When Technology Fails We Become Human Again

Monday, August 10th, 2015

I’m never sure whether I enjoy jumping on the train to go to London. Up until recently I haven’t been in a job where I have had to travel far (only from classroom to staff room for biscuits) and there remains an element of novelty and excitement as I plan my infrequent journeys to the “smoke” for meetings.

I always book a seat; really only because the online system does it for me. But it means I have no choice as to my travel partner, or, if you are lucky enough to find your reservation on a central table, partners. Grab a coffee, patiently avoid the sales patter to add a Spelt and Fruit Muffin to one’s order, and calmly climb aboard Coach C. And then what?

Nobody looks up. That might not be surprising when one considers they might have boarded the train at St. Earth sometime late last night, but it still smacks of mild rudeness. No acknowledgement. Until you make it clear that you are climbing towards your seat, and then begrudging half-movements, creating hamster sized gaps. Sit. Stay clam. Smile inwardly. And then what?

Passengers rarely even look up nowadays let alone acknowledge each other

Passengers rarely even look up nowadays let alone acknowledge each other

Plug your phone / laptop / tablet in to the plug point. Oh, no, they are already taken. Start to do some work (email some people who you will be talking to at a meeting in less than three hours), and keep on doing the same, through to Westbury, Reading and points East.

And why was I ever even vaguely excited at the prospect of such a journey. It never varies. That is what we do on early morning trains to London. Radial spokes of busy people all rushing on trains each day, all moving centrally; inexorably and individually.

That is until the free wi-fi packed up yesterday morning. Suddenly heads came up. Commuters smiled, acknowledged each other and conversation started. A delightful gentleman offered to buy coffee for those of us seated around our table; on his return he refused our obvious and pressing offers of reimbursement. We chatted through Westbury, Reading and points East. He has children and lives in Totnes. The other chap, ruggedly dressed in a jacket that made me feel that he might have abseiled to the station, shared his thoughts on Preston (he was born there). Phones, iPads and laptops were ignored. Yes, we could have used 3G connectivity, but we chose not to. Just for an hour we chatted and chatted and it was fabulous.

I sprang off the train and felt better as a result of having enjoyed the simple pleasure of conversation with strangers. It is what we used to do on trains “in the old days”, but is so rare now. Would it have happened if the wi-fi hadn’t fizzled out? I doubt it. But it was fun whilst it lasted. Fun and rewarding.

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Why Etiquette and Manners are Always In Vogue

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

I find that time spent poring in leisurely fashion through the vast array of ‘sections’ of a Sunday newspaper is time well spent. Sometimes one finds news in the newspaper and such a discovery can make the day truly worthwhile. All too often page turning merely reveals a headline necessitating a prompt turn to the next page and the next headline… but imagine my delight at coming across a recent article by Camilla Long of The Sunday Times.

Camilla opened by admitting “I’ve become completely obsessed with the country’s leading etiquette expert, William Hanson”. She went on to refer to him as a “human comb-over utterly consumed by napkins”, before stating that she has missed etiquette experts “so much”. She infers that there has been a time when etiquette experts have been out of vogue, when manners have neither been relevant, nor topical. She is, of course, so wrong. Well, partly wrong – my friend and colleague, William, actually does have the most spectacular comb-over.

William Hanson, Etiquette Expert and Director of Operations at The English Manner

William Hanson, Etiquette Expert and Director of Operations at The English Manner

Manners have never gone away. The method of the coaching of the skills and knowledge associated with manners might well have changed, and changed for the better, but there has always been a need for the recognition for a set of social norms in order to impose self-restraint and compromise on regular, everyday actions.

William, as a role model to both adults and children, is superb in that he lives and breathes his subject – he does it properly and takes his role very seriously indeed. Whilst he laces his guidance with buckets of often-irreverent humour and anecdotes, he firmly believes that the traditional approach, based upon passing on a knowledge assumed over generations, is necessary in order for individuals to establish how to develop their own style, their own set of rules and compromises.

William Hanson teaching children the importance of confident table manners

William Hanson teaching children the importance of confident table manners

William, along with his colleagues at The English Manner, aims to inspire confidence in his charges, allowing them to know how it has been done in the past and how it can be done right now – the teaching of manners and social etiquette has never been so popular, relevant and fun. Especially if you happen to be lucky enough to be taught by William Hanson.

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How understanding young adults allows us to teach them important life skills

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Having spent nearly the vast majority of my working life working alongside children in schools, I am fascinated by their capacity to change and to adapt to circumstances. Sometimes they work out the best direction themselves. Sometimes they need a helping hand; even though the behaviour and leadership of their peers can be their guiding light, it is often down to grown ups to show the way. More so with the very young.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role with The English Manner is that of visiting schools and speaking to pupils, more often than not those in their teens. They are on the whole delightful; open, engaging, interested and unfailingly polite. They listen with courtesy. They seek knowledge and skills. They humour me, when I try my humour on them. But, I suspect that they find part of the message I bring to them quite baffling.

Jimmy Beale, Director of Operations & Educational Development

Jimmy Beale, Director of Operations & Educational Development, speaking to young adults

I speak to them of a world of decisions being made by adults of my own age – decisions as to whether they, as young adults, should be the lucky individual selected for an academic course, an internship placement or for a full-time work role. I speak to them about making the most of the opportunities placed in front of them, in terms of putting their best foot forward in a variety of social or semi-professional situations. I talk of a need for them to engage through open communications, through eye contact, by managing their body language effectively and, most importantly, by creating the right first impression. I give them examples, I show them not how to do it and, between us, we come to an understanding of what might be expected of them when faced with meeting new people.

So, why should they be baffled?

Because, we, as the adults in the positions of power, don’t really understand them. We are old and of a different century. Teenagers come from a world of instant communication, much of it online. They have vast social networks and access to vast platforms of data, much of it instantly forgettable and insignificant. Many of them spend a proportion of their time ‘on their own’ – by this I mean that they will be in contact with others, but often not in the same physical space as them. And it is easy for grown ups to be quite certain that all of this is a bad thing, to judge and to state that the world will be a poorer place as a result…… “It wasn’t like that in my day”.

Securing an internship can be a vital part of a young adult's progression

Securing an internship can be a vital part of a young adult’s progression

But I suggest we need to look closely at ourselves and our own capacity to adapt. We should celebrate all that today’s teenagers bring to the world. The youngsters I meet on my school visits are no different in essence from teenagers in the 80s (bar the fact that they simply don’t quite get Joy Division). They are purposeful, creative and hard working. They are keen to do well and they want to be seen to be doing the right thing.

But if we want them to behave exactly as we were told to behave at their age, we might be expecting too much. Whilst they have different methods of communication, they still understand the need for a certain ‘face-to-face’ charm – it is key to forging trusting and meaningful relationships. However, they may well come about being charming from a slightly different angle. Perhaps it is up to us, as the grown ups, to find out more about their angle of approach?

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