Etiquette Post – How To Be Sophisticated

Etiquette Post by Trent Steffen.

Sophisticated: A person – or their thoughts, reactions, and understanding – who are aware of and able to interpret complex issues.

“What do you mean, you don’t want kids? Who will take care of your when you are old? You’re going to be lonely your whole life!”

This was, in response to someone mentioning that they and their partner have decided not to have children.

Let’s say that you have kids. All your friends have kids. You come from a nice big family and you gather at the holidays and you take great joy in knowing that your kids are growing up amongst – and forming lifelong bonds with – their cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc. People without kids are not interesting and they are all lonely, poor things, and God knows where they find any meaning in their lives.

This is your reality so This Is The Way Things Are.

Here is a helpful formula for thinking about all this, and one that is useful at a social gathering:

This is the way things are = Stupid

This is the way things are + for me + how are they for you? = Sophisticated

Instead of looking at things entirely from your own point of view, you can talk about what your reality is, and then be sophisticated by learning something new.

“Stanley and I are so wrapped up in our kids and family that I haven’t really stopped to consider another point of view. What is it about not having children that seems right for you?”

Much more sophisticated. You are telegraphing that even though you hold an opinion, that other people’s viewpoints are of interest to you, and that you are the type of person who can engage in a conversation about various points of view without Judgment or Stupidity rearing their ugly heads.


And so much more interesting to hear about Stanley and his partner and how they view the world in a different way than you do, than just hearing things you already know about.

“What?” your friends say. “They DON’T WANT KIDS!! What is the matter with them?”   And then you can say, “I know, I know, I couldn’t believe it either, but the more they talked about it the more I began to see how much joy they were getting out of their careers and they love traveling together to all these exotic places, and wait till you hear what they did over the summer!”

This nice, safe little example about kids has been strategically placed here to put you in a somewhat receptive frame of mind. Because this next example may be quite difficult for a great many of you.


Most of us fall down rather badly when it comes to being sophisticated about politics. Etiquette is the glue that holds relationships together. Sophisticated people can have healthy relationships with people who have political views that differ from their own. Yes, actually, they can.

Let us presume that you are a tad bit left of center. More to the left, even, than the Clinton and Obama families. You know at your core that the Republicans are the root of all evil. Obstructionist. Why, they wouldn’t care if everyone but them died without medical care! Awful people.

Now you are at a cocktail party, and you are introduced to someone new. As the conversation progresses, you discover that you have a Republican person Right In Front Of You!

Etiquette equality365.comHow in the world can you be sophisticated in this trying situation? Etiquette. Be polite. If you can’t be charitable, at least tell yourself that this is going to be excellent material for storytelling at the next party you attend with People Who Think The Way You Do.

Task yourself with an activity: Tell yourself that you are going to learn something new about the viewpoint of the person you are speaking with. “I have to confess that health care for everyone seems like such an obvious, compassionate and sensible thing to me, I’m wondering if you would tell me why so many people resist it?”

Now human nature will leap up and you will want to pounce on the first thing they have to say about it. Fight that down and listen. The decision to use the formula can get you through.

This is the way things are + for me + how are they for you? = Sophisticated

It’s the how are they for you? bit that is tricky. They may be sharing that hard working people who have trouble making ends meet are being over taxed to provide for people who are not working hard and that they find that unfair. Oh, that might not be the language they are using. “Goddam freeloaders stealing our money for their lazy asses…” Okay, okay. Yes, doing this means accepting some responsibility to reframe in your mind where they are coming from.

If you are a Republican faced with a Democrat – I’m writing this in Seattle so I am going to assume that this can actually happen somewhere – the formula is the same.

“From my point of view, the liberals seem bound and determined to spend every dollar ever made by anyone on entitlement programs for the poor. Does this seem sensible to you? It seems that the thing you want most is big government.” And then listen.

Just because Republicans want smaller government and less Big Brother intrusion into our lives doesn’t make them terrible people.

Just because Democrats want to ensure that there is a safety net for people when they need it as well as good education for everyone doesn’t mean they want to take all of your money.

Give yourself permission to hear another person’s point of view without framing it as an opposing point of view.

It’s quite sophisticated.


Trent Steffen is an interior designer and general contractor in Seattle, Washington.  He devotes his volunteer time to the LGBTQ leadership development program Out in Front, where he serves as president of the Board of Directors and chair of the Program Development Committee, which sets curriculum.  Trent is a 5th generation Seattleite.  You can learn more about his business at and about Out in Front at

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1 Reply to “Etiquette Post – How To Be Sophisticated”

  1. Elise Wright says:

    Trent, you are a genius. An impeccably mannered, very sophisticated genius.

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