I am not a fan of being appropriate. I don’t like to dress appropriately, say appropriate things, and I particularly dislike ‘behaving’ appropriately. I mean, what is appropriate anyway? Appropriateness relates to specific groups, and their group norms. While we understand appropriate to mean ‘proper’ or ‘suitable’, there isn’t a universal definition of how to behave appropriately.
There’s an appropriate way to get angry with your kids in the privacy of your home after the seventh time you’ve asked them to clean their room, which can be different from the way you get angry with your kids in public, surrounded by witnesses with cell phones.
There’s appropriate behaviour in a staff meeting, and an appropriate way to speak to your manager versus a peer. We tend to be very appropriate when speaking to a client. As you read each of these different scenarios, I am sure that you have a very clear image of what is considered appropriate behaviour for each.
I don’t care for appropriateness. I am, however, an active practitioner of respectfulness.
As much as I would love to be a rebel, most of my natural behaviour falls within established social norms. That’s totally unintentional; being a rebel sounds way more sexy. Rather than fitting into the norms of each given scenario, I would rather show up as myself, and be respectful to other people. Isn’t that what they call being authentic?
Appropriateness connotes a sense of making other people feel comfortable and happy. Appropriateness makes me consider massaging the truth; not to deceive anyone, but to allow me to omit some inconvenient or uncomfortable truths.
When I’m being appropriate, I say “it’s so nice to see you,” when the only reason we ran into each other is because I didn’t see you first or I would have taken a detour to avoid you. (Don’t judge me.)
Appropriateness makes me feel compelled to tell you your haircut looks great, because I’m afraid that saying nothing is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t like it.”
There’s also the classic appropriateness trap of ending a conversation with, “we should do lunch sometime.” No! I don’t want to have lunch with you, why are these words coming out of my mouth? Now I’m going to have to find an excuse about why I’m busy, when you take me at face value and try to set up lunch.
Respectfulness is being honest while treating others and myself with respect. Respectful handling of inconvenient truths means choosing to be constructive as you get clear on what you want to say and why you want to say it. Most importantly, it’s recognizing when silence is the most constructive and respectful course of action.
It’s addressing a staff member’s performance issue in a timely, direct and tactful manner rather than putting off the difficult discussion, preferably until they move to another department and become someone else’s problem.
It’s letting your boss know that you can’t attend her 6 PM end of day calls because of your commitments outside of work, and offering an alternate meeting time or approach, such as sending an end of day note to her.
It’s wearing white pants past Labour Day because you love them.
It’s ending an encounter with someone you are happy not to see again by simply saying, “have a good afternoon,” followed by silence and a smile.