I thought you should know (insert bad manner here)…

fingernails on a chalkboardA colleague of mine has a podcast called How Can I Say This where she discusses everyday communication conundrums. Beth Buelow, is the founder of the podcast and owner of ZOPA Consulting, Someone submitted a question to her about how to tell someone they chew with their mouth open, so naturally, as an etiquette expert, she asked me to answer the question on her podcast. We had a lovely conversation and I invite you to listen to the episode.

I’m often asked how to tell someone about their distracting habits. People have strong opinions about other people’s manners. My answer is always, you can’t tell someone about their negative habit. No one likes to be told they are wrong, annoying or need to change. The only exception is if the person is your child, or your employee and their lack of manners is impacting their job. But, if it’s a spouse, relative, coworker or friend it is not acceptable to tell that person they have poor manners.

It’s important to realize that we can’t change people. People are who they are and are the only ones who can decide if they want to change. Most folks feel resentful if they are told they have bad manners, even if the information is delivered in the most caring, non-judgmental way. As Beth stated in the podcast we have to look at ourselves and determine why we are so bothered by this person’s habit. Often we are triggered by other people when we have our own character defects we are battling. It’s much easier to focus on another person rather than face our own peccadillos. I love that Beth mentioned saying the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (other people, the weather, when the sun rises and sets, etc.), the courage to change the things I can (my attitude, where I live, if I’m married or in a relationship or not, my response to people, my willingness to forgive, etc.) and the wisdom to know the difference.

It can be hard to accept people as they are and some might even become obsessed about another person’s behavior. But, focusing on another person only makes you feel crazy and unhappy. The best way to feel serene and content is to accept someone as they are.

I sometimes get calls from wives who want me to coach their husbands because they feel their spouse has bad manners. I will only do so if the man is interested in coaching and committed to making changes rather than just agreeing to working with me to make his wife happy. And, the reason is, if someone doesn’t want to or feel they need to change, they won’t. No matter how much coaching a person has, if he or she is not interested in changing, coaching will be a waste of time.

So, as Beth suggests when faced with someone’s annoying habit rather than feeling it is your responsibility to tell this person they have a manners problem try other alternatives. You can you leave the room, turn away, wear earplugs (depending on what the situation is), focus on the good manners this person does have or remind yourself that you may have annoying habits too.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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