If you know me, you know that I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to manners. Raised attending Cotillion, saying yes sir and yes m'am, and probably stressing WAY too much about the right things to say are in my DNA (the product of having a dad who holds out his hand on the night of your rehearsal dinner to spit out your gum).
When the Coronavirus hit, I found myself constantly second-guessing myself in how I handled everything thrown my way. At the risk of my own mental health, I would overbook myself with Zoom calls, avoid hurting anyone's feelings and go out of my way to try and control what was left of social situations. When I couldn't take it anymore, I decided to round up some questions from you all, toss in some of my own and turn to an expert!
My friend Mackenzie is an etiquette pro, a girl after my own heart who researches it in her spare time, but also handles complex situations daily for her work. As we re-enter some sort of "normal", I hope this is a helpful perspective!
Q: How do you politely get off or out of a Zoom call if you don't feel like you have anywhere to be?
In this case, honesty may not be the best policy, but neither is lying. Nobody wants to hear that you don’t want to talk to them or that you’d rather be doing something else. Consider why you are wanting to leave the call and explain as quickly and gently as possible. Here are some examples from real/common motivators:
"I’ve been trying to limit my screen time outside of work hours."
" I want to take advantage of the daylight to get outside and stay active."
Mention a goal you’ve been working on (craft, book, home renovation) that you’re eager to make progress on.
Be proactive with scheduling! If possible, make sure that calls are scheduled with enough time to chat but are followed by something that you actually have to do. If you have these things scheduled, it may be best to let the host or everyone on the call know early on so there is no surprise when it’s time to go. Here are some examples:
"I told (partner) that I’d be ready to go grocery shopping at 3pm so I’ve got to run! Hope to talk to y’all soon!"
"Well it’s my turn to cook dinner and if I don’t start now we won’t eat until midnight! Thanks (host) for coordinating this!"
"I’ve got a virtual book club call I need to hop on to. It’s been so good getting to see y’all!"
If at work: "I’ve still got a few items I need to wrap up before end of office hours today, so I’ve got to run. But thanks for the call - let me know if you need anything for (project they’re working on or the reason they called)."
How do you politely decline a Zoom social call (happy hour, get together, etc.) when you feel like there are no "good excuses"?
If you’re like me you may often feel the need to justify your choices or ideas. Providing excuses or explanations is the prime example of this. You don’t ever have to let anyone know your reasoning for saying no. However, always remember that those inviting you often care about you and your friendship. Try something simple like: Thank you for including me, but I don’t think I can make the call! Tell everyone I said hey and maybe I’ll catch the next one!
How can you graciously respond if someone bakes or makes you a meal and you are not comfortable eating it (due to safety concerns).
Acknowledging their intent and thank them for being so considerate. They’re coming from a place of love and care. These types of friends, family, and even acquaintances are doing their best to be helpers during what is most likely a difficult time for them as well.
Consider if it is something that is truly unsafe to eat. We don’t want to perpetuate misinformation. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. That being said, you should never feel pressured to consume anything you dislike or that you feel is unsafe.
If you are still uncomfortable for whatever reason, simply be honest and gracious but try not to lie. Start having these conversations with your friends and family – be proactive in shaping discussions about the ways you can connect and care for one another that doesn’t involve food consumption. You could start a little free library or food pantry in your neighborhood. You could also consider writing simple notes including kind words, encouragement, or an inspiring quote that may brighten someone’s day. Model the example of appropriate ways to connect during this time and others will follow suit.
How can you best respond to events that are still happening (weddings, parties, etc.) when you do not feel comfortable going and believe others shouldn't?
RSVP no as soon as you are comfortable and confident. If you have responded “yes” to a wedding already that is planned for a period you feel unsafe and has not yet been postponed, you should reach out immediately to change your response. You have every right to protect your health, but you can still be considerate while doing so. At all costs, please avoid asking the couple about their plans to postpone. If you’ve made the decision to change your RSVP to “no” - stick by it. Under no circumstances should you ask to be added back in if you happen to feel more comfortable closer to the date.
"Hi (host)! I am so sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but I can no longer attend X & X’s wedding. Nothing would make me happier than to be there to celebrate, however, I do not feel comfortable being in large groups during this time. If there is anything I can do to assist from afar, please let me know."
Always, always make sure you are communicating with the right person! Shooting a text to the maid of honor does not count. The proper thing to do would be to give a hand written response via post to the address collecting RSVPs. Ideally, they should respond to let you know the correspondence has been received. If you do not hear from them or you are in a time crunch, it is perfectly acceptable to place a call.
Most large events with catering vendors require a head count of guests two weeks (or 14 days) ahead of the event. It is widely frowned upon to cancel or no-show within this timeframe - your family of four can easily cost the couple a thousand dollars between your price per head on food, beverage, and other accommodations.
If you are not a close friend of the couple or an in-the-loop family member, it really just isn’t your place to make a comment about any couple’s decision to move forward with their wedding during this time. The couple and their families have most likely spent a great deal of time evaluating their options and are doing what they feel is best for them.
A nice gesture would be to send a card or even a gift from their registry. While a gift is not required since you are not attending the festivities, remember that this couple most likely invited you because they love you and want to celebrate with you. This is a joyous occasion in their lives regardless if you can be there to drink the booze and make a plate.
In a time that is really stressful, confusing, and atypical for many couples getting married, consider how you want to be remembered by them. This involves being considerate of others – which is really what etiquette is all about. You have every right to protect your health and safety, just try to make sure you don’t destroy your relationships with the ones you love while doing so.
How can you graciously turn down the ask to donate money to a cause you don't feel strongly about?
Unless you are comfortable having the discussion about why you don’t feel strongly about a cause, I wouldn’t bring it up. Try something short and sweet by starting with thanking them for the work their doing for the cause, followed by one of the following:
We’ve already maxed out our planned giving for this year.
I am already committed to other organizations in our area.
I cannot commit to that at this time.
We should be able to disagree through social discourse but you must be comfortable entering such conversations knowing that people are entitled to their values, beliefs, and opinions – just as you are.
If you’re concerned, ask questions. But don’t try to trap your friends with conversations mirroring the “gotcha journalism” we often see on our news stations. Show genuine curiosity and be comfortable expressing your opinion gently.
How can you best reply when a work meeting is scheduled after work hours online?
The best advice is to be proactive in laying out new ground rules. We talk a lot about “respecting the red” at my job. On Skype, Zoom, and other platforms, there is usually an option to update your status and choose a color to indicate your availability. Green = available, yellow = away, red = do not disturb. With more than half of our staff working remotely across the country, we have gotten the hang of virtual meetings – both scheduled and impromptu. Meetings outside of office hours are a non-starter and when someone has their status as “red” we respect it. We’ve set the boundaries and you can too!
Other tips to be proactive include adding your availability to your email signature or using a resource like Calendly for meeting scheduling.
If it’s too late to be proactive, there’s no need to reply to all who are invited to the meeting. Go straight to the meeting organizer and explain the conflict. Remember to always provide an alternative solution!
“Hey (host)! Thank you so much for requesting this meeting - I know we’ve all been really needing to connect on this project. I wanted to touch base about the timing. Is there any way we could push the meeting to within normal office hours? I know a lot of our team schedules home life around these and may have conflicts with our current plan. I see everyones’ calendars show an opening Tuesday morning at 10:30. Would this be a suitable alternative?”
How can you best celebrate a milestone or birthday if you feel like you don’t have a card or gift at home?
Always consider your guest of honor’s preference. How would they prefer to be celebrated? Are they missing social interaction or thrive as a homebody? Do they love surprises? Do they like being the center of attention or prefer moments out of the spotlight?
Whatever you plan, reach out personally. A simple text may do, and remember, they may not have time to respond or the desire to be “plugged in” all day.
As a planner, I’d much rather be in charge of the event than the center of attention. So, for my recent birthday, my version of a perfect celebration was cooking a large pot of chicken pastry and watching back-to-back screenings of my favorite movies all day on the couch with my fiance. It was perfect!
If someone is entering your "bubble" and you feel uncomfortable, what is the best way to handle this?
The most polite thing to do would be to remove yourself from the situation. It is not your job to police or educate others, especially not mere acquaintances or even strangers.
If in a conversation, avoid using you/your/yours as it may sound like an attack. Instead, try “me” to show responsibility and “we” to show a common effort or benefit. Also consider if your audience has trouble hearing, understanding social cues, or either may not understand or respect social distancing.
With friends or family, you can show both care and humor: "You know I’d hug you if I could! But I want to make sure we’ve both got a shot at staying healthy through this thing!"
With coworkers or acquaintances, try taking the responsibility to set the example: "Oh goodness! Social distancing is so new I keep forgetting to make the adjustment. Let me step back to give everybody some space."
With strangers, approach similarly to the above, but with a bit more tact: "Hi! Let me take a step back to give us some space. I want to make sure we’ve got enough room to chat safely."