May 08, 2013 0 Share

Manners for Men


Couple dining; man eating food with his hands.
iStockphoto

Do you know an Aspie (yes, you can include yourself!) who could use a good guide for getting along well at home, with friends, on dates and in the workplace for a variety of situations? 

Peter Post's “Essential Manners for Men: What to Do, When to Do It, and Why” is a great place to begin. Post knows what he's talking about, having already written multiple books on the subject, created and presented business etiquette programs and produced a weekly column on business manners. In fact, he's inherited the mantle of the great etiquette expert Emily Post—his great-grandmother. Plus, his advice is backed up by business experience (as a former advertising agency owner) and survey data. Not only does this book provide good advice for men on how to stay on women's (not to mention other men's) good sides, it also shows women what they can and should expect from men. 

Post writes clearly and specifically. For example, he lists five ways to improve listening skills: “Look them in the eye,” “Nod or say 'uh huh',” “Ask a question or repeat a point,” “Avoid nervous habits,” and “Wait your turn.” Each one is followed with a short, detailed explanation. 

Not only that, he also writes humbly—he makes clear he's fouled up too and needs to improve, just like any of his readers. For example, under “Avoid nervous habits” he admits that he tends to play with things while trying to listen to someone—including bending paper clips, moving tableware around and doodling. And he goes on to point out that these movements distract the other person and can give her the impression that he's also distracted.

This can inspire the reader to think, “Hey, if this courtesy guru can not only fall short but also admit it to the whole world, why shouldn't I at least be honest with myself about where I can do better?” 

It’s helpful that he explains why certain behaviors are better. People in general, but perhaps especially Aspies, find it much easier to do something when we can see the reasons behind it. 

That's especially important for things like etiquette. Post uses a two-pronged approach, offering not only specific rules but also three general principles: consideration, respect and honesty. In other words, it's not just a matter of which fork to use when, or what kind of tie to wear. In fact, as he explains, sometimes a principle calls for bending or even breaking a specific rule. 

For example, Mr. Post says that at the dinner table, you should pass a serving dish to your right—because the person to your right is likely right-handed and thus if she takes the dish from you with her left hand she can more easily serve herself with her right hand. Right there (no pun intended) we have an implicit possible exception: a left-handed dining companion. 

And he points out another exception: If you're at a table of, say, eight people and someone just two seats to your left asks for the bread, pass it to the left instead of making it go the long way around. After all, would it be considerate or even respectful of your hungry tablemate, or of the five people on your right between her and you, to send the bread all the way around the table just because it's to the right? 

In other words, this book encourages us not to miss the forest for the trees: “If you are [too] focused on other people's faux pas, then you're missing the real point of good table manners and formal dinners, which is to enjoy the company you are with.” A good reminder for us all, in fact.

Finally, “Essential Manners for Men” brings home the overriding reality of business: No matter how good your technical skills, you will not succeed without good people skills! Post points out that each time he hired someone, he explained that the new employee had to follow three inviolable rules. Two of them related to productivity and the third was the “people rule.” To stay on Mr. Post's payroll, you had to be able to get along with the other people there. (Pretty much every employer has that rule but precious few spell it out.) “Essential Manners for Men” is a true success guide for the 21st century, and not just at the dinner table.