1. I can manage two sets of dining manners – private and public;
2. Etiquette makes you inauthentic; and
3. Being nice is all I need to succeed.

I encounter many etiquette myths, but none more than these three. Rooted in our natural resistance to change and a misunderstanding of what etiquette is and how it is used in the 21st century, these myths continue to cause confusion and to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting. Yes, there was a time in which etiquette was used to keep us regular folks from moving up in the world. Remember the dinner scene in the movie “Titanic” in which Leo DiCaprio’s character Jack asks Kathy Bates for help with a dizzying array of flatware? Only those who belonged in the privileged class knew which fork to use and when to use it. But people, that was 1912 and we are 102 years past that nonsense! Etiquette today is a skill that you can learn and a tool that you can use to further your business and social relationships. Can you get along without etiquette? I suppose so, but only in the way that you can drive a car with two flat tires.

Myth No. 1: I can manage two sets of dining manners – private and public.

As Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that working for you?” What escapes those who believe this myth is that dining manners are habits controlled by our subconscious. I mean really, who actually thinks about how she gets the fork to her mouth while eating? Try it, it takes a lot of effort! So those unsavory habits indulged in at home – picking teeth at the table, interrupting dinner companions during conversation, double dipping, etc. eventually show up in public. Why? Habits are hard to change. And, even if you are a one-in-a-million-mind-over-matter-master and can control _______ (insert here the regrettable dining habit of choice) during your business lunch with your colleagues, guess what? You are wasting precious energy controlling a habit instead of fully engaging in the business at hand. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to prevent the habit from forming in the first place by practicing good dining manners at home? Just sayin’.

Myth No. 2: Etiquette makes you inauthentic.

The idea that authenticity requires a person to let it all hang out and do and say whatever she wants without considering others is entrenched in the dark side of our popular culture. It goes something like this: People who are “real” are out of control and edgy – they chew with their mouths open, hurl four letter words at their bosses and throw up on the street with abandon. Those among us who think about others before acting, say “please” and ”excuse me” are humorless, bourgeois, and even a little suspect.

Authenticity and practicing proper etiquette are not mutually exclusive. Etiquette can change how you are perceived, but not who you are. Your true self, your character, will ultimately support or undermine the perceptions you create. Think about it like this: you can put a goat in a nice suit, but…it is still a goat. Proper etiquette is simply the foundation that supports your message and your work product. What could be more authentic than that?

Myth 3: Being nice is all I need to succeed.

You don’t really believe that do you? We all know not-so-nice people who are successful and wonderful people who are languishing on the bottom rung of their careers. Being nice – having good intentions and a good character – are wonderful assets, so congratulations on being a great person. But to succeed in your career and your social life, you need more tools, one of which is etiquette. Practicing proper etiquette in your business and social life shows that you are trustworthy and that you value and respect others. It can even send signals of competence! Furthermore, social scientists finally agree with grandma and are reporting that these skills play a crucial role in social and career success. So do yourself a favor, hone your first impression skills – handshaking, eye contact, introductions and small talk. Mastery of these skills will only enhance your already stellar character.

By Stayce Wagner, Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC/All rights reserved