In her recurring column, “Social in Security,” modern etiquette ambassador and Bell’INVITO founder Heather Wiese-Alexander walks us through a list of trusted tips you can rely on. Because now that we’re emerging back into the world, we want to do it as the best version of ourselves. This month, Wiese-Alexander is tackling the biggest etiquette questions of 2022.
Last week was a week of dinner parties. Three different nights, somewhere in the lively banter I heard something like, “Hey, what’s up with (insert new social norm).” Some real opinions were interjected in between the hilarious, inappropriate, and pithy ones. Then ultimately, “Heather—what’s the etiquette for this?” Oh lord, really? I’m positive Emily Post didn’t write on this topic. Yet, while making up a new rule is not my jam, I do love that there is still usually an etiquette answer that applies. It’s that term you keep hearing: emotional intelligence.
It’s how transferring the benefits of etiquette revealed in 1922 into real situations of 2022 actually works. Honestly, here we are, 100 years later, confronted by the very same social issues. They just happen to be wearing the latest trends.
The tectonic plates under our social foundations have shifted. That’s not news. The shift started well before COVID. Even before the 2020 election, or the 2016 one. There are obvious cracks in the walls. Everyone is talking about them. That means one thing. It’s renovation time. Now that’s exciting! I love a good renovation. Interestingly, I find it much more rewarding than new construction. There is relevance in history and efficiency in employing proven concepts.
Speaking of proven, in 2021, 59% of employers in Fortune 500 companies now say they would not hire someone with a high IQ but low EQ. This is up from 35% in 2019. LinkedIn research now states that 90% of top performers test high for EQ. And, doesn’t it always seem like there is one parent that everyone has a hard time getting along with during the fifth-grade fund-raising? (Moms dealing with the momzillas, you are the real heroes.) Etiquette may keep everyone smiling through their pain, but emotional intelligence gets the job done well, efficiently, and even with all parties happily contributing.
Lastly, before the Q and A, it’s important that you know this. I aim to give you consistent advice rooted in good data—which may or may not reflect my actual opinion. It’s also real to acknowledge that my best advice is likely not my first reaction. It’s easy to point to the high road once you know where it is. It’s another thing to get there. While I aim for a journey on the high road, you may see me at a restaurant with my phone out at the table. Hopefully, it’s a rare sighting, but if we’ve learned anything in 2022, it’s the lesson of grace. Give it. Receive it. Appreciate it.
First, the obvious question. What is EQ?
It stands for Emotional Quotient. Your emotional intelligence score is determined by your measure of self-awareness, emotional control (I call this the reactor-factor), empathy, motivation, and social interaction skills. Etiquette certainly helps with the last part, but as you can see, that’s just 20% of the score.
As for the social dilemmas below, being quick and frank, the best answer starts with a question. What’s it to you? And I mean that in the kindest way. Note that the measure of EQ is regarding control of yourself, not others. Consequently, their lack of self-awareness isn’t the concern. We’re only concerned with your reaction to their awkwardness. Be self-aware of your own reaction. We certainly are. We’re all very others-aware, but self-awareness is on another level. It’s more sophisticated and harder to achieve.
A Modern Etiquette Companion
So finally, to help a little with answering these questions I’ll share that I love the podcast Awesome Etiquette. It’s hosted by Lizzy Post and Daniel Post Senning. It is indeed awesome. They answer all kinds of modern-day etiquette questions, according to their podcast intro, “through the lens of consideration, honesty, and respect.” Those three little words make the perfect standard to use when you’re trying to navigate a new situation with little or no textbook etiquette to go on.
Now onto the biggest etiquette questions of 2022…
Do I have to put my pronouns on my email signature?
For most, your professional environment is going to determine that. If you’re speaking personally, it’s a personal choice, not a right or wrong one. It’s not a new etiquette norm if that is the question. Any cultural movement merits understanding. What harm does it do to learn a new language? Keep in mind, learning is not an endorsement. It benefits you and adds relevance to your opinions if you have knowledge on a subject. If you are going to put pronouns on your email signature, it’s a good idea to know what all the other pronouns you may see in other signatures mean, and how those people are indicating they wish to be addressed. Have you ever learned just enough of a foreign language to ask a question, but not enough to understand the full answer when you tried out your new skill? It’s a little embarrassing. I advise that if you must use it for work, learn the culture. If you don’t intend to learn the culture, don’t use it to simply look like you know it.
Do I have to open a hostess gift right when it’s handed to me?
You absolutely can if you’d like, but you can also be warm and grateful and say something like, “Oh, thank you so much! I look forward to opening it.” Then send a text the next day for a little extra appreciation and validation. You do not have to send a thank you note for a hostess gift. A host gift is a thank you in and of itself.
What am I supposed to call a furry, and is it my responsibility to know what one is?
This was from a parent regarding their kids’ peers at school. I go back to the culture answer above. This was new to me, but with some research done, it really isn’t any different than the subcultures we grew up in the 80s and 90s. The main difference seems to be that kids are a bit more entitled to getting respect from adults, while not having to reciprocate. While the question incited quite the conversation, at the end of the day, the real answer is based on another question. What impression do you want to leave behind? And to what end? It’s probably more helpful in the long run to give some grace to what you don’t understand rather than try to change someone who has free will to make their own choices. It’s definitely a time to challenge yourself to choose consideration, respect, and honesty (and not just all the latter).
I texted sincere gratitude when I felt it in the moment, do I really have to send a note?
I love that you texted quickly and acted on the sincere gratitude you were feeling. That is a wonderful reaction. The note, however, is something else entirely and still shouldn’t be missed. This is where the learned habit of etiquette is an elevated standard in addition to the great habit of in-the-moment appreciation. Take it all the way to the mailbox, my friend. You’re almost to the finish line. Don’t stop short!
Invitations are too expensive for our wedding, is an email acceptable yet?
Far be it from me to tell you how to spend your money. Not knowing your budget, I do have to make a few assumptions. You are inviting people to an important event. It’s customary for them to make the effort (and take on the expense) to arrange their schedule and lives so that they can come celebrate with you and bring a gift, no less. How you introduce your event and officially state your intent to gather everyone together on your behalf is going to leave an impression. You don’t have to spend money on a toothbrush and toothpaste, but when you choose to skip certain steps, people notice and are left with an impression of you, your choices, and your self-worth. How many times have you noticed someone’s bad breath and told them about it? Most people will tell you they are fine with whatever, it’s your day, do what you want. The problem is that’s typically not what they are really thinking, and it’s more than likely not the impression you intended to make as your first official move into society as a couple.
My neighbor’s kid comes to sell me something at least once a month. How much is too much and what should I say to my neighbor about it?
Yes, that does sound excessive, however, I’m not of the thinking you should approach your neighbor to control their end of the situation. Why not stop answering your door in the least, or let the next opportunity be a chance to give some helpful direction to the budding entrepreneur? Try something like, “This time isn’t for me, but why don’t you try me…(and name a time several months away that you might be open to a new purchase).” Direction on some fair boundaries might be more helpful than expressing your annoyance. As for taking it to the parent, if you think they are unaware, it’s a good idea. If, however, you think they are in on the gig, I revert back to boundary setting rather than trying to control their choices to your liking.
How do I write the date on my invitation?
Formally, be consistent. Use all words, no numbers. Informal and casual invitation using numbers, know when to use the superscripts and when they are incorrect:
It is the 3rd of March, or March
It is never March 3rd
You can correctly write out the year with or without the “and”, as in two thousand and twenty-two, or two thousand twenty-two.
If I’m going to a friend’s house casually, at what point do I stop bringing a gift?
Great question! I use this standard, if they are preparing for me (house is cleaned, food is provided) then a thank you gift is in-hand. If they are doing no more than simply letting me in, food responsibility is shared, they don’t feel the need to tidy up, etc., we’re not at the host-gift point. It’s more based on the occasion than the relationship.
How do I deal with a rude person at work whose sole objective is to make me look bad?
Let’s be real, their sole objective probably has nothing to do with you. Let’s check that ego (she said with love). A realistic goal they might have is to make themselves look clean in the midst of a messy situation. Obviously, you start with a little self-evaluation to see what your role is in this conflict. That done, does this person have Social IBS? That’s right, the EQ version of the one you’re familiar with. It’s the tendency to identify an issue, blame instead of considering responsibility, and shame people into clean-up. If that’s their issue, treat it as would someone with the physical ailment. Someone trying to make you involved in something that doesn’t involve you doesn’t mean you have to participate. If you must, address it with the appropriate parties in private. Pointing out someone’s problems publicly typically doesn’t make you look good. Remember, you just witnessed that firsthand.
2022 Etiquette, Emotional Intelligence, and Social IQ
Inevitably, etiquette in the form of emotional intelligence does still play a role in every situation. There are norms. Case and point, you are clothed. You don’t have to be. You weren’t made that way. At some historical point, in a garden far, far away, someone decided we should weave leaves together and cover ourselves. To this day, if you wish to accomplish something there is some general clothing compliance to get you where you want to be. This is exactly how etiquette is still relevant today. Educate yourself in etiquette in direct proportion to what you wish to have in society. If you aim high, learn more and practice relentlessly. It’s no different than a sport. In fact, it’s quite literally the same.
Thank you notes, table manners, introduction protocols, how to seat your guests, when to take a gift, these are all things you learn. Your actions speak volumes about your social IQ. Etiquette is as relevant to your social life as your work-related software or jargon is to your job performance. While you’re learning etiquette, however, you’ll need a double dose of EQ to fill in the gaps.
Emily Post knew of EQ in 1922 when she published her renowned etiquette book, though it was called something more like grace or humor, sprinkled with touches of finesse and formal education. There’s nothing old-fashioned about etiquette. There’s just something old-fashioned about the way you’ve been thinking of it. Time to make a fresh start. Stay tuned and send in your situations. We’ll do this brave new social world together. With lots of grace.