How to be polite? Be gentle, not forceful or insistent. This doesn’t mean you need to act like a meek, quiet pushover. It means that when you do something, offer something, or make a request, you do it without pressuring the people around you and making them feel like they’re being pushed into a corner. If you’re having a conversation, it’s one thing to ask a question or offer your opinion, but it’s rude to push the matter when someone has expressed discomfort (verbally or non-verbally) about the subject. Even if you’re trying to help, like offering to pay for lunch or wash the dishes, don’t be too insistent. If the person says “No, thank you, I’ve got it” then say “Please, I’d really love to help.” If they still say no, then let it go. They obviously want to treat you, so let them, and return the favor some other time.
When in doubt, observe others. How are they greeting and addressing each other? What are they doing with their coats? What kinds of topics are they discussing? Different settings require different standards of formality, and those standards often define what is polite and what is not. A work-related dinner, and holiday gathering, a wedding, and a funeral will all demand a different tone.
Be nice. Treat everyone the same way, even if you are not fond of them. Never make any enemies. Always be courteous, you might meet this person again in another setting and wouldn’t want to have caused negative memories that would give you a bad standing. If someone annoys or even insults you, don’t get into an argument. Say “Let’s agree to disagree” and change the subject, or simply excuse yourself from the conversation.
Start a conversation by asking questions about the other person. Try not to talk about yourself too much. Be confident and charming. Do not hog the conversation, that is arrogant. Look interested and listen to the answers. Don’t look over the person’s shoulder or around the room when he/she is talking. That implies you are distracted or not interested, i.e. he/she is not important to you.
Be honest. It is always much worse to be caught in a lie than to tell the truth. Shake hands firmly and look your acquaintance in the eye. You might want to practice this a bit so you don’t squish people’s hands, depending on how strong you are. That would make them feel uncomfortable. Beware especially when shaking hands of women who are wearing rings. Too much pressure can be very painful.
Remember too that many people with an “old-school” etiquette background (especially if you are inEurope) find it inappropriate to offer your hand for a handshake to a lady or an older gentleman if you are a gentleman, or to an older lady, if you are a lady. Always greet the other person first, but wait for them to extend their hand. On the other hand, if you are the older person/lady, keep in mind that if you do not extend your hand, the other person may feel rejected, as he/she is not permitted to shake your hand. Usually this situation only takes half a second in checking whether the other person is moving towards you for a handshake. Be alert.Do not approach someone with an already outstretched hand. That is pushy. If you want someone to know you are moving towards them, establish a firm eye contact and smile, maybe opening your arms a little (bent at the elbow) to make a welcoming gesture. Know the proper dinner etiquette. For silverware, go from the outside, in. And put your napkin on your lap, and do not add anything to the table that was not there when you got there (cell phone, glasses, jewelry). Put your purse between your feet, under your chair. Women should not apply makeup at the table. It is rude and demonstrates a lack of refinement. If you want to fix your makeup or check if something is in your teeth, go to the restroom.
Have a laugh which shows you are having fun, without being loud. Loudness either indicates arrogance or insecurity. A charming polite person makes another person feel good. Keep this goal in mind, be considerate of other people’s needs and opinions. Don’t make derogatory remarks towards any kind of ethnic, political or religious groups under any circumstances.9 Be graceful and show elegance. Carry yourself smoothly, with a sense of calm, yet involved in the moment. People will notice this subtle charm and this will help you greatly. Be aware that etiquette and manners vary depending on the cultural region you are in…be sure to study the local customs before you travel!
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