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10 blind spots in your social etiquette that could be creating a bad impression

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You only get one chance to make a first impression. Unfortunately, that usually starts with appearances.

But most people know that how we look doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are.

That’s where social etiquette comes in.

The way you engage with someone is a great way to make a second impression that will stick with the people you’re talking to.

How you do this will be affected by your neurotype, your personality, your mood, who you’re speaking to, etc. And it’s important to note, there’s no one right way of communicating.

But there may be certain blind spots in your etiquette that are worth considering, like these:  

1. You forget names.

Names are meaningful to people. Most people like to know they’re remembered and thought about.

Furthermore, when you use a person’s name in conversation you demonstrate you’ve been paying attention and value them from the outset.

That being said, you can go way overboard with this, so it seems unnatural and borderline sleazy. Don’t do that. Just use the name when it makes sense.

If you struggle to remember names, as many of us do, you can find ways to jolt your memory. Like coming up with an internal rhyme or visual cue. Failing that, people respect honesty, so you can be upfront and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Can you remind me please?”.

2. You overlook introductions.

Awkwardness often comes with meeting new people. You can help make the situation much less awkward by introducing people when it makes sense.

It demonstrates you’re considering their comfort and want to make things easier for everyone.

Acknowledging introductions can be a good way to make people feel welcome too.

You don’t have to acknowledge every person individually, or even verbally if that’s not comfortable for you.

You can acknowledge them with a smile, nod, or lift of the hand which tells that person you’re acknowledging them and the introduction. Or you can say, “Hi” or “Nice to meet you” if you’re ok with that.

The key is to find what feels natural for you, whilst making the other person feel welcome too.

3. You interrupt others.

It can be difficult to identify the right time to join a conversation.

This can be even trickier if you’re autistic, ADHD, or both, as these neurotypical social conventions don’t come as naturally.

A simple way to do it is to wait for a pause between the participants and then contribute whatever it is you want to say.

At that point, you’ll likely be addressed and pulled into the conversation.

If not, or if they don’t acknowledge you, it’s not a big deal. Just try again at the next pause.

You never know, they may have their own challenges navigating social etiquette, and it’s important we all cut each other a little slack.

Don’t beat yourself up if you find you misjudge the pause and talk over people now and then, we all do it.

4. You ignore basic politeness.

“Please” and “Thank you” can take you a long way.

These are basic courtesies of etiquette that we should always practice when asking for or receiving something.

More and more people don’t employ these basic courtesies anymore. They operate from a position of expectation, otherwise known as entitlement.

A little respect is not difficult to show and it’s sad that so many people don’t seem to bother anymore.

5. You use ‘inappropriate’ body language.

Appropriate body language demonstrates you’re invested in the conversation. But what is appropriate for one person will differ from another.

For most neurotypical people, eye contact, engaging facial expressions, and open body language are important.

But for people who are autistic or socially anxious, these things can actually be really uncomfortable.

So the key here is only to do what feels comfortable for you, whilst taking into account what makes the other person feel heard.

For example, if you’re autistic talking to a neurotypical person, you could position yourself side by side with them so you can engage without having to worry about making or avoiding eye contact.

And if you’re neurotypical and the person you’re talking to is avoiding eye contact but otherwise engaged, that’s ok. Don’t impose your norms on them and assume they’re disinterested.

Appropriate body language also includes allowing others personal space.

It’s a good idea to position yourself around an arm’s length away from people you’re talking to, unless the situation calls for something different.

For example, if you’re standing in a circle for a group conversation, your shoulders are going to be much closer than an arm’s length, but you should still try to avoid touching unless you know someone wants close proximity and physical touch.

6. You overshare.

Personal boundaries should also apply to conversational topics.

It’s a good idea to avoid questions that might be considered too personal unless you’ve established whether the other person goes in for that.

And even so, for your safety, it’s a good idea not to give too much away until you know someone can be trusted with the information you’re sharing.

They could be a kindred spirit who loves to overshare too, or they could be an exploiter who uses it to their advantage. It can take some time to work this out.

This doesn’t mean you have to make small talk if this isn’t something you’re comfortable with. A lot of people find it awkward. But most people don’t want to talk about heavy or serious topics with strangers.

If small talk doesn’t come naturally to you, you don’t have to force it. You can tell the other person about an interest or passion you have that you love talking about. Just be mindful of their participation in the conversation too.

If you’re ok with small talk, but just don’t know where to start, questions like, “What do you do for a living?” or “How’s your day going?” are good openers.

7. You monopolize conversations.

Unless you’re engaged in a speaking arrangement, no one wants to hear only you talk.

They may politely smile and nod, but they’re probably looking for an exit from the conversation. Because let’s face it, they aren’t actually having a conversation they’re just being talked at.

Again, this can be tricky if you’re communicating with someone who has a different neurotype to you. Autistic people take great joy in ‘info dumping’ and ADHDers often love tangential stories.

But regardless of neurotype, most people like to be able to get a point across when they want to.

If you struggle with this, picture a conversation like a tennis match. One person serves, the other hits the ball back, and they continue like this as they hit the ball back and forth. If you’re not sure how to hit the ball back, try asking your talk partner what their thoughts or opinions are on the subject.

8. You fail to follow up.

If it doesn’t matter to you whether someone follows up on a social engagement, you may assume it doesn’t matter to them.

But a follow-up after a social engagement communicates value to the person you’re reaching out to.

For example, if a friend hosted a party or invited you round for dinner, they may appreciate a thank you message. If you hosted an event that was a great success, a quick, ‘Thanks for coming!’ lets people know you really enjoyed their company.

You don’t need to go over the top with this. If you already told them at the party it was great to see them, or thanked them for the invite, you don’t need to send them a message too as that can come off as disingenuous.

But if you forgot to say it, or were too busy to wave each guest off, following up with a quick message the next day shows you’re appreciative and haven’t completely forgotten your manners. 

9. You ignore the host.

When you attend a party or gathering, it’s customary to seek out the host at some point and thank them for the invite.

This small gesture demonstrates to the host that you appreciate their hospitality and efforts to make the social gathering happen. The logistics of planning an event aren’t always easy after all.

You may also want to ask if there is anything you can do to help out if you feel so inclined, particularly if it looks like the host has got a lot on.

10. You overstay your welcome.

It’s good to understand when it’s time to leave an engagement or conversation. You can spot the signs if you know what to look for.

In a social engagement, it may be that a lot of the attendees have filtered out and the host is starting to clear up. If it’s not your natural inclination to spot these signals, don’t be afraid to ask.

In a conversation, the person’s body language, tone of voice, and answers can give some clues, but this isn’t always clear-cut. Especially if you and the person you’re talking to have different communication styles.

For example, neurotypical people may look away or avoid eye contact when they’re done with a conversation, whereas an autistic person may naturally do this despite still being engaged and interested.

Without knowledge of this, neurotypical people might assume an autistic person isn’t interested and wants to end the conversation, whereas autistic people might not pick up on the neurotypical person’s cues that they’re losing interest.

So rather than looking for a set of behaviors, look for changes in behaviors.

If the person was chatting animatedly and making frequent, easy eye contact, and now it’s the complete opposite, it’s probably a sign to wrap things up.

You can let them know you’ve enjoyed chatting with them (if you have), or simply let them know it’s time for you to head off to mingle some more. 

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We’re drilled into us from day dot that there is a right way to socialize.

And for many people social norms and appropriate etiquette are important.

But they’re essentially just a set of rules society has created, and they’ll differ depending on where you are in the world.

So whilst it’s important to “read the room” when it comes to social etiquette, it’s also important that we all make accommodations and adaptations for those who communicate differently to us. 

If we can do this, we can start to look beyond those first and second impressions, and get to know people for who they really are, not just what’s on the surface.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.