Monday, August 22, 2011

On Rumor

How do you handle rumors about you?

To begin with you have to hear them. This is not as easy as you may think. In order to hear what others are saying about you, you must be someone people can feel comfortable coming to with gossip about you. That means they have to trust you not to shoot the messenger and to thank them for bringing even bad news to your attention. It also means you should often try to add detail or information to rumors about yourself to give people extra incentive to bring such things to your attention.

Then your response will vary by the type of rumor, and most rumors are actually a combination of things and thus require a combination of responses. The basic things to consider are if the rumor is about feelings or fact and if it is about you or someone else.

The easiest rumor to deal with is a factual rumor about someone else, you generally want to do nothing unless you either know it to be false in which case you say so, or know it to be something that the person involved is out about in which case you can involved would have no problem telling you so themselves.

For example if you respond to "Sam and Chris are dating" you want to say nothing if you know nothing, say "No Sam is exclusive with Jo" if you know that is the case, or say "Yes, and Sam is proud as a peacock about it" if you know that to be the case. The hard part if if you know this is true but know Sam asked you not to let it be known, in which case you simply listen and say something like "That is interesting" or "Huh" and move on.

A factual rumor about you is more difficult, but in general you want to confirm if it is true and if possible add detail and context. If it is true but involves breaching the trust of someone else thank the person for telling you and avoid comment until you can talk to the other person involved. If you do get permission to go public from the other person involved, be sure to tell the person who brought the rumor to your attention first. If the rumor is untrue, say so and give details and facts that contradict it.

For example: When responding to "I heard you and Sam were dating" you can say "Yes, we went out for the second time Saturday to that lovely ice cream place" or "No, we did meet up for coffee last week, but that was to discuss plans for the kennel, I would never even try to come between Sam and Jo" or if you haven't checked with Sam yet say "Really? That is interesting" and move on, but circle back to confirm the rumor if you can.

A rumor about the feeling of others should always get the same response, "Well they are entitled to feel how they feel" this sounds easier than it is. The other trick is to remember that opinions can be treated as feelings.

For example "I heard Jim hates you" is going to be upsetting but "Jim is entitled to feel as he does" is one of the few dignified responses. You can add "I am disappointed he feels that way" but never argue with someone's feelings even in the rumor mill. Opinions like "Jim thinks you are crazy" are often best dealt with this way, saying "He is entitled to his feelings, but I don't agree" is easier than trying to treat your sanity as an objective point to argue about.

When it comes to rumors about your own feelings you need to assert yourself as expert but also treat others feelings and opinions about your emotional states as valid. This can be a tricky balance.

For example "Jim thinks you hate him" if you don't is best responded to by saying "Oh, no! I Jim and I are not best friends but I rather like him and I have always meant to get to know him better, but time pressures have prevented it, but I can respect Jim's coming to that conclusion by my limited contact with him and I really should try to do something about that.

In general the best response is to offer more good information either way, but to keep in mind that a lady knows her own mind, but not the minds of others.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Reputation

Please stop thinking of your reputation.

A healthy regard for the opinions of others is something every social creature should have, but it is almost never a good reason for a lady to do something or to fail to do something.

If you live your life based on what others will conclude from your actions you are not living your life, you are living the life of others expectations. And that is a hollow sort of thing.

It is not to say that a lady should not behave, but it is to say that in determining how to behave a lady regards her own high opinion of herself rather then what others might think.

She also does not desperately try to raise herself in the regard of others. Having conversation and generally being interested in people is one thing, catering to someone's desire to the exclusion of your own is not at all charming and likely to offend.

Remember that you are a lady and above such things. If your company alone is not enough to get you in to social circle you wish to join, then those circle are unlikely to be terribly interesting. One thing every lady understands is that people, be they famous and wealthy or poor and unregarded are not fundamentally different from her. Because she know this she is better off not spending time with people who are busy believing that they are somehow better.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Ladylike Art of Social Combat

The gentle art of disagreement has a more robust kin. This seems to be a skill that is being lost. Being nice is not always an option, and some people simply spoil communities and are not to be tolerated.

So what do you do when someone crosses the line from merely rude to being someone who you are unwilling to have in your community?

First think carefully. It is easy to want someone wiped off the face of the earth when they hurt your feelings or pride. That is totally normal, but it is a reason to avoid the person for a while, not a reason that they are a threat to your community. Social combat is something that I am only comfortable using on people who are actual threats to my community.

Second sit down and make a case. This is something that is best done alone. Consider writing down why you think this person is a threat to your community. Write down everything. Go though and look at your list and pretend it is about someone you care about and from someone who you don't know well. Evaluate each item from that perspective. Chances are your list will get smaller, more objective and less about you and yours. That is a good thing. Often the most powerful things you can say are the sort of things a person is likely to have noticed themselves.

Oh and it shouldn't need to be said but be sure you are as scrupulously truthful as you can possibly be. You might need to eliminate items you cannot properly attribute. This is your reputation you are putting on the line be sure that each statement in your case is something you are willing to stake you name on.

Now you are properly armed. It is time to do combat.

Go to an even you would normally go to where your shared social circle is present. Wait until the person in question comes up. Say you don't choose to associate with that person. Next make your case against them in one or two short powerful sentences. Do it quickly and clearly and be sure that they know you will say that to anyone. Including the person you find offensive.

Repeat as necessary.

Some concrete examples of social combat-

"I don't choose to associate with him. I understand how someone might have to kill in that line of work, but he brings it up unprompted and with pride in his voice. It makes me uncomfortable that he seems to think he should be respected for that."

"I don't like associate with her. I have never heard her speak of anyone she actually knows with admiration or approval. I have heard her tear in to friends new creative endeavors when they are at their most vulnerable. I don't want to subject myself to her constant critique nor is it what I would wish for my friends."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Causes

The public often associates Ladies with Causes and in this they are both right and wrong. The vision is often the charitable fundraiser for the not-at-all controversial "good cause". The reality is that there is that for some, but many ladies have also been at the forefront of civil rights, suffrage and other big social battles.

To call oneself a lady is to claim social power. It is to recognize that simply by behaving yourself you can gain influence. Part of the duty of a lady to to use that influence when one can. This is not to say that one should take up every cause, or that one should "call out" others or talk endlessly about ones cause. A just cause is not a reason to be impolite or a bore, and doing so weakens your voice. It is to say that from time to time a lady must put her efforts in to something bigger than she, and use that social power to try to move society, even just a little, to being a kinder and more humane place.

Often this might take the form of active involvement by sharing information, polite protests, or developing support systems for people who have been treated unkindly. Another way a lady can sometimes help is simply by being herself. For example I practice an unusual and sometimes maligned religion. I mention it when appropriate and joke about it when I can. Knowing someone in a group is giving a face to something that would otherwise be scary and "out there", ladies often make very good faces for groups that might otherwise be maligned.

So take a moment and think about what you care about, what you wish to speak for, what you can stand up for and whom you can make society a little easier for, then do not do it all but do something. Being a lady is often about careful choices, please consider not just when you can be kinder and more polite but when you can gently urge others to do so as well

Monday, February 28, 2011

Recogntion, You have to Give It to Get It

How to you get people to recognize that you are wonderful? Often the best way is to tell them that they are.

Admiration is a funny thing. Once someone admires you, you often find yourself liking them as well.

This is not to suggest you fake affection you do not feel, but an honest explanation of what you find interesting or admirable or just why you like someone goes a long way.

Someone who sees your better qualities, particularly someone who admires about you what you like about yourself is someone you want to keep around and talk well of, after all they were insightful about you.

So I suggest that if you are feeling the need for a little bit more in the way of ego stroking (which is an honest desire, but not usually a polite request), you should consider doing a little of it for someone else.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Take a moment and pay attention to how you are sitting. If you are like me you are probably bent in a bit of an arch from the waist to your head and have your shoulders rounded forward.

Take a moment and feel the center of your torso, around the navel. There are a lot of powerful muscles in that area that are probably slack. If you tighten slightly, your back will straighten out and you will feel taller. Your shoulders might fall back on their own when you straighten your back, but if they have not, gently move them backwards. Now use the muscles in the back of your neck to hold your head up and make your neck strong.

Now take a moment and examine how you feel once you are sitting up straight. It never fails to make me feel more powerful and as if I can conquer the task in front of me. A lot of people tell you to stand up straight to look better, and they are right, when you hold yourself up you look more powerful. I think it is more important to remember that something as simple as taking a few minutes to make your back straighter can make you feel more powerful.

Next time you are feeling anxious and not quite up to the task at hand take a moment and stand up tall and strong. Sometimes just taking a moment to make the body feel stronger can do wonders for the mind.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Art of Conversation

Do not tell all you know.

In this increasingly self-confessional world there is a tendency to try to tell all. Do not be fooled, the person who tells all is a bore. Mystery and discovery is what draws people in.

Reality TV might seem to show all, but what you are actually seeing is a carefully edited collection of the most interesting moments. This is actually the same trick one uses for conversation, you take all your thoughts and ideas and with your understanding of the audience at hand you edit it down to the thing that is most likely to engage them.

This means you don't share everything, and you keep your unedited footage to yourself. This is sometimes objected to by small minded people as a form of dishonestly.

I have no patience for people who try to equate this courtesy with dishonesty. Really, get over yourself. Despite what you might think I am really not interested in every thought that crosses you mind. I know you are not interested in all of the nonsense in my raw footage.

Show your respect for your audience. Pay attention to what they say and then carefully select a small idea, anecdote or other reflection that seem likely to amuse that person. This is the way you show that you are talking but interested in the person you are talking to. It is not always easy at first, but communicating with a focus on the person you are talking to gets easier with practice.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Honey, not Vinegar

What do you do if someone’s behavior is not as you would wish?

You might have been told “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That is nonsense. Ladies have the right and the duty to complain and to seek redress when things are unjust. Ladies have a proud tradition of standing up for civil rights both for themselves and for others and I hope that you will embrace this tradition.

On the other hand very few things are so rude that they must be directly addressed immediately. When what you are dealing with is a personal preference, an annoying quirk, or someone who simply does not know better that you have a chance to think strategy.

My mother taught me “You catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar”. To me this means that confrontation is a last choice in all but the most serious cases. This is simply good tactics. When confronted people are likely to become defensive and the whole business can be unpleasant. It is often easier to correct with praise.

Find an occasion when someone does something you approve of an praise. Good praise should be specific and appropriate in scale. Noting is easier to talk yourself out of then the broad glowing complement. Your Awesome! is easily dismissed. I really appreciated how you supported the team by getting up early to be one of the first people here to set up, I know that timeliness is something you sometimes struggle with but you sure were on your toes this morning! is something that it is hard to dismiss. And giving specific praise to reinforce good behavior can help change someone's habit and even how they think of themselves, it can overcome bad habits.

What if you just can't catch someone at their best? Well praise the behavior you like in someone else. For example "Oh there is Marco, he is there waiting for us already. I always feel like Marco values our time because he makes a point of being there when he says he will". People like praise and will often adjust their behavior if it is something that they see other people noticing and complementing.

I know the stick gets a lot of attention, but the carrot can be just as, if not more powerful.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Do Judge! But Cafefully

You would be surprised at how often people have wonderful manners when that is what you expect and how rarely people do things that force you to conclude they are not polite.

A lot of people are simply polite, that creates a wonderful base. Then there are people who treat others as they are treated or who look to others for clues on how to behave, this group really can shine when treated well. These people are lovely and I choose to spend time with them because they treat me with respect when they are treated with respect.

There is another group that behaves beautifully but simply have a different set of etiquette expectations then I do, manners are culturally dependent. These people are also ladies and gentlemen because they are treating me respectfully but they have a different playbook. If we are going to spend time together we will enjoy each other a lot more if we address this issue and agree to explain anything that seems confusing, otherwise we might unintentionally create hurt feelings. This is the hypothesis I try first when I am treated in a manner that does not feel respectful. I like to ask them to explain why they did the confusing thing, if you ask a question like this be delicate, manners are a touchy subject. Something like “I notice you don’t seem to look people in the eye and I was wondering if there is a reason or if it just makes you uncomfortable” will often work well if someone just has a cultural difference.

There are those who do not know what to do, these people mean well but fumble through ignorance. They are still ladies and gentlemen, they just don’t know how to behave. Because they mean well these people can often make excellent friends. But you can’t correct their manners! Ladies do not tell anyone ,except for children that they are responsible for, how to behave. What you can do, if you really think someone means well but doesn't understand, is to make a respectful request. For example, a lady may not say "a gentleman would open the door for me when I have boxes". A lady may say "could you get the door? my hands are full". If someone does not know how to behave you simply take omissions in courtesy lightly. If the pleasure of their company does not overcome this flaw, distancing yourself is perfectly acceptable.

You are entitled to be treated by a lady, but a lady does not expect people to change for her sake. A lady takes people as they are and then decides how much contact she wishes to have with them based on how pleasant she finds their company. Polite people are often quite pleasant so a lady must often be choosy.

There is a group that is fortunately quite rare. These are people who are rude out of malice or because they personally dislike you. It sounds quite hard, but you must not take things these people say personally. If someone is acting to hurt you they are telling you they don't want to be a part of your life and not longer wish to enjoy your company. This could be direct rudeness (off-color remarks, crudeness, and the like) but it can also be hidden rudeness where someone is perfectly lovely to you but treats others with a lack of kindness, or perhaps gossips to you. Sometimes we can all be a little snide, but a person who is regularly full of everyone else's faults is not someone you want as a friend, I assure you that they are busy cataloging yours too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Not Your Business

One of the most important thing a lady does is respect another person privacy. There are some things that are just to personal to ask. The list will vary depending upon the degree of emotional intmacy invovled in your realtionship, but here is a non-exaustive list of things one does not talk to mere aquantaces about
Your Health in any detail
You romantic life
Anything that might be considered drama

What does that leave you with? Quite a lot! You can talk about anything you have read new stories (without political commentary), pleasant news about people you both know, food you have enjoyed and all sort of lovely things.

This is not to say that one never talks about these things, you can do so when it is in context, for example at a doctor’s appointment to a nurse, or when you are deliberately breaching an emotional subject as a way to create intimacy. If you do breach such a subject be sure to give the other person a graceful way out. Pressuring people in to defending their boundaries and not giving them a graceful way to reject intimacy is not a kind thing to do. Of course others might choose to bring delicate subjects up.

Personal revelations are a way to build emotional intimacy and should be treated as the privilege they are and not forced. If you are known for your discretion you might find that people want to confide in you, that is lovely and you should be as gracious as possible about people wanting to share. All the same remember that listening is itself an intimacy and you need never agree to an intimacy to be polite, a simple “I am afraid I am uncomfortable, can we talk about something else” is just fine.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Intimacy is Not Instant

Once upon a time people did not call people by their first names without being invited to do so. This lead to a charming moment where one could signal that you wanted to be more then acquaintances with someone by saying, “Do call me Sophia”.

I suppose the modern equivalent of that moment for most of us is sending a friend request to someone on Facebook.

I want you to think about that moment, where you ask an acquaintance to become a friend. I think it is pretty special. And that moment when they accept just feels wonderful doesn’t it? You have both agreed to a relationship that involves a little more disclosure and a little more emotional intimacy.

But in order to have these wonderful moments you must acknowledge that the whole world is not your friend. I know that modern society wants us to think differently, I am sure you have heard someone say “My name is LongerName but my friends call me NickName” to someone they have just met with the presumption that the person will call them by their nickname and be their friend.

It seems we have problems with the idea that not everyone is our friend. This doesn’t mean the world is not full of really lovely people with whom we could probably be friends, it is.* But friendship is something that requires some time and focus and we can’t give that to everyone.

Friendship is a commitment. Not a big one, but a commitment. It isn’t something you can give everyone, because it should mean something when offered.

*See A Lady is Surrounded by Ladies and Gentlemen

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Lady is Surrounded By Ladies and Gentlemen

Everyone I meet is a lady or a gentleman.* I treat them accordingly.

At lunch I am seated by a Lady, I thank her for her services. A gentleman comes by and asks me what I would like to drink. I tell him that a glass of water would be lovely right now and thank him when he brings me one. I am joined by people I know. I smile, greet them my name and tell them that I appreciate them spending this lunch time with me. There is conversation and I enjoy it and look for opportunities to bring up my companions achievements and to encourage them to talk about things that I know they are particularly well informed, insightful or witty about. At then end of the meal I thank my companions for their time and tell them that I enjoyed our time together. We might make plans to do it again. I also thank my server, yes I do it with a tip, but also with a smile and a thank you so much, and because this was a really lovely meal I add, I enjoyed my lunch very much, my complements to the chef.

You have probably heard some version of do onto others as you would have them do unto you. The problem is that you know yourself quite well (I hope!) and you do not always know others very well. The way around this is to think about how you like to be treated by people who have limited information about you. If you were a hostess, you could handle it if someone was abrupt snapped at you about wanting a booth instead of a table, but wouldn't you feel more respected if someone said "I know you have to work with what you have and give every server a fair chance, but if it is not too much trouble could you arrange for a booth? I find them much more comfortable". Isn't that a better way to treat a lady?

Asking nicely will is a great place to start, but taking a moment to imagine yourself in someones role, acknowledging the limitations they work within and expertise and then asking if they can accommodate your preference often gets really excellent results. You probably really like it when someone recognizes what you do, others do as well.

As you get to know people better you can get better at giving people a pleasant experience, and in doing so you usually improve your own experience. For example the lunchtime conversation, by saying things like “Susan just got back from a trip to Japan, Susan. She was telling me about ancestor worship and that reminded me of what you were talking about with Ancient Romans having household gods” I have set up a conversation between people where each can shine and I can hear about interesting things.

By treating people well, taking a moment to recognize the difficulties of a busy hostess for example, I often find that they then treat me really well in return, for example they might recommend something that they really love from the menu. There is some evidence that good manners can be contagious like that. I do know that they make my world a far more pleasant place to live.

*Unless they prove otherwise, for more on this see Do Judge! (Carefully and Kindly)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Being A Lady is about Behaving Yourself

The chances are very good that no one has every really sat down with you and talked about how to behave in social situations. There might have been a few short discussions when you were very small , but most of us cobble something together out of asides and by noting what gets others mocked.

This seems innocent enough, but chances are that it has lead you to conclude that proper behavior in a social situation is doing what other people would approve of. You might also have had people tell you things to that effect, such as “being polite is just about making other people feel comfortable.” This is nonsense!

Many lovely girls have been lead to dark places in the name of “getting along” or “making other people feel comfortable.” They know that this is not what they want to do but they don’t want to make a fuss or be rude. In not teaching you how you should behave you feel like the only thing to do is whatever random nonsense people seem to expect.

I am here to help you fix all of that by explaining how to be a lady. I cannot make you a lady, that - my dear - is entirely up to you. What I can to is give you as much information as possible so that if you do want to be a lady you will have the ability.

While it was originally a noble title and is still used in that sense, that is not the kind of lady I am, nor is it the sort of thing I can offer assistance with.

I am a lady in the sense of being an adult woman who knows how to behave herself. I assure you it gets me far further, and much more romance, than any title ever could.

So let me explain what I mean by behaving myself. It means that I look to my carefully developed internal standards as a reference for how to behave. It does not mean that I do not consider the people I am with*. It does mean that I do not base my behavior on what will make them think well of me, I base it on what will make me think well of myself.

I put this letter first because this is by far the most important thing I can think to say to you. In any situation do not do things that will undermine your self respect. At the end of the day, and when the party is over, the person whose opinion about you matters the most is you.

And that, to me, is what makes a lady a lady. A solid sense of self respect gives you the sort of nobility that has nothing to do with birth and everything to do with class.

*A person who is too formal for the setting is being condescending, a person who is too informal for the setting is being coarse. It does not matter if your manners are otherwise perfect, matching them to the event is just as important as having manners in the first place.