Etiquette for the Modern World

By Christine Steele

When you hear the word “etiquette” you may think of age-old customs like “elbows off the table” or knowing which fork to use. But etiquette is about much more than just dinner table manners, explains world-renowned etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore.

“Etiquette is really about being mindful,” said Whitmore. “It’s about being mindful of other people’s feelings and how your behavior affects them.”

In 1998, after a career in the high-end hospitality industry, Whitmore founded The Protocol School of Palm Beach, the leading etiquette coaching and training company. She has traveled the world giving seminars, speaking on several continents for corporations and organizations worldwide, and is one of the most widely sought-after etiquette experts in the country today.

She has been interviewed and appeared on: BBC World News, CNN, Fox, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fortune, Time, Entrepreneur, and O: The Oprah Magazine.

Navigating New Etiquette Protocols

Two friends with protective masks greet with waving to each other. Alternative greeting during quarantine to avoid physical contact.
From pre-pandemic days to now, etiquette protocols have changed. Gone (mostly) are the days when hugging and handshakes were the norm. Replaced with elbow bumps, fist bumps, or just plain smiling and nodding, a new greeting format has appeared.

The pandemic also changed the way we do business. In-person interviews, meetings, and gatherings have often been replaced with Zoom calls or one of the other video options. With these new environments, come a new set of protocols.

“I have been doing a lot of life coaching and training via Zoom,” said Whitmore. “I’m finding that plenty of women continue to have questions as our professional and social worlds continue to evolve.”

Whether at the office, on Zoom, or at in-person gatherings—both professional and personal—etiquette encompasses these three things, says Whitmore:

  • Appearance
  • Behavior
  • Communication

“I call it the A, B, C’s,” she says.

Like it or not, what you say, how you look, and how you act, all factor in to how people view—and by extension—treat you.

Here are some ABCs for business and social settings to help you navigate the new normal this holiday season.

Greetings in Social and Business Settings

African american black professional business man hr recruiter consultant extending hand at camera for handshake concept greeting offering cooperation, welcoming at job interview, close up view
One of the biggest changes from pre pandemic to now is the way in which we greet people. There is still some confusion in how we should approach people. Should we shake hands? Should we not shake hands?

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Whitmore said. “I wait to offer my hand. When greeting someone, I will nod my head and smile instead. Or if someone does reach out their hand to me, I will go ahead and extend a hand.”

If the person is closer to you, even a relative, she suggests asking before leaning in for a hug.

“It's really so hard to determine who wants to be touched and who doesn't these days,” Whitmore said, “I just wait for the other person, or I'll say, ‘Do you mind if I give you a hug?’”

When in doubt, leave it out, she says.

Zoom Etiquette

Work briefing of a young cheerful happy lady, she sits in front a her PC holding a cup of coffee. Distant work of a smiling office employee while a distant work period.
One of the other big changes to happen since the pandemic began is the way in which we do business. It’s no longer necessarily in person.

“I’ve been doing a lot of seminars on how to look good on a conference call,” said Whitmore. “What to say, what not to say, how to engage in conversation with your colleagues.”

While most people have gotten comfortable with navigating Zoom and other online video platforms, Whitmore says a little mindfulness can make all the difference.

“Anything you do on camera is magnified. So, if you're multitasking—playing on your phone or tapping on your computer—people will see that, they will hear that.”

If you're going to multitask, turn the camera off. But, again, be mindful of your setting, Whitmore advises. If the call includes dozens of people, and you are not critical to the conversation, then turn off your camera.

“But if you're there for a business meeting, you're expected to be fully present, instead of half there and half somewhere else,” said Whitmore.

Use these tips to crush your next Zoom call:
Do:

  • Light your face, either with a ring light, or natural lighting
  • Position your camera at eye level
  • Invest in a high definition camera. Trust me, it will even out your skin tone and make you look great.
  • Mute yourself to eliminate background noise

The big No’s:

  • No drinking alcohol
  • No eating unless it's a happy hour event
  • No cross talking
  • No monopolizing the conversation
  • No not contributing at all
  • No multitasking

“You'd be surprised how a tiny bit of makeup just brightens your face,” says Whitmore. “And high definition cameras come with a filter so you can eliminate your wrinkles and look more refreshed. Why is that important? It's about first impressions. If you're going on a job interview, then you want to put your best face forward and put forth a little bit of effort.”

Timeless Tips

 Young Asian couple having coffee at a cafe. White table with clear divider in between the couple.

But some etiquette protocols never change, says Whitmore, and you can practice them anywhere, anytime, no matter the season or setting.

Those are:

  • Kindness
  • Consideration
  • Respect

“No matter what we're facing in the world, it all comes down to respecting another person's opinions,” she said.

That means, not chastising someone for their views or beliefs. Whitmore believes it’s best not to go up to complete strangers—and sometimes even to friends and family—and berate them for the decisions they choose to make or not make.

“Right now, what we're going through is more than a health concern,” says Whitmore. “It has turned political. And I've always said, there are three things you don’t talk about at a dinner party.

They are:

  • Sex
  • Politics
  • Money

Add religion, health issues, and tasteless jokes to the list of conversation non-starters and that still leaves you plenty of non-controversial subjects to chat about at your next gathering.

Whitmore suggests bringing up these tasty subjects to discuss:

  • Favorite foods or restaurants
  • Favorite travel destinations, or places you want to go
  • Movies
  • Books
  • Non-controversial current events

For more tips on how to improve your etiquette ABC’s, and to learn more about Jacqueline, visit EtiquetteExpert.com.

Jacqueline Whitmore

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