Etiquette refers to rules of acceptable behavior. It is how we make others feel comfortable in our presences. A breach of etiquette is an infraction or a failure to comply with something. Hence, an etiquette breach is a failure to comply with a particular behavior necessary for a situation or environment.
Now that we have that out of the way, how do we handle a situation when you mess up?
When I started my business, I received a generous number of stories from individuals about associates that had committed breaches in etiquette. Most of the individuals had no idea they were in violation of an unwritten code of behavioral protocol. Everyone seems to have a story, or two, of someone who did something very wrong, according to their definition of the proper protocol. It made them think twice about this person. Some infractions were as small as licking knife in a restaurant. Some were bigger, like taking a cell phone call during an interview to talk about weekend plans. Then there was the story of the bride who drank her finger bowl at her wedding in front of several hundred prestigious guests.
Some were simple, straightforward little mistakes and some were tsunami-size catastrophes. Regardless of the size, if you are aware that you have broken the rule of making others feel comfortable in your presence, own it, acknowledge it, and apologize for it.
Recognize that you have made an error in protocol and apologize. It doesn’t undo what you have done; however, it allows the other person to know that you know better. Ignoring it makes the person across from you think you didn’t know any better or even worse that you didn’t care. Acknowledge that you know what you did was not appropriate. Say what you should have done. Then apologize for the breach. We are human and make mistakes. How you handle the faux pas can sometimes work in your favor!
Colleen Harding is a certified etiquette and protocol instructor and the founder of the Cleveland School of Etiquette and Corporate Protocol. Programs and packages available for children and businesses.