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How to Keep Social Etiquette While Social Distancing

Redbook logo Redbook 4/9/2020 Emy Rodriguez Flores
a person wearing glasses: The age of Corona has a whole new set of rules © martin-dm - Getty Images The age of Corona has a whole new set of rules

Pre-COVID-19, social etiquette consisted of few different things. Depending on who you asked, etiquette meant maintaining a set of social rules and behaviors that were meant to establish respect, morality and dignity. Things like introducing yourself with a firm handshake, maintaining eye contact when speaking and general courtesy were signs of good social etiquette training. With the rise of social media and other technological wonders, social etiquette evolved enough to still be relevant within the digital landscape.

But what about in the age of Corona? How does social etiquette keep up when social distancing is the new norm and basic human interaction is discouraged? We spoke with three different etiquette experts and asked them how to keep social etiquette while social distancing. We covered everything from what to do in your next Zoom meeting to how etiquette still matters when you're sliding into someone's DMs (direct messages).

What is social etiquette?

While there are many ways of practicing manners and etiquette, the easiest way to remember the basics is to keep the below categories top of mind:

  • Courtesy: Things like opening the door for strangers, letting an elderly person sit before you and saying "please" and "thank you" when applicable are components of the courtesy category.
  • Cultural: Culture manners and etiquette is just as important as traditions and you can learn them either by being raised or visiting said culture enough to familiarize yourself with its different norms.
  • Hygiene: This is pretty much a given (we hope), but it can consist of good manners beginning with toilet training and ending with general avoidance of germs.

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    We asked three different social etiquette experts to give us tips on how to keep etiquette while social distancing. Myka Meier is the author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy and founder of Beaumont Etiquette. In 2016, Beautmont Etiquette partnered with The Plaza Hotel in New York City creating their all-ages finishing program. The school was also named as the official etiquette partner of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition in 2018. Jacqueline Whitmore is the founder and CEO of The Protocol School of Palm Beach which provides executive coaching and business etiquette training. Celeste Headlee is a communication expert and author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing and Underliving.

    a person sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone: Young woman using a laptop to connect with her friends and parents during quarantine © FilippoBacci - Getty Images Young woman using a laptop to connect with her friends and parents during quarantine

    There is social etiquette when you're online.

    According to Meier, "The important thing to remember is that having good etiquette simply means to be kind and respectful to everyone around us, first and foremost. Many of the rules of social etiquette while social distancing still apply as normal. For instance whether you are scheduling an online video happy hour with your friends or a phone call chat with a new date, you want to be on time to show respect for the other person’s time. If you think you are going to be late, I suggest that for every minute you are behind, to give two minutes notice. Simply text the person saying you are running behind and will be XX minutes late. Just as if you were speaking to someone in person, if you are on a phone or video call, you wouldn’t be on multiple other devices, watching TV or checking social media.

    Facebook Messenger, with whom I’ve partnered recently on digital communication etiquette, reports a 70% week-over-week increase in the number of people participating in group video calls on its platform around the world. Another interesting stat from a survey they took was that 60% of Americans check to see if their latest chat has been read as they wait for a response. What that means is we want to be careful not to leave someone hanging for more than a day, knowing they are likely checking to see if their messages have been opened. It’s good etiquette to respond as soon as you’re able to, even if it’s just to say you’re busy and will get back to them soon. Especially now during social distancing, if someone took the time to check in on you, you want to avoid ghosting a thoughtful gesture." Meier added.

    a man standing on a sidewalk: COVID-19 Greeting Concept. "Foot shake" a new way of greeting that avoid handshake to stop the spread of the coronavirus © ozgurdonmaz - Getty Images COVID-19 Greeting Concept. "Foot shake" a new way of greeting that avoid handshake to stop the spread of the coronavirus

    Staying polite all the time is crucial.

    "We all have to be careful not to add unnecessary meetings, simply because we're working from home. In other words, if you attended two meetings a day while working in the office, you should have two teleconferences now that you're at home. If you choose to hold a casual meeting, with the intent of boosting morale, then use that time to replace a regular meeting. In other words, don't overload your co-workers with Zoom meetings. Everyone needs to be able to focus in order to do their best work and tap into their creative insights. Having to break away to talk on camera can be disruptive if overdone." Says Headlee.

    "Remember that everyone is struggling to maintain work/life balance right now. That causes anxiety on its own, but most of us are also stressed because of the COVID crisis and its attendant concerns about our own health and the health of our loved ones. Give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to deadlines and expectations. Offer help if someone seems to be struggling. If you see someone every day, like a neighbor, it can be tempting to revert to normal practice and stop keeping six feet of distance between you, but that's incredibly inappropriate. Other people may not feel comfortable standing closer than six feet and they probably don't want to look at your cellphone screen, since that requires them to get too close."

    Headlee also adds, "If you're going to the store, ask your neighbors if they need anything. Not only does that help you protect them, but it helps protect the entire region by limiting the number of people going to the store. Don't assume that others are available all day. Many people still have to focus on their jobs during regular hours and they can't break away for a quick call or chat. Most importantly, ask others how they're doing and offer help whenever you can. We need each other to get through this."

    Etiquette, manners and caring are essential.

    “You can have a conversation with people in person, but keep six feet apart. If you’re not comfortable then politely excuse yourself. Etiquette is all about courtesy. There's nothing wrong with small talk conversations. Standing at a safe distance and showing respect is crucial. Maintain distance so they don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable. You have to read someone’s body language. You don’t know if people are nervous or have other obligations. We’re in the world of unknowns. As an expert, these rules have never been made before. We have to make up these new standards as we go along. We’re still in the preliminary stages and everyone is a little nervous. The bottom line is to keep it short and sweet (respectful) and you’ll do just fine." Whitmore says.

    "There are some people who aren't leaving their houses at all. They have limited interactions with other people. Just reaching out to people in general, just keeping in touch...a phone call, a text, a hello on social media. It’s important to stay social. Every morning when I take a walk, I make at least one phone call to one person to stay social. It tells people you care."

    a person standing in front of a window: Two family members in self isolation in different rooms © Justin Paget - Getty Images Two family members in self isolation in different rooms

    What we learned?

    Considering social etiquette is a constant, it's important that we stay kind and respectful to each other. There's nothing wrong with going a little out of your way to be polite to someone. You never know how impactful it might be for them. We also have to make sure we're supporting our healthcare providers during this difficult time. Being kind and caring takes little to no effort.

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