We’ve probably all heard of Emily Post. She wrote an etiquette book back in the 1920s that became the world-famous standard for the practice of good manners. Her work of encouraging good etiquette continues today with her family at the Emily Post Institute. Today on the show I talk to Emily Post’s great-great-grandson, Daniel Post Senning, about manners for modern men, as well as digital etiquette in this world of smartphones, emails, group texts, etc.
- Why etiquette is more than just stuffy rules
- The “Platinum Rule” and why you should follow it
- The role of gendered etiquette (standing for a lady, opening doors, etc.) protocols in the modern world
- Smartphone etiquette in front of the “captive audience”
- The etiquette of CC and BCC on email
- Why you should treat emails like “little letters”
- How do you follow up to someone who hasn’t responded to an email without being a noodge
- How fast you need to respond to someone via text
- How to bow out of group texts
- How to respond to trolls
- How to you manage “Thank You” cards in the digital age
- And much more!
Much of etiquette is just common sense, but it never hurts to give yourself a refresher on the finer details of appropriate protocol. If you’ve been confused about how to navigate the fast-changing world of digital communication in a polite and gentlemanly manner, pick up a copy of Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online. And for more general etiquette tips, be sure to check out the Emily Post Institute.
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another addition of The Art of Manliness podcast. We’ve probably all heard of Emily Post. She wrote an etiquette book all the way back in the 1920’s and her work still continues today in her family. There’s a thing called the Emily Post Institute and family members are continuing the work of Emily Post of encouraging good etiquette and manners.
Today on the show, I have Emily Post’s great-great-grandson, Daniel Post Senning to discuss manners for men, etiquette, and specifically digital etiquette. The etiquette of smart phones, email, texts. It’s such a new aspect of our lives that it’s often confusing about what’s the proper protocol for these different modes of communication. Really fascinating discussion.
We also discuss Thank You notes, which is timely for the holidays. When you should write one, how do you manage Thank You cards or handwritten Thank You cards with emails when you’re engaging someone on email. Do you thank someone on email? Do you send them a card still? We’re going to answer that question. Without further ado, Daniel Post Senning and digital etiquette.
Daniel Post Senning, welcome to the show.
Daniel Post Senning: Thanks so much for having me. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be here.
Brett McKay: Thank you so much. You work for the Emily Post Institute and in your name is Post. Start off, you joined the family business, I’m assuming.
Daniel Post Senning: I sure did. A little background. A lot of people think Emily Post is still alive and about ten years older than they are. That’s not true. She was my great-great-grandmother. She wrote her first book of Etiquette in 1922. Founded the Institute with her son in the late ’40’s. The business has been running ever since. We currently are publishing the 18th edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, working on the 19th. It’s been in print ever since that first edition in 1922.
Brett McKay: Wow, that’s fantastic. It continues on. I’m sure everyone’s come across or maybe flipped through Emily Post’s book on etiquette, but I think etiquette and manners, for a lot of men, gets a bad rap. I think when they think etiquette and manners, they think sort of stuffy rules and protocols like, “Stick your pinky out when you’re drinking your tea,” or something like that. That it’s old-fashioned and not really relevant in the modern day. I think people would be surprised when they actually read the content you all put out. You don’t present etiquette that way. How do you all define etiquette and manners over there at the Emily Post Institute?
Daniel Post Senning: Sure. We’ve got a formula that works really well for us. I promise this is the end of the math for today. We say etiquette is a combination or equals manners plus principles. I think that the manners part of that equation is what a lot of people think about when they think etiquette. Things like saying please or thank you or holding a door for someone or offering your chair to someone or traditional courtesies around ladies going first. Those are manners. They’re the specific expectations that we have of each other in a given social situation and they change. They change over time, they vary from one household to another, one country to another, one company to another.
The principles are the second part of the equation. You don’t have etiquette without manners and principles and principles are the timeless and eternal guidelines, values, principles that we use to guide us when we don’t know the manner in a given situation or when we’re dealing with difficult relationship situations and there isn’t a particular manner that applies. I think it’s the framework of, if I’m in a principles approach to etiquette that’s really served the Emily Post Institute for five generations, the principles that we’ve identified as the bedrock or the foundation for all good etiquette are consideration, respect, and honesty. If you’re thinking about other people, if you’re using your consideration, if you’re aware of who’s impacted, that’s really important. If you’re respectful, if you recognize the value and worth of others as well as yourself and the things around you, you’re at that next level of good shape. The final principle that we think is really important is honest, that you’ve got to operate from a place of sincerity and integrity.
If you’ve got those three things working for you, whether you know the particular manner or not or whether you’re trying to asses whether a manner that you grew up with is still useful or important, I think that having that principles idea as part of the etiquette equation really helps keep etiquette relevant.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I guess growing up, what I heard was like, “Just make the other person feel comfortable and welcome.” If you do that, you’re probably going to be okay.
Daniel Post Senning: Absolutely. Thinking about other people. When I do business etiquette trainings or appearances, I often open up when I’ve got a room that’s small enough with a word association game with the word “etiquette” and I hear everything from the audience. Oftentimes I hear, “Well, this is the Golden Rule, right? This is treat other people the way you would want to be treated or do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
That’s absolutely part of the equation and I’d like to share something I learned recently which is the Platinum Rule and it’s popular in training circles, an evolution of the Golden Rule and it’s the idea in an increasingly diverse and complex world, it’s not enough to just go around and apply your standards to everyone that you meet. That you also have to be willing to treat other people the way that they would want to be treated.
You end up with this balancing act, the art of etiquette really being an awareness of the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule. That it’s important to know your standards and know your values, but it’s also important to really be able to think about where other people are coming from and how they’re going to perceive something and maybe they’re even operating from a slightly different set of core principles. Maybe not. I tend to think that a lot of those core principles translate culturally, but having a little bit of the Platinum Rule, a small dosage of platinum to go with your gold I think is really important.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I like how you said, “art of etiquette”. A lot of people get this idea that etiquette is just the manners. There’s a formula to it. There’s rules, but there’s an art to it. It’s not a science. You sort of have to use your judgment in different situations and I guess you learn as you do.
Daniel Post Senning: To me, it’s that delicious gray area. It’s that territory where maybe rude behavior isn’t so egregious that it’s illegal or going to get you fired, but oftentimes it’s perceived in a negative way and the same thing with good etiquette or positive etiquette because it is in that gray territory where sometimes it’s not exactly clear. There is an art to it.
One of the my favorite examples is if you think about the honesty principle. There’s a difference between a harsh truth and a kind or benevolent truth. If you were to ask me what I think of your new sweater and I think it’s atrocious and I tell you that, that might be a really hurtful truth. I could also say something like, “Oh, that’s going to keep you warm all winter,” or, “Aren’t you happy your grandmother made that for you? I can really see the love in it.” There are more artful truths that you can find that maybe are less hurtful and, to me, that’s the fine of the work that I get to do.
Brett McKay: What’s the benefit? How do you sell etiquette to people who are still dubious about it. How can being attentive to it and learning some manners help people in their business life, their personal life, et cetera.
Daniel Post Senning: Sure. For me and our approach here at Emily Post is that etiquette skills are relationship skills. That this is all about building good relationships, improving the quality of relationships, building and sustaining successful relationships. Etiquette is social skills. That’s one approach that’s really important to me.
The other lens that I love to share is that the more you can approach this material through the lens of opportunity, not obligation, the better off you’re going to be. Etiquette is an incredibly powerful tool when used as a tool for self-assessment. The Thank You note police are not going to come take you away if you don’t write a Thank You note at all this holiday season. They don’t exist. They’re not going to come get you. A few grandmothers aside.
On the flip side of that equation, I do intern hiring at Emily Post and we have on our website a seven-point checklist for how to handle an in-person interview and the seventh item on the checklist is if someone’s taken the time to interview you, send them a handwritten Thank You note. I will ask what percentage of people do you think send me a handwritten Thank You note after an interview process? The answer’s about 30%. I think that’s high here because we’ve got a website that tells people to do it. If I’ve got two candidates for two positions, it’s probably not going to be a differentiator, but if I’ve got four candidates for two positions, it can absolutely make the difference.
An increasingly casual, informal world gives us opportunities for distinction by making the choice to make the medium part of the message to really invest in the relationship skills. To say to yourself, “I’m going to take the extra time. I’m going to write this person the only handwritten note they’re going to get all year.” You really give yourself an opportunity to make a different kind of impression, so that lens of opportunity, I think, is really important.
The thing that I think bothers people about etiquette is when it’s used as a tool of judgment or a tool to exclude or isolate people. To me, that’s so far from the heart of good etiquette. You talked about how etiquette’s all about making other people feel comfortable and at ease. Again, I think that you’re best able to use it to do that when you’re using it as a tool to assess yourself and your own actions and how you can be better.
Brett McKay: You’ve written a book about digital etiquette and we’re going to get into that a little bit, but before we get there, you mentioned how manners have changed over time. I’m sure you’ve had to put out more editions of Emily Post’s book because things have changed. I’m curious, what are some of the big things that have changed that people might think it’s still a hard-and-fast rule, but there’s actually a little more flexibility there than there was before?
Daniel Post Senning: Ooo. What are the surprising changes?
Brett McKay: Yeah. How about surprising changes?
Daniel Post Senning: The broad trend is that the etiquettes that change the fastest are the ones that exist around new technology and oftentimes around communication. In Emily’s original 1922 edition, there were elaborate descriptions on how to exchange calling cards. If you’re new in town, you go door-to-door and you presented your calling card. How that calling card was received, whether it was received in person, whether someone came downstairs to take it from you, or whether it was left, it was all part of the language of receiving someone, getting to know someone, essentially exchanging contact information with someone.
Today, I might talk with someone about how you approach someone about connecting on LinkedIn. Ultimately, it’s the same basic task. It’s getting to know people, establishing contact and communication with people, initiating/beginning relationships, but the environment has changed so radically. That while there are elements that stay the same, it really looks so different. You have to work to find those common elements.
Some things have changed almost not at all. My favorite example is the way my great-great-grandmother would have described eating with a knife and fork in 1922 is almost exactly the same way that I describe it when I teach a seminar today. The manners around mealtimes. I think that you’re less likely to radically reinvent that in your lifetime, whereas I like to warn people when they’re thinking about new technology and communication etiquette that it’s really worth checking in on a pretty regular basis and asking yourself and the people around you what your basic expectations are, what your common-sense norms are, because those do tend to shift and change. Oftentimes more quickly than we might imagine.
Brett McKay: It seems like a lot of etiquette or manners were gender-based, right? The whole men opening a door for ladies, men standing up when a lady leaves the table, et cetera. In our more egalitarian age, do these gendered etiquette practices still have a place in our society? If so, what are some of the things that men should pay particular attention to?
Daniel Post Senning: Yeah, let’s lay the groundwork. You’re absolutely right in your assumption that today, particularly when you’re talking about formal, public, and business etiquette situations. Business etiquette is gender neutral. It’s really important that we have an even playing field for everyone. Whether that’s a willingness today to embrace the mix, the Mx title. That’s a gender-neutral option for people. Our willingness to stay flexible, to continue to change and evolve in that territory I think is really important.
Sometimes people ask me if I think that I have a hard time with today’s generation, is it difficult being the fifth generation of an etiquette family? I say, “No, I think it was the third generation that had the hardest time.” My grandmother was representing this tradition in the 1960’s and ’70’s when a generation of iconoclast were truly challenging the social order and were intentionally working to disrupt that social order. We might face technological challenges today, but we don’t face that same sort of concerted cultural revolution that my grandmother’s generation faced. That was the generation that really challenged the idea of traditional gender courtesies. That was a big, big deal at the time.
I was talking with my wife the other day about Ms. Magazine and the idea that that was a revolutionary thing when it came out was something we had to remind ourselves of and that wasn’t that long ago. The U.S. government adopted the Ms., the M-S, in the early 1970’s. That recently, how you addressed a woman was entirely dependent on her marital status. That was really problematic. It was an important step to move past that in the public world and it’s important that we recognize where we are 50 years later.
Having said that, etiquette is so oftentimes tolerant of other people’s perspective. It’s about putting other people at ease. Many people work today in a workplace where there’s four generations working side-by-side and maybe a couple of those generations grew up in a world where those gendered courtesies were still really important. It’s important to be aware of those generational differences and approaches and the generational difference in awareness.
I also think that sometimes people in this new world that we’re operating in, I know it works for me and it’s true for me that I oftentimes take a lot of comfort and get a lot of ideas about what’s appropriate now and moving forward from what has worked in the past. We can learn a lot. Those traditional and sometimes gendered courtesies came from places when they were instituted. The chivalric code coming out of the 1300’s, which a lot of people reference when they think about those traditional gendered courtesies in the States, was really a code about affording women respect when it was initially instituted. By the time my mother’s generation was rebelling against the idea of chivalry in the late 20th Century, the world had shifted a lot around some of the ideas that had made that behavior initially very respectful and left the generation more recently feeling disempowered.
To come back to the question of what do you do then? What if those courtesies still are important to you? They’re something you grew up with and you really identify with some of those chivalric and respectful aspects of it. It’s so simple. You just ask permission to perform the courtesy. “May I get that for you?” “Thank you so much. You know, it’s been 15 years since someone offered to hold a chair for me.” Or, “No, thank you. I can handle that myself.” Either way, if you ask permission to perform the courtesy, then you are not imposing your will on anyone else, but you’re illustrating the values and the manners that are important to you. Really simple. You ask permission to perform the traditional courtesy.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think it reduces some of the awkwardness that could possibly happen, right, if you kind of foist yourself. If you want to extend that, I think that there’s a lot of women who would be like, “What’s this guy doing taking my chair out? What’s going on here?” If you’re sort of smooth about it and say, “Hey, may I get that chair for you?” That’s actually kind of smooth, I think.
Daniel Post Senning: It doesn’t need to be as complicated a discourse as I just launched into. I’m aware that there’s an entire body of literature that talks about the male gaze. No. “May I get that for you?” It’s so easy. It doesn’t need to be as complicated a thing as we often make it.
Brett McKay: Got you. Okay. Let’s get into some of the details of your book, your specialty, which is digital etiquette. As you said, that’s the thing that’s changed the most since 1922, since your great-great-grandmother wrote the first one. Let’s start with smart phones. I think that’s the thing that causes the most conflict amongst families, friends, et cetera. What’s the general etiquette or guidelines for smart phone use in public and in front of others? We’re getting right here from the expert. We’re getting it from a Post. After this point, no one can argue. All right?
Daniel Post Senning: Exactly. I wish. If I could push a magic button and then change behavior, I think this is one of those areas where I’d love to do it. It’s really remarkable. AP hosted a study a couple years ago on rudeness in America and they really focused on new technology. They asked people, “Have you witnessed people using their cell phone in a rude or annoying manner?” Something like 90% of people, 89% of people, say they witness this, but when you flip the question around and you ask people if they’ve used their cell phone in a rude or annoying manner, only 8% of the public’s going to cop to it.
Brett McKay: Of course. Of course.
Daniel Post Senning: It’s always someone else who’s doing it. It’s never me. Etiquette is most powerful when used as a tool for self-assessment. The thing is most of us know the rules. Most of us understand the common sense, collectively-agreed upon rules of cell phone use. That the people that you’re with deserve your attention. That whenever you’re dealing with a captive audience, the responsibility’s really extra on the person who’s got the phone to be careful. Captive audiences, people in elevators, stuck in a car with you, stuck in a grocery line with you, the cashier who’s got to check you out. These are all people that can’t get away. They really deserve your respect and your attention to their inability to get away from one-half of your conversation.
Those basic principles, that you owe your attention to the people that you’re physically with, that there’s a certain courtesy that you owe those people and that that courtesy is amplified when that’s a captive audience. Again, it’s pretty well understood by most people and yet a lot of us are willing to give ourselves the exemption or don’t see the behavior in ourselves when we’re doing as easily as we see it in others. I would love to encourage and advise everyone out there to really think about how they use their phone.
The experiment that I like to remind people of is Pavlov’s dogs. The classic experiment about programmed biological behavior. You feed a dog and ring a bell and measure salivation response, it just doesn’t take long where all you need to do is ring the bell and you get the salivation response. Food or no food. These phones ring and we take them out and we get connected to family and friends and information we care about and we get a little endorphin rush and we get that positive feedback and we are habituating ourselves and programming ourselves to respond to these devices. Without some intentional and active deprogramming, that unintentional rude use is going to creep into your life. It’s going to happen whether you want it to or not because that’s the nature of how we use these things.
Brett McKay: Yeah and it doesn’t even have to ring. It’s just like the light has to flash, right?
Daniel Post Senning: People get the ghost vibration. Can you feel it on your leg when nothing’s happened, just because it’s been that long and your body thinks something must be going on. It’s really quite remarkable. Bringing attentionality and awareness back to use is the biggest tip I can give anybody because I think if most people sit for half a second and ask themselves, “Is this good or appropriate? Is this a fair use of this for both me and the people around me?”, most people make the right decision.
Brett McKay: Actually, if you’re having trouble, for all of you out there having trouble deprogramming, there are some apps out there. I know there’s one for Android that will actually tell you, give you a report at the end of the day how often you looked at your phone.
Daniel Post Senning: Oh, fantastic.
Brett McKay: It gives you a sense of self-awareness. You can see, “Oh, I looked at my phone 300 times today. That’s ridiculous. I need to stop doing that.”
Daniel Post Senning: Exactly.
Brett McKay: There’s a tip there. Go look for that. I don’t remember the name of it. Let’s talk about another aspect of communication that has overwhelmed our lives. It’s email. I remember when email first came out and it was kind of cool. You saved email for really special occasions, but now that’s how we all communicate. We avoid the phone. It’s all over email or texting. We’ll talk about texting in a bit. What are the etiquette protocols for email generally? How soon should we respond? How do we nudge people who haven’t responded, et cetera?
Daniel Post Senning: For me, this is one of those new technology areas where I think you can take a little lesson from the past. I like to treat new email exchanges as little letters. You don’t need to date them. Once upon a time, you put a date on a letter. You don’t need to do that. There’s a time signature. Still, I’m a big fan of salutations, greetings, closings.
If it’s a new chain with someone, and we can descend down the level of formality, “Dear” is the most formal. You can always use “Dear, someone’s name and title” or title and name. “Greetings” can work well if you don’t have a particular name. “Hello” or “Hi” or even “Hello, someone’s name,” “Hi, someone’s name.” Just some sort of greeting, comma, return, return, content of the email, return, return. Most formal closing, “Sincerely,” next line, me. Other acceptable business sort of descending down the scale of formality closings, “Regards,” “Best Regards,” “All the Best,” “Best”. For social correspondence, “Warmly,” “Affectionately,” “With Affection.” Comma, return, name, complete.
Take your cue from the person who has initiated the chain. Respond with the same level of formality. Once you’re bouncing that email back and forth, those salutations and closings can fall away. They often do. Even if I’m corresponding with someone who I email with everyday, if I just put their initials at the top of the email, give it a couple returns, I think it humanizes the message just a little bit. Makes it a little less of a demand for someone’s attention.
That’s the broad idea. Treat it like a little letter. Use salutations and closings. For signature blocks, try to keep logos free of image attachments. A lot of people sort emails by attachments, so you want to keep the attachment out of there. If you’re going to offer someone thanks, get it in the body of the email. Don’t include it in your signature line where it becomes perfunctory.
Other email tips. Choose your subject line well. It’s what gets email read. As you mentioned, we get so much email now. One of the tasks that any professional is faced with is sorting and filtering important information. It’s one of the things that we all have to do as part of our professional lives now. There’s an absolute new and emerging courtesy around not spamming someone and labeling information that you’re sending someone accurately so they can find it later if they want it or care about it. That’s your subject line. That’s not all caps, but that’s something descriptive and topical about what happens in the body of the email.
Brett McKay: Got you. What about ccs and bccs? Etiquette of that?
Daniel Post Senning: Classic. We just did a question recently on our podcast about group texts and it’s one of the most-shared pieces of content we’ve done in awhile, how to get out of family group texts. The old version of that question was appropriate use of reply versus reply all. Generally speaking, only reply all when everybody on the list needs to know. If you’re talking about an invitation that’s coming from a single organizer, just reply to the organizer. You don’t need to reply to the complete list. Again, that’s the courtesy of giving people information that’s extraneous or superfluous in their world. I’m sorry, what was the second part of your question?
Brett McKay: Blind carbon copy.
Daniel Post Senning: Oh, the cc versus the bcc, of course. For me, this is the question of honesty. Generally speaking, the carbon copy is what you want to default use so that everybody knows everybody’s received the same information. The bcc is best and only used for protecting someone’s email. If you’ve got someone on a list who doesn’t share their email for some reason. For me, that’s the appropriate use of the bcc. Some people would use it to send a request to someone and simultaneously, without letting them know, send that same request to their boss as a way to double check. I’d say just let that person know. There’s no need to be deceptive about it. With the bcc, my big tip for folks is to be sure you’re being honest. That you could explain to anybody who receives the email why you were using the bcc the way you were.
Brett McKay: Got you. Guidelines on how soon you should respond? For someone like me, I get tons and tons of email. I use to have the protocol I’m going to try to get back to people within 24 hours. Sometimes that’s not possible. What do you do in that case?
Daniel Post Senning: Thanks for sharing your time frame because that’s about mine. For email, I tell people I think the basic expectation is it’s about a 24-hour turnaround. Again, we’re all tasked with sorting and prioritizing information all the time. The idea that you could penetrate someone’s world in less than 24 hours via email I think is a bit much. If you haven’t heard from someone in 24 hours, even an acknowledgement that the email has been received, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to follow-up, but I also wouldn’t treat it as if they had failed. I wouldn’t act aggrieved about it. I would do it more as just a follow-up, “Just checking to be sure you received my first email,” or, ‘Wanted to be sure you received my first email.” My tone would be not one of being disturbed that I hadn’t been responded to.
A concept that I love to share is that human attention is a gift. It should be received with appreciation. People also need to recognize you can’t necessarily demand someone else’s attention. You have to earn it because human attention really is a gift and we only have so much of it to give.
Brett McKay: I guess a tip would be, you kind of hinted to it, if you are overloaded with email, at least get back to someone saying, “Look, I got your email, but it’s going to be awhile before I can give a complete response to it.”
Daniel Post Senning: I think that’s absolute best practice. Like you, I wish I could say I always was able to do it. I wish I always got back to emails within 24 hours. It doesn’t happen. Also, I’m not bothered if 24 hours later someone follows up with me and says, “Just checking to see if you’ve got my first email.” Oftentimes, I really appreciate it. “Oh no, I meant to get back to something.”
Brett McKay: You mentioned texting. That’s another thing that’s been coming up, that’s becoming a sore spot for family members, couples, even on the job texting has become a problem. What’s the etiquette of texting? When should you do it? How fast do you need to respond? I think it’s kind of funny with all these different communication types, there’s like this unspoken time frame that you should be able to respond. If it’s a letter, you have a week. Like a handwritten letter. You can respond to someone in a few weeks. That’s fine. Email. Okay, 24 hours, but with text, there’s like this unspoken assumption that you have to respond right away to a text. Is that the case?
Daniel Post Senning: Maybe even in seconds.
Brett McKay: If you don’t respond, “Are you there? Why aren’t you responding to me?” I’ve gotten that before.
Daniel Post Senning: Or the whole message dries out. If you were to jump out with that witty reply all of five minutes, something’s lost. That’s absolutely true. Each of these mediums has its own rhythm, its own pace. There’s no question. I think the broad understanding is that text is very immediate. I sometimes tell people we used to imagine a day when telepathy exists. We’ve got it. I can have a thought and I can share it with anybody almost instantaneously anywhere I want. Absolutely amazing.
I tell people to be really careful that you build expectation, particularly in relationships, around communication and response time. Do you want to build a set of expectations into your wife that you just can’t live with or that ultimately you don’t enjoy. I use texting. I don’t have an expectation of a 30-second turnaround time with anybody that I text with in life. There are definitely certain groups that I’m in, particularly on a Sunday afternoon when the fantasy games are rolling very quickly, where we’re communicating very quickly back and forth and probably the response time is that 20, 30 seconds tops. It’s not an expectation. If I were to jump in later, it would be okay.
I love to encourage people to build that kind of space and breathing room into the expectations that they build into relationships because that can be really difficult, that quick-text response demand and I think sometimes it results in rude behavior. That oftentimes there’s a substitution mentality that people know it would be inappropriate to make a phone call from this situation, but they’re willing to substitute a text. It was teens at the dinner table and then it was people in movie theaters. Little by little, the idea that that substitution mentality is okay is starting to be chipped away at which I like.
To me, it’s about where your attention is going in terms of how rude it is to the people around you, but I do think that texting in particular, because people feel that they should respond quickly, kind of draws them into behaviors with their phone that’s not always the most appropriate or isn’t always the most considerate for the people that they’re with. I like to say take a deep breath, relax, it’s still going to be there. You can still respond to it later. It might not feel as relevant, but it probably will be. If it were really critically, critically important, the information might or might not be coming as text to begin with.
Brett McKay: Yeah, it might be a phone call. If you do need to make a text, do you excuse yourself? Like, “Excuse me while I do this.” Is it okay to whip out your phone, “I’m going to make a text really quick,” and then just do it right there and then put away the phone really fast?
Daniel Post Senning: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I like the way you announce what you’re doing there. I think it goes a long way towards just acknowledging. Again, you’ve got to know the rule to know how to break it. My attention should be on this person that I’m with. It’s really not a big deal if I fire off a quick text, particularly if it’s going to set us up for dinner later on or something. Just giving that person that you’re with the basic consideration of acknowledging you’re about to break a little etiquette rule.
It doesn’t need to be, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m about to disrespect you for taking my phone out and texting,” but, “I just want to text my mom real quick and let her know that I’m planning to come for dinner tonight.” Then they know you’re going to be off real quick. They know what you’re doing. They don’t wonder whether or not you even care about them or how they’re impacted or affected because you just showed you cared. You just told them. “Pardon me just a second.” Magic words really are magic. “I’m going to fire off a quick text to my mom and tell her I’m going to be home for dinner.” Letting someone know what you’re doing, how long you’re going to be doing it. Just acknowledging their humanity as part of the process. I think take something like that and makes it an absolute not a big deal at all.
Brett McKay: Great. Making people feel good and comfortable. Back to that.
Daniel Post Senning: Exactly. I don’t know if I’ve managed to solve our problem of what do you do with texting where that expectation is so quick in the time frame of reply. I think the answer is you give yourself the latitude. That you understand the counterargument of why you wouldn’t just take your phone out of your pocket and fire it off. I think we’ve talked about those reasons already. One, showing consideration for the situation that you’re in at the moment. You’re sitting in church and you wouldn’t do it then. You’re at a funeral and you wouldn’t do it then. You’re in a public restroom and you’re not going to take your phone out and hold it in your hand then. Or the other consideration that we talked about of just you don’t want to be constantly more responsive to the device in your pocket than the hiking trail that you’re walking down or that there needs to be time in all of our lives where we can carve out to be with the people we’re with, even if that’s just our self.
You mentioned those apps that will tell you how many times a day you looked at your phone. It might not even be as personal as, “I’m sitting here with my mother. I’m not going to answer a text right now.” It might be, “You know, I don’t need to pick my phone up 200-plus times a day.” That’s an okay reason to limit the amount of replying you do also.
Brett McKay: For some reason, this is really weird. I’ve never taken to texting, so people text me and I guess I’ve sort of trained them because I don’t respond. I know it’s really rude of me.
Daniel Post Senning: No, not at all. You make your preference known. Don’t build expectations in the relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Brett McKay: I do that. I tell people, “Don’t text me. Call me or send an email.”
Daniel Post Senning: I’ll tell you what broke me. I was with you. I’ll date myself. I graduated college in 2000, so my first cell phone I had on my way out the door from college. I did not pick up texting, either, until I watched my younger brother and his new wife text all the time. It kept them very close. It was a very immediate part of their relationship and it struck me as sweet how connected they were. I’d be with him and he’d be getting these little messages from her all the time. It kind of won me over to what a personal medium it can be. When I watch younger people, the kids these days and their text machine, I’m often reminded of my brother and his wife and how close they seem when they’re interacting on it. That was the moment I took the plunge and jumped in.
Brett McKay: You took the plunge. Good for you. Yeah, I work across from my wife everyday. I guess if we worked separately that would probably-
Daniel Post Senning: That is a treat.
Brett McKay: It’s definitely a treat. Let’s talk about social media because this is the place where there’s no manners it seems like, whatsoever. Facebook, Twitter, blog comments. What can people do to make social media networks a more civil place or is that a lost cause?
Daniel Post Senning: I’ve heard this before that there are no manners online. My proof to you that there are is how aggrieved people feel when they’re broken. That you wouldn’t have so many people as bothered by what other people are doing if there wasn’t a basic social expectation there to begin with. Anytime you have two people interacting, you start to have expectations of each other. The expectations we have of each other online are they exist and they came into being more quickly than I think people even realized. I love that element of it that what happens online is interaction, is human relationships. In many ways, it’s a purely social space and some of the particular etiquettes are peculiar to that space, but they’re absolutely there and they absolutely exist.
As far as what we do to shift them, mold them, shape them, and make them until that community be the kind of community we all want to participate in is model the behavior you want to see in the world. That etiquette is most powerful when used as a tool for self-assessment. We rarely have the standing to address someone else’s behavior. If you want to find out how little standing you have addressing someone else’s behavior, try addressing their behavior online and see what kind of response you get. It really is one of those spaces where the degree to which you participate well really determines the quality of your experience there.
I make a joke sometimes at the start of my seminars. I say, “You know, I think most people don’t mean to be rude. I think I’m an eternal optimist. A few internet trolls aside, most people don’t wake up in the morning and set out to hurt someone else’s feelings or make someone else feel bad.” We make that allowance that happens some in online spaces and with that mediated interaction where you aren’t as responsible to the person that you’re impacting as immediately or directly as if you’re in a room with them. I think sometimes the intentionally hurtful or the intentionally harmful is easier and maybe gets out more than people would intend it to or rude behavior that someone would catch themselves sooner if they had the real-world consequences and were faced with them. They just don’t whether they intend to or not. That does happen online. I have to acknowledge that.
I really think the best defense against that is understanding your own level of participation and understanding really what you have control over in those spaces because it’s really difficult to argue with someone who won’t argue back. If you’re the person who’s not arguing back, you’re a pretty difficult person to draw into an argument.
Brett McKay: Yeah, is that the best response to, say, trolls? Just ignore them?
Daniel Post Senning: Yeah, this is one of the things I put in my book. Usually what they’re there for is to get attention and the less attention you give them, it’s oftentimes the most effective response that a community can give to a real agitator or disrupter.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I tell other people, also, I don’t think people understand this. Whenever they respond to a troll on Twitter or Facebook, you are actually broadcasting the troll. When you’re at them, everyone in your Twitter feed sees your conversation you’ve had. If you just ignored it, it would have just kind of died in that one little cell, right?
Daniel Post Senning: Yep. Every eyeball that hits that is a victory for that person.
Brett McKay: Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t feed the trolls.
Daniel Post Senning: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Okay, here’s a question. It’s sort of the nexus of two mediums and it’s made very complicated with email. That’s the handwritten Thank You note. I love sending handwritten Thank You notes, but I’m always confused with what to do about email. You’ll do something with someone via email exchange and they do you a solid, like really awesome. Like, “I want to send this guy a Thank You note,” but it’s kind of weird because you just said thanks to them in the email. Do you just send the Thank You note anyway even though you’ve already said thanks before the email? How do you navigate that sort of email and handwritten Thank You note combo there?
Daniel Post Senning: It doesn’t hurt. The medium becomes part of the message. As I mentioned earlier, whenever you take that extra step and you hand write a note to somebody, the medium really becomes part of the message, particularly in a world where that happens less and less frequently. I also say that the medium being part of the message, sometimes that email thank you is the appropriate level of thanks. You’ve had an interaction that’s been an email interaction. Someone hasn’t bought you a gift you haven’t thanked them for. They haven’t bought you a meal. They haven’t interviewed you. There are all kinds of short thanks for which an email is entirely appropriate and would really be appreciated, but there’s no reason if you decide that you want to notch it up a little bit and follow that up with the handwritten thanks, that you shouldn’t do it. It will absolutely make an impression. I guarantee it.
I could talk at length about the value of writing Thank You notes, of gratitude, of grace, of bringing the qualities of gratitude and grace into your life intentionally by making a commitment that thanking people and thanking them well, that can really be transformative. I’m a big proponent and fan of really honoring that process of giving thanks. I wouldn’t ever want to slow anyone down or dissuade someone from falling up an email with a written thank you.
Oftentimes, say for really important events, like that job that you really want, that you really care about. It’s the dream job. It’s the one you’ve been waiting for. Thank them three times. Thank them verbally on the way out the door. Thank them within 24 hours with an email note and then follow up with that handwritten note. I know we call it snail mail. Believe it or not, it’s going to get there in two or three days if you mail it from anywhere local. It’s going to get there a little later in the week and that’s not a bad three-point touch for someone that you’re really trying to establish and build rapport with.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. With the holidays coming up, here’s another question I’ve had about Thank You notes, if someone gifts you something and they’re there in person, you thank them there, do you send a Thank You note to them?
Daniel Post Senning: You don’t have to. This is straight from Emily Post. The important thank you, the most genuine and sincere is the most verbal, in person. Look them in the eye. Smile. Tell them you care about them, you appreciate the thought, you appreciate the effort, “Thank you so much.” That still is and will always be the gold standard. Doesn’t mean you can’t follow-up with a written if you want, but really that’s enough for most people.
Brett McKay:Okay, great to know. You mentioned this, the handwritten Thank You note has become an anomaly. It’s what sets you apart. If someone writes you a Thank You note, you’re like, “Man, this is like the first Thank You note I’ve gotten in years.”
Daniel Post Senning: I know what’s coming next.
Brett McKay: Do you write a Thank You note for the Thank You note?
Daniel Post Senning: It has to end somewhere. This is an infinity mirror problem. No, you effectively end the chain with that handwritten Thank You note. Exactly. You could probably take a bow and exit stage right a lot of the time. We oftentimes say it’s important not to trump someone’s thanks. That magic words are magic and there’s a reason “you’re welcome” is on the list and that’s because it’s not always, “No, thank you,” or, “It was no problem,” or, “No, it was no trouble.” Sometimes thank you is really important. Someone wants to offer thanks and being the person who can receive that and receive it well makes you can important part of that process, so enjoy that. “You’re welcome.”
Brett McKay: Okay. Fantastic. Dan Post, this has been a fascinating discussion. Thank you so much for you time. It’s been a pleasure.
Daniel Post Senning: Brett, it was truly my pleasure. I’m a big fan of The Art of Manliness and I can’t wait to get you over to Awesome Etiquette some day.
Brett McKay: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.
My guest today was Daniel Post Senning. He is the author of the book, Manners in the Digital World: Living Well Online. He’s also a contributor at the Emily Post Institute and you can find out more information there at emilypost.com.
That wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy this podcast, again, I’d always appreciate it if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Your support is always appreciated. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.