There is Strength in Good Manners

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Woman interrupting man during business conversation. Steve Gorton/Darling Kindersley/Getty Images

Here is a question from a reader:

My parents brought me up to have good manners. They insisted that I use good manners at the table, wait my turn, and never interrupt when someone is speaking. I have never been allowed to take something that's not mine or expect anything I don't deserve. This would be all good if I didn't have to be around people who do the opposite. Everywhere I go, people jump in front of me in line, grab food off the table before asking for me to pass the plate, embarrass me in front of my friends, and interrupt me when I'm speaking.

My cousin says I'm too polite and that makes me look weak to other people. What should I do?

My answer:

Good for your parents for taking the time to do their job. Believe me when I say that what they did wasn't easy and they had to work hard to teach you to become a respectful, polite person. Unfortunately, many parents don't teach proper etiquette to their children, and that establishes very bad habits later in life, making them rude and abusive to those of us who have guidelines and boundaries.

I disagree with your cousin. Being polite does not make you look weak. In fact, when you are next to someone with extremely rude behavior, you probably look like a shining star because the contrast is so great.

That said, I don't think you need to be someone's doormat either. If someone's rudeness affects you, you have every right to call him out on it.

Here are some examples of how to protect your politeness from other people's rude behavior:

  • Cutting in line. If someone cuts in front of you in line, turn to that person, state that you've been waiting, and show the person where the end of the line is located. This doesn't guarantee that the person will move to the end of the line, but it alerts him and the people around you that this person broke a basic rule of waiting your turn.
  • Bad table manners. There is absolutely nothing you can do about other people's table manners. However, if someone reaches for something in front of you, gently remind her that if she wants something, she can ask for it, and you'll be happy to pass it to her. If someone plants an elbow on the table and makes it wobble, make a comment about the table not being stable enough to handle the weight of the person leaning on it.
  • Embarrassing you in public. Some people enjoy embarrassing others, especially when they have an audience. They may do it to make themselves look good, or they might be gunning for some laughs. Neither reason is good. Next time someone does that, pause for a few seconds, look her in the eye, and in a straightforward way, say, "Your comment was out of line. If you'd like to discuss something with me in private, maybe we can talk about it later." This may not solve the problem, but other people will get the point that the rude person is out of line. Hopefully, they'll support you and help change the topic. However, if they don't, remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible and find other people who aren't as rude. Believe me, there are other polite people in the world.
  • Constant interruptions. Most running dialogue is filled with interruptions, but there is a line you don't want to cross during a conversation. If you feel that you are never able to complete a sentence or thought when speaking to a specific person, have a talk with him about it. He may not realize he's being rude, or he might be hearing impaired. That actually happened to me. I didn't know that a friend couldn't hear me when I spoke because my voice doesn't have a lot of resonance. When I mentioned that he constantly interrupted me, he apologized and said he couldn't hear half of what I said.

These are just a few rude situations that people encounter everyday. If you were taught good manners, don't feel that you have to become rude just to prevent people from thinking you're weak. Just find a way to stand up for yourself in your own polite way.

Ultimately, your good manners will attract better friends and make you stand out in job interviews. Being polite and respectful to the people you see everyday will make them want to be around you. Employers and bosses will appreciate your kindness and are more likely to hire and promote you over someone who is rude or crude.