Etiquette Evolves: Are You Equipped?

Etiquette Evolves: Are You Equipped?

Mention etiquette at your next social event and marvel at your ability to suck the air out of the room (trust us, we know!). After a long pause, some may say that etiquette is outdated. After all, who cares about stuffy dining procedures, “upper class” protocol, and old-fashioned, gender-based rules? Others may express a longing for the days when everyone RSVP’d, offered a chair to the elderly, and put effort into dressing up before going out.

Social norms are constantly shifting, and there is no question that etiquette gets caught in the crossfire between yesterday’s norms and today’s standards. This begs the question: is etiquette outdated or is it simply evolving?

Everyone Uses Etiquette

Etiquette is the rules or guidelines for social behavior. Rules about how to behave have existed since the beginning of time. According to archaeological research, even cavemen had something akin to table manners as they used flint tools as a form of primitive cutlery. In the late 1600’s, Louis XIV posted “etiquets”—signs instructing people to stay off the grass—at his summer celebrations at Versailles.

Sometimes these rules were written down. By 1750, George Washington penned “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” which most believe were based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits. In 1922, Emily Post shared the social secrets of the upper class in her now famous etiquette book.

Whether written or unwritten, people use etiquette every day. Every group operates by a social code of conduct—behavior that is deemed acceptable and that which is not. For example, go riding with a group of devoted Harley Davidson riders and you will quickly learn that friendly waves are reserved for fellow Harley owners. Become a dog owner and you will learn what parts of the dog park are unofficially reserved for small dogs. Start a new job and you will learn what shelves of the fridge you should store your lunch on and how long you can keep it there.

We all observe codes of conduct (etiquette) every day, whether we are conscious of it or not. While etiquette is used in formal events with elaborate table settings, it is also evident in our day-to-day lives. You may not identify your behavior as etiquette, but it is!

Etiquette Evolves

Do you think etiquette is an outdated set of rules about teacups and curtsies? Think again! Etiquette changes as society changes. As our social norms evolve, so do the rules for our behavior. For instance, women’s increased presence in the workplace, globalization, changing family dynamics, and technology have massively shifted etiquette since the 1960’s. Here are a few examples of how these social shifts evolved modern etiquette:

1. Handshakes

Before women worked outside of the home, men and women seldom shook hands. Some women chose to extend their hand for a gentleman to lightly hold and “kiss.” While most men no longer “kiss” the back of a woman’s hand, some men still think it is appropriate to lightly shake a woman’s hand. It is not. When doing business in the West, men should firmly shake hands with women as they would with men. Similarly, it is also inappropriate to expect men to always open the door for women, pull out women’s chairs, and pick up the tab for dinner in professional settings. [For a discussion of modern dating guidelines, click here.]

2. Phone Calls

A single landline telephone used to hang on the kitchen wall of many family homes. This family phone was answered by saying, “Hello, King’s residence. This is Deborah speaking.” Today, cell phones have replaced landlines and texting is favored over phone calls. While the method of communication has changed, the need to politely identify yourself has not. When texting someone for the first time (or someone you do not contact regularly), provide your name at the beginning of the text so the recipient knows who you are.

3. Life Milestones

Guidelines for life milestones such as weddings, baby showers, and funerals have shifted to accommodate changing social dynamics. For instance, who walks the bride down the aisle? Whoever the bride desires. Is a shower given for a second baby? If friends and family want to. Is it mandatory to wear black to funerals? While subdued colored clothing is still appropriate, wearing black is not required. What has not changed is the goal of these events: to demonstrate respect for those being honored.

Are You Equipped?

We are often unaware of how deeply these social codes of conduct influence our relationships. That is, until someone acts differently than us! We have all experienced that unfortunate moment when we realize that we said or did something that was inappropriate. The cost? Embarrassment, diminished confidence, lost opportunity, and—in some cases—isolation from a group.

Are you equipped? Do you know the rules people expect you to follow? Understanding the current rules of the game enables us to engage with others in a more meaningful manner. Etiquette’s ultimate goal is to demonstrate honor and respect, creating an environment of trust. Having good etiquette means choosing to be aware of the people around us and how they are impacted by what we do. Etiquette is a pathway to connection that places the value of others front and center. How do you want to be remembered?

Etiquette is learned, and the rules you have learned may not be up-to-date. Continual education is needed to keep abreast of what is happening in our rapidly changing world. We can help! Contact us at to learn how we can partner with you.

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