Social Niceties

dress“You’re a jerk!” The words spat venomously from behind me. I looked behind, startled, and saw someone I knew from a while back. She continued: “Why didn’t you get in touch? You’re a jerk!”

I replied, somewhat lamely, “I did not expect to see you here. Are you around for the rest of the conference? Let’s meet up later.” The damage done, she grunted and introduced me to her teenage son who looked at me and gave a sweet adolescent smile.

I thought about why I had not got in touch with her before coming out to Silicon Valley. In years gone by I would have emailed each time I was visiting (which is where she lives). Only this time, I was here just for a fleeting visit to a conference. Sometimes, it is better not to say anything than to disappoint. “Hi, I am in town again but won’t be visiting you this time.” We bumped into each other again the next day and arranged to meet for what turned out to be a very amicable dinner. The wrong was put to right.

At another morning coffee break I was talking to an old friend, J, while soaking up the warm Californian sun. We had 5 minutes together before someone else, who had been standing on the sidelines, sidled up and said hi to J. The guy also smiled at me and we let him in our circle. The conversation inevitably took a new turn. A few minutes later a wee man sprung himself upon J by holding out both his hands and then cupping one of J’s to shake it. He then did the same with the other guy. It seemed forced and unnatural. I waited for my turn (I know this guy and I know he knows me) but he completely blanked me out and turned to face the others. Surprised, I cheekily sprung my hand out and said, “And hello, I am Yvonne!” in an exaggerated, sarcy way. He looked back at me, shook my hand limply, muttered a half hello, and then turned back to talk to the other two guys.

Jeez, talk about being rude! I waited for two minutes and after being ignored walked away. You know where you are in the pecking order. I was made to feel right down there – a nothing. Perhaps if I had been wearing some of these delightful, colored shoulder flaps, that Hillary Predko from the Social Body Lab has developed as an expressive wearable that move up and down by tensing your muscles, I might have at least been able to vent my frustration! The idea behind this technology is as an extension of our bodies to allow us to sense our surroundings and express our emotions in a more visceral way.

Networking at conferences is hard work and stressful. While some shy away, others feel they have the right to just barge in where they want. Etiquette is thrown out the window. The worst is when someone you are talking to, looks over your shoulder in mid-sentence to see if someone more interesting or important is coming towards them. If they spot someone higher up the pecking order, they often won’t even say goodbye but just shoot off. Onto the next one to let them know how great they are.

At the end of the last evening’s social event, I walked over to the manager who had organized the buffet and bade him farewell. I had chatted with him earlier in the evening as he was adding the finishing touches to the wonderful spread. He was touched that I had said how enjoyable the food was and loved the way the food was presented. It really is easy to be nice to people and make them feel valued and good at what they do.

Dress with flutes designed by Halley Profita

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