Introduction: Courtesy: the Ultimate Life Hack

A little courtesy goes a long way…such a long way, in fact, that it eventually finds it’s way back to you in the way that you’re treated by others.

If it’s true that “anything that makes your daily routine easier can be considered a life hack,” then these are the ultimate hacks, because not only do they improve the quality of the user’s life, they improve the day of the people with whom the user…. well, interfaces.

We intended that our kiddos learn these house rules to show respect for others. However—once put into regular practice—they had an unexpected effect: people took note and offered all kinds of very positive feedback.

This instructable is not about fish forks, pinkies up, or please-and-thank-you basics (although the world could use a brush up on the latter). They’re things that make a difference by making a lasting impression, which, in the end, helps the user.

Here are 10 difference makers…(even though they shouldn’t be that unusual)…that are important for children AND adults. In no particular order:

Step 1: Eye Contact

Kids, and many adults, need to learn to “look people in the eye” when they are speaking. As a society, we are communicating more and more through our devices, so this is becoming a lost art.

Avoiding eye contact is often the result of shyness and insecurity. However any internet search on “eye contact” will yield dozens of sites that discuss how vital it is to create positive interactions.

Show this courtesy to the person with whom you are speaking and you will be perceived as being more personable, likable and competent. (And before you get offended and call me judgmental… don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger.)

How to teach this to your kids? After you meet with someone, ask your child to tell you the color of the person’s eyes. It becomes a game while teaching a life skill at the same time.

Step 2: "I Beg Your Pardon"

This grandpa-sounding phrase was adopted by many of our daughter’s teen-age friends because they liked what happened when they said it.…(really)!

The kids said the words felt old-fashioned and awkward to use at first, but once they got used to it saying it, people actually commented that they appreciated their refreshing alternative to “Huh” or “What?”.

Teach it to a four-year old and the world is her oyster.

Step 3: Shake Hands

Why do we teach this to our dogs and neglect to teach it to our children, or worse, forget to do it ourselves?

Learning to shake hands at a young age is like preparing for a test when you know what the questions will be.

In any given day you may have to meet people, run into someone you haven’t seen in while, offer congratulations, say goodbye… a firm, warm handshake is the answer to any of those situations. As an added bonus, a handshake is the safer alternative to the social hug or cheek kiss…both of which are often uncomfortable and can be perceived as invasive.

Add eye contact to your handshake for bonus points. Score an out-of-the-park home run if you teach your child before kindergarten to meet someone, shake hands, look them in the eye AND say the words “how do you do.”

Step 4: GET. THE. DOOR.

You’ve had it happen to you. You’re right behind someone entering a store and WHAM.

None for you, Gretchen Weiners!

Teach your kids to take note of people behind them and make sure they hold the door. Better still, have them learn to step up and actively open the door for someone, especially a parent with young children or the elderly (which, to children, is nearly everyone). Aside from being courteous, it’s a great lesson in deference.

Usually this effort is rewarded with a grateful thank you, and if it is isn’t, well, that’s a lesson, too.

Step 5: Thank Teachers, Coaches, Refs…AND THE MILITARY

This “thank you” is a little different from the basic “please and thank you.”

When they see a serviceman or woman in uniform, or a veteran (often wearing a jacket or baseball cap identifying them as such), teach your kids to say “thank you for your service.” Have them add a handshake with eye contact.

As they leave class, ask them to say thank you to the teacher on their way out. This was not a common practice when our kids were in school, but the teachers lavished such gratitude on a student who did it, that it caught on among the classmates and became a very common practice and a source of pride for both teachers and students.

Likewise, the same rule applies for sports: when practice ends or the game is over, they should make a conscious effort to say thank you to the coach (many of whom volunteer and give up family time to work with the team).

After a game, win or lose, thank the ref and shake hands with him or her...Impressive stuff.

Step 6: If You're Assigned the "Crap" Job, Do It Well

This is especially important for kids, who—let’s be honest—think everything is a crap job. (And I apologize for using the word "crap".)

Being a young person who knows how to follow instructions, dig in and get ‘er done—like scraping (non-lead) paint off a house or painting a fence on a hot summer day—shows leadership and maturity.

Bonus life points go to the kids who recognize big and small opportunities to offer help and readily volunteer it….like on school Service Days.

Adults notice when youth go the extra mile--like stopping to help pick up dropped items or help with heavy loads--and often give leadership opportunities to students who are known to be helpful, reliable and responsible.

They may have messy rooms at home, but to the outside world they have a great reputation.

Step 7: ​Be Able to Say "I’M SORRY"

Despite what you see in your car, the correct response to being “beeped at” is NOT flipping the bird. Horns are often used to alert another driver to an error they have made (or are about to make) that could cause an accident.

Waving—instead of flipping—means, “sorry, thanks for letting me know.”

Is that really so hard?

In the car, in the classroom, in the office, or in a relationship…being able to admit you’re wrong and take responsibility shows humility and demonstrates character.

It also beats discovering that, on her way to school, your daughter just displayed her middle finger to the president of the PTA.

Step 8: “Hello, Mrs. Smith”

Adults appreciate being acknowledged by name.

Your children will make a lasting impression if they take the time to say hello (by name) to adults they casually encounter or see unexpectedly at school or elsewhere. Bonus points for them if they shake hands and can maintain a brief conversation.

Step 9: ​INTRODUCE YOURSELF!

You know that feeling when someone approaches you and your forgot their name?

Teach your kids to spare someone that awkwardness by being comfortable introducing themselves: "Mrs. Dirr? Hi, it’s James Smith."

The adults they encounter will appreciate it…and will remember them.

Kids should also do this on the telephone…ever call someone and hear this:

Hello, this is the Smith residence, Jimmy speaking” or answer the phone to : “Hello, Mrs. Dirr, this is Jimmy calling. May I please speak to Kyle.”

I gotta say, it makes me love that Jimmy kid.

Step 10: Be on Time

As a reformed always-late person…I am well qualified to say this:

Being late is selfish. No one cares about your excuses, how many lights you missed, that the dog wouldn’t come when you called, that you spilled your coffee on your shirt…etc.

Being late is a giant sticker on your forehead that says your time is much more important than everyone else’s; that you didn’t care enough to plan; and that it was easier to make everyone wait for you than to risk showing up early and, Heaven forbid, wait for them. (Yep, it says all that on one sticker!)

Being late also causes you to rush, stresses you out, and risks the safety of everyone when you drive.

~~

If you think about it, these are just small things that might start out feeling hugely uncomfortable…but become really easy once practiced on a regular basis.

Conversely, it turns out they are also confidence builders that have a big and positive effect on how your kids are perceived and remembered by the people they meet.

Carried into adulthood, they are great tools for life. The more people who practice them, the nicer life is for everyone.

Comments

author
DustandDoghair (author)2016-03-21

Just wanted to say thank you to everyone for all your nice comments, constructive criticism, AND for folks offering helpful additions to the list... Grateful for those clarifying cultural and personal sensitivities!

To those who hinted, NO! These are not meant to be manipulative and should always be offered with sincerity (as are the considerate options suggested by many of you)!

Feel free to continue to add to the list:)

author
lm5392 (author)2016-05-11

great info I hope this catches on everywhere

author
pamala.leonard (author)2016-04-12

There is nothing more endearing than a child who can make small talk with an adult he or she just met.

author
guidess (author)2016-04-07

Great, clear, straightforward, and sadly necessary 'ible. Thank you so much for posting. I try to be as polite as possible, and not to be 'judgey' when people seem to be trying their best, but I have one major bugbear. Men often (read 'always') shake hands too hard. I try to convince myself it is not deliberate, but I have always found that it is generally uncomfortable, and now that I have a little bit of arthritis in my hands it can be extremely painful. My soul absolutely recoils as soon as a man reaches out to shake my hand. If there is some sort of dominance contest going on, I'm not in it. Please, gentlemen, if you feel you MUST shake my hand (myself, I am a big fan of the big smile and bow-y nod, accompanied by "a pleasure to meet you" or equivalent), just hold it out, let me put my hand in it, and GENTLY cover it with your other hand for a second, then let me move on. If you squeeze or hang on too long I will not recognize you as my pack superior, I will despise you as a bully, and it will take an awful lot of good behaviour to undo that first. When I was younger, it read as a bit of an unspoken threat, and now that I am , well, less young, it scans as infantile and boorish. Please don't send this message unintentionally through an aggressive handshake.

author
DustandDoghair (author)guidess 2016-04-07

Guides,
Mr. Dust and Doghair once found this out the hard way during a Mass-time "sign of Peace."

He really felt terrible after unintentionally inflicting pain on a senior gentleman. Total antithesis of the gesture!

Lesson learned at said gentleman's expense.

author
Dexterko (author)2016-04-05

Sorry, haven't noticed it, fixed it :)

author
Dr. dB (author)2016-03-23

Love the 'ible, and REALLY love your user handle! Beautifully evocative...

For those suffering from the "No problem" and other "slang" pet peeves, however:

Variety being one of the few, genuine spices of life, I make a conscious point of more-or-less randomly rotating "No problem!", "Sure thing!", "You betcha!" and a number of similar phrases, ALL of which mean, "You're quite welcome!".

If I screw something up, I often say, "My bust on that one!", or its shorter form, "Sorry, my bad!". That's me freely admitting that, whatever just got hosed, it's ALL my fault, and no one else's.

When I use such conventions, I am ALWAYS sincere. To assume that I'm being "insincere", simply because of some particular, colloquial phraseology or other, frankly, strikes me as just a trifle churlish and arrogant...

Perhaps step 11 of this 'ible should be, "Get over yourself!"...?

(Oh, also, in Step 6, I think that's, technically, "Git 'er done!", with an "i"...)

author
nanaverm (author)Dr. dB2016-04-01

Never heard "My bust on that one" - but being a woman, I wouldn't use it anyway (ha, ha).

I'm not thinking people are insincere when saying "No problem" nor do I try to correct them.

author
Dr. dB (author)nanaverm2016-04-04

Ha, ha, indeed! Usually, I'm the one whose (twisted) mind more-or-less automatically runs through most or all of the comedic permutations of words, but I never thought of "bust" in that particular context, with this particular expression... That's funny! (Could be shoulders-up statuary, too, now that you've got me "jump-started"...)

author
pellepeloton (author)2016-03-27

I disagree, do not grab the door or push stealthily behind if someone is making progress even they might be slow with their moves.
It is rude to assume that someone with canes or using a wheelchair needs help with anything unless they ask. They might be having a tricky balance and you shifting their balance surely does not help.
If you really want to help, ask first if they need any without taking the control and if they say NO, that means NO!
I am learning to walk again after a spinal injury and I am proud of myself and what I can do but I do not need any reminders that you think that I can not manage simple things like doors.
Where are you helpful people when I am handwashing my tall van?

author

First, kudos to you for your hard work and your continued recovery!

I'm grateful for your comments, because I could be accused of doing the same thing (not "pushing stealthily") but wanting to help someone without realizing they wanted to do it themselves OR that my attention made them feel uncomfortable.

I didn't think of it as interfering, but appreciate your perspective, because you do.

I credit you for your independent spirit! I think some folks who tend to grab/hold doors for everyone don't necessarily think you can't manage, but would indeed have offered or "grabbed the door" for anyone. When I was pushing a stroller into the store, I could manage, but didn't mind the help; however, the perspective of the courtesy recipient is important. And you're right...no, thank you, means no.

I might be one of those guilty of grabbing the door (without asking) thinking I was being helpful and not realizing I was putting you off balance. I'll be more careful in the future.

I always get car doors, or offer my arm when walking with my mom (who is not unsteady, but just because), but my MIL does NOT like it...always tells me "I'm not THAT old." (Though I wasn't doing it because they are older.)

Thank you for your helpful comment! And good luck with your continued recovery! :)

author

Thank you for your understanding. I have an attitude which helps me to walk again normally some day.
I can not start accepting random "help" if I can do it myself. Struggle makes stronger! I am not disabled but on a very long recovery path.
Lately I have discovered two new similar therapies which have sped up my recovery. The first one is Ware K Tremor and second one is TRE therapy. Those work for everybody with all sorts of physical and mental issues. Google them up and be amazed ?

author
Mark 42 (author)pellepeloton2016-03-31

I hold doors for everyone, even high school & college age kids.
If someone holds the door for you, just say thanks, and give them an opportunity to feel good. They are just trying to be helpful, so sacrifice some pride and let them be helpful.

author
pellepeloton (author)Mark 422016-04-03

You either did not read or did not understand my point.
I take your open door if you were first on the door.
But if I have already grabbed the door handle and I am in the process to get through the door, in that case I do not want any help ( read interference). Taking the control without even asking is patronising and you are questioning my ability to do things myself.
If you are not sure if you should help or not, just ask and do not expect to hear yes as some people prefer their independence.

author
Sevenof nine (author)2016-04-03

Thank you for such a lovely and well written instructable with well thought out photos. The additional comments are well worth reading too:) The "be nice" policy warrants a positive mention.

author
melmomma6 (author)2016-03-20

My 3 boys do all of this, plus, I've taught them random acts of kindness. They see what I have done and followed my foot steps.

One early morning as I always wake up around 2 am or am still up, I look out my window and across the street someone dumped all of my neighbors bagged leaves in his driveway right behind his car. We have 15-20 bags sometimes. He would have been late for work. 2 am in the morning, I got myself dressed, grabbed my rake and leaf bags and got to work. My neighbors went to work.......on time. They never knew it happened and never knew it was me who raked them up. I felt so good for the rest of the day. You could tell by the smile on face. = ) I've also hand shoveled peoples driveways when it snowed and raked leaves. Ones who can't afford a plow guy or the elderly who can't do it themselves. I Love spreading the Love!!!!!!!!!!!!!

author
RobinT6 (author)melmomma62016-03-21

if there was a Like button I would click it for your comment.

author
Mark 42 (author)RobinT62016-03-31

I think Instructibles needs a like or thumbs up button.
It allows us to agree without adding a comment (Obviously I am happy to comment - which is why I like another option too... so I can resist my urge to comment)

author
Mark 42 (author)Mark 422016-03-31

An edit button would be nice too!

author
DustandDoghair (author)melmomma62016-03-21

Wow (to you and lovethebackwoods).

People do that for our elderly parents...THANK YOU!!!

author

I've done the snow shoveling thing many times for too many neighbors to count, and the neat thing is that as far as I know, none of them know who has done it. I have always heard that a great many more things would be accomplished if no one cared who received the credit. Excellent 'ible, BTW. Thanks.

author

on behalf of those who benefited from your largesse I would like to thank you. there is a special place in heaven for people who do Secret goodness goodnesses

author
nanaverm (author)2016-03-20

My pet peeve is the deadpan response "No problem", when someone does something or serves as a clerk in a store and you thank him or her. The better response is "You're welcome!", said with enthusiasm, a smile, and eye contact.

author
clh (author)nanaverm2016-03-20

Oh, I so agree with a simple "you're welcome". Saying "no problem" is
like saying "oh, my bad" ("My bad" is NOT an apology, it's simply a
throw-away phrase that is belittling.)

author
DeborahW7 (author)clh2016-03-20

why is "my bad" bad? I thought it meant something like "I am sorry, it was MY fault"... also did not know about the "no problem". English is my second language but I have lived in the US for over a decade and picked up these expressions from people around me, thought they were okay :-(

author
Mark 42 (author)DeborahW72016-03-31

It depends on the situation.

author
Lovetra (author)DeborahW72016-03-21

A young lady commented to me the other day to something I said and used the expression "That's sick." Confused I asked what was sick about my action. in assisting a dog that was tangled in a plastic wrap. She did not mean it was sick on the part of the person who had thrown away the plastic wrap that caused the dog's problem.

"Oh, I meant that was BAD, you know, "COOL" you helped ---- Too many of these slang terms are showing up in our language that are a generational gap, and leave my generation scratching our ears. Sort of like speaking, in my day, "pig-latin", which I have forgotten how to do.

But for the older generation it is poor communication, confusing, even shows at times a careless ignorance on the part of the speaker and in some circles might even restrict a good impression conveyed on a potential employer!

author
clh (author)DeborahW72016-03-21

RobinT6 nailed the explaination, DeborahW7. When in doubt, be more formal than casual.

author
RobinT6 (author)DeborahW72016-03-21

the problem with "my bad" is that it is rarely said sincerely. It's like saying "yeah, I did something wrong but it's not important enough to me to apologize." Better to say "that was my fault, I'm sorry."

author
ScottyH2 (author)nanaverm2016-03-20

Thanks for posting the "No problem" peeve. Personally I had no idea that was a lazy response but after you wrote that it makes sense. I'll admit that my canned response to a thank you is "no problem" but I will indeed now make a concerted effort to reply with "you're welcome"

author
Katydidmail (author)ScottyH22016-03-20

Thank you for the comments and the instructable!

I find "np" (meaning 'no problem') takes less typing in a chat or instant message (IM) on the computer. At work we use IM all day long to communicate within and between teams. If it is not appropriate, then can someone please suggest some other for me to use?

The underlying issue for me is this - I type all day, and I really need to minimize my keystrokes, so 'np' is nice and short and generally understood (I think).

Are there better short options in IM situations that would be suitably polite and kind?

author

You could use the phrase "my pleasure". Phrases such as "no problem" or "no worries" come from a similar response in other languages that refers to no obligation incurred. You may just start a new round of good tm manners!

author
AlexandraA7 (author)Katydidmail2016-03-21

'np' are on different lines on the keyboard. YW (You're Welcome) are on the same (top) line. I find it easier - and more compliant - to use 'yw' than 'np'.

author
clh (author)ScottyH22016-03-20

Good for you, Scotty! Another nice reply to a thank you is "It was my pleasure".

author
janetsellers08 (author)nanaverm2016-03-21

the most polite response would be "my pleasure" which is currently being taught to the plays of the Staples chain of stores

author
mlaiuppa. (author)nanaverm2016-03-20

Mine was the use of "trick!" that has since gone out of favor. It allowed an obnoxious child to be disrespectful and then walk it back by pretending they were just joking. Had to have been the worst behavior ever.

My second is "whatever". My nephews use it when I am explaining a behavior that they should correct (for instance if they go for a job interview). They dismiss it with "whatever". P.S. They are both currently unemployed.

author
RobinT6 (author)2016-03-21

Good article, but can we stop calling things "hacks"? A hack is a clever solution to a tricky problem (urban dictionary), which these, while good advice, when they clearly are not.

author
DustandDoghair (author)RobinT62016-03-21

I understand your point, Robin. :)

I was using the definition Instructables offered, although the one on Urban Dictionary, continues: "to hack is to mod or change something in an extraordinary way"

so...hmmm....

(just having fun ;)

author
RobinT6 (author)DustandDoghair2016-03-21

not to say that it isn't a great article. I've already posted it on two of my facebook pages. But the overuse of "hack" makes me want to throttle someone!

bad Instructibles editors! [shakes finger at monitor]

author
Mark 42 (author)RobinT62016-03-31

But resisting the urge to throttle someone is the polite thing to do ;-)

author
ggallen103 (author)2016-03-23

I totally disagree with the introduce yourself (on the phone that is). In today's world with phone scams and telemarketers, by giving your last name and first name when you answer the phone is just too much information, with that now the telemarketer can speak to you like they had the information to start with. Personally, I follow the "you called me - so tell me who you are first" rule.

author
Mark 42 (author)ggallen1032016-03-31

I agree. If you call me, you not only need to tell me who you are, but you had better already know who I am before calling me, and I use that as a test of whether it is a sales call (if they don't know who I am, I'm immediately suspicious)

author

I think you have a valid point on that one, ggallen.

author
ggallen103 (author)2016-03-23

Thinking about these - which are all great. But one you left off......If you use the last of the toilet paper - put a new roll on! - and if you notice the paper is almost out, make sure there is a replacement roll available. We won't go into over or under debate.

author
Mark 42 (author)ggallen1032016-03-31

UNDER! Always under.

author
kmckown (author)2016-03-27

Nice list. I agree that it is definitely a life hack and a simple one also. The one thing I notice after reading many of the comments here is that so many people are critical of ways others try to express courtesy.

Why would one choose to be offended when someone holds the door for them even if they are handicapped and still able to do it. No one mentioned "grab(bing) the door or push stealthily behind." Why would you be bothered if the cashier says "no problem" to your thank you? One of the things about being courteous is assuming the other person is trying to be courteous also. So when my grandson holds the door for you, tell him thank you, don't whine because he did for you what he would have done for any adult. If the cashier at Family Dollar says "No problem" instead of being more hoity-toity and saying " It was all my pleasure" hear her "you're welcome" instead of assuming that she just said it that way to be nasty.

Looking for reasons to think poorly of others is probably one of the most discourteous things you can do and is sure to make your life much less enjoyable for you and any one who has the misfortune to be near you.

author
GinnyS5 (author)2016-03-26

It is all about good manners, being considerate, and noticing there is a world beyond your own mini world. Loved this life hack. It was the way I was raised and it is good to see others continue to teach their kids...simple good manners.

author
Dexterko (author)2016-03-26

That's a great reminder, the only thing that I still have problems with is being late, I just can't go out on time, no matter where I go or what I do, it has become a big bad habit. I also don't like being told what to do, and don't like weak motivations, because I can see through them, I don't know what to do to just start getting things done on time and just getting everywhere on time.

author
ClareBS (author)2016-03-26

Great instructable. Good manners never go out of style. In New Zealand many passengers say "thanks" to the bus driver when disembarking.

author
hammer9876 (author)2016-03-23

Don't forget, "Nice meeting you."

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