Social Etiquette Tips

Social etiquette tips

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Do you ever have to stop and think about what fork to use after the salad arrives during a dinner party? Have you ever wondered what is expected of you when you're a weekend guest in someone's home? You want to do the right thing, but you're not sure what that is.

There are general rules of etiquette that work all the time, while there are others that are specific to each situation. It's important to know the basics of good manners, regardless of where you go.

There are more bad manners and social faux pas than ever, so it's easy to be confused about what's socially acceptable. Many of the correct behaviors people once considered common sense have gotten lost in the swirling wind of bad advice, outdated manners rules, and social media that makes it too easy to slip up and be rude.

If you follow these tips you will be invited to more parties, be considered when job opportunities arise, and make more friends. Not doing any of these things can hold you back in social and professional situations.

Basic Social Etiquette

There are certain accepted behaviors in all social situations that you need to learn. With few exceptions, putting them into practice can make a big difference in your social life.

Social rules:

  • Easy to have good manners – These basic rules of proper etiquette are mostly common sense with a healthy dose of the Golden Rule thrown in for good measure.
  • Be on time – No one likes to wait for others who are chronically late. However, there are times when being late is out of your control.
  • Personal space – When you see someone squirming as you step closer back off a bit. Every culture has different comfort levels of personal space, so before you travel, find out how close you can get to people without being rude.
  • Men’s manners – This one is simple: All you have to do is be a gentleman. Rudeness is never manly.
  • Women’s manners – You can be a lady and still show strength. Times have changed, and some rules have become outdated, but it's always appropriate to be mannerly.
  • Teens’ manners – Show everyone how grown up you are by demonstrating good manners. Chances are, if you exhibit proper etiquette, you'll earn respect and maybe even more privileges.
  • Children’s manners – Be the kid everyone wants to play with. Even grownups will want to be around you if you're polite.
  • Host and hostess gift - Never show up empty-handed when you're a guest in someone's home.
  • Dealing with a flaky friend - It's difficult to deal with someone who is always late, forgets to show up, or can't be relied on.
Host gift etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin


Regardless of who you are, you’ll have the need to communicate throughout life. Being a good communicator can do a variety of things for you, including sharing important information, winning people to your side, and raising your children.

Learning to communicate:

  • Conversation – Learn how to hold a decent conversation, with back-and-forth dialogue. Never monopolize a discussion, or you may find yourself stuck in a corner trying to figure out why others are walking a wide berth around you.
  • Gossip – Never gossip. Not only is it bad form, if word ever got back to the person you were talking about, you can pretty much be assured you’ll be the subject of the next gossip session.
  • People’s names – Everyone has one, and most people appreciate your effort to learn their names if you spend more than a minute or two talking with them. This applies to social and business contacts.
  • Cell phones – In a nutshell, use your cell phone sparingly in public. No one else wants to listen in on a private conversation or wait while you text someone the latest Internet joke. And whatever you do, ignore your phone while you're checking out at the cash register. Texting or chatting on the phone is rude to the cashier and the people behind you.
  • Email – Think before you hit “send.” Most electronic mail can never be taken back.
  • Social media – Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are part of most people’s lives. Remember that not only can your friends see what you post, others can repost, copy, share, or retweet anything you put out there.
  • Rude questions – We have all gotten them. There are ways to deal with them and not come across as snarky. If you're not sure how to answer a rude question, don't say anything. Just smile and change the subject.
  • How to graciously change the subject - There are times certain things shouldn't be discussed, and it's up to you to shift the conversation.


If you share a meal with anyone, learn proper table manners. No one wants to sit across the table from a slob who talks with his mouth open or snorts milk through his nose.

Learn proper table manners:

  • Basic table manners – Follow the basics that apply to almost every dining situation. If having your elbows on the table makes it rock, take them off the table. Put your napkin in your lap, use the flatware starting with the one farthest from the plate, and don't talk with your mouth full.
  • Restaurant manners – Learn all about how to conduct yourself when dining out. Arrive before your scheduled reservation, be polite to your server, keep your voice at a conversational level, and be a generous tipper.
  • Formal dinner party – Know how to act at a formal dinner party, including which utensils to use for each course. If you're ever in doubt about which fork goes with each course, look to the host or hostess and follow them.
Formal dining etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin


Business is a funny animal. On the one hand, the bottom line is considered the most important factor. However, if you get down to the nitty-gritty, most people look at business etiquette and manners as essential to even get to the bottom line. There is a social element to most offices, so observe protocol and remember that your behavior will affect your future.

How to have good manners in business:

  • Business relationships – Knowing how to form and maintain business relationships can provide job security and a healthy bottom line. It's a good idea to limit personal conversations at the office on a need-to-know basis. Be a good team player, don't make annoying sounds that might distract others, and offer to assist coworkers if they need help.
  • Proper attire – Know how to dress in any situation. If your office has "casual Fridays," don't dress like you're going to the beach. It's still a work environment and should be treated with respect.
  • Getting ahead – Learn what is expected in order to get ahead in your business. Show up on time, do a good job, and maintain a positive attitude.
  • Office cubicles – Cubicle-dwelling can be trying during the best of times. Knowing how to work closely with others is essential for anyone in an office. Be polite and respectful to those who work around you. Keep noise, smells, and any other distractions to a minimum.
  • Shaking hands – A decent handshake can give someone a good first impression, and we all know that you only have one shot at that.
  • Business gifts – It’s always fun to give someone a gift to celebrate a special occasion, a promotion, or a job well done. Make sure your gift is appropriate to the setting and occasion. You would never want to embarrass someone with a personal or inappropriate gift.
  • Acknowledge others – When someone comes up with a brilliant idea or does something others need to know about, be the first to congratulate him or her. Do this in meetings or in front of the boss to show that you are a team player. Never take credit for someone else's work.
Handshake business etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Out and About

Once you’re outside your house, there are lists of rules to match everywhere you go. Learn what they are, or you may come across as boorish and crass. You don’t want to be “that person” who never bothers to learn proper etiquette.

Etiquette outside your home:

  • Commuting – Know the proper rules of etiquette on buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation. Keep your hands to yourself, don't stare at others, and offer a seat to anyone who needs one.
  • 10 Things Not to Do in a Coffee Shop - Coffee shops are one of the most popular places to hang out, so make it a pleasant experience for everyone.
  • In the air – Before heading to the airport, learn what is expected of air travelers. Remember that you are still in a public space, so don't treat your airplane seat as though it's a recliner in your living room.
  • Weddings – Show good manners while you help celebrate a couple’s union.
  • Funerals – Don’t make a sad situation worse with bad manners. Learn what is expected before, during, and after a funeral.
Coffee shop etiquette
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

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