Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Crazy-- Are You Polite?

I probably should have written a post about this earlier in the month. But I was busy baking.   And now we're definitely in the throes of Christmas parties and gatherings. I've already gone to three, and I have the potential to attend two more this weekend.  

How do you feel about Christmas parties?  I like them because the word "Christmas" is part of the term.  And while I love socializing with my best friends at the party--the people I know really well, typically the hosts--I know that I can't just follow them around like a lost puppy.  The hosts are!  They're buzzing around the room talking to all of the people they invited, refilling cups, leading games.  This means that I, the guest, am responsible for my own social interactions for the remainder of the evening.  This usually involves going up to strangers--the hosts' family members, work colleagues, neighbors--and striking up a conversation, hopefully one that's not about the WEATHER, and maintaining it for at least 15 minutes or until everyone starts exchanging Secret Santa gifts.  

This can sometimes be a problem because I don't consider myself the friendliest person.  People have said I am friendly but I don't feel that way. I've watched friendly people interact. One of my best friends is one of the most friendly people I know.  She's just truly, really genuinely interested in...everyone, right from the start.  That's not my M/O.  I'm a bit more reserved and introverted.  There's some residual shyness leftover from my childhood. Then add to that the fact that I just don't trust anyone as soon as I meet them.  These quirks can become problematic when you're trying to get to know someone at a party.

So anyway, my friendly friend sent me this essay earlier in the year and I found it to be incredibly fascinating.  It's called "How to Be Polite," and in it a man talks about what he learned from reading etiquette books as a child.  Here are some of my favorite parts:
  • "What I found most appealing was the way that the practice of etiquette let you draw a protective circle around yourself and your emotions. By following the strictures in the book, you could drag yourself through a terrible situation and when it was all over, you could throw your white gloves in the dirty laundry hamper and move on with your life."  
  • "My ability to go to a party and speak to anyone about anything, to natter and ask questions, to turn the conversation relentlessly towards the speaker, meant that I was gathering huge amounts of information about other people."
  • "When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: 'Wow. That sounds hard.'"
  • "Politeness buys you time. It leaves doors open. I’ve met so many people whom, if I had trusted my first impressions, I would never have wanted to meet again. And yet — many of them are now great friends."
My mind was blown. After reading that essay I realized that the key to talking to people is to just be polite, and that will carry you through.  Since reading it, I have been clinging to favorite excerpt #3, which is to not ask ANYONE about their job until absolutely necessary.  It's funny, so far I haven't had to do it and let me tell you, it's REALLY great for maintaining conversation.

So after reading that, I'm sure you can imagine how happy I was when I came across this article:  "10 Habits of Remarkably Polite People."  I dove right in.  My favorite parts:
  • "You're at a party. A friend gestures to someone several steps away and says, 'Let me introduce you to Bob.' Bob sees you coming.  And he stands there, waiting for you to come to him in some weird power move.  Remarkably polite people, no matter how great their perceived status, step forward, smile, tilt their head slightly downward (a sign of respect in every culture), and act as if they are the one honored by the introduction, not you."
  • "Some people share incessantly on social media. And maybe you occasionally see what they've been up to.  But polite people don't bring those things up. They talk about sports, they talk about the weather, they talk about how The Walking Dead is a metaphor for life in corporate America, but they only talk about personal subjects the other person actually discloses in person. Maybe it seems like the person wants everyone to know about a personal subject, but in fact that's rarely the case. So unless his or her social media broadcasts were specifically directed to you, always wait." 
  • "They never speak just to share the greater glory of themselves.  How can you tell? If you're talking about something just because it feels really good to share it, and there's no place for the other person to add value, you're just patting yourself on the back.  When remarkably polite people want to talk about themselves, they ask for advice--but not humblebrag advice like, "I notice you keep your car really clean; what wax do you recommend for a Porsche?"  Ask a question that shows you truly value the other person's expertise or knowledge. The person will feel good, because you implicitly show you trust his or her opinion; you actually get input you can use. Win-win.  And totally polite."

The comments about social media really stood out to me. I know I've been there. You see someone at a party who you happen to be friends with on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  You haven't seen them IN PERSON recently, but you know they've been announcing things or saying certain things on those social media platforms. You wonder if you should mention those status updates and pictures. That's me, usually. Sometimes I think "Hmm, but I know this thing about this person."  But also, it's so weird now that people could start conversations with "So I saw on Facebook that you're XYZ."  I've never liked that!  I made a decision last this year to severely limit what I share on Facebook.  I just like telling people certain things in person.  I started missing the days where seeing someone after a few weeks or months didn't involve a rundown of everything they've already tweeted out to everyone.

So there we have it. I've effectively written a NOVEL about something that I'm sure most people view as plain 'ol common sense.  I hope this helped somebody.  I can't wait to put some of these things into practice over the weekend.

Happy Christmas-partying!!!