Category Archives: Manners

Why is communication so poor in my company?

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners,
What can I do about the poor communication in my company? We are a very traditional sales organization. It’s my perspective that management seems to withhold important information from employees, and employees are scared to communicate with managers. I usually find out things through the company grapevine, and that feels like the classic game of “telephone,” with my co-workers putting their own spin on the information I receive. I don’t want to step on toes, but better communication would make my job easier. Any advice?
Signed,
In the Dark

Dear Dark,
You are not alone. Studies show seven of 10 employees believe communication is poor between different levels of management at their companies. Middle managers in many organizations feel senior managers and employees would have a better understanding of each other if they only spoke directly with each other. Ironically, these middle managers usually get in the way of that communication. Add to that the fear factor – managers are human and may not feel comfortable communicating if they don’t know the answers or fear they will make a mistake.

You can’t change the people you work with, but you can polish your own skills. First, manage your expectation on what information should be provided to you by differentiating between “nice to know” and “need to know.” If something impacts the real work you do, your future or the future of the organization, you DO need to know.  In that case, reduce the water cooler discussion and go directly and respectfully to your manager and ask. Organize your thoughts before you have the conversation, be brief and to the point. Remember, good communicators listen more than they talk.

You may not be able to change your organization or the communication skills of the managers above you, but by modeling your own leadership communications skills, you may move the bar a bit.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

Why don’t people RSVP?

Ms.MannersDear Readers:
I receive frequent emails from frustrated hosts who put thought and effort into planning lovely events and are stunned when they don’t receive responses to their invitations. This is problematic when planning food and beverage quantities, especially if the host has hired a caterer who charges by the number of guests who are expected to attend. Does that mean people are more impolite than they were in past years?

I choose to assume people don’t understand what the term R.S.V.P. means.  It stands for the French phrase, “répondez, s’il vous plaît,” which means “please reply.” If R.S.V.P. is written on an invitation, invited guests are expected to tell the host whether or not they plan to attend the party. If the invitation says, “Regrets only,” guests only need to respond if they cannot attend. So the next time you see R.S.V.P. on an invitation, please call your host and respond promptly, hopefully within a 48-hour time frame.

Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

Right or left? Which way do you pass food at the table?

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners,
This may sound like a silly question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. In which direction are we supposed to pass food? My grandmother always taught us to pass to the left, but I have a friend who insists we should pass to the right. Which way is the right way?
Signed,
Directionally Impaired Diner 

Dear Directionally Impaired,
As a guest at any table, the important thing to remember is to keep all food going in the same direction at the beginning of a meal. The “which-way-to-pass rule” is only meant to provide some type of order and avoid having a guest end up with two dishes at once. Old etiquette books taught us to pass to the left, but today we are taught to pass counter-clockwise to the right. This is because most people are right-handed. (Sorry, left-handed readers.) Also a guest of honor is seated to the right of the host, and if the meal is served family-style, the host always offers the first platter to the guest of honor.

If you need a food item to be passed to you after the initial pass, simply ask the person closest to the platter.  Second helpings may be passed in whatever direction is most convenient and practical – right, left or even across the table.

Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

When is it too tight at work?

Dear Ms Corporate Manners,
My fellow employee could use a lesson in clothing size. The person isn’t small, but she’s not large either. She has a tendency to wear clothes that are skin tight (pants and shirts), and they show every curve on her body. In fact, this week she wore pants that looked like it could cut her in half around the waist and a top that showed just how tight the waist was. A few customers have brought this up as well. We’re not sure how to bring up the dress code without it being obviously directed toward this person. Please help!!!
Sincerely,
Next Size Up

Dear Next Size Up,
Your human resource manager should be able to discuss this delicate issue with the employee, especially since customers have commented on it. A too-tight look is never flattering and usually too revealing. There are very few legitimate jobs where wearing clingy clothing is a good career move, and your workplace is not one of them.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

Dear Ms. Manners,
My coworker sometimes wears clothes that are way too tight. This is especially noticeable when she wears an outfit with buttons on it. This person is very committed to her job and wants to advance in the company. I am trying to find a way to approach her without hurting her feelings. Please help!
Signed,
Sensitive Subject

Dear Sensitive,
It’s nice that you want to help, but if you aren’t a very close friend or her manager, please don’t. Since this is a sensitive subject, so it might be wise to keep your opinion to yourself this time.
Thanks,
Ms. Corporate Manners

P.S. It would be a kindness to compliment your coworker when she wears outfits that have a more flattering fit.

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

Should you text late at night?

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners,
What is the etiquette for hours that people text you? I think that no one should text after 9 p.m., since texting is the same as a phone call. Thoughts?
Thanks,
Need My Sleep

Dear Sleep-Deprived,
You are absolutely right. In business, it’s polite to text during “calling hours,” which usually are 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. In business, only text in two situations – first, if your colleague specifically requests text messages as his or her preferred form of communication, and second, to respond to a message sent to you.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

Elevator etiquette on a cell phone

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners,
Can you talk about the etiquette of using cell phones in elevators?
Signed,
Fed Up in Chattanooga

Dear Fed Up,
When using your cell phone, be aware of your surroundings and be considerate of others. In a public space like an elevator, it’s just plain rude to yak loudly on your cell. If you have to take a call in the middle of a conversation or meeting, apologize, step out of the room, and make it quick. And that goes for texting, too.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

More cell phone etiquette

Dear Ms. Corporate Manners,
Our workplace has a “no cell phones at work” policy. The problem is that some people ignore that policy. We work with the public, and one of my co-workers almost always keeps her cell phone on, and it rings while we are helping clients. She answers the phone and then moves to an area where people can’t see her, but trust me, they can definitely still hear her. Besides being loud, she makes our clients have to wait while she carries on these “private” conversations. Our bosses are aware of this and yet it still continues to happen. I just feel bad for our clients who are getting less than professional service. And also for the employees who are picking up the slack. Is there anything we can do?
Signed,
Hoping for Help

Dear Hoping,
Overuse in public is inconsiderate and it’s best to turn cell phones off at the office, especially during meetings. If you work with a cell-phone user who deliberately ignores the rules and it’s impacting your customer service, you should talk to your co-worker, who may not realize how loud her calls are.  If that doesn’t work, talk with your manager or human resources representative about the problem.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

Do you cover your mouth when you sneeze?

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners, 
My co-worker doesn’t cover his mouth when he sneezes. We all sit in cubicles so we are close together. When this particular employee sneezes, he just turns around in his chair and sneezes in the open with no attempt at all to cover his mouth. I think this is disgusting and very unsanitary. Do you have a suggestion on how this can be handled? I know others have asked him to stop, but he continues. Thanks in advance for your advice.
Signed, 
Holding My Breath

Dear Holding,
Sometimes a cough or sneeze happens quickly, and people don’t have time to react. The next time your co-worker sneezes, quickly put your own hands over your face and turn away to avoid his germs. You may want to remind him in a gentle way that it’s his responsibility to cover his mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief so his germs don’t spread to other people. In a pinch, the crook of his elbow will do the trick. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to him, why don’t you place this column in his cubicle as a gentle hint?
Signed,
Ms. Corporate Manners

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

Four quick conference call tips

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners:
Sometimes there are so many background noises during my conference calls that I can’t hear what’s being said. Sometimes people forget to press the “mute” button, and I hear side conversations – and it’s really hard to focus on the one I’m supposed to be listening to. Do you have any advice about conference calls?
Signed,
I Prefer to Hear No Evil in Hattiesburg

Dear Hear No Evil:
Wow. Maybe we are on the same conference calls. Here are four quick tips:

  • Never place a conference call on hold during the call.
  • Use the mute button on your phone when possible to reduce background noises.
  • Shuffling papers near the phone or microphone distracts other people on the conference call and can, in fact, prevent others on the call from hearing.
  • Make sure any electronic devices, such as Blackberries and cell phones, are not near the phone being used for the conference call.

Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

etiquetteMore conference call etiquette
Dear Ms. Corporate Manners:
I was recently waiting for a conference call to begin when another participant placed his line on “hold” for some strange reason. When the line was finally taken off “hold” and the conference began it was impossible to hear anyone on the call because all our voices were echoing when we tried to speak. Ultimately, we had to reschedule our important conference call. Do you have any advice about placing phones on “hold” during a conference call?
Signed,
Echoing in East Tennessee

Dear Echoing:
Don’t worry; there could be an easy fix. Just make sure you disconnect the first conference call line before you dial the next call. Failing to do so may produce a disruptive echo effect.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

Thank you note etiquette – email or snail mail?

Ms.MannersDear Ms. Corporate Manners, 
Is it appropriate to send thank you e-mails, or should I just send old-fashioned letters? 
Signed,
“E-Thank You!”

Dear “E-Thank You!”,
I do love an old-fashioned letter, but any thank you is nice – depending upon the occasion. Are  you thanking someone for a wedding gift, a favor or a job interview?  If you’re thanking someone for a wedding gift, send a personal letter on high-quality card stock. The type of paper you use for your written correspondence  reflects the type of event correlating to it.

If a co-worker does you a favor, an e-mail or face-to-face thank you works well. If you are showing appreciation for a job interview, consider the industry. Is it traditional or high-tech? It’s best to write a thank you note while you are still fresh in the interviewer’s mind, which is usually within 24 hours of the interview.  Emails are great because there’s a chance the interviewer might write back. In more traditional businesses, following up with a written thank you also is wise.
Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

Seven secrets for a great handshake

Ms.MannersDear Ms Corporate Manners,
Is it proper for a woman to have a terribly strong handshake? I recently met someone and we shook hands. Boy, did I regret that as soon as it happened. She squeezed my hand so hard that it still hurt even after she left. A few other women in my area met her as well and experienced the same thing. Should I have addressed my concern with the “new friend” or just let it go?
Thanks,
Ouch! Nice to meet you

Dear Ouch,
Some women have weak handshakes, and maybe she accidentally over-compensated, so I would “let it go.” I teach an entire class on how to shake hands because people judge us by our handshakes, and we unconsciously judge others by their handshakes.

Here are seven things to remember when you shake hands:

  1. The person who extends a hand first has the advantage of taking the initiative and establishing control.
  2.  Since you need to leave your right hand free for the shake, in a social situation, it’s a good idea to hold your beverage in your left hand to avoid shaking with a cold right hand.
  3. Stand up straight, smile, and make friendly, direct eye contact.
  4.  Extend your hand with the thumb up and fingers out. Meet the person’s grip web-to-web.
  5. Shake from the elbow, not the wrist or shoulder.
  6. Shake hands crisply, firmly, with two smooth pumps before releasing the hand.
  7. Remember to make sure every meeting, business or social, begins and ends with a handshake.

Sincerely,
Ms. Corporate Manners

© Penny Aviotti and Ms.Corporate Manners 2003 – 2013.

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