October 11, 2006 Edition

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The pragmatics of politeness

Linda Lou Moore
Guest Writer

When you think of manners you:

(A) Cringe at the thought of "all those rules."

(B) Find them unimportant, ineffectual and outdated.

(C) Regard them as pretentious and condescending.

(D) Don't think of them at all.

(E) Think of respect, courtesy and empowerment.

If you answered E, you understand the pragmatics of politeness.

Concern about a lack of civility in America has been the topic of several surveys and articles, including the following:

So, what are manners and what is etiquette?

Manners are how you treat someone.

Etiquette is knowing how to treat someone.

Manners are based on kindness, thoughtfulness, consideration and respect for others. Good manners are unpretentious, honest, kind and tactful.

Some people feel that manners are unimportant. But research has shown that the lack of good manners can put you at a disadvantage. People often tend to make character judgments about you based on how you handle particular situations. It has been found that "technical skills" account for 15 percent of what makes a person successful, while "people skills" account for 85 percent of what makes a person successful. This can be a critical factor when your boss makes decisions about your career advancement.

Many people think that etiquette is just for tea drinking aristocrats. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of us, no matter our age, find ourselves in situations where what we do or what we say is important. Knowledge is empowerment. Knowing what to do enables us to feel comfortable and make others feel comfortable.

Since manners and etiquette are related, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Both skills are important. It is knowing how to shake a man's or a woman's hand, understanding the art of business conversation, knowing the importance of appropriate dress and how to avoid dining disasters. Experts say treating people with respect, courtesy and civility is more important than ever in business relationships.

Manners permeate all aspects of life. It's not just about using the right fork, or knowing an obscure rule of protocol, it's about everyday kindness.

Some of the most overbearing and condescending people are those who are "technically correct." They are the ones who do not take into consideration the feelings of others. They use the rules of etiquette and the practice of "good manners" in a pretentious way to make others feel uncomfortable.

On the other hand, people who have an innate feeling of doing right towards others make some of the most enjoyable company. These are also the people who, when faced with a new or unusual situation, find out how and what should be done. That's good manners. That's etiquette. That's everyday kindness.

Understanding the pragmatics of politeness is to recognize that when you make people feel respected and appreciated, you are of value to them.

It's often the small words that carry the most weight. It's the power of "Please" and the importance of "Thank You." It's respecting others when saying "Excuse Me." Remembering to use "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me" speaks volumes. Courteous phrases can and do open doors. Using these simple, yet powerful words makes life more pleasant for all. But, these words also have a practical application. They can affect the bottom line.

According to Liza Mirza Grotts, a director of AML Group, a San Francisco based company, ignoring such courtesies when conducting business can hurt feelings and profits.

In social, business and familial situations civility, courtesy and respect can make the bumpy road of life much smoother. It takes little time to preface a request with "please," acknowledge an action with "thank you," or admit an error with "excuse me."

Learning good manners at an early age is important. It is a key ingredient to any child's education. Just as we want our children to learn the "3-R's," learning how to treat others is instrumental in a successful life. It is well known that children are great imitators of behavior. When children observe kindness, when children observe courtesy, and when children hear "please," "thank you" and "excuse me," they are more likely to emulate this type of behavior.

Quote of the day: "Civility costs nothing and buys everything." ~ Mary Wortley Montagu

Linda Lou Moore of Paragould is trained and certified by the Protocol School of Washington, Washington, D.C. She offers customized individual and group etiquette programs for children, teens and adults. She may reached at Post Office Box 145, Paragould, AR. 72451 or at manners@grnco.net.

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