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Episode 16: Modern Day Etiquette “Dos” and “Don’ts” with Thomas P. Farley, "Mister Manners"

Brief summary of show:

In this week’s episode, I sat down with my go-to on all things etiquette, Thomas P. Farley, Mister Manners, who is America’s trusted etiquette expert.

A keynote speaker, workshop leader, syndicated columnist and TV commentator, he inspires audiences of all types to master essential communication strategies for success in the workplace—and in life.

We talk about how etiquette has evolved over the years, and if it’s still important to write hand-written thank you notes.

Hear more of this, and:

  • What modern etiquette is

  • Examples of types of etiquette that have changed and are acceptable

  • Online etiquette and manners

  • Etiquette changes due to the pandemic

Connect with Thomas

  • On Instagram

  • On Facebook

  • On Twitter

  • On LinkedIn

  • Website

  • Listen to the What Manners Most Podcast

Connect with Me

Podcast Highlights:

Episode 16 - Thomas Farley and Natalie Tysdal

Do you write thank you cards? Do you write, thank you emails? Do your kids write thank yous when they get birthday presents? Well, that's just one of the many forms of etiquette or manners that I grew up learning was important to do. It seems like today, modern etiquette and manner, well, It's just different.

[00:00:18] So here's my question. Think about this. Does it really mean. Do we need to have old fashioned manners. And what is etiquette? What does it mean? And I'm not just talking about thank yous, but lots of stuff in life, holding doors, shaking, hands, looking people in the eyes. So I went to someone who I've talked to over the years.

[00:00:36] I think he has the perfect take on this. And I think you're going to really like this conversation on etiquette and manners for you, for your family, even in the work environment. This is Mr. Manners, Thomas Farley.

[00:00:48] Natalie: [00:00:48] Thomas Farley, Mr. Manners, joining me now all about etiquette today, Thomas. Thanks so much for coming on.

[00:00:55] Thomas: [00:00:55] Thank you for having me, Natalie. It's my pleasure.

[00:00:58] Natalie: [00:00:58] So I'm super interested in hearing how you got into this very specific, very niche area of etiquette.

[00:01:08] Thomas: [00:01:08] Yes. Well, I will tell you, I was not a four year old who was wearing bow ties, dreaming about one day becoming known as Mr.

[00:01:16] Manners. Uh, it was a somewhat later development, although manners and etiquette were always very important to me as a young child. They were instilled in me by both my parents. I was surrounded by aunts and uncles who were school teachers. So things like writing, thank you. Notes, things like the pleases and thank yous, uh, were very much a part of my upbringing.

[00:01:37] I am also a Catholic school kid, from K through 12. So I wore a neck tie for most of my formative years. So I think all of those things combined. Uh, but it wasn't really, until I became an editor at 10, a country magazine where I'm the header inherited a column called social graces. And that column took a very fresh look at issues of contemporary etiquette and editing the column, which ultimately became a book was really the on-ramp for me becoming a little bit more of a public persona in this realm of modern manners and etiquette, which I truly relish.

[00:02:13] Natalie: [00:02:13] Today, there is a form of modern contemporary etiquette versus the old fashion. I mean, a lot of us think of having good manners and setting up straight and dressing appropriate.

[00:02:23] We think of that as a little bit old. I don't, but my kids think it's very, yeah. Old fashion. Is there a new form of manners and etiquette that we need to.

[00:02:34] Thomas: [00:02:34] It's such a great question. So I think without a doubt, some of the formality that we often associated with etiquette in years, past or decades, past, or even centuries past that has largely dissipated.

[00:02:47] If you look at a young couples getting married today, picking out what they want to get this gifts for their wedding. Well, it's likely they want some kind of a contribution toward their honeymoon fund or their house. They're not picking out China. They're not picking out crystal. Yes. There are some, couples that still appreciate that.

[00:03:04] But by and large, we've moved away from a lot of the formality that's associated with the word etiquette. And I want to just clarify if your listeners that we think of etiquette as being something that's just super stuffy and old fashioned and boring. So etiquette. Comes from the French word for tickets.

[00:03:23] And if you think of etiquette as being your tickets to getting what it is you want out of any interaction that I think is a very modern way of looking at what this is all about. So yes, I think, you know, although we see thank you notes, being written with less frequency, we see people dressing for dinner with less frequency.

[00:03:43] And a lot of these things I think are unfortunate because I think we're losing time. Some of the things that really make these interactions and these, the caching occasions be special, but ultimately etiquette and good manners should always be about making the people around you feel more comfortable, feel more welcome, and feel happier to be around you.

[00:04:04] And for anyone who thinks that they can use etiquette as a tool. To push someone down or make them feel unwelcome, or like they simply didn't read the right book and they don't know the right rules. That for me is the worst type of etiquette. And frankly, I don't find it to be etiquette at all. So the space I occupy here is looking at the regular interactions.

[00:04:25]whether you're in an elevator, whether you are opening a door for someone, those kinds of everyday common courtesies that sometimes are lost in the shuffle of modern society and how we can recap.

[00:04:36] Natalie: [00:04:36] Oh, boy. That's interesting. And as you were saying that I was thinking what's acceptable today?

[00:04:41] Like, what is this, the modern, the modern etiquette and how has it changed? What are some examples of, of those things that, you know, it's really okay. Today for example, is it okay to send the email? Thank you. Versus the handwritten. Thank you. Like what are some examples of things that have changed and it's perfectly acceptable coming from Mr.

[00:05:01] Manners. It's perfectly acceptable that you handle it this way.

[00:05:05] Thomas: [00:05:05] Yes. Uh, well, I'll talk about the thank you notes in just a moment. Something that I think is probably a more, very vivid example of something that has changed as you think about the way men and women interact, whether in a social setting, whether in a dating type of situation or in the workplace, if this were the mad men era, We'd be talking about very different sorts of interactions, where the man is walking on the outside of a sidewalk to make sure that the woman is protected.

[00:05:33] The man is holding the door always for the woman. The man is standing up at the table for the woman. The man is paying for the meal, uh, you know, and that extended into the workplace where, where the woman was considered secondary that I think has largely changed. And that's for the better, uh, you know, the fact that men and women are equals that, that you can have a date.

[00:05:52] And it's very possible that the woman was the one who invited the man on the date. And she is the one who's paying, those kind of boundaries, right. We formerly had with gender. And of course the whole gender conversation is a whole other area. But I think the fact that those boundaries and the traditional etiquette has changed, I think that's a good thing.

[00:06:11] And frankly, etiquette truly is designed to evolve over time. So there are certain things that we once did that made sense for the times that we were living in. And if you think of that set of rules evolving because circumstances change technology changes. etiquette is able to keep pace with the changes in a culture when it comes to thank you notes in particular, this, this is something I'd love to talk about, is an email, Thank you. Acceptable. sure. I would say an email. Thank you. Is better than no, thank you at all. Is a text. Thank you. acceptable again, better than no, thank you at all. However, I would say, if you want to be the one who gets another great gift, come next year for your birthday next year. If you want to be the one who gets invited back for the dinner party, again, you really want to go for the gold.

[00:07:04] You don't want to go for the lead. So, I think ideally depending on the occasion, say if the dinner. You're going to follow up the next day with a phone call to say, thank you know, Natalie. Thank you so much. What a lovely dinner, you know, your, your beef Tenderloin was just beyond compare. you know, I can't remember the last time I had such a lovely evening and the guests you invited were just delightful as well.

[00:07:25] Okay. So that's the next day phone call. And then you're going to follow that up with a, an actual handwritten thank you note. And. The fact that so few people actually go to that trouble again, if this were 1950, we all right. That's exactly it. You know, we, you know, this is back in the days of yore where everyone had their personally calligraphed note cards and you know, you sending a thank you note would be no big deal because that's what everybody would do anyway.

[00:07:52] You this time and this year as sending a thank you. Somebody really says, wow, look, this person went to the trouble. And I think for anybody who says I'm too busy, I, you know, I love the idea of a thank you note, but I simply don't have time to think about the amount of time it takes to shop for the perfect gift.

[00:08:09] Even if you're just shopping on Amazon, the amount of time it takes to prepare and cook and clean for a dinner party. The fact that you, as the recipient of someone else's generosity, can't find, and we're really only talking about two stories. Five minutes, max, to put pen to paper and write a note, I think says something about your priorities.

[00:08:30] And I think we need to reprioritize the thinking in a more tangible way, because those thank you notes. They get pinned to the cork board. They get stuck up on refrigerators, a text. You see it, delete it. Yeah,

[00:08:44] Natalie: [00:08:44] that's right. Exactly. It really makes me think of just where we are in our world today.

[00:08:51] Especially, I worry about this because I have three kids and I think a lot of families, they think, what are we teaching our kids? What values. So it's, it's about the, thank you. It's about doing the right thing, but more importantly, that to me, it's kind of, what's behind it. Like I really am. I'm grateful for you.

[00:09:08] I'm so grateful. You invited me to not just, I have to do this because my mom said I have to, you know, when it's the birthday, thank you. Or maybe when they're young, it's like, oh, do I really have to write? Yes, you have to write these thank yous because what we're really doing is we're teaching these values of, we are grateful for these people who do things for us and invite us to their homes and, and reach out to us in difficult times.

[00:09:30] And, and all of that. I mean, it's really a much more core issue to me than just. Physical, thank you. Or the email or anything like that?

[00:09:38]Thomas: [00:09:38] It's so true. And I think if you're not able to convince your audience, not, not your listening audience, but the audience, whether it's your kids or your spouse that you're trying to say, come on, just sit down and write this.

[00:09:49] Thank you. You know, get it over with, you're not able to convince them, especially when they're younger children. I think a great way to break through is. To give them the motivation that, you know, if you write this, thank you. Note the likelihood that you will get a really nice gift again, next time is greater, right?

[00:10:07] That's your incentive now that's not that selfish. Incentive is not the reason that we should be writing a thank you note, but if you're trying to persuade a youngster about the why, this is a great reason why. If you skip it entirely and say, you know, I, you know, I'd rather go outside and play softball.

[00:10:22] I don't feel like writing the thank you notes. Well, you know what, next year, next birthday, maybe there will be a present for you, right? Exactly.

[00:10:30] Natalie: [00:10:30] If it's about the thing for them, but again, teaching those values. So thank you. Notes seem to be a big topic. let's talk since we're online and a lot. A lot of things have moved online and will probably stay online.

[00:10:42] I mean, here we are doing this interview. We would have probably done in the past in person, which was nice, but it's become more simple. Let's talk about online etiquette and manners. Are there things that you have found, through the pandemic that are just wrong? They're happening the wrong way?

[00:11:00]Thomas: [00:11:00] Yes.

[00:11:00] Well, when we, when we talk about online, there are so many different ways that we can connect online. And of course, one of those being email and email probably would be a topic for a whole other conversation, but I think people have been making huge mistakes with respect to the way they correspond electronically for a long time, which is kind of funny when you think about the amount of practice that all of us have had with email, email has been around for.

[00:11:24] Yeah, 30 years probably at this point. So the fact that it's still there are people writing in all caps are still people replying all or passive aggressively BC, seeing people, if this is a workplace situation, uh, you know, being too terse. What I find in general, I do workshops on this across the country for companies.

[00:11:42] What I find in general. People kind of, they need to find that magic happy place between being so direct, where they seem suddenly seem like they're being, uh, you know, aggressive or angry, and being way too flowery because people don't have the time. So finding that sweet spot between sounding friendly, but not sounding overly chatty that's where people tend to need to be with respect to their emails.

[00:12:08] The wonderful thing about what you and I are doing now, of course, this is we're doing this over. Zoom is we've all had this crash course in the last 18 months during the pandemic. Some people who had never, you know, grandparents who had never been on a video conference, uh, you know, suddenly are FaceTiming and zooming and teasing and Google hangout thing.

[00:12:27] And so we've all. I had a crash course in hosting our own talk show. And by that I suggest that people think about what, what are you wearing when you're showing up on camera? What is your set look like? Do you have a gigantic laundry basket behind you filled with laundry over your shoulder, but none of those are cosmetic things, but I would say above and beyond.

[00:12:52] Are you engaging? Are you paying attention? Do you have your camera on? I can't tell you how many meetings I've attended, where there's always that one person who just thinks, ah, you know, I don't like the way my hair looks today. I'm not turning on my camera and there's everyone else, you know, shining faces, looking straight on at their camera and that one person who I equate to the person in that detective show.

[00:13:15] Behind the two way mirror looking in at the suspect so they can see what's going on in the room, but nobody can see them. I find that highly considerate. So a lot of lessons to be learned during the pandemic, with respect to our partners.

[00:13:27] Natalie: [00:13:27] That is a great point. I mean, it's a lot easier to not get up and get ready or take the laundry out from behind you or multitask while everyone else is paying attention.

[00:13:36] So they don't want the camera on, you know, I mean, there, that's interesting. It is a new way of looking at online etiquette. Um, weddings, boy, the onslaught of weddings everybody's getting married or at least having they're having their receptions now because maybe the wedding took place. during the pandemic, how are you finding wedding etiquette and changes and things we should be considering now coming out of the pandemic and you know, every weekend there's now a wedding.

[00:14:04] Are you

[00:14:04] Thomas: [00:14:04] seeing that too? Yeah. So I think it's a, it's a combination of things. I think, first of all, we've got a, a certain degree of people who really feel just still a little bit socially awkward and uncomfortable going to large gatherings. We've had a year of essentially hibernating in our homes. So you're hibernating in our homes suddenly now they're and I, I live in New York where it's, it's been slower to return, but I think more or less now we're.

[00:14:30] Somewhat back to normal, people who were perhaps a little bit of introversion before are still feeling like, gosh, I wish I could go back to the hibernation. Um, and now being called out of hibernation by friends and family that wants to see them. So there's, there's that kind of thing. Level one of this, which is that Rhea climatizing ourselves to what it's like to be around other people, again, to dressing up again to how do I greet someone?

[00:14:54] Is it appropriate to shake hands? Should I kiss? Hello? Should I hug? So there's that awkwardness. And then just in general weddings, which of course always bring a whole host of etiquette questions. The big issue there is. How do I possibly afford? And how do I fit in all of these weddings suddenly that were rescheduled from last year that are now happening this year?

[00:15:17] Or it sounds like 20, 22 is going to be just a Mondo year for weddings. So, uh, you know, for, for the guests, how nice to be intimate. How nice to have folks that want you to celebrate their big day with them, or, you know, maybe there was a small wedding. And as you say, just, they're just doing the reception for a bigger group.

[00:15:36] Now, I think people have to remember that if you are not able to either attend a wedding because it's a destination wedding and it's too far, or you simply cannot afford to perhaps be in a wedding party. Because we know that carries with it a huge expense and you know, your younger listeners, they may be, uh, asked to be in three or four or more wedding parties let alone the wedding itself.

[00:16:02] Yeah, it's, it's a lot. And you really, you, you almost need to, you know, take a second mortgage on the house that you don't have, uh, to be able to afford all this wedding participation. So I always tell people do not be afraid to politely decline. And invitation to be in a wedding party. If you

[00:16:19] Natalie: [00:16:19] simply feel

[00:16:21]Thomas: [00:16:21] I don't know, honestly.

[00:16:22] Honestly, you know, I, I so love to be there to support you. I'm, honored beyond belief that you've asked me to be a part of this. I simply, you know, my finances right now are just not such that I'm able to participate in the way that I know that I would want to. I hope you understand. This is no reflection on you.

[00:16:42] I think the world of you and your, and your patrols and your fiance. Um, it's not something I can do with it.

[00:16:49] Natalie: [00:16:49] Yeah. Can I go back to something you mentioned? Because I think this applies to weddings. It's back to social gatherings where it's that uncomfortable moment of, I really want to give you a hug, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable.

[00:16:59] And traditionally, of course we would shake people's hands. I'm okay with that. Now, some people are not okay with that. Now I see the fist bump all the time. Like what's appropriate to ask people when you see them for the first time, but then you don't want them to feel like, well, I can tell you want to give me a hug, but I really don't want you to, like, how do we deal with that?

[00:17:16] That's that's going to change potentially our world for a long

[00:17:19] Thomas: [00:17:19] time. yes, I think it will. It has to our world. And I think we will see those changes thing. Honestly, that fist bump and the elbow bump, I thought were going to be, you know, gone like the Dodo that the second, the, um, pandemic was gone.

[00:17:32] But they, they feel that you're hanging on and yeah, and I think they will. I think something that we've all done as a result of this pandemic is how germy something like a handshake can potentially be. And, you know, you deal with that as you, as you wish. Um, but I've, there've always been people who say, you know, I'm just a hugger versus the person who says, you know, I'm really not comfortable with hugs or, uh, you know, handshakes creeped me out.

[00:17:56] I hear about that. Pre pandemic. So once again, the pandemic gave people a great defensible reason for not hugging or not shaking hands. Now that excuse is gone. So I think as you say, I think there's usually that awkward little banter that happens before we greet one another. I just see what the body

[00:18:14] Natalie: [00:18:14] language is going to be like.

[00:18:16] Are they moving in closer? Are they reaching out their hand? And everyone's just waiting for the other to do something.

[00:18:22] Thomas: [00:18:22] Exactly. Exactly. I have seen some weddings where they're actually doing bracelets that are color-coded. So green is, uh, you know, I'm a hugger come on over and give me a, you know, a great bear hug onto, you know, Scarlet red is stay six feet away.

[00:18:39] Right. Waiting from across the room with your mask on that's helpful. Yeah,

[00:18:45] Natalie: [00:18:45] I guess it is. So you don't have to say it, but do you think it's appropriate to say, to say something or just kind of look them in the eye and acknowledge, or is it appropriate to say. Because even if you do say, can I give you a hug?

[00:18:55] I don't know that the other person's going to respond with. No, you really can't give me.

[00:19:00] Thomas: [00:19:00] Right. So I think, I think good etiquette, and this is, this is what this conversation is truly all about. Right? It's about making both parties feel comfortable. And if there's, if there's one set, you know, I may want to give someone a hug or I may want to give someone a handshake, but do I really want to do that?

[00:19:16] If I knowingly am going to be making them feel uncomfortable? No, absolutely not. So. Either side senses that then you should back off. And I think nobody should say, ah, come on. Let's not be silly. That's not good at it. Yeah. So respect, even if it's just the perceived standoffishness in the body there, their words may be saying one thing, but their body language is saying something.

[00:19:40] Natalie: [00:19:40] You know, that, that, that's probably my favorite thing from today that you said a true etiquette is about making people feel comfortable, making them feel good, making them feel appreciated. all of that. That's just a great way to remember when you don't know, do what what's going to feel right. And make someone else good.

[00:19:57] I love that. Yep. Okay. I learned so much today. Thank you. oh, I do have a question from a listener. Is it appropriate? Is it appropriate for women to give a firm hand?

[00:20:10] Thomas: [00:20:10] Uh, not only is it appropriate and again, let's talk about this outside of the, the issue of the pandemic as we just discussed there still.

[00:20:18] Yeah. Yes, exactly. Yeah. 100%. Please give a firm handshake. And I would say re conversely for the men, because I get this complaint a lot from women that I work with in my workshops is the man who thinks oh, Dear me, I'm shaking hands with a woman. I better back off and give a limb fish and shake. Cause I don't want to crush the hand of the way that is so offensive.

[00:20:45] Natalie: [00:20:45] We practice it with, with my kids too. We go, okay, walk up, meet someone, look them in the eye. It's nice to meet you to give me the proper handshake. I had a coach, one of my son's coaches who each time the kids would come into practice. They did that. And I loved that. I thought I do it at home, but for a coach, who's coaching basketball to have the kids walk in and shake their hand appropriately and look them in the eye.

[00:21:07] It's just that reinforcing that first meeting with them. I love

[00:21:11] Thomas: [00:21:11] that. Yes, that's, that's a fantastic and starting early is definitely the way to go because you think about it, a handshake doesn't come naturally. It doesn't seem like something that we would do just out of the womb, you know, shaking hands with mom.

[00:21:23] Hey, thanks for that great delivery. But it's definitely something that we should, we do it enough that we sh just like email after all the thousands and tens of thousands of handshakes, probably any of us. I've given one another through the years, we should be acting. All of us at this by now. So no bone crusher, but also no limb fishy

[00:21:42] Natalie: [00:21:42] there.

[00:21:43] I agree. Assuming that the handshake is making everyone comfortable, as we said, and actually for kids now in the last year, growing up, they haven't been doing the handshake. So we've kind of have to start over if we're going to go back to that so much to do. Right. Okay. Again, I've learned so much, Thomas.

[00:21:58] I love talking to you. Um, I have two questions on it. all of my guests, I like to learn from people who are successful. Um, so my first question here, as we wrap things up, is what is your favorite tool as an etiquette guy? What is your favorite tool for productivity?

[00:22:14] Thomas: [00:22:14] Okay. I have an app on my phone called TripIt, which if you have not used it, I highly recommend it because I travel so much then pre pandemic times and now hopefully post pandemic as well.

[00:22:27] I could be in Timbuktu one day and Tokyo, the next, uh, keeping track of my hotel reservations and my flights and the changing flights and the changing gate. This app is phenomenal. You simply, you get your confirmation, uh, you know, to whatever email address it's coming to you from. And you forward that email from the airline, from the hotel to an address.

[00:22:50] Pulls it scrapes. It pulls it right into the app. And all of your arrangements are there for you. Plainly laid out organized by trip. It's wonderful. It is such a godsend. I couldn't do what I do. I don't have five assistants running around with clipboards telling me where I need to be. So this app is really very, very good.

[00:23:08] Natalie: [00:23:08] I love that an app that acts as an assistant for your travel. I'm all about it. That's great. Save us some time so we can have better etiquette. I love it. Okay. So, um, my next question is when did you know your purpose? I mean, you, you mentioned you grew up, in a more formal setting Catholic school, but when did you really know your purpose?

[00:23:28] Thomas: [00:23:28] Yes. So I think that if, if we can say my purpose was what we've talked about during this conversation, meaning that I'm, I'm known as Mr. Manners, that I'm out there in the media speaking about these issues. It was really during my time at town and country, I was a features editor and I was, I had columns.

[00:23:44] We wrote, I wrote about celebrities. I wrote about travel. This was one facet of what I did was this column. And yet the response to the column was consistently silver whelming. We wouldn't really get letters for any of the other things that we'd write about. You do a travel story, it's say, oh, those photos were abused.

[00:24:00] There was something about the social graces column at town and country, which I was editing that just reached people in a different way. It was so unexpected. Again, it wasn't your grandma's etiquette. It was, you know, the very first column I had the occasion to edit. What, when I joined the magazine was on breastfeeding in public.

[00:24:20] And, you know, you think my gosh, you know, the etiquette Diane's would shutter at that topic. If this were a hundred years ago, and yet here we were presenting contemporary, modern issues that resonated with people that people had questions on. If I'm teaching you something that you can use once in a lifetime, probably not that valuable.

[00:24:39] If we're talking about things and I'm teaching you things that you can use. The moment you leave a workshop, the moment you finished watching the one of my TV segments, or listening to this podcast, I feel like I've done my job to help people interact and deal with one another more considerately, giving a happier outcome for everyone.

[00:24:57] So it was at that point, when I saw the response, we were getting to the column, which then became a book that I realized. This is something magical. And I think I can really make a

[00:25:06] Natalie: [00:25:06] difference. I love that. It's I found the same thing in reporting for so many years on health topics and family topics.

[00:25:13] That's where I got the greatest response. You know, there was always the fires and the crime and all of that. Where you really got the responses where you make a difference where you change people's lives. And I'm so glad you found that. And it's just been a joy to talk to. You

[00:25:28] Thomas: [00:25:28] sure has Natalie, thank you so much for the interview and for the invitation.

[00:25:32] Where can

[00:25:33] Natalie: [00:25:33] people find you if they want to learn more and follow up?

[00:25:36]Thomas: [00:25:36] Sure. Thank you for that. I'm Mr. Manners, Mr. Always being spelled out M S T E R manners on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, on clubhouse. and then the website is Mr. That's hyphenated, Mr. Hyphen And I also recently launched a column with the Chicago Tribune called ask Mr.

[00:25:56] Manners. Which is interview newspapers across the United States, the daily news in New York, the Baltimore sun, and so on. So if your listeners have questions, please feel free to send them my way and they may appear in the column. You are the one to ask. All right, well, thank you again. So good to hear from you.

Thomas: [00:26:13] Thank you, Natalie.


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