According to Dr. P.M. Forni, everyone can improve the quality of their relationships and lives by choosing to be more considerate, courteous and polite.
For the past decade, Dr. Forni—a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct
and The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude
—has been on a mission to promote gracious behavior. "The quality of our lives is about treating each other well in every situation. We are all the trustees of one another's happiness and well-being in life," he says.
Dr. Forni says modern society is structured in a way that actually amplifies and encourages incivility. "We are stressed, we are fatigued and we are in an anonymous environment. Stress and anonymity are two very, very common causes of rudeness," he says. "Especially when they are together, like in traffic."
In Choosing Civility
, Dr. Forni uses a quote from motivational speaker Peggy Tabor Millin—"We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace"—to illustrate the idea of "respectful persons."
"The principle of respectful persons is the principle upon which all ethical systems have been based from the beginning of humanity, since certainly the last 2,000 years," he says. "[The principle] says that we ought to treat others as ends in themselves rather than as beings for the satisfaction of our own immediate needs and desires."
Dr. Forni says choosing to act in a civil manner has proven more beneficial than self-satisfaction. "I'm not a physician, but any doctor will say that when we are involved in a rude encounter, there are hormones—like catecholamines, for instance, cortisol—that are cascading into our system and they are making our immune system weaker," he says. "If you have a boss that you perceive to be unfair, you're much more likely to have cardiovascular disease."
The bottom line? Going through life rude and angry can make you sick.
If you want to see rudeness in action, one of the best places to look is in the restaurants of America. Kara says she knows one of those rude customers personally—her sister Jeni is one of them!
"Anywhere we go out to eat, she refuses to sit at tables and she has to sit at a booth. And if they're really busy and she has to wait to sit at a booth, then she complains about having to wait to sit at the booth," Kara says. "If her water glass gets empty ... and they're not immediately there to refill her water, she gets really upset or won't leave a tip because they're not doing their job. And she orders iced tea a lot and she puts sweetener in her tea, and so it gets a certain amount of sweetener. And lots of times the waitress or waiter will come and top off the glass and she gets upset because now her sweetener-to-tea ratio is messed."
Jeni says she doesn't intend to be mean but isn't afraid to tell waiters when something is wrong. "Most of the time, I find something that's not correct," she says.
For nine years, Steven Dublanica was a waiter who experienced his share of difficult customers like Jeni. He recounts those experiences and more in the hugely popular blog Waiter Rant, which he's turned into the best-selling book Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
Steven says customers certainly have a right to expect good service at a restaurant, but it's not their right to be rude. "When you get to the point where you're picking on everything, that becomes a control issue," he says.
Steven says he thinks some people think they can be rude to waiters because of the nature of the interaction. "It's a servant job. We're bringing food to a table and we're getting tips in return. That's fine. I don't have a problem with that," he says. "But when people start thinking that we're not human, that we're slaves, that we don't have feelings? Sometimes when people treat us that way it hurts."
When you hurt your waiter's feelings, Steven says you might find yourself on the receiving end of a bit of revenge...but it may not be as bad as you think. "I think the one everyone is scared of is spitting in the food. I think very few waiters do that in actuality," Steven says. "I had a rule when I was waiting. My rule was, 'If I couldn't give it to my mother, I didn't give it to my customer.'"
Steven says there are three things you can do to stay on your waiter's good side.1. Don't talk on a cell phone at the table.
"I would be coming up to a table and saying, 'Here are the specials we have today.' And the phone would ring and they'd go, 'Wait." And then I would [say], 'Can I come back in a minute?' 'Wait,'" he says. "That's very rude behavior."2. Don't demand a different table on a busy night.
"On a busy night, the hostess has set up the seating plan in a way that it's like the logistics for the Normandy invasion," he says. "If you change one table, everything gets thrown off."3. Don't tip less than 15 percent.
Waiters are paid wages well below the minimum wage—as little as $2.15 an hour in some states—with the expectation that they will earn the majority of their income through tips. In addition, some restaurants require waiters to pay around 20 to 30 percent of their tips to food runners, hostesses and bartenders. "If you don't tip, then that person doesn't get paid," Steven says. "Literally."
The waiters have a tip for you! Watch how to be the best customer you can be.
In a sticky situation? How to handle it like a pro.
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