The etiquette gap: From Newt and Mitt to Facebook and texting
Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a liar, boorish friends texting at dinner, bad Facebook manners: The nation's etiquette gap – from a shove to a shooting – can breed more incivility.
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During meals, cellphones should be silenced and put away, not left on the table "like a ticking time bomb," she says. (She'll soon be challenged to develop an approach to a Microsoft-developed technology that attaches a device to a cellphone that will allow the user to maintain eye contact in face-to-face conversations – if not mental contact. The phone can remain in a jacket or pants pocket while the user discreetly traces text messages on it with a finger through the material of clothing.)Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Civility Gap
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It's nice to call people by name, and she advises formality: use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. until invited to use a first name, and defer to your senior in age or rank.
Other tips she offers: Feel free to respond in another form if you want to make a less-public reply to a Facebook comment or an e-vite. And while conversations often drift into the formerly taboo areas of money, sex, politics, or religion, hosts should – as in the past – come prepared to calm things down via humor; some go-to, change-the-subject topics; or an agreement to disagree.
Online life is real life
Lizzie Post is one of an army of professional advice givers, many held in check online by crowdsourcing, or comments from readers, who often criticize ideas that they don't agree with while freely adding their own.
If you've ever been asked out on Facebook, dumped by text, or had a picture of a sleeping, drooling you posted online, then you'll surely agree with Meredith Goldstein, love and relationships writer for The Boston Globe. Her cardinal rule in the rapidly evolving world of e-relationships: "People should treat others with the same respect they would have shown before we changed the way we communicate."
Online life is real life, she cautions: "If you saw your ex-girlfriend on the street, would you wink? Would you be flirtatious?" Then don't poke, wink, or high-five her online. If you wouldn't dump her by letter, don't do it by text. If you wouldn't hang someone's embarrassing picture on the school wall, don't post it online. In fact, give yourself 24 hours before you post anything, she suggests. The drunk text has become the new drunk dial: Sleep it off first.
Ms. Goldstein's biggest no-no is electronic snooping, the root of an estimated 40 percent of her readers' troubles.
"Don't do it!" she warns of checking someone's text messages or e-mail: "I'm a big believer in privacy. We don't need to know everything. We shouldn't know everything. If you feel like you need to look, there's something else wrong."
Ethics aside, texts and e-mails lack the clarity and nuance of live comments and can easily be misconstrued.
Of course the "think before you write, post, or send it" rule is never more necessary than in business, where technology exposes e-mail and social media blunders rapidly, says Bill Driscoll of the staffing firm Robert Half International, which has long offered manners advice to job seekers. Hitting "reply all," forwarding inappropriate attachments, inadvertently tweeting or posting something critical of the company have all come back to haunt careless employees.
"Companies are getting more and more savvy" at uncovering nonwork identities as well, he says, suggesting candidates get the keg-stand photo – and anything else they don't want seen or read – off their Facebook page. In business, you won't be considered a stalker if you follow up by phone or e-mail on an unanswered résumé two weeks after you send it, and in fact Mr. Driscoll says he'd encourage it. Only 1 percent of hiring managers polled said a job seeker should not follow up. Face-to-face workplace manners still follow convention, he says: Move to a first-name basis only when invited, and as the business suit becomes more rare, dress according to the norms of your prospective workplace.
Locker room without walls
To many, the world of sports – once a training ground for virtue – serves as Exhibit A in the coarsening of America.
"One of the old sayings was that allegedly sports builds character. That's been amended to 'sports reveals character – or lack thereof,' " says Bill Lyon, a sportswriter at the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than 30 years.
In decades past there was chair-tossing basketball coach Bobby Knight, the uncivil exception, it seemed. Now even quarterback Michael Vick, whose involvement in a dog fighting ring landed him in prison, seems more like the norm. Serious fan-on-visiting-fan brutality has spilled out not just from football stadiums this past year, but from hockey arenas and even baseball parks as well, making the notion of a courteous welcome to guests seem downright quaint. Was M.I.A.'s middle finger at the Super Bowl so bad in comparison?