A Modern Lady ~ No. 1

For some, the concept of being a “lady” can be difficult to relate to, as it has strong ties to the past.  In fact, because of those ties to a time, that by today’s standard was oppressive to women, many steer clear of the concept altogether, and do not even entertain the idea of a “modern lady”.

To be clear, when I speak to the concept of a modern lady, I’m referring to a lady in the courteous and decorous sense, rather than a woman of superior social position or noble birth.

While a modern lady shares some traits with her predecessor, she has evolved greatly.  For me, a modern lady is not silent nor is she subservient.  She exhibits a subtle strength, is assertive while maintaining diplomacy, and can “run with the boys” without compromising her femininity.  She is well-educated, informed, emotionally intelligent and refined, both internally and externally.  She is independent, but does not allow her ego to hinder relationships with others and is kind to all she encounters.

In what I hope will be a continuing series on the blog, I explore the first trait of a modern lady, and discuss how this trait contributes to her success.  Without further ado, a modern lady always…

Behaves in a Decorous Manner 

There is a strong possibility that the last time you heard someone utter the word decorous, you were streaming an episode of Downton Abbey on Netflix, and while the word itself may have waned in popularity since that time, I would argue its importance to the modern lady has not.

Decorous behaviour is essentially behaviour in any situation that is marked by propriety and good taste.  While the current meaning of the word dates back to the mid-17th century, it was originally derived from the Latin word decorus, an adjective created from the noun decor, meaning beauty or grace.

Now, before you make a snap judgement about the importance of decorous behaviour for the modern lady, and pack this blog post away like you did your grandmother’s doily, allow me to elaborate on why behaving in a decorous manner is essential to a modern lady’s success.

Put simply, decorous behaviour matters because first impressions matter.  One’s success, both personally and professionally, often hinges on one’s ability to foster and maintain relationships, and whether or not those relationships begin and/or continue is often based on a first impression.

Humans are hard-wired to want quick answers to a few vital questions – is this person an ally or a threat?  Are they part of my tribe, or a stranger?  Are they a potential mate?

According to Nick Morgan, frequent contributor to Forbes Magazine, our conscious minds can handle roughly 40 bits of information per second, so we have evolved to allow our unconscious mind to handle first impressions, while our conscious mind is busy with other things.

When someone comes into view, our mirror neurons begin to fire and match the emotions of the other individual precisely, so if that person is nervous, we become nervous.  As Morgan says, “we literally leak our emotions to one another.”

You may be asking, so how does a first impression help or hinder a modern lady’s success?  To answer that, let us look at this question through a professional lens.  If one walks into an interview, spouting profanities and displaying aggressive body language, those mirror neurons are going to start firing and you will most likely agitate and annoy the interviewer.  The interview will most certainly end promptly, if it is allowed to begin at all.

Conversely, if you enter the room with a subtle confidence, a calm and pleasant demeanor, using words found in Webster’s Dictionary, those mirror neurons will fire, leaving the interviewer feeling calm and confident in your abilities.  You will most likely impress the interviewer, and maybe even land that corner office.

Mirror neurons are not the only psychological element to consider when discussing first impressions – we must also pay mind to what’s referred to as The Halo Effect.  The Halo Effect is a type of cognitive bias in which our overall impression of a person influences how we feel and think about their character.  Essentially, one’s first impression of an individual can significantly impact one’s evaluation of said individual in future.  For example, in a 2014 study on this effect, when a prospective employer viewed the job applicant as polite and courteous, they were also more likely to hire this individual and rate them as intelligent, competent and qualified in ongoing assessments.  This study alone confirms that the importance of first impressions cannot be minimized.

While I hold myself to certain non-negotiables when it comes to decorous behaviour (as illustrated here and here), ultimately the key to behaving in good taste as a modern lady is to know your audience.  You will inevitably encounter situations throughout your day that will require you to shift your behaviour accordingly.  A formal business meeting versus a coffee date with an old friend, for example.  While your behaviour during the business meeting should be in keeping with the professional etiquette of your organization (i.e. professional courtesy /codes of conduct), you may wish to dispense with the rigid professionalism for a more casual rendezvous with your friend.  Make no mistake, one should still behave in good taste even in the most casual of situations.

Editor’s Note  – Ladies, put those cell phones away when you’re having coffee with your girlfriend(s).  Show genuine interest in them, in the conversation and leave social media or that text (unless it is an emergency) for another time.  

Essentially, to be successful personally and professionally, a modern lady educates herself on what decorous behaviour means in different situations, and given the global nature of our world, a modern lady is not so naïve as to assume that what is considered decorous behaviour in her country or culture inherently translates into decorous behaviour in another.  For example, in some countries (including Canada), not tipping your waiter or waitress following a meal would be a behaviour considered in poor taste; however, in Japan, tipping at restaurants is actually considered rude, as superior service is expected without an added incentive and is calculated into the bill.  Know your audience, and if you don’t, get to know it so that your first impression is the best it can be.

While there is no doubt that behaving in a decorous manner is key to a modern lady’s success, there is so much more to a modern lady, and I look forward to exploring this exciting woman further.

What are your thoughts on the concept of a modern lady?  On decorous behaviour?  Agree or disagree, I would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

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  1. I like your reference to “emotional intelligence”, something that seems to be passe as much as saying “please” and “thank you”. Too many people mistake freedom of speech for carte blanche to be as foul mouthed, rude or obnoxious as they like. I’m looking forward to most posts on this topic.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Alison! Yes, I agree. Freedom of speech is a right, but it should not be abused. There is always a diplomatic way to communicate your opinion and if one is emotionally intelligent, they have a better chance of being heard.

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