Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Every Sigma Knows

The military can train a man to react without thinking when he is under enemy fire. A good accounting course can teach any businessman how to read a spreadsheet with absolute ease. A seasoned quarterback can know what play to call, almost instinctively, in the heat of even the closest game. But the sight of a would-be love interest, the prospect of a dinner party, or the presence of a bereaved coworker can reduce even the bravest hero to mumbling gibberish. Even though he has the best of intentions, a Sigma oftentimes finds himself fumbling for words. He means well, but for the life of him he can't think of what he means to say at the moment. When he should be taking a deep breath and composing his thoughts, he finds himself blurting out something he would never intentionally say.

Of course a Sigma knows what fork touse, he opens the door for others, and he always puts the toilet lid back down. But the true mark of a Sigma man goes deeper than mere nice manners. A Sigma man can do his part to make the world a much nicer place in which to live. Because he knows that a thoughtless comment can forever diminish the way others view a person, a Sigma does not open his mouth without thinking ahead. Oftentimes a Sigma is put to the test when he is least expecting it. He is introduced to a new friend at a party, and he can think of nothing except the ungainliness of the new friend's shirt. A longtime acquaintance strides up,extends his hand, and the Sigma's mind goes blank. A coworker has just had a miscarriage, and the Sigma wants to saysomething, but he does not know, precisely, the right thing to say. These awkward moments, and others like them, come to a Sigma far too regularly over the course of his life.

If a Sigma is prepared, he can handle almost any awkward social situation. The basic rule is to say as little as possible, and to choose those few words with the utmost care. A Sigma knows that when he expresses his sympathy, he is not expected to heal the pain of parents who have lost a child in a horrible automobile accident. At the same time, he knows that even in lighter moments he is not perfect. If he forgets a name, he can admit the gaffe and be forgiven. He knows, too, that he must stand up for himself and whenever possible say what he thinks. If a friend asks him to lie, he declines to participate in the deception. If he is treated rudely in a restaurant, he knows how to lodge his complaint as well as how to determine the person with whom it should be lodged. If he has strong feelings about politics or religion, he knows when and where those opinions should be voiced. In matters of love and friendship, saying the right thing is of vital importance. But a real Sigma knows that sometimes, when words seem to have lost all usefulness, being silent can be the right thing too.

Knowing what to say, and more importantly what not to say, in life's important situations, is a priceless skill. The drill sergeant trains his soldiers to react without thinking under enemy fire; the professor teaches the businessman to read a spreadsheet; the coach prepares his quarterback to know what play to call. The following examples can help prepare a Sigma for those moments when he, too, will have to spring to action. It provides the ammunition and the strategies he will need to survive even the most embarrassing encounters.

A Sigma knows that saying the right thing is not about being quick and clever. Instead he has higher priorities. A Sigma makes others feel better about themselves. He wants to put himself in the other person's place. He wants life to run more smoothly not just for himself, but for the people he encounters in the normal course of life. He wants to be part of the solution to life's problems — especially the ones over which he has some small amount of control. At the very least, he does not add to the unavoidable awkwardness that is an all-too-common part of human existence. That, he knows, is what being a Sigma is all about.

A Sigma knows how to begin a conversation.

A Sigma always thinks before he speaks.
He also thinks after he speaks, in order to build upon the rightness,
or correct the wrongness, of what he might have said.

If a Sigma is subjected to a rude remark or rude behavior,
he does not offer rudeness in return.

A Sigma allows others to finish their sentences.
Even in his most brilliant moments, he does not interrupt others,
no matter how dull their opinions might be.

A Sigma is slow to judge the actions of others,
either in their public or private affairs.

A Sigma does not take part in major arguments over minor issues.

When a Sigma learns that two friends are to be married,
he tellsthe groom-to-be, "Congratulations,"and
says, "Best wishes" to the soon-to-be bride.

A Sigma makes a conscious effort to use correct grammar,
but he resists all temptation to sound stuffy and overly grand.

A Sigma does not correct another person's grammar,
unless he is teaching an English class.

A Sigma does not use foreign phrases, unless he is absolutely
sure of their meaning and their pronunciation.

A Sigma does not pretend to speak languages that he has not made his own.

A Sigma is careful of what he says in the presence of people speaking foreign languages.
They may understand what he is saying eventhough he might not understand them.

A Sigma does not use words that he can define only by looking them up in a dictionary.

A Sigma never asks a woman if she is pregnant.

A Sigma avoids raising his voice,even in the most heated discussion.
He does not shout others down. Often the most important person in the room speaks the softest.

A Sigma never says, "I'm sorry," unless he has given offense.

When a Sigma inconveniences another person by asking him or her to shift so that he can move through a crowded room, he says, "Excuse me." He does not say, "I'm sorry," since there is no reason for him to apologize.

A Sigma never begins a statement with "I don't mean to embarrass you but . . ."

A Sigma does not ask anyone, male or female, to divulge his or her age.

When a Sigma initiates a telephone conversation, he knows it is his responsibility to end that conversation.

A Sigma does not use his cell phone when he is at a table with others.

A Sigma does not engage in arguments, of any sort, at the dinner table.

When a Sigma is confronted by arguments that he considers foolish,
he does not attempt to refute them with reason. Instead, he keeps silent,
knowing that logic is useless in the war against irrationality.

A Sigma gives direct answers, especially to controversial questions.
Being direct, however, is not the same thing as being rude.

A Sigma never claims to have seen a movie he has not seen or to have read a book about which he has only read reviews. He knows how to say, "I haven't read (or seen) that yet, but from what I hear about it, it sounds very interesting. What do you think?"

A Sigma asks the question, 'What do you think?" as often as possible.

A Sigma does not brag, especially about his own accomplishments.

A Sigma knows that the best kind of small talk consists of asking questions,
not volunteering information about himself.

A Sigma never says, "I told you so."

A Sigma knows how to make an apology, and how to accept one.

A Sigma knows how to extend a compliment, and how to receive one.

A Sigma does not spread rumors.

A Sigma always remembers to say, "Please." And he is quick to say, "Thank you."

A Sigma understands the meaning of the word no.

A Sigma knows how to listen.

A Sigma knows that listening is a skill that improves when it is regularly practiced.

When a Sigma feels that he has been subjected to an insult, he immediately knows the right response: He responds by saying nothing at all.

A Sigma has definite beliefs, but he thinks before voicing his opinions.
He recognizes that other people's beliefs are valid. He argues only over an issue that could save a life.

A Sigma does not openly attempt to correct the behavior of his friends. Instead he teaches by example.

A Sigma takes no part in petty arguments over unimportant topics.
Instead, he takes action to bring about change that is lasting and momumental.

When a Sigma speaks, he hopes to sound wise, or — at the very least, he hopes to bring a smile to someones face. He never uses words to harm or demean another person. Even when he is silent, he can be eloquent, offering a listening ear, or a shoulder for a brother to lean upon.

adapated from "As A Gentleman Would Say" by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis

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