A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mind Your Manners

                                           (Above; Emily Post)

Are you dreading the political food fights that seem to be in our future this year? There's not much we can do about them, but how can we make sure they don't spill over into our personal lives and poison our relationships?
I asked one of the Bay Area's premier event producers, Sarah Kidder, who is also an etiquette consultant. Her clients include everyone from corporate CEOs and aging socialites to young children and female ex-cons transitioning back into society.
"First of all, there are some places where you don't want any political conversations at all, like work," she says. "Your job at work is to do your job, not be on a soap box."
But what about family get-togethers?
"That's more complicated. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to have a real discussion about any topic, much less politics, especially in any situation involving alcohol. But if you want to make it through the year with your relationships with family, friends and co-workers in fairly decent shape, here are some tips:
1. Become a master at changing the subject. "The world is full of interesting little distractions that can quickly steer the conversation back to safe territory, like new movies, new TV shows or coffee table books."
2. Remember that people love to talk about their favorite subject: themselves. "If you can't distract Uncle Bob by getting him to talk about the new 'Star Wars' movie, ask him to talk about the first time he saw the original 'Star Wars.' That way, he'll still be the center of attention, which is what he really wants, but he can talk about something less confrontational -- himself."
3. But what if Uncle Bob is insulting other people at the table? "Don't confront him about it. It's rude to call someone out for being rude. It doesn't help matters because it's shaming him, and making him angry makes moving on from the moment even more difficult."
4. Does that mean there's nothing you can do if he keeps ranting about Donald Trump or Barack Obama? "Not at all. In my family, I have found that all the power is not with the rude person; it's with the polite people because they can raise an eyebrow, change the subject or ignore him in a quiet way that shames him into changing his behavior. Never underestimate the power of a grandmother's raised eyebrow."
 5. But what if you really like Uncle Bob and want to set him straight on the facts? "Wait until you're one-on-one. Then you trot out my secret weapon -- the compliment sandwich. First, you compliment him: 'Wow, it sounds like you've really put a lot of thought into that.' Then you say, 'I've recently come across an article on the subject that you might find interesting. I know how much you like to keep informed.' Then you close the compliment sandwich by adding, 'But you've probably already seen that.'"

6. And what about your own behavior? "What we think we're saying, what we're actually saying and what is being heard are often three separate things. Even polite people can get stressed out or sick or distracted. So if you say something rude yourself, own up to it and say you're sorry, even if it's a week later."

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