The word, “class,” has so many meanings. Who wouldn’t prefer traveling “first class” over “economy?” It is an honor to be distinguished by others as graduating “first in her class.” “Best in class” signifies the highest recognized quality of service, material or performance.
The common promotional phrase, “outclassing the competition by learning etiquette” gives etiquette a bad name, implying that a goal of etiquette is to better oneself over others. But aiming to be etiquette-ful is not about positioning yourself to “outclass” anyone else.
Learning skills that help you smooth the edges in social and professional situations and that build confidence and competence in social and professional life is the heart of etiquette. Etiquette does not imply wearing white gloves, children curtsying and women passing first through every door.
What etiquette does is solve for the ever-present need for courtesy, respect, and mindfulness of the needs of others.
If you are in business, of course you want your company to be selected as most worthy of a project or contract. You feel fortunate and glad it was you who was selected, and you rest your laurels on the team and skills that put you there. It feels good to be ranked in first place by an industry.
As a job applicant, you want to leave a good impression. Though you might be equal to a hundred other applicants on paper, having the edge in social polish is what will tip the decision point in favor of a particular applicant. Striving for this kind of competence is not contingent on wanting to outclass someone else.
Regardless if you want to be upwardly mobile or whether you want to be the best you can be in any situation does not require, nor should it, that you “outclass” others.
“Outclass” carries the negative connotation of wanting to excel or surpass so decisively as to be or appear to be of a higher class of people. Trying to look better than someone else puts you in a game of one-upmanship, where outdoing a rival or competitor by striving for superiority appears as putting yourself above someone else. Pretentiousness is easily sensed by others.
Standing out in the crowd, being recognized for your personal attributes and skills and your knowledge of subject matter, and consideration of colleagues and business partners, will mark you as a professional.
If you are hired because you demonstrate good manners and business acumen, it’s because you stood out. Being chosen feels so wonderful, especially as you realize that you are considered trustworthy and capable. Indeed, you might just get the position of a lifetime.
But if a person aims to “outclass,” that person is sending a negative message. How would you feel if someone said to you, “I got the job because I outclassed everyone else”? Being superior to someone else is not what etiquette promotes.
Etiquette promotes substance and authenticity and being etiquette-ful as you aim for the best version of yourself in all situations. Having the cutting edge simply means you have and are aiming for development, innovation and great presentation. And again, this has nothing to do with outclassing.
We do not teach our children that, as people, they are less than anyone else, or that others are of greater class or value. We teach them to strive for self-improvement as they aim for human betterment in their lifetimes.
Though I’m sure people who use the phrase “outclassing the competition” deserve the benefit of a doubt, the language of “outclassing” others belongs to another era, and those who claim that the phrase describes a more modern form of etiquette should be challenged.
Etiquette as an ideal of the best of human communication implies that we strive for courtesy and respect in every situation. Etiquette is not about extremes or about-all-or-nothing promotion. It promotes a positive world view that embraces humanity and human betterment.