Manners and etiquette are both critical to functioning in society. Both of these are about how we behave, but they are slightly different, and involve different skills. They are also culturally dictated, so what we consider good manners or appropriate etiquette may not be considered so in other cultures.
Etiquette is about protocol, and requires knowledge of rules of behaviour in certain defined situations. It is about knowing how to behave at, for example, a shooting party, a funeral, a business meeting, a formal dinner party, or dinner with the Queen. There is appropriate etiquette for a whole host of activities like cricket, croquet or rock-climbing. There is also an elaborate system of etiquette related to social class. People can learn the rules of etiquette through formal training, or by reading books about it. Knowledge of etiquette is never wasted. Good etiquette training provides the skills (and therefore the confidence) to cope with any occasion with ease. However, etiquette, because it involved rules for behaviour which have to be learnt, very rarely allows for personal variations and individual concerns.
One of the important things to note about mistakes in etiquette is that they immediately clearly identify a person as an ‘outsider’ to the group in question. For example, not knowing the right piece of cutlery to use for a particular course at a dinner party might immediately make it obvious that you are not from the same social class as the rest of the group. Knowledge of etiquette helps us to fit in!
Having good manners is more fundamental and relates to the way we treat people generally. To have good manners is to treat other people in the way we ourselves would like to be treated. Although a kind caring disposition will be helpful in producing good mannered behaviour, good manners are a learnt behaviour and will sometimes involve a degree of acting. We may feel in a lousy mood but we can still smile and exchange pleasantries with a work colleague. Good manners could be thought of as a kind of social lubricant, making our social interactions much smoother and pleasanter. They are also enormously effective in getting others to do things we want them to, simply because they will inevitably feel warm and positive about us. If we have bad manners or no manners, they will feel uncomfortable with us, dislike us, or possibly even feel contempt for us.
Where do good manners come from?
We learn manners from our parents and from the formal education we receive. We can also, if we take the time, learn them by observation of others. However, there is hardly anyone whose manners cannot be improved, often by a large amount, and if this is the case, organised study seems to offer the best solution.
Why is knowledge of etiquette useful?
Knowledge of etiquette enables us to fit in comfortably with an often formal activity that involves other people. Rather than feeling stressed and worrying about whether we are using the correct fork, we can relax and focus, fully participating in the occasion. For example, business etiquette is now big business and important for those moving up the corporate ladder. Spouses are often invited along to interviews which can include receptions and dinners, so both the interviewee and their spouse will need a knowledge of the appropriate etiquette.
The difference between manners and etiquette
Etiquette and manners do overlap considerably, and often both words can be used about the same thing. What is considered good manners is often also considered to be appropriate etiquette.
The primary difference between etiquette and manners is that etiquette involves the knowledge of specific rules of conduct, and manners is more generalised. Good manners go beyond socially acceptable behaviour and are much more about treating people with respect and kindness, and making other people feel comfortable whatever the social situation. Good manners are under our control because they about showing concern for others.
It is entirely possible to have a vast knowledge of etiquette and no manners at all (perhaps you have met people like that?). On the other hand, there are a large number of people who have wonderful manners, but are a bit wobbly about etiquette at certain social occasions (most of us have probably been at a social occasion where we have worried about which piece of cutlery to use, or where we stand).
Ideally, we need a knowledge of both, but good manners will get us further. After all, we can always watch carefully what others do before we pick up a piece of cutlery, or even ask the person next to us (because, if they are well-mannered, they will care about how you feel, and kindly tell you which one to use!).
How a knowledge of etiquette and good manners helps us
Confidence is a vital attribute in life, as it enables us to step into new situations without fear. It therefore gives us choices and a sense of control. Research has demonstrated that a sense of control is vital for good emotional well-being.
A knowledge of etiquette and the ability to interact with others with good manners are important skills to possess. They will ease our path through life – knowing what to do and when (etiquette) means you can relax and enjoy the occasion, and being considerate to others and showing concern about their well-being (manners) means that people will enjoy being around you and think highly of you!