You may think that etiquette is all about using your napkin at a formal dinner or the rules for making introductions at a cocktail party. And you’d be right… to a point. Those are certainly aspects of etiquette, but Jay Remer, known as Canada’s Etiquette Guy, says etiquette actually goes far beyond knowing some list of good manners.
Every interaction involves etiquette, says Remer who, although based now at St. Andrew’s, N.B., is no stranger to farming, having been part of a large dairy farm in New York state for 10 years.
Etiquette, Remer says, is a code of conduct that allows us to interact with one another without ruffling any feathers. “Connecting with one another is one of the drivers of being human,” he explains. “Etiquette allows us to communicate civilly with one another.”
Over the many years that Remer has been teaching etiquette, he has developed the Six Pillars of Civility, a framework that can guide our behaviour. The six pillars are compassion, humility, awareness, responsibility, gratitude and encouragement.
These are his “Principles for Action” and Remer believes they are important not only for formal interactions, but also for how we behave day-to-day with our families and our business and community connections, both on our farms and beyond.
Compassion isn’t as easy to understand as we might think. In fact, it can be downright difficult to understand and apply. When should you be compassionate? What degree of compassion should you show in what situations?
It’s important to get the answer right. Compassion is essential for any good relationship.
“When our friends and loved ones experience negative emotions, we can greatly help them to work through these difficult times by being present, which is one way of showing compassion,” Remer says.
However, this does not mean that it’s our job to fix their problems.
Then take the concept one step further. As hard as it may be to accept flaws in our loved ones, we are often even harder on ourselves, Remer says.
“Compassion for ourselves is the single most missing element today,” Remer says. “We expect ourselves to be superhuman.”
Instead we should allow ourselves to make mistakes, and then we should forgive ourselves, learn the lessons that the error can teach us, and move on.
“Humility reminds us all that there are no big shots,” says Remer. “No matter what our professional position or achievements, no matter our social station, and no matter our wealth or education, we all have great value.”
Remer says good leaders are measured by their ability to make their employees feel valuable. This begins with the etiquette of our personal interactions with them. Do we demonstrate respect, or are we always trying to keep them in their place?
In our fast-paced, time-starved lives, too often we are unaware of the people and events around us and how we affect them, says Remer.
“We’re too busy to congratulate a friend for achieving a milestone, we forget birthdays and anniversaries, we don’t take the time to write simple thank-you notes and we don’t bother to RSVP to invitations,” says Remer.
Remer says these simple acts are valuable for sustaining the many connections needed for a healthy society. “The dynamic is essential to maintaining a healthy productive work environment as well as in familial and social situations.”
“Taking responsibility for our commitments is necessary for the society we live in to survive in a civil way,” says Remer.
In our interactions with others, the trick is to discern what is our responsibility and what is not.
“Too often,” says Remer, “we take on the burden of other people’s responsibilities, when in fact it may be none of our business.”
Ask yourself: Are you being helpful? Instead, maybe you’re being nosy, judgmental, and controlling.
There’s a reason why “thank you” is one of the first phrases we teach our children, says Remer. Showing gratitude is a cultural cornerstone.
Unfortunately, these days, we take too much for granted, he says, including our health, access to food and shelter, good friends, a comfortable lifestyle and the list goes on.
We don’t feel grateful. We feel instead that we somehow deserve all these things.
Yet gratitude is critical, both in the home and workplace.
“Employees work far more effectively when the work they are doing is appreciated,” Remer points out, and he encourages us to stop and notice what is around us, and to see the goodness in the people we meet each day.
There is no better way to build healthy and successful personal relationships or to maintain a vibrant community or workplace than by encouraging one another, says Remer. “It is like the gasoline in our car or the food in our body.”
Without encouragement, there will be a toxic, fear-based environment in the home, school or workplace.
Each month Remer receives about 50 emails (which he tries to answer personally) from people seeking his advice on how to handle difficult situations. Not surprisingly a lot of them have to do with family, especially in-laws, he says.
Thinking of how the Six Pillars apply to our situations can help us solve our relationship problems, he believes, and he gives examples of how these principles can be applied in real life situations. For instance, if you know someone who is experiencing a difficult situation, show them compassion. “Don’t tell them to ‘suck it up.’”
When there is conflict, be aware that each person has been shaped by their own experiences, which will influence how to do things. When emotions run high, people may get facts and feelings mixed up, making up stories that become part of the facts in their own minds. Staying aware and mindful will help you discuss the problem in a calm way.
The growth of our children can be stressful too. “There’s a fear of the unknown,” Remer says. We focus so much on our children and how their behaviour isn’t exactly the way we’d like it to be, that we become ungrateful ourselves and revert to childish behaviour.
Instead Remer encourages us to take responsibility for our own stress and think through how we respond to others. “Avoid meddling in your adult children’s lives,” he urges.
Remer has one word of caution. Following the Six Pillars of Civility will stand you in good stead when interacting with others, but the individual rules of etiquette do change with time. “Etiquette is a moving target that requires flexibility.”
If you’re still wondering which fork to use at a formal dinner, Remer says you start with the cutlery on the outside and work your way in throughout the meal. Your beverage is the glass on your right, your butter plate and napkin are on your left. However, he paraphrases the manners diva, Emily Post, and says “it doesn’t matter which fork you use, as long as you’re nice.”
And here’s one more tip. If you are having trouble pronouncing someone’s name, try the searchable database at pronouncenames.com.