feel guilty. These expressions suggest that their actions inconvenienced you or posed a problem. Instead, opt for a more gracious reply such as “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure.” This communicates a positive and welcoming tone, avoiding unintended negative connotations and fostering a more considerate exchange.
“If they give a phone number, use it; [don’t RSVP] in other ways,” another person says.
In the age of digital invitations like Facebook invites, Zoom calls, and text chains, the perceived formality of RSVPing might seem outdated. However, not only is RSVPing still a courteous practice but how you execute it also holds significance. While it might feel polite to convey your attendance through a text or a casual mention in a call, respecting the host’s preferred RSVP method is crucial. If they provide a card for a formal response, as standard with wedding invites, mailing it back is appropriate. Even for Facebook invites, responding with a “Going” maintains courtesy, streamlining the host’s task of consolidating responses and adhering to RSVP etiquette matters as hosts rely on these responses for effective party planning, estimating needs from food and beverages to seating arrangements.
Showering Someone With Compliments
One person explains, “Your comments may be well-meaning, but sometimes being too direct is off-putting,”
Navigating compliments can be a delicate task. While seemingly the pinnacle of politeness, they carry potential nuances that might not align with your intentions. Complimenting someone’s appearance, especially regarding weight loss, can inadvertently make them uncomfortable or feel objectified. A comment on someone looking fantastic and having lost weight may, despite good intentions, imply they didn’t look great before. Prioritize consideration for the individual and the context before offering compliments. When extending compliments, ensure sincerity and maintain open body language to foster a positive and genuine interaction.
Sharing a Lot of Personal Information Right Away
“Less is more when it comes to personal opinions, especially in the company of acquaintances versus good friends,” says another etiquette expert in the same discussion.
Early on, we’re taught that offering one-word answers is impolite. As a result, when faced with a question, there’s a tendency to overcompensate by providing excessive details about oneself. Perhaps the aversion to small talk drives the desire to appear authentic, but others may perceive the oversharing as off-putting. Caution is warranted, especially in professional settings, initial encounters, and discussions involving opinions. Reserve personal details for interactions with close relationships and confidants, ensuring a balance between openness and appropriateness in various social contexts.
Showing Up Early
“It’s polite to be on time, but giving your host a few minutes is even more polite,” says one etiquette master.
Since arriving late to a gathering is considered disrespectful, you may be overly cautious by arriving early. Additionally, offering assistance is an exemplary gesture. However, this ostensibly “polite” habit can be irritating for hosts. When hosts specify a start time, it indicates their readiness for guests. Arriving prematurely may disrupt their preparations. Unless expressly invited to assist early, adhere to the designated start time to ensure you meet the host’s expectations and maintain a smoother event flow.
Offering Driving Tips or Directions Without Being Asked
One person adds, “However polite you may think you’re being, there’s no need to offer your turn-by-turn directions. Most will find that flat-out annoying.”
In the era of GPS, providing directions has become redundant. It can potentially confuse, given the accuracy of modern technology in navigating routes, even factoring in real-time traffic conditions. Offering unsolicited driving advice, such as braking or turning tips, is often unwelcome, as most individuals prefer autonomy behind the wheel. Instead, reserve guidance for instances where the driver seeks assistance or clarification. Unless there’s an apparent safety concern, refrain from assuming the role of an unsolicited driving instructor. This is particularly important in rideshare scenarios, where passengers offering navigation advice are generally disliked by Uber drivers.
Cheek Kissing or Hugging Hello
“Unless you’re greeting a close friend or family member, skip any type of close physical contact and simply say hello,” says one etiquette expert.
Pre-pandemic greetings involved physical contact, such as cheek kisses, air kisses, hugs, and arm grabs. However, even before widespread concerns about infectious diseases, many individuals were not fond of having their personal space infringed upon by these ostensibly “polite” greetings, according to an etiquette expert. The expert suggests that a warm smile or a friendly nod can convey the same sentiment as a hug but in a more courteous manner. In the current pandemic, being mindful of etiquette rules when visiting friends is essential.
Ordering for Someone Else
One person on the thread adds, “This can come across as more condescending than helpful,”
Portrayed as polite or endearing in Hollywood movies, placing someone else’s order may seem charming, indicating a deep understanding of the person’s preferences. However, it’s essential to recognize that dining companions can fully express their choices. While offering suggestions is considerate, allowing individuals to order for themselves is courteous. An exception is made for young children, as enabling them to place their orders is generally acceptable. Despite its perceived cuteness, this seemingly “polite” habit can create awkward situations for fast-food employees who may struggle to comprehend the child’s order.
Offering to Share a Bite of Food
“Sharing a bite of food off your fork or a sip out of your glass should always be avoided,” another explains.
When faced with a delectable crème brûlée or a visually appealing boba tea, the immediate inclination might be to offer a taste to dining companions, driven by the anticipation that they’ll appreciate the flavor. While this generous impulse is understandable, it lacks a certain level of politeness. If the desire to share persists, consider cutting a portion of the food and using the other person’s fork to present it to them. However, sharing a straw is inherently challenging to execute politely. An exception arises if the person is someone with whom you share regular intimate gestures, in which case sharing food may be deemed less consequential.
Another expert chips in with, “Self-deprecating responses like this can affront the person who paid the compliment. You’re basically telling them that they’re totally wrong.”
Compliments and self-deprecating humor often go hand in hand, as receiving praise can evoke discomfort, leading to the temptation to downplay commendations. The fear of appearing boastful might prompt responses like “Really? I just rolled out of bed!” when complimented on one’s appearance. Instead, when faced with a sincere compliment, it’s advisable to adhere to a straightforward and appreciative response—say “thank you.” This ensures a gracious acknowledgment of the praise without veering into self-deprecation or unintentional arrogance.
Automatically Saying “Yes”
“People feel like the ‘polite’ or ‘kind’ thing to do when someone asks them to do something is to say ‘yes’ right away, thinking they can change their mind later,” says another expert on the matter.
Offering commitments on a whim might momentarily satisfy the asker, but it’s only considerate if you’re confident in upholding that commitment, warns the expert. Such hasty agreements can breed frustration, resentment, and hurt feelings for both parties while also perpetuating a sense of being perpetually overcommitted and overwhelmed. A more advisable approach involves embracing honesty as a key element in polite communication. Ensure that your affirmative response genuinely signifies a sincere and feasible commitment, aligning your actions with your words to foster a more authentic and harmonious interaction.
Apologizing for Every Small Thing
“The best thing to do is turn it into a positive,” says another expert on the thread. “For instance, instead of saying ‘I’m so sorry I was late,’ you can say, ‘Thank you for being so patient. I’ll be more prompt next time.’ That leaves both of you feeling good about the interaction.”
When you accidentally step on someone’s foot or make a work-related mistake, offering an immediate and sincere apology is the most considerate course of action. However, some individuals tend to apologize excessively for minor incidents or matters beyond their control, creating an atmosphere of constant apology. This not only becomes annoying for others but may also instill a sense of unease, as it suggests that they might be causing distress. Instead, reserve sincere apologies for actual mistakes and avoid over-apologizing, maintaining a more balanced and genuine approach to expressing regret when warranted.
Tagging People on Social Media
“People have different comfort levels concerning their online presence and privacy, and they may not appreciate you sending up a digital “you are here” flag,” one etiquette master explains.
In the age of social media, tagging friends, family, and even professional contacts has become commonplace. While it may initially appear as a polite gesture, individuals may resist being tagged for various reasons, ranging from privacy concerns to a desire to avoid scammers or unwanted comments. To cultivate genuine politeness, it’s advisable to adopt a considerate approach. The etiquette expert recommends asking individuals if they would like to be tagged before doing so and respecting their decision. Enhance privacy control by configuring social media settings to review any tags before they are posted.
Overly Complicated Voicemails
“You’re lucky if someone returns your call, much less listens to a whole voicemail,” says one expert. “Texting is much more common and efficient.”
Twenty years ago, voicemail reigned supreme, serving as the primary means of communication before the era of mobile texting and email. Back then, proper etiquette dictated leaving detailed and sometimes redundant voicemails to ensure recipients had all the necessary information. However, contemporary sentiment leans heavily against voicemail, viewed by many as a time-consuming inconvenience. Opt for more efficient communication methods like texting and email from your mobile device. According to etiquette expert Boyd, keep messages concise and direct. Nowadays, it’s also common practice to forgo leaving a voicemail, relying on missed-call notifications as a signal for the recipient to return your call.
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