Great etiquette: how to be a generous creative

Manners maketh man.

William of Wykeham (1324–1404)

I love this idea: that how we behave informs what we become.

When I was 16, my standard attire for college was a dark t-shirt, army surplus combat jacket (with real bullet hole), skinny jeans and short, spiky haircut.

I rocked up at sixth-form most days looking like a Clash fan on the morning after a rough gig and, on appearance only, could easily have been taken for a teenage virago – at least before I’d had my first coffee – but those who knew me, knew better.

I had sat down in my very first English A-level class and seen Wykeham’s motto written, in an impeccable hand, on the board by our tutor. And I didn’t have a problem with it, it was exactly how my parents had raised me. Call it a statement of intent: we were in no doubt as to what she expected – politeness and consideration in class, and in life generally.

These days, older (and hopefully better dressed!), I reflect on the nature of kindness, gratitude and behaviour and how it shapes the way we live. As we mature in our responses to others, we’re able to comprehend more deeply and subtly how we can affect each other in myriad ways.

For light relief, in my spare time I’ve been leafing through Debrett’s, the definitive guide to British etiquette: its deliciously dry take on modern manners is highly entertaining.

On a more down-to-earth level, an essential podcast on my regular listening list is Awesome Etiquette, hosted by Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute, the home of business and personal etiquette schooling in the USA. Practicality, thoughtfulness and a dose of good humour permeate their weekly advice on anything from how to deal with difficult co-workers, to thankyou notes or preparing for a wedding.

Etiquette has significance in our lives as creatives for two reasons. The first is the increasing level of expectation in the business world that it’s perfectly fine to ask us to give our services or products for free (which it isn’t, unless we choose to do so).

Etiquette equals respect

The second is the effect that good manners has on our work as businesspeople.

Etiquette equals consideration, respect and trust: integrity in what we say and do is crucial to our commercial endeavours – that is, if we’re serious about networking, building and keeping happy relationships with clients, and finding collectors and enthusiasts for our work.

Put simply, without good etiquette, the ground beneath our business is pretty shaky. Reputation is everything – and once it’s gone, it’s extremely hard to get it back.

So, how do we do this?

Being collegial is a great way to observe good etiquette and become known for being a generally lovely person to deal with. Making people feel comfortable and valued is key. If someone needs a hand and you’re able to help or advise them, do it. If you can, go the extra mile. They’ll notice it – and you – and remember that for the future.

Listening to others, being emotionally intelligent, taking time to think before we respond, considering the effect of what we say and our behaviour on others – all of these involve paying it forward, whether through simple kindness or actual assistance.

Being nice pays off

I know this sounds obvious, but being nice pays off. You get what you give.

Pleasant interaction makes you more heart-centred and contented in your work: you feel more connected, and radiate that out to others.

It doesn’t mean giving way every time for the sake of conformity, or sublimating yourself for others while seething underneath. You can still stand up for your own needs, be assertive yet non-confrontational.

If you think about it, the number of times every day that people confer good feeling on each other is so frequent, it’s unquantifiable – but added up, that free exchange of positive interaction and goodwill makes such a difference.

Creatives are particularly good at this because we understand what our calling takes from us personally. What we do means a lot to us, and we’re able to connect better with others when they acknowledge us as being truly invested in our work.

We also recognise the problem of limited resources, and do whatever we can to turn this to our best advantage.

Pay it forward

Here, knowledge-sharing is a great way to pay it forward. If we learn something that can help someone else, we can pass it on.

Perhaps we’ve found out about a community scrapstore for materials, a call for works, low-cost studio or office space, a great co-working opportunity, photography walk, writing group, a suitable editor or writers to critique a manuscript, or can refer someone to a trusted person in our network when they need assistance.

For creatives, great etiquette doesn’t have to be a grand gesture.

It can be something as small as taking someone for coffee to check in with them and ask how their work’s going, sharing experiences and offering support.

It could be visiting their workplace to give one-off advice on a project.

It could be offering to trade your products or skills for theirs.

It could simply be passing on positive feedback. Sending a thank you note or small gift for a job well done, letting them know you’re delighted, is a lovely thing to do.

If the boot’s on the other foot, and you’re servicing a client, it’s a nice idea to drop them a line at the end of a project to say how much you’ve enjoyed working on it, thank them again for offering it to you, and that you’re looking forward to continued collaboration.

You’re both happy. Win-win!

All of this greases the wheel and puts a little love back into the world. And who could argue with that?

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