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    OH, BEHAVE! Keeping Manners In Mind

    by Annet King

    We all dread taking the responsibility for directly making someone else feel bad. This would make us feel bad about ourselves; we want to believe that we are “nice people”. So, often we take a passive approach, and try to let silence speak for itself.

    But keeping people hanging is rude—more rude than being honest. For instance, all of my friends know that I don’t do Friday nights out. This is because by Friday, I am exhausted, and will just be grumpy and no fun to be with if I push myself over the line. So, if I receive a social invitation for a Friday night, I tell the truth—that I can’t make it, but that I would love to get together another time. I think that people appreciate knowing this, and it’s better than saying I “might” attend or join in, when I know perfectly well that I will not.

    Sparing people’s feelings is indeed part of etiquette, but so is honesty. When there is something to be said, we must find ways to say it which are not brutal, but get the job done.

    • Don’t couch it in a lot of lawyer-ish back-story or preamble.

    • Don’t editorialize or moralize about why or how you’ve reached your current decision.

    • And don’t condescend with parental platitudes like, “This hurts me more than it hurts you”, because chances are, it doesn’t.

    • Don’t apologize until, or unless, they burst into tears, in which case, keep it short (just offering a box of tissues may be sufficient).

    Tell the truth. Tell it simply, briefly. Don’t go on and on. This applies in every medium: face-to-face, hard-copy letter, email, phone message, phone conversation.

    I do think it’s best to add a bit of warmth and humanity when you can. If possible, balance a painful truth with something more positive. This is not lying, but it is making the truth a bit more bearable. You might say:

    “Terribly sorry, but pomegranate juice will not come out of white linen. But it’s a lovely color, as indelible stains go.”

    “That’s a nice dress, but I prefer how the other one fits you.”

    “We truly appreciate your interest in the company, but we have selected another candidate for the position.”

    “Honestly, this relationship isn’t working for me, but it’s been nice. Best of luck!”

    It takes guts to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear. It takes the skill of a butterfly-surgeon to do so without absolutely smashing their self-esteem to smithereens. But saying nothing is the coward’s way out. And cowardice is rude.

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