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Join our Twitter chat with Anna Feb. 18 at noon ET using hashtag #usawmanners.
Good manners, such as saying “please” and “thank you” or holding a door for someone, are timeless. Other manners need to adapt as society and technology change. Emily Post never had to tackle text messaging or online dating, but the advice and answers I give today to questions on Facebook, Twitter and at events isn’t a reinvention of the wheel. No matter what, stop and think about how your actions affect others. Be considerate of their feelings in deciding how to act or what to say. That’s what good manners are all about.
Is it OK to arrive late to a gym class? How do you get someone to clean up his sweaty gym equipment? What about asking out other members?
Anna’s answer: Along with taking turns on the weight machines and wiping down equipment after use, be sure to arrive on time for classes. It’s an unfair distraction to instructors and participants to arrive late. If someone is failing to clean up after himself, pick your battles. If you need to speak up, simply say as the person starts to walk away: “Would you mind wiping down the machine? Thanks.” Lastly, it’s OK to hit on someone at the gym, but choose your moment wisely. Wait until he — or she — is cleaned up and on the way out.
Just Say No
How do you decline a request to volunteer or donate to a fundraiser?
Anna’s answer: Learning to say a respectful “no” is a skill everyone needs. When you want to say no to a volunteering request, don’t ask for details (“How many hours would it be?”) or place qualifications on the commitment (“I only have Tuesday and Thursday nights”). That signals you are open to saying yes when you really aren’t. Instead, be clear and indicate whether you would consider requests in the future: “No, I can’t help the committee this time, but ask me again in the fall.” Make a plan for donating to causes: Choose your charities before being asked, or set a budget and give until the kitty is empty.
Second Marriage Matters
Who should be invited to a second wedding? Is a shower appropriate? What about gifts?
Anna’s answer: A shower for a second-time bride is fine. Other than close friends and relatives, the guest list shouldn’t include people who came to a shower for the first wedding. If the host wants to invite people who have already “showered” the bride-to-be, a lunch — without gifts — is the way to go.
The size of the wedding guest list is up to the budget — a second or third wedding doesn’t have to mean a small wedding. It’s usually not a good idea to invite a former spouse or in-laws to an encore wedding. Consider your fiancé(e) and any children you’ll bring into the marriage. What’s going to make them most comfortable?
Technically, guests who attended a first wedding aren’t obliged to give another present, but close friends and family may buy one anyway. You should register for some items: New friends will want to give a gift.
Multi-tasking in Meetings
What’s the best way to curtail texting and checking e-mail in meetings?
Anna’s answer: Some people collect smartphones at the door, with success. But it won’t work everywhere. Mobile devices — smartphones, laptops and tablets — keep us connected to bosses, clients and industry news. The people with whom you are physically present deserve your full attention — it’s a sign of respect. You won’t be able to stop every covert glance at a screen, but start here: Ask that devices be put away and say there will be a five-minute break every half-hour (or hour) to check in. This creates a way for people to juggle demands on their attention.
How much sharing is appropriate on Facebook? Is it OK to “unfriend”? Can you ask someone to remove a picture?
Anna’s answer: There are two kinds of oversharing on Facebook. The first is a banal post: Avoid repeatedly sharing what you ate for lunch. The other involves personal information: There’s no need to divulge the noises your spouse makes in his/her sleep. Don’t un-friend and refriend casually, but it’s OK to unfriend someone whose posts, comments or photos make you uncomfortable.
With photos, untagging yourself is easy, but if you want a photo removed, you must ask the original poster. Try this: “The party was fun, but I’d like you to take down the picture of me eating. Thanks.” When you’re snapping pictures, always ask if it’s OK to post them. You can also adjust Facebook settings to limit who views your posts or create a “group” for sharing content to a smaller list of friends.
Is a graduation announcement a tip-off to send a gift?
Anna’s answer: No, a graduation announcement is just that — an announcement. There is no obligation to send a gift, though you may if you’d like to.
The Dating Game
Are there unspoken “rules” for online dating?
Anna’s answer: Online dating has dramatically changed the way people connect, but being considerate still applies. It’s fine for men to use traditional courtesies. If you’re unsure, just ask, “May I help you with your coat?” Your date will be delighted or say, “I’ve got it, thanks.”
When initiating contact via a dating site, send two messages — three at most. Then move on. The person is signaling he/she isn’t interested. If sparks flew for your date but not you, it’s nice to send a note: “Thanks for dinner. I enjoyed our conversation, but the connection wasn’t there for me. Good luck to you!”
What can be done about parents who yell at refs, lecture coaches or jeer at the opposing team?
Anna’s answer: Participating in team sports is a great way for kids to learn sportsmanship, demonstrate respect for coaches and officials and experience teamwork. As a parent, your children look at your behavior as a guide; adhere to the values and manners you want to see reflected in your kids. If another parent is behaving inappropriately, talk to your children later about what would have been a better way to act or respond.
The R Stands for Respond
Should you contact guests who don’t RSVP?
Anna's answer: From dinner parties and kid’s birthdays to weddings and even business events, failure to RSVP is epidemic. It’s inconsiderate, and yes, rude. When a headcount is critical, follow up with guests and ask if they intend to come, beginning a few days before you need their reply. When you receive an invitation, RSVP promptly. If you have to check in with a spouse first, set a reminder on your calendar so it doesn’t slip off your plate.
Wedding season is around the corner. Does the value of a wedding gift need to “cover” the cost of dinner at the reception?
Anna's Answer: No! This is a myth. (How would guests know the price of dinner anyway?) When choosing a wedding gift, think about your budget and relationship to the couple — that’s all.