As a child growing up, manners were a big deal. There was always an adult hovering nearby to make sure that they heard the words “please” and “thank you”, unprompted, automatic and totally expected, as a sign of respect and gratitude for whatever the child may have just asked for or received. Forgetting to say “please” or “thank you”, thus requiring a reminder from an adult, brought with it great shame.
And then there were apologies. It didn’t matter whether the wrong that was perceived to have been committed was intentional, accidental, provoked, unprovoked, or otherwise. If someone felt that a wrong had been done, there was an expectation that the wrong doer would apologise. If they didn’t say sorry, then, well, they would be… sorry.
It wasn’t until I was receiving coaching that it started to occur to me that I had actually embodied these phrases, together with the fear that came from not
saying them. It wasn’t something that came up in conversation; more of a side-reflection that resulted from a conversation. It felt to me as though the very strong emphasis on good manners that was common in society when I was growing up had ensured that phrases such as “Please”, “Thank you”, “Sorry”, “Bless you”, “Excuse me”, and “You’re welcome” were ingrained into my very being. In hindsight, I think this was because my learning was that using these phrases was the “right thing to do”. Seriously, I have even said sorry for things that I have no control over: I’m sorry, but can I use your toilet, please? I have also stopped myself at work, turn around to whoever I was last talking to and say “I’m sorry. I didn’t say please just then. Please know that I meant to say please, and that I appreciate you helping me”. It’s almost like I was expecting my mother to come racing around the corner with a quick “Deanne! Where are your manners?! Say please! Now!”
As I was reflecting on the use of please, thank you, sorry, and various other phrases, I formed the assessment that these have pretty much become an automated response for me. This then led to a minor epiphany: When I say please or thank you or sorry, I am not taking the time to understand whether I genuinely feel that way. I am doing it because I have been taught that it is right.
I then wondered how authentic my actions are, if I am automatically responding and not taking time to understand how I genuinely feel. Am I being authentic? Am I holding myself as legitimate by automatically doing what seems to be right?
The thing is that I don’t think my learning enabled me to be authentic when saying please thank you, sorry and others like them. It was so essential that it be said, that authenticity and legitimacy just did not enter into it.
So how can we authentically “use our manners” while holding ourselves and others as legitimate?
What I have found useful is to take a breath and ask myself “For the sake of what am I saying please/thank you/sorry?” In doing this, I still aim to hold others as legitimate, and I still work hard to provide others with a response that respects and values them. I simply pause and ensure that I understand why I am saying it. Since doing this, I have found that, for example, I no longer say sorry to an angry customer just because they are angry. I focus on doing whatever I can to support and assist them and to help them feel listened to. If I genuinely feel sorry, then I will apologise. If I don’t feel sorry, then I don’t say it. I am not nasty about it; I simply don’t say sorry, and I focus on helping the individual. This feels more authentic to me than simply responding by default.
Similarly, when I am saying thank you, I try to say it from a place of pure gratitude. I try not to say it simply for the sake of saying it. And, when I say please, I try to do it from a point of being grateful that I feel that I can make a request to the individual, and grateful that I may have a possible solution to whatever it is that I am trying to resolve.
In doing this, I feel authentic, and I feel as though I am genuinely giving myself permission to take care of my own concerns and hold myself as legitimate while also aiming to hold others as legitimate. This feels amazing. It is great to be trying to interact with people from a genuine place of respect, rather than what previously felt like a place of parroted insincerity.
What does having “good manners” mean to you? How does that serve you? Does it enable you to respond to people authentically?
Who am I?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.