Every week, I’m asked how to handle a variety of conundrums via telephone calls, emails or while I’m walking the aisles at the grocery store. While I extol the virtues of etiquette and guide readers to the best of my abilities, there are times when I wish I had someone to write into myself.
After 15 years in the business, even I get flummoxed about how to handle certain situations. I often tell my younger students, when in doubt, to ask themselves, “What would Ms. Greene do?” With that in mind, I’ve created my own Q-and-A based on personal experience — scenarios that you have likely encountered.
Question: With little kids, a busy schedule and winter bugs ravaging our family, I don’t know how to fit in writing thank-you notes. We’ve been blessed with many thoughtful gifts from generous friends and family. I hate not to acknowledge their kindness, but it feels impossible to find time to sit and write to everyone. Is there an alternative way to say thank you that won’t offend or make me feel like I’m swimming in guilt?
Answer: I have prided myself on sending thank-you notes in a timely manner for decades. My stationery collection spills out of its drawers and is stashed in additional bureaus and closets around the house.
But I have come to accept that expressions of gratitude come in many forms and, at times, I have to meet my own needs because life happens.
At the minimum, send a text or email acknowledging receipt of the gift. While acknowledgment does not equate to a heartfelt thanks, it does buy you some time while you craft your sentiments. It lets the giver know that the gift is in hand, which eliminates the mystery of whether it arrived at its destination. If the gift is related to the holidays, you might even roll your thank you into an early Valentine.
When I’m constantly being interrupted by my littles, writing simply isn’t an option. I try to schedule a private time for the telephone thank you, which often provides for a deeper connection by hearing each other’s voices. At least leave a heartfelt voicemail.
If you were delayed in expressing your gratitude, be sure to reference the gift in casual conversation from time to time (e.g. “We’ve been using the handcrafted cutting board often. Thank you again for such a beautiful and useful gift”). The important thing is to remember that a delayed thank-you is more valuable than no thank-you at all. Everyone appreciates being recognized for their efforts.
Question: At various functions around town, I sometimes forget the names of people I’ve met before. I’d just as soon walk in a different direction than make a faux pas. What are some tips when this happens?
Answer: Forgetting names is a common occurrence in our busy social lives. Take some pressure off yourself, as it’s likely some people have forgotten your name as well. Rather than avoiding a meaningful personal connection, try these tried and true strategies to put a face with a name:
u Employ the buddy strategy. Make an arrangement with your companion or colleague that you’ll subtly ask or supply the name of the approaching individual. If neither buddy remembers, then one of you can introduce yourself, eliciting a reciprocal introduction. If you’re flying solo, ask a friend in the room, “Who is the woman with the yellow scarf?”
u Introduce yourself first. Try, “Hi. I’m Bizia. We met at the school barbecue,” which will prompt the other person to reintroduce themselves. If you already recall the names of everyone in a group, then automatically jump in and introduce people to one another, which covers all the bases (e.g. “Alex, have you met Cindy and Carlos?”).
u In a panicky moment, duck into a corner or bathroom and scroll social media, looking through your friends’ lists of contacts, as a face usually accompanies a profile.
u When you do hear the person’s name, repeat it back. Saying a person’s name shows respect and helps commit it to memory. Respond with, “It’s nice to see you” instead of “It’s nice to meet you,” as you may have met in the past.
Question: Technology plays a big role in my communications and work. When I’m out socially with friends, I feel rude whipping out my phone or leaving it on the table next to my meal. But sometimes I do need to be available. How can I be present for all parties, in person and on the other end of the phone without offending them?
Answer: Technology is a beast. But it is here to stay, and there are ways of integrating it into our social and professional interactions that are less invasive and offensive. Here are some tips for tech at the table:
u Upon arrival, alert fellow guests that you are expecting a call or communication that will require a response. Simply giving advance notice softens the impending interruption.
u Announce a time for everyone to check their phones. This is especially helpful at business meals or while lunching with friends during the workweek. Try, “Let’s take a moment to check our phones after we’ve eaten our appetizers.”
u Agree upon arrival to not check phones during an entire visit. For those with a babysitter at home, go the old-fashioned route and instruct the sitter to telephone the restaurant directly if necessary.
Etiquette mishaps happen to everyone. You’re not meant to have an answer for everything but rather a strategy for when you don’t. Practice using your manners to keep your calm and class.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-988-2070.