Actress Liv Tyler’s rock star dad, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, certainly wasn’t the one who mentored her in the decorum department. It was her grandmother Dorothea Johnson, an award-winning etiquette expert in Washington, D.C. Together they’ve compiled Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top. We asked Liv to give us her fail-safe tips on being polite.
1. Look people in the eye
My grandmother taught me first impressions really do count, and to look people in the eye and shake their hands. When I went to auditions, people always reported back to my mom about my eye contact and handshake and that I had good manners.
2. Notice the little things
I think being observant makes people attractive. When you’re talking to someone and you realize they noticed something about you or remembered the last time they saw you, that attention to detail makes an impact. The small touches are important. My grandmother keeps in touch with everyone and always writes thank-you letters and sends birthday cards.
3. Be a good listener
Last night I was at a dinner party, and a woman was telling a story when a man started to talk over her. Neither one of them paused to let the other speak. I kind of made a joke out of it and looked back and forth at both of them and said, “I don’t know who to look at right now!” I notice that it happens a lot, where we forget to just wait a minute and let the other person speak without interrupting. Sometimes silence is more powerful — you always pay attention to the person who’s not saying a lot. It makes you want to know what they think.
4. Remember people’s names
This is tricky for me. I try to repeat a name three times to myself, which is actually a trick I learned from a little girl I did a movie with. I asked her mother how she memorized her lines and she said, “We just repeat them three times in a row, and she gets it.” So I started doing it with names and it’s helped me.
5. Use body language
I don’t like it when people get really close to my face and are breathing on me and talking loudly. But moving back a bit often gives them a subtle cue that I need more personal space. It’s important to remember it’s not really your business to tell other people how to behave (unless it’s your child or your best friend). The best thing is to set a good example yourself, and a lot of times it’s your own actions that can let them know you’re uncomfortable.
6. Save others from embarrassment
If someone has something in their teeth or nose or on their face, I always try to say, discreetly, “You have a little something on your cheek,” or “You have lipstick on your teeth.” It’s nice to be thoughtful about things like that.
7. Ask questions
I’m really curious about people. You remember people who are thoughtful and kind; they’re unforgettable.
8. My grandma’s top tip
“It’s better to know it and not need it, than to need it and not know it.”