Friday, June 22, 2012

Etiquette expert Peter Post's advice for the DNC

Peter Post, one of etiquette legend Emily Post's four great-grandchildren, is director of the Emily Post Institute and author of five etiquette books including "The Etiquette Advantage: Personal Skills for Professional Success" and the newly revised "Essential Manners for Men."

I met the Vermont resident when he was in Charlotte in 2004 promoting his New York Times bestseller "Essential Manners for Men" and found him to be as charming as he is intelligent. Along with excellent manners, of course, he has a great sense of humor.

So shortly after that when the Panthers played the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl (you can guess which side he was rooting for), I called him to get some fun quotes on the etiquette of attending Super Bowl parties if you're cheering for a different team than the hosts and guests.

I thought of him again as I began to ponder the party coverage I'll be doing for the Democratic National Convention when it comes to Charlotte in September during the week of the Labor Day holiday. I think of personal political beliefs as just that - thoughts you should keep to yourself in social settings. After all, the Holy Trinity of successful parties has always been discretion when it comes to talking about sex, politics or religion.

I have also been worried about individuals (including me) losing their cool during what will surely be historic levels of traffic and protesters in our pretty little city.

On top of all that, I wondered if in our business oriented city it was smart to be seen publicly aligning yourself with any political party for fear of losing customers who share different views.

Peter not only calmed my fears with some very practical advice we can all learn from, he made me laugh with some of his responses.

For business owners who want to make a show of their beliefs using their business, he had this to say: "There's no requirement that you put out bunting and pictures and declare you allegiance for either side - whether it’s Democrat or Republican. If you're making your business display your personal opinion, I would tone that down. You would be cutting off 50 percent of your customers if you aligned with a particular side."

That said, he's also adamant we should respect the right of people to display their support for their political candidate.
"Just because someone supports a person you don't support doesn't make them a bad person," he says. "Take it with a grain of salt. If you see a business owner who is more overt in their political beliefs, is that really a reason not to do business with them? Businesses and our relationship with them are built on so much more than what's going to happen in the next three months and during the convention."
If you are worried about tensions during the convention, Peter says the first thing to do is arrange to be out of town. "If you can't leave, be aware that it's going to disrupt your life and do a little bit of planning," he says. "Do things ahead of time so you don't have to put yourself in a stressful situation. Anticipate what might happen and what you'll need to do."
If you're stuck in traffic or experience any other convention-related stress, Peter says his advice is to do what his personal trainer has taught him: breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. "If you get frustrated slow down, take a few deep breaths and realize this isn’t going to last forever so what the heck - go with the flow – it's just three days."
If you come across overly pumped up conventioneers who may seem obnoxious at times, he recommends taking another deep breath and just enjoy watching the spectacle. "Look at it as an opportunity, not a disaster," he says. "Think of it as a once in a lifetime event."
If a stranger says something that rubs you the wrong way, Peter says to shrug it off. "Pick your fights carefully. If you hear someone say something negative and you have a reasonable correction, do so. For example, if someone is complaining about having to wait in line at a restaurant, you may want to suggest they go to another nearby place. But if you can't be helpful then no matter what they say don't worry about it. They're just a stranger. Don't get your knickers in a twist."
In regards to yard signs, he knows that people love to put them out, but he says to keep them positive by making sure they're for, not against, something. He thinks the worst thing you can do is leave them out after the convention is over. "They should be gone the day after it's over," he says. 
When it comes to protesters, including the anarchists that are headed our way, he recommends not antagonizing them. "Move to the side and get out of their way. This is not the forum for a rational discussion. If you think you're going to change a protester's mind, you're not. If you want to confront them, have a confrontation, but that's probably not going to get the results you imagine."
Peter has visited here several times and has very nice things to say about Charlotte being a great city. "The best thing you can do is show visitors the hospitality I've seen there," he says.