September 22, 2019
Kids these days catch a lot of flak for how easy they have it compared to prior generations. If you’ve spent even an hour in the presence of a kid recently, you will realize that they handle a lot, and most of them do it surprisingly well. They have had so much exposure to a global life at an early age through technology, the media, or our ever-traversing populations in most areas, not to mention the information they are exposed to in school. Designated adults in their lives do so many things to give them what they think they will need in life and they do a fantastic job considering how busy their own lives are these days.
But as someone who has worked with kids in various ways for four decades now, there are a few things that used to be commonplace in prior generations that are lacking these days, whether through lack of practice or because technology has created a new version of something old and needs to be adapted. For some, it is a displacement because it isn’t a cultural norm and so many cultures have blended together, losing social traits along the way. But we must remember that social interactions these days are a culture all of their own, and the culture of conducting business, whether it is going to school or making a purchase, has established certain a etiquette that, when followed, just make the transaction go well for all parties involved.
With that being said, I have compiled a list of the ten traits that, if incorporated into our lives and those of our children, would ease tensions in some scenarios. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or just interact with them socially, you can play a part in this. And it doesn’t have to be formal lessons, either—model these behaviors consistently, talk them through what you do and why (all people LOVE to know the why about something, especially kids), create opportunities to practice, and gently correct them when you see them not doing it right. Not only will they benefit from more positive interactions with people of all ages, they may find that things get a tad bit easier when they do them.
Any student that has ever been in my classroom knows that this is my number one rule. Be respectful of everyone and everything in all that you do. I find it pretty much covers it all and provides for a pleasant working environment for any age and in any setting. I encourage them to be respectful of everyone’s time and to be on time and prepared, to be respectful of people’s money by caring for the resources being provided in our classroom or in their home, and respectful of themselves because they deserve to learn at their own pace, have a voice and the chance to form an opinion for that voice to be used towards. I also think this includes things like turning off your cell phone while in a group setting and not looking at your phone when interacting with others. I feel like respect can be interwoven in each of these below, but I wanted to point it out all on its own.
People are so busy these days, they often immediately start a conversation without so much as a hi, hello, or what’s up with a pause for a greeting to be returned. Remembering to do this can go a long way in establishing the equality and mutual exchange between parties. We can help with this by saying a simple hello when the kids get home or come into our classroom or place of business. It doesn’t have to take long, but it is a kind acknowledgement of each other’s presence and could lead to a real conversation between people. There are some cultures in the world that will think a person rude for not doing this and may not even conduct business with them. I had this experience when visiting Paris a couple of times and, finally as I was leaving, a Parisian informed me that our ‘keep to ourselves’ American way of not saying hello when we walk in is why we are dubbed rude by so many other countries. This opened my eyes and now I try to make it a habit wherever I go.
Making eye contact while speaking and listening to someone is a great way to show you are listening to each other and giving each other your attention. This can be true in a one-on-one conversation or even in a large conference with a guest speaker. Looking at the person that is talking will go a long way in both you getting something from what they are saying and them in knowing what or how much to say while talking. In some cultures, making eye contact can be seen as challenging one’s authority or as disrespectful. However, when conducting business eye contact can establish trust, honesty and sincerity in the transaction. The best rule of thumb in this scenario is to know your audience and be aware of norms where you are–in other words, do a bit of research on the background and national culture if you are unsure and it isn’t your own.
Simple gestures of kindness can go a long way in showing someone they are important and valuable in the world. Using manners is one of those gestures. Coughs, sneezes, burps, loud voices—these are all things that have a time and place, but generally a public setting isn’t the best place to let them reign, so try to minimize them. Saying bless you, excuse me, please, thank you, holding a door for someone coming up behind you or with their hands full, offering a hand to someone carrying too much, helping the elderly cross a street, or a short person reach something up high (me, I need this!) are some examples, but there are so many more. There is debate on using ma’am and sir in different circles, but I have found that most people appreciate when they are called these–learning to read people can help with this. At a minimum, use yes instead of yeah or no instead of nah, and avoiding exclusive head nods or uh-huh’s and uh-uh’s will show that you have some manners.
Be on time. We must make every effort to be on time to what we attend. We’ve heard the expression that time is money, and if you think about how fast-paced our world is today, there is a lot of money being lost when someone waits even just a few moments on another. With technology at our fingertips, calendars can be set up and even include alerts for when to leave based on traffic. I have often heard the expression ‘to be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late’ and it is a good practice. Arriving a few minutes early can let you say hello, get a feel for where things are located, get a good parking spot or seat, use the restroom or people watch as others arrive. As a book lover, I find this can be a great time to get in a chapter all to myself. Not to mention that no one likes the flustered feeling of arriving late and always feeling behind, or when everyone’s eyes are on them as they make a tardy entrance, however unintended. This factor is a common reason why medical offices are often running behind—that person that showed up right on time for their appointment but had to do their paperwork.
Keeping calm when everything around you isn’t is not an easy habit to establish. Learning that sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and are just not worth getting upset over can be very valuable to your health and sanity. When we rush, mistakes can happen. So, if we learn to take our time, be patient if things don’t go as planned and be understanding of obstacles, it can go a long way. I live in Central Florida—theme parks and traffic are a part of daily life for me. I am always amused by the people rushing to get to a line to stand in, yelling at people that are not doing something at a rapid pace because they themselves are running late, or darting through traffic at an unsafe speed for whatever reason. If they slow down just a little bit, they may find that they still get to wherever it is they are going, but so does everyone else, and we are all in a good mood. If you lack patience, be early and allow for things to go awry, and relish the extra time when they don’t.
We often get together with groups, whether it is for an informal chat, an impromptu discussion on the sidewalk, or an organizational meeting working for a goal. One of the challenges is giving everyone a voice and allowing time to process things. Learning to listen with the intention of learning what the person has to say can go a long way in accomplishing a goal. So often we talk at or over others without actually hearing what they had to say, and this can be for a variety of reasons—dominance, disrespect or pure excitement about an idea (I’m so guilty of this one). There is much to be said for listening to what other’s say and waiting to speak. In many groups, the person that hasn’t spoken will be given a chance to talk and asked directly by the group leader, but if not, it can give time to process and create a chance for a follow up message or conversation so that the other person can speak. There will be times where it will be necessary to directly ask for a chance to speak, and that is okay, just do it kindly so that it keeps an equal balance of power within the group. Dominance is a fast way to shut down a conversation, as is insulting those around you. Keep in mind, I am not saying their shouldn’t be a leader in a group chat, but it should be to keep focus and share attention equally, not lead the conversation. If you find that you disagree with someone, be clear that it is the idea and not the person, and be ready to leave a subject for later if it is clear that opposing sides won’t merge. I’ve seen too many relationships damaged from arguing over opposing sides to a situation and it just isn’t worth it.
Pride in work
The work you do represents you and creates the impression others will have of you. Everything you do should be done to the best of your ability for this reason. It doesn’t matter if it is cooking dinner, cleaning a toilet, running a fortune 500 company or completing an assignment for class. You should make your best effort to do it completely and correctly. This also is a sign of respect for those that must interact with your work product. As a teacher, I have students that rush through work or don’t complete work they are turning in. This takes me five times longer to grade because I must give feedback, contact a parent, hold a conference, make documentation. Not doing a complete job the first time also uses more of your time because the task will have to be redone or could cost them their job and make it difficult to get another one. We see this when a patch is poorly done in haste on a busy road, a meal or beverage is incorrectly prepared, or a place of business is is organized or even dirty. Taking the time to complete something to the best of your ability and properly the first time will go a long way in showing your clients, supervisors, or peers that you pay attention and do quality work.
Emails and text messages seem to have all but replaced letters and phone calls, understandably because of how quickly things can be tended to. But learning which to use when and how they differ is important. A text message should be for something quick when an interruption can’t be made, or time is not of the essence. If it is time sensitive, a phone call or visit may be best. An email should be much like a letter, a complete thought organized and pieced together and with the intent of patiently waiting for a response. It should have a greeting, a body with a clear and organized message, a salutation and a signature. Again, my teacher experience has shown me this is a lost art. I will find a full inbox with several emails from one student sending a series of single line messages only a few minutes apart, hastily seeking a reply to their question that could have easily been answered by a text message or, worse, was resolved before I got to the message because they found the error while waiting for the reply–possibly meaning they hadn’t really made much effort to find an answer on their own prior. If you must send an email, proofread it and let it sit for a few minutes before sending in case another idea pops into your head. If you send weekly emails to people, keep a notepad to gather thoughts throughout the week of non-urgent ideas that could be compiled into one. This is a huge way of showing you respect their time and to ensure that something doesn’t get missed because it was buried in their inbox.
Bring what you need with you and make sure it is usable. If you are attending a conference or class, expect to have paper and pencil at a minimum, and any other items required like computers, textbooks, completed research or work product. I learned something in the military that has always stayed with me—two is one, one is none. If there is something you must have to continue, have an extra. This could be a charger for electronics, a pen or pencil, or even a bottle of water or snack if you know it will be a long meeting or event. I have seen many times where there was a delay for everyone because someone had to find a pencil to write with, knowing they were coming in for a writing task or would be taking notes. If it is a paid event you are attending, be sure to have your ticket or proof of purchase or the funds handy to pay. I am often surprised when I see people walk up to a show or take-out restaurant, wait in line then look at a options to decide when it is finally their turn, then must find their money to pay for it. Being aware of what you are going into and preparing for it in advance can increase everyone’s take away from the event and save you some glares from onlookers.
Some of you may realize that you already do many of these yourself and are passing them on to younger generations. Some of them may not apply to you. Just remembering to be respectful of other’s time and personal investment in a situation can go a long way in showing that you are making the effort, and that is a superpower that everyone can have, regardless of age, location or situation.