10 Essential Do's and Don't's of Modern Social Etiquette

Updated on April 20, 2018
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy explores several topics in-between juggling his passion for writing with his two jobs as a chemical analyst and building manager.

Modern Social Interactions

Having worked at the University Center of my college, where students would hang out in-between classes, I've watched an endless amount of social interactions among youth. I've seen nerds pick up girls (power to the players), women shriek obscenities (thanks for improving my vocabulary, ladies), students study chemistry (of the physical nature), and everything in-between.

Many assume that looks matter most when it comes to social interactions, but charm, demeanor, and conversational skills actually account for far more. To understand what social skill to employ while learning behaviors to avoid, here are five essential do's and don'ts in social etiquette!

Displayed interest, listening, and positivity all go a long way
Displayed interest, listening, and positivity all go a long way

1. Do Ask Questions

Asking questions makes your conversational partner feel validated and important, showing an interest in their life that endears you to them. Being a good listener is good; actively discussing another person's life really goes the extra mile towards showing your interest in their world.

Of course, just be careful with the questions you ask. Employing too many or the wrong kind turns a conversation into an interrogation, and many subjects (politics, religion, personal choices, etc.) can land you in hot water.

2. Don't Interrupt

Most of us don't mean to barge in, but often a friend's statement jogs our memory and we want to share our comment before we forget. However, interrupting someone to interject basically tells them "I have something more important to say than you do." No one wants that—wait your turn. Anyone worth talking to will give you plenty of chances to sprinkle in your own remarks throughout the encounter.

Do dress to impress.
Do dress to impress.

3. Do Dress to Impress

As a guy, I can tell you that many of us were never really taught the "rules" of fashion and subsequently never cared about it that much. But whether you're looking to impress a romantic interest or simply looking sharp among a group of friends, do your best to don clothes that look good, are washed, and blend well. I'm not saying you have to wear suits all the time, but even little things go a long way—get your shirt and shoes to match hues, avoid contrasting bright colors, and so on.

It's perfectly fine to wear more comfortable clothing in private spaces among close friends, but like it or not, the effort you place into dressing yourself will have an impact on others' opinion of you. Don't forget hygiene either, bringing us to...

4. Don't Neglect Hygiene

Seems obvious, right? But we all have our rough days, and some of us face the temptation to neglect personal grooming. It's just for a day, right, how bad could it be?

Bad. Real bad. I promise you that the unpleasant aromas of body odor, bad breath, and smelly clothing travel farther than we think. People will know, and if they don't outright tell you that you stink, they'll subtly find a reason to move away. And hygiene isn't just smell-related; remember to trim your nails and hair. Guys, I can tell you that most ladies prefer clean-shaven or trimmed facial hair over a Duck Dynasty bird's nest beard. Show people (and yourself) that you value your appearance.

Many would be more than happy to make a new friend and hear a kind word
Many would be more than happy to make a new friend and hear a kind word

5. Do Gauge Your Audience

You may have heard that you can determine someone's interest in by looking at whether their feet point towards you during a conversation. That's one way to gauge reactions, but simple observations of tone and body language should also do the trick. Pay particular attention to people's level of activity during a conversation; if they're not talking about a given subject much, it's probably time to switch to something else. Find something that both of you can have fun discussing.

This tactic begins even before a conversation begins. I've seen people shoot themselves in the foot by making their move too early and approaching students who are clearly studying and don't want to be disturbed. Unless they're a close friend, let people who are working complete their task.

6. Don't Show YouTube Videos

Thanks to modern technology, Facebook, YouTube, and other popular online sites provide numerous ways for us to occupy our spare time. But here's the thing: it's all subjective, especially humor-related videos. My Star Wars trailers would bore my girlfriend to tears (update: scratch that, now she loves the Force as much as anyone), while her Taylor Swift music video will have me sitting in Purgatory for five minutes.

Yes, there are times that your audience might actually enjoy your video, but usually, they're just too polite to say no. Unless you're truly confident they (and not just you) will savor the video or it's exceptionally brief (under a minute), I recommend simply refraining from mixing electronic devices into your interactions; more on that later. Besides, anyone can watch videos at home whenever they want; use your valuable time together to have an actual conversation and potentially form a new social link.

A little innocent stalking goes a long way towards knowing what to discuss
A little innocent stalking goes a long way towards knowing what to discuss

7. Do Prepare Topics Ahead of Time

Some people are quick-thinkers and can keep a conversation going indefinitely without trouble. However, most of us have at some point reached a point where we wanted to discuss something but couldn't think of what. Having a brief list of prepared topics gives you something to fall back on in times of crisis. A simple electronic note on your phone or physical slip hidden in a wallet will also hide the list in case you're embarrassed of needing it. Better yet, memorize it in advance.

Knowing your audience ahead of time helps because it lets you think of things they'll likely enjoy discussing. Hobbies, career aspirations, music and movie tastes they may enjoy, and so on. Some of the best first dates are ones where the two of you take turns asking fun questions to one another, both learning more about each other and providing numerous outlets for conversation, jokes, and laughter. You can even browse someone's Facebook page and find some of their favorite hobbies, genres, and interests to get an inkling of what to talk about.

8. Don't Lie

Or at least be very careful with it. This one also probably sounds obvious, but we're talking about lies intended to spare another's feelings. Remember, good intentions don't necessarily equal a good outcome. For instance, I once broke my earlier rule and sent a friend a brief YouTube video that I really thought he'd enjoy. Not my smartest move, but to be fair, he'd racked up 30 minutes worth of YouTube debt and I was cashing in with just a 5-minute video.

Long story short, on Facebook, he reacted with, "Wow, that game you just showed me looks really exciting!" but I later learned he'd watched about five seconds of the video. The lie hurt me more than the lack of watching; I would have much preferred a "sorry, I was busy and forgot" over a false excitement that made me happily think my friend and I shared an interest, only to have that joy taken away upon learning the truth.

Confidence is key
Confidence is key

9. Do Act (or Be) Confident

I know, I know—talking to someone new can be scary. There's a reason public speaking is our number one fear. But sometimes you just have to suck it up and put on the happy and eager mask that will hopefully eventually melt, at which point you'll actually be excited and confident when talking to the person. When you make the first move (in the correct manner at the correct time), you save someone else the burden of having to do it, endearing yourself to them in most cases.

From experience I can tell you that 99% of people I talked to before a college class began were happy to make a friend, sparing them the isolation of being alone. Again, remember to gauge your audience—it's easier to befriend people who are alone (and likely searching for company) than a sizable group, who may already be content with their current social setting. But either way, the more you radiate value and confidence, the more people will flock to you.

10. Don't Check Your Phone

Like YouTube, there are certain situations where this can be alright. Sometimes you're awaiting an important text or such, and in those cases, it helps to let your partner know that you're on the lookout for a vital message; giving them an explanation lets them know you're interested in their topics and simply need to monitor your situation's status.

But avoid checking out of boredom. With the prevalence of cell phones in our lives, other people will often break this rule, but I advise you don't, especially when someone is actively talking to you. Your quick phone check is basically a giant billboard revealing you're not listening to what's being said, a quick way to earn someone's ire. It's also hard to build from—if we're talking and you look at something in our environment, I can look at it too and we can both discuss it; when you look at your phone, unless you share what you see, I have no idea what it's about and can't form a corresponding engaging conversation. Cell phones are great devices, but make sure you're aware of the social pitfalls they can lead us into.

What is something you wish people you know would do more in social settings?

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Final Tips

With these tips in mind, you're well-prepared for some effective communication. Remember, engaging conversation is a developed skill and the more you practice, the better you'll get. Be a good listener, show that you're happy to be talking with your audience, and avoid social media when possible—no app can replace friendship.

As we pave the way for a brave new future filled with little social quirks, don't forget to enhance your dates with these social tips as well—friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends all like to feel validated and cared for.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jeremy Gill

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      • Natalie Frank profile image

        Natalie Frank 

        3 months ago from Chicago, IL

        A great article. While the skills you review seem to be pretty basic unfortunately, in our society today far too many people neglect the basics and focus on better communicating and being socially appropriate. Thanks for the article!

      • profile image

        Eurofile 

        4 months ago

        There's a lot of good advice in this article.

      • Jessie L Watson profile image

        Jessie Watson 

        4 months ago from Wenatchee Washington

        Idk about the shadow figure below, but these are good tips.

      • profile image

        Martin d. Baum 

        4 months ago

        I dont know how they taught you but my lessons are any type of lying is taboo and the facts of the matter in case you haven't cracked open a bible, I. That rule book it proclaims lying is a sin, sin is a crime against god, the wages of sin is death, I did not attend vacation Bible school during the break from public school just for the cookies and juice!

      • profile image

        Martin d. Baum 

        4 months ago

        Even with all your tips and hints, it is all in vain they bear false witness, they do what the do cause of being under conviction of the rules they broke of the holy bible and we are the ones who end up taking the beatings for the sins of the others I live it every freaking day!

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