When Etiquette Isn’t Cool

Woman Shaking Hands

There are times when specific actions deemed etiquette-ful feel out of place.  When etiquette isn’t cool, it’s usually because a formal gesture was being used in a casual situation.

But there’s never a time when showing respect and value for others is uncool.

Relying on Situations

After attending one of my etiquette classes, a young person I taught offered feedback that I wasn’t prepared for.  “You taught me to shake hands and reach out and introduce myself, but at school this is not cool.  I find myself holding back and not talking again.”

I felt bad about the predicament in which she found herself.  But I could see it offered another teaching opportunity.  

I responded: “I’m sorry this happened to you.  It must have been awful to know that introducing yourself and reaching out to others is so important and finding yourself in the company of others who don’t yet know this.  So, what can you do to act on your knowledge of being situationally savvy?” 

My student replied: “What do you mean? 

I said: "I mean, what can you do to welcome others or show you are ready to be friendly—to greet others in the context of other students at your school?”

Learning to read situations is pivotal to social success.  

It takes learning and practice to gain situational skills.  And we’re bound to face awkward moments when we try to be polite.  

Even though we all have put-your-foot-in-your-mouth moments, you shouldn’t let those discourage you from practicing etiquette.

Become an Observer

Being an observer of yourself and the people around you can help line up perceptions of etiquette.  But don’t just observe, use your observations to become mindful of what various situations call for.  

The methods with which you choose to handle various situations will help give you the confidence to be more social.  This is a big step in your personal growth.

Practice giving particular attention to these situations:

  • Greetings and introductions
  • Acknowledgement and recognition
  • Personal space
  • Body language and non-verbal messages
  • Punctuality
  • Showing gratitude 

Each of these areas provides opportunity for misperception or misunderstanding depending on the level of etiquette skills taught to those involved.  What experiences do you have with mistakes or faux-pas in these areas?

Shine by Example

Even though the meeting and greeting of others doesn’t involve a handshake in middle school, having the skills to make eye contact and shake hands will serve a young person well when he finds himself in a situation with adults who practice this.

Etiquette encompasses personal and people skills with the how-tos of demonstrating integrity, exercising initiative, and adapting to your current environment.  Communicating respect and courtesy consistently is a big picture view of etiquette.

While various methods used in the wrong conditions can feel like etiquette isn’t cool, various methods used in appropriate situations make everyone feel good about themselves and the people they’re with.

If you ever find yourself in the predicament of being the only one showing courtesy, please don't hesitate to do it.  Someone will notice, remember you for it, and will follow your example.



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