Stand on Ceremony

In our society, there are certain standards of etiquette we are expected to abide.  For example, we say “please” and “thank you,” as appropriate; perhaps an “excuse me” is warranted when we bump into someone or want to get by.  In the U.S., we often look one another in the eye, say “hello” and shake hands, give a hug or a little peck on the cheek as a greeting. These norms and mores help us understand how to appropriately interact with others in our culture.

In fact, many times, we stand on ceremony – that is, we insist on the observance of formalities.  Proper attire.  Proper greetings.  Proper procedures.  Don’t interrupt while others are talking.  You get the idea.  In fact, for some, if such official dealings are ignored, they may threaten to stall processes, decline opportunities or leave “money on the table” because others have not adhered to expected behavior or procedures.

It’s not that I mind these formalities – they can actually be quite helpful in instructing us on how to behave and what to expect from particular interactions.  And, yet, it is often the times when we do not stand on ceremony that we connect with others in surprising and delightful ways… that we identify advances in innovation… that we expand the proverbial pie.  Take these two examples:

  • I’ll never forget, when I was in junior high school, my best friend, Michele, demonstrated an act of ceremonial defiance that has stuck with me to this day.  I had plans to go shopping at the mall with another friend, Karen.  About an hour before we were set to meet, Michele called… asked what I was up to… when I told her I had plans, she asked, “May I join you?”  Wow!  She didn’t miss a beat.  She was not jealous or hurt or feeling left out… we were (and still are!) friends and she felt comfortable enough to invite herself along.  Though surprised by her boldness, I thought it was one of the gutsiest, coolest moves ever and I always hoped to display confidence like Michele’s!  Oh, and we had a great time, the three of us.  It would not have been the same had it been just two of us.
  • In 2008, when I first began networking intentionally, my initial approach was to reach out to people via mutual contacts.  I’d ask so-and-so to introduce me to such-and-such.  In one case, I really wanted to meet a woman by the name of Denise.  I had heard so much about her, several contacts offered to introduce us, but it never happened.  I didn’t know what to do.  So, I took it upon myself to track her down at her office.  I didn’t exactly barge in on her, but I didn’t exactly have an appointment either.  Lucky for me, Denise couldn’t have been more gracious.  She welcomed me in and allowed me to set a future appointment with her.  All these years later, we interact frequently and have great mutual admiration for one another.

So, yes, pay attention to social norms.  Show some deference as a sign of respect.  However, don’t be so wed to things as they are simply because that is how they’ve always been.  Step outside your comfort zone.  No need to always stand on ceremony.  By pushing through artificial barriers, you will become an innovator and build unexpected alliances with others.

Do you have an example of time you colored outside the proverbial lines?  Please take a moment to comment at

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