Tact and politeness are two of your most understated, yet powerful allies when interacting with people. Here’s how you can exercise both with grace. By Lianne Choo
You may not realize you are being rude and even if you do, you may not think that it’s likely to offend anyone. Well, you are wrong.
Don’t brush off being rude as you just being yourself, and that people are just too damn sensitive nowadays. As laid back as some folk are, no one wants to have a conversation or hang out with someone who has no manners.
Culture is one of the things you have to keep in mind when being polite. Something acceptable in one country can be frowned upon in another. Take farting, for instance. Apparently in Inuit culture, letting a huge one rip after a meal means you are complimenting the chef, but if you do that in most restaurants around the world, there is a chance that you will not be welcomed back. In China, spitting in public is the norm and not regarded as rude, whereas if you were to do it in Singapore, you risk getting lynched.
Things to keep in mind to avoid being rude
Regardless of whether you are dining with Inuits in Canada or blending in with the local Chinese in Guangzhou, there is no excuse to not practice the basics rules of politesse. If you have been accused of being a rude jerk, or if you want to brush up on your manners, here are 10 things to keep in mind.
#1 Mind your language. Foul language may be sexy if you are living the thug life, but in everyday situations, not so much. This is especially true when conducting yourself around strangers. Be sure to keep the cussing to a minimal and if you can help yourself, just don’t do it at all. [Read: How to become a pro at small talk]
#2 Watch your ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ The same way you would not forget to put clothes on in the morning before leaving the house, never forget to inject a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ into every sentence, should one be called for. How you speak and carry yourself will greatly determine how people view you. The simplest things like saying thanks will make a world of difference.
#3 In jest, do not offend. No matter how fun and outgoing people are, they will still take offense if you say something negative about them. Some people may be less sensitive than others, but if you were to say something unpleasant on say, their weight, their job or their new hairstyle, they will undoubtedly feel offended even if you were joking.
People can get touchy over certain subjects, and even if they laugh it off, you can be sure that they would rather you have kept your mouth shut. For example I was speaking to a close friend about dieting and food when I said, “I don’t think I can cut out carbs from my diet, I love it too much.” She replied, “I know, I can tell.” Although it was lighthearted banter, I still took offense. [Read: 12 types of humor and how they affect your conversations]
#4 Just don’t say it. Remember the saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it?” Unless you are staging an intervention, there is no need to be brutally honest to the point that you offend the other person. Nobody likes hearing negative things about themselves, and you being a downer is not going to help anyone. Hence, to not come off as rude, if what you are going to say has a negative connotation, just don’t say it. [Read: 12 simple ways you can avoid making a bad first impression]
#5 Don’t stare. Many people struggle with this, especially when they see something out of the norm. Ladies decked out in their sexiest attire, mothers with puke stains on their shirt, gay couples holding hands, accident victims and people with deformities are all excellent examples. They may not adhere to your code of conduct or look like you, but they are people with feelings and are not to be stared at or mocked.
#6 Mind your dining etiquette. How you eat will determine how others view your manners. Although slurping noodles is the norm in Japan and in other parts of Asia, it’s safer to just avoid it in general.
A close friend who was born and raised in Hong Kong says that although she grew up slurping soup and noodles, she learned not to do so when she realized that it bothered other diners. She has since stopped slurping her food even when she is home alone. As wonderful as tradition and culture are, there are certain things that the world can live without, and slurping is one of them. The same can be said for the improper use of cutlery.
#7 It’s all in the small gestures. Do simple things like hold the door open for others, help someone with their shopping bags, let the elderly lady cut the queue, give up your seat on the bus and so on. No matter the person’s race, age, gender or station in life, the rule of thumb is to treat everyone equally. It does not matter what you do, treat others with the same respect and dignity that you would like to receive.
#8 Don’t crack jokes too early. Remember this tip when meeting people for the first time. The last thing you want is to give others a bad impression of you. Stave off the joke cracking, and wait until you know these newbies better. You never know how much offense someone is going to take if you crack a gender-biased, racial or political joke. They will brush you off as being rude, and you may never regain their respect again no matter how hard you try.
#9 Be polite to everyone. Those who work in the service industry will tell you just how rude some people can be, whether they realize it or not. For example, it will not kill you to thank your waitress for the excellent service she provided. There is no harm in leaving a thank you note for the wonderful way hotel housekeeping handled your room. Surprise your mailman with a bottle of Sprite. When you hop into a cab, ask your cabbie how his day is, and engage him in a little chat.
No matter what they do, people love being recognized for a job well done. You will be surprised at how meaningful the simple things can be to people whom society deems ‘invisible’ at times. There is no way that anyone is going to peg you as rude if you are polite and pleasant to them. [Read: The code of modern chivalry for men]
#10 Greet everyone you see. A year ago, I tagged along to an apartment viewing with my two brothers. Although I was standing right there, the real estate agent did not introduce himself to me. Perhaps it was the fact that I am a woman or he just did not want to waste his breath on a non-decision maker. Either way, he lost out on the commission as my brother, bless his heart, did not want to do business with someone as rude as him.
The moral of the story is to greet everyone you see in any situation, as doing otherwise can be detrimental to not just your business, but to the way people perceive you. Whether you are at a business meeting or out for a fun night with friends, be sure to introduce yourself and make an effort to say hello even if the person is ‘unimportant’. Anyhow, who are you to judge whether they are important or not? [Read: 8 tips to help you be the coworker everyone likes]
Being polite takes a lot less effort than it does to be rude. Remember that the people you encounter may not be having such a great day, but a little politeness can be the one thing that would cheer them up!
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Born in Singapore and raised in Malaysia to multi-racial parents, Lianne is a self-proclaimed travel and food junkie. Having traveled extensively around the wor...