Don’t Let Shame or Embarrassment Hold You Back

There’s no shame in not knowing basic etiquette as an adult, only in not asking for the information you need to advance your career.


Have you ever been in the position where you thought to yourself, “I know I should know this stuff, but I don’t….” Or, “has anyone else has noticed that I don’t have a clue about this?” Well, when it comes to etiquette, this is a very common, if private, thought. Some of us grew up with parents or teachers who stressed the importance of proper etiquette training, and some of us didn’t. Etiquette training is one of those things that seems to be either a fundamental part of child rearing, or it’s an afterthought. So, if you grew up with the latter, you could look up one day and realize you’re a highly skilled, senior-level executive, navigating your industry brilliantly, while privately wondering which fork to use at a very formal dinner. If you are expected to offer the toast to the guest of honor—do you know how or when to do it? There could be other dinner guests who hold high positions like clergy, government, or nobility—how do you address them? These might seem simple and pretty basic, but not knowing the correct answers can prove detrimental to your evening, and possibly to your career. This scenario can go on and on, and include cultural nuances, greetings, food choices, body language, colors, numbers and gifts, just to name a few. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that etiquette was not a big chunk of your business school education. Yet you need to know how to easily navigate these social codes. In many cultures, exposing the bottom of your shoe is extremely offensive, so not crossing your legs is a good habit to form. In regards to formal dinners, you offer a toast at the end of dinner with champagne, and you don’t clink glasses, you merely raise them. A more casual dinner can begin with a toast, and regardless of the setting, remember to never drink “to yourself.” Also, never, ever try to get everyone’s attention by clinking your knife on your glass. An interesting side note, the history of a “toast” stems from a burnt piece of toast that was placed in the bottom of a goblet. The burnt charcoal was believed to trap odors and toxins.

Being unsure of some social codes should not be a form of embarrassment or shame. Rather, it’s an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and your horizons.

A working knowledge base of etiquette and some protocols will give you confidence, offer you relief in high stress situations, and get you noticed—in a good way! With this base, people in the highest circles, those who can help you, will notice your smooth skills. They may not praise you verbally, but rather with their actions: promotions, opportunities, valuable introductions. Fine-tuning your etiquette skills is useful in your everyday life too. Just knowing the difference between a business and a social email can be helpful today. Brushing up on your communication skills, something as simple as not interrupting during virtual meetings or get togethers, can improve your communications with your team. You may be excited to share your thoughts, but if you continually “speak over” others, it can be confusing, and you risk being perceived as arrogant. Stick to the “house rules,” if there are any, and wait your turn to speak. Or, kindly use the “Raise Hand” button, and be respectful. There are so many smart, talented people who work tirelessly to advance their careers, only to be stalled, or for some, to be left behind. They have the chops, but they lack that polish or presence needed to elevate them. Etiquette can be that extra kick you need to be empowered to succeed. It’s never too late. You can still learn everything you need to know about etiquette. Find a good coach who offers a safe, discreet and private environment in which to learn, like me. Learning or brushing up on useful etiquette skills is no different than adding any other skillset to your toolbox. I coach people from all walks of life, from emerging leaders to C-suite executives, university students, professionals in high level staff positions, politicians, athletes, and individuals, alike, in a judgement-free, private environment. We can work on all the etiquette, protocol and the soft skills that you need, but were never offered before, discreetly. The bottom line is, do not be embarrassed if you need to brush up on a few skills, you can easily add them today. Etiquette is about others. It’s about being respectful and aware of their feelings, and being kind. That can be learned, and I would be more than happy to teach you.

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©2020 Heidi Dulebohn. Created by Idea Booth.