As I was thinking about how to write this article, I recall an event that I attended once in San Francisco Bay. It was a networking event among entrepreneurs, start-up executives, angel investors and venture capitalists. I didn’t exactly fall into any of those categories. I was just there, waiting for a friend who was a Venture Capitalist i.e. VC, who sat on the panel of judges. (We met in university). We were going out to dinner later. His job was to listen to interesting pitches, which happened at the end of a microphone, and comment on whether it is viable, thus opening the conversations that would happen at the informal networking sessions after.
As I had never been to these events before, I was quite intrigued by the people there. They were all so motivated and fired up. The innovation bug was in the air, it was all so inspiring.
After the pitches ended, everyone got started immediately. They started to ‘network’. This means, they would go around introducing themselves, finding out what you do, and of course, figuring out if there was an opportunity to work together. To put it plainly, you were quickly sized up if you were useful or not (and worthy to be befriended).
I looked over at my friend J, and a large number of people swarmed to him. Everyone wanted to talk to him, to introduce/pitch their business, hoping for investment or other useful opportunities. He was a tall guy, but I could barely see him. As I got up from my seat, thinking I could just go to the corner to wait for him, three people stood right in front of my face.
“Hi, I’m A, my business is in Screen technology. What do you do?”
“I’m B, my start up is a VR publishing platform, about to launch next month. How about you?”
“My business in optical AI is already successful, I just need more funding for my next stage worldwide expansion. And you are? ”
I was stunned. Honestly, I didn’t prepare an answer. Here I was, standing in front of these entrepreneurs and felt very small.
I stumbled out, “Oh Hi I’m E, I’m not in any high tech start-ups, I’m just waiting for my friend….”
Before I could finish my sentence, I saw all three of them had their eyes elsewhere and drifting their body positions away from me. One said, “Oh…” and left me standing. The rest just didn’t bother to continue to speak to me, and turned to the guy on my right and introduced themselves the same way they had to me.
Wow, I guess I wasn’t even worth to be continued speaking to. I wasn’t affected, thankfully my ego is not that big. I was just amazed at how go-getter they are and a little shocked at the aggression (haha I guess that’s the Silicon Valley for you). Of course, there was no time to be wasted, this networking event could only last for probably the next 30-40 minutes as people started to leave. These entrepreneurs needed to meet as many people as they had to, to advance their business.
I hurriedly went to the corner so that I won’t “waste anyone’s time”. I’m not exactly a candidate that could contribute meaningfully. Although this wasn’t an exclusive event, people went there for such a single minded purpose.
As I got out of the way, I continued observing the way people talked about themselves and dismissed others quickly. As I looked over the crowd, I could still see J still being swarmed by people. Everyone was getting in his face because he was from Benchmark Capital. I could see his body language, he was trying to get away as politely as possible. Everyone wanted to talk to him, and everyone wanted his business card.
He looked searchingly at the crowd and once he spotted me, he smiled, politely tried to cut the conversation with the swarm and slowly made his way over. When within earshot, he hissed, “Hurry up, let’s go before more people try to talk to me. I’m hungry. ” As we walked off, I saw the 3 guys whom I “met” earlier looking at me in surprise.
Upon reflection, there were a few things I realized from that little observation.
People tend to alter their behavior according to their perceived (sometimes superficial) value of someone. The more important or useful to them someone is, they smile more, flatter, try to impress, act very nice to. The less or unimportant person is mostly ignored, and sometimes receive curt or even rude behavior.
Now, I’m not offended at all about what those guys did. I get it, being an entrepreneur is a hard life. I know the importance of networking. And yes, maybe they could at least say, it was very nice to meet you. But even if they did, it is not like I could help with anything either. My point of this whole story is to show that we naturally reserve our efforts on what is productive or fruitful, to conserve energy/resources and so our behavior sometimes reflect this. However, in general, treating anyone well or badly based on perceived value is not the most elegant way.
Have the same manner for everyone
It is not elegant to reserve your best behaviour and manners for someone important.
At least those guys were just looking out for the interests of their company, which may represent jobs for many families. There are some people who just reserve their manners for anyone who is judged to be beautiful, prestigious or rich. That doesn’t even make sense because how is that productive? Maybe they think that impressing them could mean future opportunities, or they think it is great for their image.
I feel that one of the core concepts of elegance is treating everyone with respect and in the same manner.
That means you shouldn’t just be rude to someone because she’s “just the waitress”. And also your colleagues shouldn’t see you sucking up to your boss. Your manner of speaking to colleagues, boss and even people whom you don’t work with but share the same office… should be the same.
The way you treat someone should be the same for the people you think are important, and not-so-important.
You shouldn’t save your best manners for the queen.
If so, how exactly do you treat everyone the same way? How can you be elegant about this?
How to have the same manner for everyone
Here are a few guidelines
- Treat everyone the same
- Do not try to impress
- Don’t be rude to someone just because you think they are not worth your attention
Treat everyone the same
No matter who, be polite and respectful. Offer your greetings, say please and thank you, and look at them when speaking.
This should be your manner to everyone. When you are not in the habit of discriminating or judging or sizing people up and assigning a value to them in relation to your needs, you are actually a better person. You are more elegant and you are genuinely a person of character.
Do not try to impress
There is no need to. And trying to impress almost never works. You may not know who the person really is and may look like a fool if they can already tell that you’re exaggerating. You may steer the conversation towards what you’re interested in by dropping in a few statements to see if they are interested, then perhaps it may be okay to talk about yourself. Ideally, it is better to talk about something else than to use the word “I” and constantly refer to yourself.
Do not be rude
Most people are not rude. But some people are rude only to those calculated as “not important” or “will not affect my career” or “someone I will not socialize with”. I remember seeing two friends dismissing my awkward friend at my birthday party and I was not happy about that.
I’ve also travelled with some friends am genuinely not happy about the way they have treated some taxi drivers.
“Judge a person not by how he treats you, but how he treats others. The former reflects what he wants you to think of him, the latter truly reflects who he is.”
― Betty Jamie Chung
So why do people do this? Why do people treat others differently based on their perceived usefulness?
I believe it is due to their fundamental values and way of thinking. They don’t believe in the abundance of love and goodness in the world. They believe in scarcity in time and resources, they have to fight and take from others. It is as though being nice is a waste of time, because being nice is an effort (probably because they are not genuinely caring or nice).
If deep down you believe in the abundance of love and have fundamental respect for others as equals, I believe the right behavior will come from the heart. You will feel and know what is the right thing to do.
How will having the abundance of love and have fundamental respect for others be like?
This is what I believe. If you believe in the abundance of love and have fundamental respect for others, you will be respectful towards ALL people, not just people from your country, or race or religion.
No matter what their beliefs are, or how different they are from yourself, there will be a fundamental respect for their differences and their choices. Even when it makes you uncomfortable. One shouldn’t compare or try to convince anyone to change.
It is our job to for us to acquaint ourselves with some of these differences, so as to better understand and see things from another perspective.
And when you do, I believe it is only natural you become a more considerate person. Somehow, it will be easier to think about others before yourself.
In doing so, I also remind myself of these points…
There is a difference being-firm-but-not-rude, and being rude.
There is no need to be rude, but that doesn’t mean you are a push-over. There is a difference between being firm and respectful in a disagreeable situation, and being rude.
Do not be overly nice
While you are being elegant and treating everyone in the same manner, this also doesn’t mean you are overly nice, in a way that makes others feel uncomfortable, or that you’re sucking up. You don’t have to go out of your way for everyone, you don’t have to please everyone. You can say no. Just be as polite and straight forward as possible, and don’t need to sugarcoat something or exaggerate to be nice. People can smell pretentiousness .
Don’t need to cultivate friendship with everyone
Sometimes we try too hard, and we try to cultivate a relationship with everyone. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, certainly not your boss, your colleagues or your assistant, not even the part-time housekeeper. Keep the personal questions to yourself. Sometimes, it is kind to maintain a respectful distance and to give people space or privacy. Be cheerful when you see them but go about your own business and be on your merry way.
“The most attractive thing about you should have less to do with your face or body and more to do with your attitude and how you treat people.”
― Germany Kent
Being Elegant in your Manner
Having the same manner for everyone is not only kindness and consideration, but it is also about having character. There is a sense of honesty, because you don’t have to be on your guard, you don’t have to wonder if you were rude or curt prior to realizing who you were speaking to. You’re not pretending to be someone else. You are polite, you are considerate, you are elegant. You’re being yourself.
It is also faith and sense of belief that you don’t have to flatter your way to get any where. Flattery might work against you. And if you need to flatter any one in order to get something, or get ahead, then maybe it is not worth pursuing that, if it is elegance that you’re after.
Women who have inspired me seem have one elegant manner. They live their lives with dignity by not altering their behaviour according to perceived value. They don’t even appear to be sizing any one up. Doing so is regarded as crass and pretentious.
As I write this, I recall a little bitterly at my current workplace where two of my colleagues use this method to get ahead. Sure, it may work (probably temporarily) but everyone else in that department is disgusted and those two are not well-liked. I sometimes get mad because it is quite unfair and feel like there is no justice but I remind myself that that’s not the life I want, and those are the people I do not want to be.
I believe in doing the right thing and living as best as I can, even though I am not perfect. I want to be the elegant person that treats everyone in the same respectful, courteous way. I want to be kind and warm and compassionate. I want to live with the right values and principles and make the world a better place, in my own way.
Before I end off, I would like to share with you some quotes that have inspired me greatly from “My Fair Lady“.
Mrs. Higgins: How ever did you learn good manners with my son around?
Eliza Doolittle: It was very difficult. I should never have known how ladies and gentlemen really behaved, if it hadn’t been for Colonel Pickering. He always showed what he thought and felt about me as if I were something better than a common flower girl. You see, Mrs. Higgins, apart from the things one can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a common flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me like a common flower girl, and always will. But I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering, because he always treats me like a lady, and always will.
People may not have remembered what you said, but they will always remember how you have made them felt.
Have a great month ahead,