A modern guide to etiquette: manners and finesse in a digital age

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In today's tech-dependent world where we can cancel drinks by firing off a quick email or unleash our daily commuter rage on Twitter, it seems standards of etiquette have not only blurred but become rough around the edges.

For example: is it really acceptable to turn up 20 minutes late to coffee with a friend, just because you can text her live updates on your whereabouts? And is competitively posting "I'm having a wonderful time" snaps on your Instagram feed a good idea after a messy break-up, or are you better off maintaining a dignified silence?

And what do you when a needy friend of yours posts an ambiguously-worded hint for help on Facebook for the zillionth time around? Do you simply ignore it or silently scream in frustration before obligingly mucking in with a "everything ok?" message of support?

Here Jo Bryant, etiquette tutor for Debrett's, the go-to source on British social skills and style, talks us through how to react politely and - as our gran would say - "like a lady" to modern social dilemmas.

Whether you want to sneak off from a party early or are attempting to lie about your whereabouts on social media, read on for her top tips on how best to conduct yourself in a digital age:

Social media etiquette

If somebody posts something on Facebook or Twitter that you strongly disagree with, should you just block them or do you have a duty to respond?

Given the public nature of social media, it is best not to respond to anything controversial. Disagreements and strong opinion should be avoided when they are visible for all to see – after all, your response may be misinterpreted and reflect badly on you.

How should you react to over-sharers on social media: ignore them or respond expressing concern?

Try prioritising your sympathies and concerns. If the over-sharer is a good friend, it is difficult to ignore all posts. Remember, however, that when someone is having a genuinely hard time, it’s best to take the time to call them.

What do you if you told someone you couldn’t see them as you were "tied up at work" - but were then tagged in a post out having masses of fun in a bar?

Social media has got many people into trouble when they have been economic with the truth. Think of the other person’s feelings before you let them down, and consider how you would feel if it was the other way round. If you do decide to change your plans, it is sensible to let your companions know the situation (without naming names) and ask them not to tag you.

Post-split etiquette

What's best to do post a relationship break-up: delete or not to delete the ex off your social media accounts?

As tempting as it may be, think carefully before deleting an ex off social media accounts. If you feel very upset, it can give the relationship some finality. If you were the one who ended it, however, it may seem aggressive and hurtful. It’s a personal decision but, if in doubt, it may be best to hide the person from your newsfeeds rather than hit delete.

In terms of post-split social posting etiquette: do you upload endless pics of you looking fabulous on a series of "best night out evers" or maintain a dignified absence to let his/her mind fill in the gaps?

Endless happy and carefree pictures or posts may give a false impression rather than a credible portrayal of someone who has moved on. Try to strike a balance with the occasional well-timed and well-thought out picture or post.

Running late, leaving early and other general etiquette tips

How should you go about cancelling an event at the last minute; is a text or email acceptable?

If you need to cancel, especially at the last minute, it is polite to take the time to call the individual or party organiser rather than sending a text or email. Give a genuine and believable reason; overly extravagant or mundane excuses may cause disbelief or upset.

What should you do when you're half an hour late or more meeting someone? Apologise profusely/bring flowers/offer to pay for dinner?

If you are going to be more than a few minutes late, then call or send a text message to let the other person know. If you are very late, ensure that you have a genuine reason. Paying for dinner may be a step too far; it may be appropriate, however, to offer to buy them a drink.

What's the best way to politely leave a party early; do you just sneak off or say goodbye to everyone?

If the party is in full-swing, there’s no need to say goodbye to everyone. However, it is polite to find the hosts and let them know that you are leaving. The usual rules of thanking the hosts promptly after the event still apply, no matter how briefly you attended.

What's the best thing to do if you’re in a group and someone has something on their face/in their teeth (you’ve just met them) – do you tell them or ignore it?

Never embarrass someone in front of other people, so it would be unkind to point something out if you are part of a group. It is considerate, at the first opportunity, to quietly mention it to them in a very discreet and subtle manner. If you feel worried about it, remember that you would appreciate it if someone told you.

Photos: Rex Features

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