BRIDGING THE ETIQUETTE GAP
A polite battle is being waged to bring etiquette back to the workplace. Rick Barrett reports
Guy mascara has witnessed the etiquette gap in the world marketplace—American computer company CEOs wearing grungy clothing and wrongly relying on their technical prowess as a substitute for the social graces. So, Mascara, Development Director, MilwaukeeCountyResearchPark, decided to help some business executives smoothen their rough edges. He hired business etiquette consultant Carol Waite, Founder of the Polite Company, to give a presentation to representatives of 38 companies.
In the business world, he said, “The pendulum is swinging back towards better manners.” No one is more aware of that than Terry Anderson, Chief Executive, Omni Tech Corp, in Pewaukee,Wis., who says there is nothing frivolous about learning proper etiquette.
“To us, good etiquette is absolutely essential,” he said. “Everything we do is person-to-person business. We compete with much larger computer companies, such as Dell, and the personal touch is what separates us from the rest of the pack.” Waite, whose firm is based in Chenequa,Wis., and other etiquette consultants say their services are in demand as business executives seek every possible advantage over the competition. Waite’s clients include
law firm’s technology companies, colleges, professional organizations, individuals and families. Write is a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, D.C., and for more than 30 years she has worked and traveled abroad. She offers programmes in advanced dining skills, everyday etiquette, and how to succeed in international business. The classes usually are for
small groups, range from an hour to a full day, and cost US $100 to $200 an hour.
“We practice and we role—play,” Waite said. For business meetings, executives are taught how to map strategies, who will make the introductions, and who will be the power person at the dinner table.
In conversations, be aware that people from other cultures may have different comfort zones when it comes to have physical space between two people, advises Waite. North Americans, for example, prefer about 20 inches. Japanese prefer 36 inches, at least, while some middle Easterners stand only about 12 inches apart. With introductions, forget the word “meet” because it is casual and unsophisticated.“Internationally, I use the phrase, ‘May I present…’ which is the most formal of all introductions,” Waite said. “When you are with persons from another country, and you have any doubt about protocol, you cannot go wrong if you choose the most formal approach.”
At business meetings: wear your name tag on the right, so it is easier to read when you are shaking hands, Waite said. Look at each person as you say his or her name. This focuses attention on the individual and makes them feel important, while you look as if you are in control.
Roger Axtell, a former Parker Pen Co. senior executive, is an author of several books on international humour. Axtell, of
Janesville, Wis., has pointed etiquette advice for Americans traveling abroad: inJapan, for instance, don’t give white flowers because they are the flower of death. In Latin America, don’t give a set of knives because it signals the cutting of a relationship.
The stereotype of the “ugly American” traveling abroad isn’t necessarily true, Axtell said. It’s more accurate to say the “uninformed American.”
In his humour book “Do’s and Taboos of Humour Around the World,” Axtell cities a Hartford, Conn., company that served a colorful meal for visiting Chinese dignitaries. “Then, unaware that fortune cookies were unknown in China (they were actually invented by a California noodle maker in 1912), the Americans watched while several of the Chinese ate the cookies and, without realizing it, sat for several moments with the paper slips hanging loosely from their lips.”
Even if you master proper etiquette in social circles, transferring those
skills in the business world can be difficult. For example, men who display social manners towards women at work are sometimes viewed as being old-fashioned, said Milwaukee etiquette consultant Deborah Dunlap. The old rule, “ladies first,” doesn’t necessarily apply in the work-place because men and women should be treated as equals. “But you should never fault someone for practicing good etiquette,” even if it may be a bit old-fashioned, Dunlap said.
E-mail, voice-mail and cellular telephones have opened new and sometimes ugly chapters in business etiquette, says Linda Richardson, a nationally known business etiquette expert from Philadelphia. E-mail messages that are too casual or poorly punctuated are inappropriate, she said. Avoid humour that can be misinterpreted by the reader.
A century ago, there wasn’t a need for etiquette consultants because people were taught good manners at home, Waite said, adding that’s not true as often today. “There are whiz kids getting to the top of the corporate ladder before they have learned good etiquette,” Waite said. “In some cases, they are running companies worth millions of dollars… and they were raised on take-out pizza.”
A firm handshake can help you land a job
‘GOOD HANDSHAKES INVOLVE A FIRM, COMPLETE GRIP, EYE CONTACT AND VIGOROUS UP-AND-DOWN MOVEMENT.’
GREG STEWART, University of lowa
Never mind polishing your resume and work on the handshake instead to get that job—at least that’s what a new research suggests.
According to University of lowa researchers, a firm handshake is key to landing a job. In the study, scientists had put 98 students through mock job interviews with businesspeople.
The students also met with trained handshake raters who, unbeknownst to the students, rated their grips. Separately, the businesspeople graded each student’s overall performance and hireability. The two group’s scores were then compared.
Students who got high handshake marks were also rated most hireable. “We’ve always heard that interviewers make up their mind about a person in the first two or three minutes of an interview, no matter how long the interview lasts,” Live Science quoted study leader Greg Stewart, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of lowa, as saying. “We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview,” he added. According to Steward, handshakes provide a glimps of the real you. Job seekers are trained how to act in a job interview, how to talk, how to dress, how to answer questions, so we all look and act alike to varying degrees because we’ve all been told the same things,” he said.
He added: “But the handshake is something that’s perhaps more individual and subtle, so it may communicate something that dress or physical appearance doesn’t.” Stewart also found those with strong handshakes scored better with the interviewers in part because they also exhibited greater ease with small talk, eye contact and other social skills.
“We probably don’t consciously remember a person’s handshake or whether it was good or bad. But the handshake is one of the first nonverbal clues we get about the person’s overall personality, and that impression is what we remember,” Stewart said. Good handshakes involve a firm, complete grip, eye contact and vigorous up-and-down movement, Stewart advised.
However, this may work against women because their grips tend to be not as strong. But other research finds women tend to be stronger in other nonverbal communication skills that seemed to offset their less brawny grips, Steward said. And in the study, women who did have a strong handshake seemed to have an advantage over men. The study is published will be detailed in September in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
Edward de Bono, the father of ‘lateral thinking’, explains how it can help change the way we look at things
Edward de Bono
The father of lateral
What is lateral thinking and why is it such an essential practice for business leaders?
Lateral thinking is an operational skill for developing new ideas. It is a deliberate form of idea creativity, based on an understanding of how the brain works as a self—organising information system. The mind makes asymmetric patterns, and lateral thinking is a way of cutting across patterns laterally, rather than moving along them…
Without lateral thinking, you’re stuck in the concepts of the past. When a computer processes information, its analysis is in terms of existing preferences and past concepts. You need to develop new ways of looking at information.
Perception is 90% of thinking: the rest is fairly routine and automatic. If you’re going to make genuine progress, you’re going to have to do more than just respond to existing data. Interestingly, the business community is more interested in thinking than any other sector of society. In other sectors—political, academic – it’s enough to prove verbally that you are right. In business, you can prove you’re right verbally and go bankrupt next month.
Unfortunately, many business leaders are still rather complacent when it comes to exploring new and better ways to exercise their leadership. Many CEOs resemble a fellow who’s jumped off the top of a building: as he passes the third floor, he says, "So far so good!" Well, he may be right – it is so far so good, but the future is not so good.
Unless the leadership of a company is motivated to promote creativity, it just doesn’t happen. For example, there was a fellow in Argentina who ran a textile company that was half the size of its nearest competitor. He decided to teach my methods to his workforce, and today, six years later, he’s ten times bigger than his nearest competitor.
The great thing about lateral thinking is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t require that you drop your existing intellectual strengths, just that you add to them. It’s rather like if you’re playing poker and someone comes along and says, "You’re playing a wonderful game of poker, and now I think you should add the skill of bridge." It’s not stopping what we’re doing; it’s doing what we do best and then adding some other skills…
Is lateral thinking the same as creative thinking?
In the English language, creativity is an inadequate word. If you creative a mess, you are creative. We also don’t distinguish between artistic and idea creativity, which are very different. When I coined the term lateral thinking, it was to answer the need for a word that was specifically concerned with idea creativity, with changing perceptions and the way we look at things. Lateral thinking also comes from the exploration of asymmetric patterns, where we want to move laterally, across patterns, rather than up and down them.
You have said that a fundamental problem with corporate decision-making is ‘muddled thinking’: groups are ill equipped to deal with conflict, and group discussions are often dominated by naysayers. What are some methods to make the decision-making process more productive?
It was in response to the challenges you describe that I developed the Six thinking Hats method, which provides a more effective method of group decision-making thinking than mere argument and discussion. In a normal discussion, if someone is against and idea, he or she will stick to their guns and the decision-making process will come to a halt. When the Six Hats method is used, that person is challenged to see value in an opposing position, which I call ‘wearing the yellow hat’. If a person cannot see value in another position, and everyone else can, that person is seen to be limited, even stupid. In the Six Hats approach, you are asked and challenged to operate your brain fully, from money perspectives, so just to stick in one position means you’ve failed.
E-learning makes skill acquisition and assessment an achievable task without impacting work schedules, says Navyug Mohnot
One of the topmost issues on the lists of CEOs of almost all IT/ITES companies is tackling the talent shortfall and making efforts to bridge the existing skill gap between industry and the academia.
As per Dataquest, top IT giants in India now recruit about 4,300 professionals per quarter. The 2005 NASS-COM-McKinsey study clearly predicts: "If offshore out-sourcing work grows as rapidly as expected, in five years India will have a shortfall of 1,50,000 IT engineers and 3,50,000 business-process staff."
As per NASSCOM, the problem lies not with numbers but the quality of education. The need of the hour is to impart industry specific, rigorous yet flexible training, that focuses on building competency and sustaining excellence in software Engineering and Quality Management.
However, the biggest deterrent is the crunching timeline that leaves individuals with nil or negligible time to invest in the same.
This is where e-learning, e-certifications and other forms of self-paced learning come in. E-learning makes skill acquisition and assessment an achievable task without impacting work/study schedules.
Learning providers are now increasingly looking at a blended model as it reduces dependency on faculty and standardises delivery. It is also applicable across all levels of professional hierarchy.
e-learning may thus prove to be a vital tool to make learning a continuous and never-ending process.
Self-motivation a key trait to ensure success
N. P. S. Sethi, vice president, HR and Administration, Jindal intellicom, talks about the hiring policies of his company
Are you currently hiring?
We are growing rapidly and to fulfil our requirement for suitable candidates, we are looking to hiring 200 employees across frontline and middle management levels.
What traits do you desire in prospective employees?
We are constantly looking for employees who are self-motivated, have a positive attitude and willingness to work hard.
What is your selection procedure?
For entry-level positions our selection procedure involves a personal introduction round where the candidate is requested to introduce him/her self. During this process, the recruiter does a quick basic assessment of the candidate’s ability to a construct correct sentence. Then there is a listening test follow by a voice assessment test and finally a personal interview with the recruiter takes place.
What is the starting salary that you offer?
Our starting salary, inclusive of all incentives, is Rs.14,000 + (Rs.10,000+as base salary and Rs.4,000 as incentives)
What growth opportunities does Jindal Intellicom offer?
At Jindal Intellicom, employee’s professional growth, job stability and a world-class working environment are assured. As a result, we can boast of "high internal recruitments." More than 75 percent of our supervisory and managerial positions, across all functions, are filled internally.
Some unique HR policies of your company… Several of our HR practices are unique and different from the other BPOs. For instance:
Work life balance: Instead of promoting drinking binges in the form of parties every week, we try to get our employees involved in activities such as badminton, table tennis, gym-ing (all available in-house), cricket, etc. Regular in-house tournaments for all such activities are also conducted. In addition, we also help employees maintain a work-life balance by keeping traveling time as low as possible. This is achieved, not only by the way of your being centrally located but also by a policy of only deploying small cabs which pick-up/drop no more than three to four people on a route.
Elite Club: top performers every month form a group called the elite club, which interacts regularly with the CEO.
Transparent performance management and appraisal processes: it is ensured that each employee is fully aware of the performance management system his/her appraisal will be dependent on. On a daily/weekly/monthly basis, performance is measured and published on the internet, which respective employees can review. Performance review meetings are held on monthly/quarterly/annual basis at different levels where the discussion revolves around how to fill the performance-related gaps, if any.
Any in-house training to enhance employee skills and productivity?
We have different employee skills enhancement training programmes for different levels. These include, the new hire training for entry level employees, the coach/mentors who support new hires, amongst others. We also have launch pads: agents nominated for the monthly training programme by team leads (TL). Then there is the core training is a mandatory two-week programme for every TL/manager before he/she commences his/her job responsibilities.
Act before it’s too late
Sort out a hostile situation at your office immediately; advise Judi Hopson, Emma Hopson and Ted Hagen
Is your boss or a coworker tormenting you at work? Are you being attacked verbally or psychology—cally? If so, you need to take steps to change your situation.
For example an employee in a hospital pharmacy, Carol kept pointing out problems to her boss that needed to be corrected. “Problems regarding medications in a hospital can translate to life and death issues for patients,” Carol emphasizes. “But, my boss just ignored me,” says Carol. “She’d make hostile faces and growling noises whenever I’d try to open up a conversation about these issues”. Carol’s boss, also a woman, is close to retirement. “My boss didn’t want to rock any boats or bother with changes,” says Carol. “She’s eager to leave the hospital and move to her native place”.
Carol is now in the process of telling on her boss through a formal grievance committee. Pulling her own hair out got tiresome to Carol, so she decided to confront the issue head-on.
Another such case is of June who teaches at a community college. Her boss, a man, has called her “stupid” and “inept” on many occasions. June has worked under this aggressive professor for years. “He’s mean to all female faculty members. But, they’re too afraid to confront him,” avers she.“When one woman sued him last year,” June explains, “the female instructors called to testify were so scared, they lied. They were petrified to tell the truth about this mean professor. As a result, the woman who sued lost the case”. If you’re in a hostile situation, define how to change what’s going on.
Changing a hostile work situation involves shifting a lot of gears. If you’re already stressed out about your situation, you need supportive people to lean on who will encourage you to tackle the problem in stages.
Try these tips:
Talk to a human resources professional outside of your work setting. Your goal is to speak with an objective listener about your situation. This helps you gain clarity on what to do next.
Document your problems. Write down times and dates you experienced hostility. You might need this documentation later for a grievance or review board.
Speak with a human resources manager at your place of work. Instead of giving too much of the picture, ask lots of questions. Telling too much might mean your HR person will be forced to file paperwork even if you don’t wish to. For example, ask an HR manager to define a hostile work environment in legal terms. Let this person know that you are gathering information, so you can appropriately respond to your situation. But don’t give away too many details yet.
Talk with an attorney. You might desire to sue. If not, you might wish to file a formal grievance against your boss or coworker, your employer, or both.
June, mentioned above, talked with an HR firm that, unbeknownst to her, had been retained to do HR work for the college that employed her. “A friend of mine knew the owner of this independent HR firm and asked him to have lunch with me,” says June.
The owner and another director at this firm were both appalled by the unkind treatment June’s professor/supervisor had leveled at her.
“This HR firm suggested that I file formal grievance papers right away,” says June.“Since I was asking for nothing more than fair treatment, they felt eager to help me gain cooperation from all par—ties concerned”.
It’s always scary to confront a sensitive workplace situation. However, failing to deal with it means you will bear the brunt of the craziness by yourself. “I was close to a breakdown,” says Carol.“All of the unsolved problems were wrecking my nervous system, but until my family stepped in to help, I was too chicken to speak up”.
Carlo’s aunt intervened one day when she saw Carol break down and cry in the hospital phar—macy. Her aunt had stopped by to offer her a ride home.
“With my permission, my aunt called my doctor to ask for help in gaining a personal leave,” says Carol.
“I also had to go through my employee assistance programme to get permission to take a few weeks off. However, after I was home for a week, I went back to the hospital to file a formal griev—ance against my boss and the hospital. I decided that fighting the situation made me stronger”.
The sooner you face a hostile work situation, the better. The longer you allow the abuse or in—tolerable situation to go on, the weaker you will feel in fighting the whole situation. Addressing the problems sooner, rather than later, will mean you can confront the situation – one way or another – and get on with your life. Besides, if you fail to act, all of the tension and stress you feel will infiltrate your personal life. For example, your workplace tension might affect how you treat your spouse or children. A situation you don’t address might lead to problems that your loved ones will pay for.
After all, how long can your family and friends listen to the problems if nothing changes? “It’s best to find a way to strike back,” Carol summarized. “A mean boss or co-worker shouldn’t have power over your life”.
(Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, fire fighters and police, Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress. Ted Hagen is a family psychologis
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