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Top 5 etiquette skills

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 12, 2013 06:53 AM

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Last week, I was interviewed by Real Simple magazine for a feature on life skills everyone should have. I was under the impression that they wanted me to come up with a list of five items, which wasn't exactly the case, as it turned out--the number five possessed some mystic editorial importance I never did get quite straight--but trying to think which five, and only five, social skills were must-haves was an invigorating exercise. Without further ado, Miss Conduct's Top 5 Social Skills Everyone Should Have:

1. Giving and receiving compliments gracefully. This is surprisingly difficult for many people! Are you one of them? Leave your dilemmas in the comments--I may devote a column or two to the problem.

2. Writing a thank-you note. One ought to learn to give compliments gracefully, but one ought to learn to write thank-you notes at all. Promptness rather than eloquence is of the essence--don't let perfectionism lead to procrastination where TYNs are concerned. 

3. Writing a clear and courteous business letter or e-mail. 

4. Admitting when you don't know something and taking appropriate action. As Will Rogers said, "Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects." Life in the Information Age requires Information Etiquette. Nobody can possible keep abreast of all the current events, scientific findings, arts, sports, and industry gossip worth knowing about, so don't be ashamed--or proud--of your particular areas of ignorance. Don't pretend knowledge you don't have--it's too easy to fact-check nowadays. And don't ask people for information that is easily accessible on the internet (like directions to their house). 

5. Making a tasty one-pot meal (e.g., chili or a nice chicken soup). If you can do this, you can entertain at home. You can also put some in a container and bring it to friends who are sick. It doesn't matter if it's the only thing you can cook. It can be your brand. Nobody minds knowing that an invitation to dinner at Bob's means Bob's Famous Ratatouille. (Even if you hate Bob's ratatouille, well, at least you know. It's not like half the time it's something really wonderful and half the time it's that wretched ratatouille, so you never know whether or not you should eat something before you go.)


What do you think of my list? What would be on your list of most important social skills? What do you think are the top 5 etiquette skills on the job? For roommates? For children? 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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