The Common Sense Of Etiquette

The Common Sense Of Etiquette

The funny thing about common sense is that it is presumed that everyone knows everything that you do. Etiquette is simply manners, the polite things you should do, is based on expectations and ultimately the way that we show other people that we respect them. We often like to think that you shouldn't have to tell other people what you expect in order for them to be polite, but like everything, if you don't know what is expected of you then how can you fulfil that expectation. I remember having an argument a long time ago in a relationship that has since ended about how regularly I should vacuum where I presumed once a week was sufficient. My partner at the time expected me to vacuum whenever the floor was dirty (not really quantifiable in my opinion) so I suggested a compromise of her telling me when she felt it was time to vacuum, she was unhappy with that as I "should know". This is the definition of expections that will go unfulfilled because it was an expectation that could not be understood or met and therefore bound to generate conflict. Hopefully after reading this you'll understand etiquette, it's limitations and applications.

As a child we know nothing about what we should and shouldn't do, we try to touch things that could hurt us, we find a way to go everywhere and into everything that we shouldn't. No bathroom is safe without a lock because inevitably a toddler will attempt to join you without any regard for the knocking least that is what I hear. We must be taught what is right, what is wrong, what is courteous and what is offensive as we grow up. This explains why we believe knowledge to be common sense as we ourselves were brought up with knowledge common to those around us. As we move about this world, change jobs, meet new people we must accept that what we know is not the only truth and we must learn to be sensitive of others. Etiquette is believed to mean a customary code of politeness within a given society and as you would expect it differs from place to place. For example, the etiquette as it applies to socialising is different from a workplace as the setting is different and it is important that we all learn what is appropriate. This is by far the loosest form of ethical interaction that we as humans have and it relies heavily on everyone involved learning and understanding what is required of them which is often not the case.

We as individuals, groups and businesses often rely on etiquette to keep conflicts at bay, but as I have pointed out, this assumes that everyone understands what every other person expects. This is why guidelines, codes of ethics and other forms of written etiquette expectations evolved. If you look at any profession that is considered to be "professional" they generally identify themselves with a code of ethics or guiding principles of how to behave. Why do they have this? Simply, by having this then people of that profession cannot plead ignorance and behave inappropriately without any way of holding them to account. You may have heard of the physicians Hippocratic Oath which was one of the earliest recorded codes of ethics that still exists in some form to this day. An oath is read by the individuals or by another person aloud so that all in attendance may hear and you commit to the understanding of what you have read. This is a code of ethics with verbal consent (i.e. I understand / agree) and for many professions this is enough as there is verbal agreement to understanding. This effectively communicates expectation, confirms understanding and provides a reference for those who do not comply or agree with the expectation of others. By confirming expectations and understanding, etiquette can now be relied on after this point to avoid conflict as everyone has been provided with the same information otherwise known as common sense or a list of rules to break depending on your perspective.

You could always have people sign and date a form with mandatory rules and expectations but it might be overkill if money never changes hands or there isn't a membership or employment involved. Simply put, if you are in a group of people where you have expectations of certain behaviours or obligations then it is prudent to set some boundaries as otherwise conflicts inevitably arise. It is the right of those who form part of a group to know what they are expected to comply with and to know that the other people around them will abide by the same expectations. Personally I see no value in relying on assumed etiquette as in reality, without failure, there will always be someone who will behave outside of what is expected regardless of their understanding. So I need a code of ethics then? No, you need what your group needs, as a group determine concerns, issues and settle on appropriate statements that define acceptable behaviour which will differ on the nature of the group. It may be as simple as defining how you will handle each others work (i.e. acknowledgement / watermarking) as complex as company procedures or it could be as little as defining that you will respect each other and work towards that goal. It is what you make it and should really suit your group and do not be afraid to look at what has already been done by others.

Etiquette, rules, codes of ethics...these are all tools, they are designed to help us work harmoniously with each other and define expectations. It is something that defines how to show respect towards each other and holds those who choose to be disrespectful to account. It should not be looked at as a waste of time as it works towards reducing conflict which is by far the greatest waste of time as it often stems from a lack of understanding or the belief that it is OK to be disrespectful. Don't get me wrong, I do not believe that rules of any kind should exist just to tell people off, it is a way to help guide people who struggle back to what is expected. I suggest that you start small and remember that in the end it needs to evolve over time to address clarity and issues as they arise. If you are interested in finding out more about what we can do for you then please feel free to visit our main website or contact us. Thank you for your time, for reading our blog post and it would be great if you feel the need to share or like our articles via one of our social media platforms with the @ActsIntuitively tag as applies.

Brent Webster
Technical Services Manager

Bunbury, Western Australia

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Outbound Links:

  1. Forbes - 27 Etiquette Rules For Our Times

  2. Reader's Digest - 50 Little Etiquette Rules You Should Always Practice

  3. The Atlantic - Why Trump Invokes ‘Common Sense’

  4. The Public Sector Commission Of Western Australia - Code Of Ethics

  5. Australian Medical Association - Code Of Ethics Media Release

  6. PBS NOVA - The Hippocratic Oath Today