In the name of authenticity or due to the lack of time, “I am so busy”, politeness and civility may give the impression that they are about to become extinct. Based on circumstances and society-based, manners, like human behaviours, evolve.

In the era of globalization, combined with the explosion of communication modes and ecological concerns, some manners have been added while others have been abandoned. What was formerly the norm has now become obsolete, as in these five practices.

1) WOMEN AND MEN ARE TREATED DIFFERENTLY 

Once upon a time, when men made up the majority of the work landscape, elegant gestures were granted to women. A man would let a woman pass in front of him, or he would open the door for her. If a lady rose from the table, he would get up and sit back down as she left. Once she returned, he would get up again and sit back down as she did. Instead of making direct palm-to-palm contact to shake hands, he would gently grasp her fingertips. When introduced to a man, a lady would remain seated,

These days, on the majority of the planet, in the contemporary workplace, men and women are treated equally.

But socially, these gallant gestures are often very much appreciated. It’s up to you to observe and validate.

Here are the current preferred workplace practices:

  • As host, ask your guest to please follow you. You know the way, you go first.
  • When you are introduced, get up. The only exception is if you have reduced mobility. You must also get up when you greet a guest and when a guest leaves.
  • A handshake, no matter who the recipient is, should be firm and make full palm to contact. Watch out for “la bise” and hugs! Depending on the culture and beliefs, these greetings could be interpreted as favoritism, discrimination or even seduction. While visiting, inform yourself ahead of the greeting of choice in your host’s region.
  • When a woman or a man gets up to leave the table, stay seated. Because if you get up for one, you will have to get up for the others who come and go. Soon the table will look like a carousel.
  • At a door crossing, no matter if his arms or her arms are full, offer to help, hold the door and smile.

2) MR. AND MRS; BASED ON RANK AND AGE

Depending on the position, but especially the organizational culture, an older or more senior person is no longer always addressed by the use of Mr., Mrs. Or other honorifics, followed by their last name. As the workplace is becoming more homogeneous and non-hierarchical, it is usually acceptable to use the first names of colleagues, clients and superiors.

Internationally, as in Europe, the use of the first name could be too familiar. This lack of respect can hurt you, especially at the onset of a new business relationship.

If you are a subordinate or younger and you are invited to the use of the first name, do so. Do not negate this invitation by mentioning that this is not how you were raised. This insistence is uncomfortable and could be perceived as pretentious.

If you are the older one or the one in authority and want to be addressed by your first name, it is up to you to indicate it.

3) NO ELBOW ON THE TABLE

According to etiquette folklore, knights improvised tables for their feasts. Wooden planks were placed on scaffolds. If a few table neighbours decided to simultaneously rest their elbows on the table, the table would flip … Bye-bye buffet!

Nowadays tables are stable, but while eating little space is available to put elbows on the table. As long as you eat, your elbows are not allowed on the table. Between courses, it is acceptable to place one or two elbows on the table and even to rest your chin on the back of your hand.

4) TOAST ONLY WITH BUBBLY

Previously we toasted exclusively with champagne. These days you can toast with plain tap water or any other drink of your choice.

If you do not want to drink alcohol, have already been served a glass of champagne and do not have a glass of water at hand, pretend. Just lift your glass without drinking. Cheers!

5) A POSTED PAPER THANK YOU IS BEST

Depending on the recruitment process or the occasion, consider sending a recycled paper card.

Concerned about the environment more and more candidates and well-wishers are sending virtual notes of appreciation and congratulations. A handwritten note sent by mail could also get there too late, after the selection of the candidate.

When in doubt of what is still acceptable or not, do as my maternal grandmother Florina always told me, “When in doubt, find out”. An empathic quest for information will always be appropriate and will avoid embarrassment and faux pas. Ask your peers, your boss, the human resources department, your host or this etiquette expert. At your service!


About Julie Blais Comeau
Etiquette Expert
Etiquette Julie

Julie Blais Comeau is Canada’s go-to etiquette expert, an energizing speaker, an author and a sought-after media collaborator. She is Chief Etiquette Officer and founder of etiquettejulie.com a training and development firm dedicated to teaching poise, polish and professionalism: etiquette, protocol client service and cultural intelligence. Her mission is simple: you shining at work and in your community.