There’s a story that goes like this: A man bent on committing suicide left a note in his home that read: “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” He ultimately jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to his death in the bay water.
This is why I smile at people when I make eye contact with them.
Even if you don’t end up saving a life—which you just might inadvertently—being a personable, friendly, jovial, chipper, nice, and pleasant guy is something everyone benefits from. Before we go any further, let’s just get a few things out of the way.
The “nice guys finish last” thing is old. It’s quite simple, really. Assholes are assholes, even when they’re not expected to be. Nice guys are, well, nice. But when they’re not, it’s a hell of a lot scarier than the tough guy spitting more empty threats.
Despite politeness and etiquette being colloquially known as something fringed with lace and dainty, that’s not so.
Peter Post, great-grandson of Emily Post—who was renowned for her writings about manners—says things aren’t quite what they seem.
“I guess the place to begin is, if I have any broad tips for people: Don’t go trying to memorize rules,” says Post, who also serves as a director of the Emily Post Institute. “You’ll never remember any rules. You’ll be faced with a situation without any rules and you won’t know what to do.”
As a personal note, when I first began my conversation with him, I was somewhat expecting a dandy-sounding kind of guy. Au contraire. Peter Post is a man who laughs easily and has a quality he says is essential to being a well-mannered person: genuineness.
Despite the amount of books and guidelines out there, Post says there are three habits that, if applied to your life, can work to make a man polite. Perhaps more importantly, though, it can make the man a better person.
Firstly, we must think before we act. This applies to more than skydiving, bungee jumping or attempting to talk your way out of a ticket. It’s all-encompassing.
“Most men, in particular … we tend to get ourselves into trouble if we act first and have to apologize later,” Post says. “Thinking first: It doesn’t take a long time to do it, but it takes a concerted effort to do it. Instead, consider some alternatives.”
Although the whole John Matrix “Shoot first, ask questions later” maxim is indeed a macho thing to live by, being able to control your impulses and not be absolutely dominated by your visceral reactions makes a man something all dames should like: cool.
Post gives a very relevant example: Say you’re having a conversation with someone—a woman, in my mind—and your mobile phone goes off even in the middle of small talk. While it could be your best friend calling because he won a cruise to the Bahamas and wants you to go with him, it could also be your best friend calling to tell you he saw that his ex is now dating that schmuck from high school. The latter is more likely than the former.
Turn off the phone. Not just because it’s “polite,” but because it gets to what Post says is the true meaning of etiquette: building a good relationship. Turning off your cell phone tells the person he or she is more important than that vibrating hunk of plastic in your pocket.
You know Malcolm Forbes, the founder of Forbes Magazine? Yeah, I don’t really either. But he is credited with one of the best quotes ever written: “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” And, if you’ve ever worked a single day in the service industry, you’ll know how true that is. Good customers can make your day and rude ones can make you hate everything and everyone.
Being altruistic is the second point: When you complete step one, choosing the option that benefits everyone is, usually, the best choice. Allowing yourself to be a figurative sacrifice shows that you care. It augments the first step.
Finally, we get to the last of Post’s three guidelines: You have to mean it.
“If you’re not sincere with people, they lose their confidence [in you],” Post says. “They’re not sure of you. And when they lose confidence, they lose their trust. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have a relationship with them.”
It goes downhill from there. Because humans are social animals, Post says, we’re not naturally wired to be all right with being an outcast.
“We want to be invited back to the table, back to their house, back for another round of golf,” he says. “If we keep doing things that annoy people, our phones are going to stop ringing and people won’t want to hang out with us.”
It’s about leaving an impression. If we take what Post says to heart and the people we meet genuinely want to be with us, what more could we ask for? If we’re courteous, which is what it really comes down to, those who surround us will want to be around us because of that, plain and simple. And if one of those people happens to be that fierce, foxy, loyal, intelligent beautiful blonde/brunette/redhead/black-haired girl any of us had our eye on, everyone wins. (If you successfully had a fulfilling relationship because you’re nice, take this as my proverbial hit-the-rock.)
Don’t look a fool in front of your boss or girlfriend’s parents, check out A Gentleman’s Guide to Dinner Manners
There’s more: Being polite helps us go up in the world. You can still be a shark and nice, too. Like a nurse shark. You’ll become the guy others want to help—and that may translate into a promotion or raise. To put it into yet another metaphorical sense, the guys you step on scrambling up the corporate ladder can pull that shit from right under your feet. But if you happen to help a guy as he climbs, he may be the one who helps pull you up a rung or two. And if there’s anything the Junior M.A.F.I.A. has taught me, it’s to get money.
Take last week for example. I try to be a genuinely nice person (on the phone) most of the time. Do I finish last? No. Do I get walked all over? Nope. As a matter of fact, I shot the bull with a guy who works at the energy company and convinced him to take $20 off my bill. We both agreed Cincinnati weather is BS.
Build relationships. Be polite and treat everyone with respect and be known as Mr. Nice Guy. (No More Mr. Nice Guy is one of the coolest theme songs to have, by the way.) People respect a genuinely happy-go-lucky guy during these times of downtrodden, permanently overcast days. Even if it’s not reciprocated by your peers, a person you smile at when you pass him or her will know you as a chipper fellow. You’ll be the guy who says “Good morning,” every day and means it. The awkward guy at the front desk, the cute, shy lass in accounts, and the head of the department will all know it and, if not like you, at least have a good thing to say about you if your name ever comes up in a conversation.
Besides, if a guy tells you to “go f*** yourself,” I can’t think of anything besides starting a fistfight that would get his eye twitching more than saying, with a genuine smile on your face, “No, sir, please, after you.”