Friday, May 24th

Do Manners Matter?

MannersYou go to meet a friend for lunch and when you arrive at the table she doesn’t look up from her phone. What to do? Clear your throat? Stare at her? Take out your own phone? In a world where norms for personal interactions have been all but forgotten, what is the place for having good manners? Does etiquette matter and if so, how do we teach it to our children and model the right behavior ourselves?

Certified etiquette consultant Michele Oricoli is an expert in the matter of manners. We asked her to introduce herself and discuss why manners do matter – for people of all ages – and below is some information you’ll want to keep in mind.

What is your background and how did you become interested in etiquette?

My parents consistently taught and modeled the rules of etiquette and good manners for me and my six siblings. They set expectations for how we were to treat one another and those outside our home. In addition, we were taught table manners, etiquette in public places, phone etiquette, and living with an attitude of gratitude. We were never expected to be perfect (often, we were far from it), but we were given a foundation that served as a compass for conduct that was reliable and fair to all.

After college, I realized that not everyone was afforded the same opportunity, and lack of manners could thwart professional and personal success. I knew it didn’t have to be this way. When raising my children, I followed my parents’ lead. It became especially important to me to instill kindness, respect, consideration, empathy, honesty, responsibility, and gratitude along with the rules and guidelines of etiquette.

After working on Wall Street, I obtained a Masters in Counseling, and then I decided that it was important to share with others the benefits of learning about manners and etiquette, so I became a Certified Etiquette Consultant. I was trained by The Protocol School of Washington and The Emily Post Institute. I created the Up programs to expand beyond traditional manners and etiquette programs. They take into account my background and experience to nurture confidence and social graces in children through adults. I’m doing what I love.

Why is etiquette so important today? Do you think that there is a general lack of awareness about the importance of good manners?

Etiquette and good manners are more important than ever. Beyond mere politeness, manners reflect a deeper understanding and respect for others and an awareness of social norms and expectations. It’s interesting because I recently read an article published by King’s College London titled “Parenting Priorities: International Attitudes towards Raising Children.” The article collects data from one of the largest social surveys in the world, the World Values Survey (WVS). The report is based on the data for each country collected by the WVS between 2017-2022.

It found that “overall, adults in the U.S. are least likely to say that kids having good manners is an especially important quality — just 52% of them said so in 2017. That makes the U.S. the country least likely, of the 24 countries surveyed in recent years, to believe good manners are crucial for kids. This is a significant drop from 1990, when 76% of U.S. adults said it was a very important quality for children to possess.” (CNBC.com, Sept 18, 2023)
This should make us all pause. What good can come from a world where manners are not valued?

Good manners are essential for every interaction we face, whether at home, school, work, or community. Manners are not something pulled out for special occasions. They are a mindset. There’s no way around it. When you operate within the framework of a manners mindset, you feel good about yourself, and others feel at ease. You tend to have more favorable interactions. I think some equate kindness with weakness, obedience, or being a push-over. Nothing could be further from the truth. Manners are not old-fashioned, pretentious, or stodgy. They are practical, helpful, and necessary for a modern society to thrive. I believe manners and social graces are an asset and, quite possibly, your greatest strength.

What are some of the earliest lessons parents should teach young children?

Early on, I encourage parents to teach children polite words consistently: “Please, thank you, you’re welcome, may I, excuse me, and I’m sorry.” It’s crucial for parents to model these and then genuinely praise children for using them appropriately. As children grow, teaching them table manners and dining do’s and don’ts such as “small bites” and “no talking with food in your mouth” helps to create a good foundation. Don’t expect perfection; it’s about progress and nurturing children who develop skills that become habits.

For teens - what are some of the most important skills that you stress?

The teen years are a tender age with so much going on physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. I think we need to extend grace to teens. Giving them skills to bolster their self-esteem is important. Learning how to make a good first impression is a good place to start because it gives them a sense of control. Standing up when meeting someone, making eye contact, smiling, offering a firm handshake, and speaking in a confident, friendly voice. This is usually enough to break the ice, and their confidence is bolstered each time they practice. In addition, they make the connection that these first impressions are important when meeting coaches, employers, friends’ parents, and more. Teens become aware that people who are pleasant to be around tend to have more favorable experiences and interactions.

For table manners, what are the most common mistakes people make?

The number one challenge is holding silverware correctly. I often see fists around forks and cutting with the handle of the fork in the air. The second challenge is not knowing how to navigate a place setting. The best thing about manners and etiquette is that they are based on logic and reason. The rules of dining etiquette are easy to remember once you understand the “why.”

Provide an example of a situation where having good manners made a big difference, changed an outcome or saved the day?

There are too many to mention, but a recent example involved a mom reporting back that her son, a recent college grad, was approached by his CEO after a small group dinner. The CEO said to him, “You have such nice manners.” He reviewed the evening and wondered if it was that he stood up to greet his co-worker from out of town or was it that he offered the bread basket to others before serving himself, or maybe it was because he remained calm when the server splashed a martini on him. He may never know the moment he caught his CEO’s attention, but it made him realize that your manners matter in every situation. You never know who is watching and noticing these subtleties. They are quiet but speak volumes about you and leave a lasting impression long after you’ve left the room.

I have also witnessed numerous situations that could have escalated into contentious situations only to be changed by good manners. A simple act of offering graciousness and civility instead of an impulsive, defensive reaction can make all the difference.

In addition to taking one of your classes, how do you recommend that readers brush up on their manners and etiquette? Sources? Where can people find you - and what do you offer?

I provide private, individual, and small group classes in clients’ homes, public and private clubs, government agencies, non-profits, and schools. I consult with high school students to prep for college interviews and internship opportunities and often meet up with them again to prepare for job interviews. I enjoy sharing a meal with students to practice dining etiquette and the art of conversation. I’m excited to begin offering programs to support parents in teaching their children manners throughout Westchester County, NY, and Fairfield County, CT. See morethanmanners to learn more.

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