The Master of the house was comfortably installed in an armchair in the library, reading a newspaper. Suddenly, John, his butler ripped the door open and shouted, “Sir, the Thames is flooding the streets! “The Master looked up calmly from the newspaper and said, “John, please. I have already told you before, if you do have something important to tell me, first knock on the door, then enter and inform me, in a quiet and civilized manner, about the issue. Now please, do so.” John apologized and closed the door behind him. Three seconds later, the Master heard a knock on the door. “Yes?” John partially entered the room and with a gesture one would make when welcoming and ushering in somebody and, with water flowing over his shoes, he announced, “Sir, the Thames.”
I spent the last two weeks with a select group of management trainees who were taken through various lessons around the nature of the business. A key component of the first session was interpersonal skills as well as social and business etiquette that is required of someone working on in a professional organization. It dawned on me that many of us – myself included – learnt these skills on the fly, as we groped about climbing our respective career ladders. We either had the presence of mind to be self-aware and watched what people around us were doing, or we were called out after performing a social faux pas that left us cringing in embarrassment once pointed out. I envied the young team before me as they had the amazing, and rare, opportunity to get critical insights before entering the formal workplace.
I have thus decided to highlight my top four picks of social and business gaffes that are regularly perpetuated.
1. The Dangling Toothpick :
You go to lunch, which is never complete without a good, self-enabled dental exploration of your choppers, more often in full view of your fellow diners. To begin with, covering your mouth with your free hand while your other hand is deep at work is usually the polite thing to do. Thereafter dispose of the offending instrument using a serviette and do not use that time to take a good long look at what the outcomes of your dental exercise have yielded. But, and a big but at that, please leave the toothpick behind. Inserting it into your mouth and walking out while twirling it around with your tongue is absolutely manner less, horrifying to watch and smacks of that person who wants to show off that he ate a lunch that warranted teeth picking as a final exercise, that is to say, he ate copious amounts of meat. Years ago, I met a team of sales representatives that were selling bank products in the institution that I worked for. They were coming for an afternoon training session and three of the young men strolled in with the ubiquitous dangling toothpick. As representatives of the institution that we worked in, it was a perfect example of brand non-compliance as they looked tacky and extremely unprofessional both terms of which I brought to their shocked attention. Needless to say I am sure they muttered profanities under their breath when I was done explaining myself.
2. The Unrepentant Suit Label:
Look, I get it. I know you’re excited to be wearing your first Hubo Goss or Jojo Ahmani suit or whatever Chinese imitation suit your first paycheck has gotten you. (In many instances, men who’ve been working for over five years also perpetuate this styling gaffe) However you need to bear in mind that the label that is on the suit jacket’s sleeve is to be removed upon purchase of the suit. It is not, nor should it be, an outward acclamation of who the designer of your suit is. If it were then you should leave the labels of your socks and shirts on as well, so that we give you the appropriate recognition you seek of your styling prowess. Leaving the label on screams out, “Look everyone, I have a new suit bought from a shop and not from sunshine boutique.” Get over it. If the suit fits right, you’ll be recognized as the well dressed individual you are.
3. Tear your eyes away from your screen when talking:
You are a human being, not a stone wall. If I am talking to you, I would like to see your eyes, which signals to me that we are communicating up a two way street. Looking at your computer screen and grunting “uh-huh” as I talk sends me the signal that I am disturbing you and you really can’t be bothered to pay attention to what I am saying. The same applies to looking at a text message or email that has just pinged its entry into your phone as I’m talking. That said, if in a meeting you choose to surreptitiously check out your latest message and you burst out laughing or let out a loud exclamation of disgust then be prepared to explain what the interruption is all about otherwise just excuse yourself and pretend you’re going on a bathroom break if you need to check your messages.
4. Shower Power:
The grave assumption being made here is that one takes a shower on a daily basis before coming to work. The graver assumption made by the clean professional is that her body odour beast will be tamed throughout the course of a frenetic workday. It cannot. That’s why anti-perspirant was manufactured to tame that beast. Anti-perspirant should never be mistaken for, nor substituted with perfume or cologne. They serve completely different purposes. The former prevents your colleagues from being assaulted with the aftermath of a day in the perspiring life of a human being. The latter, if applied well, maintains a pleasantly scented environment when you walk past or sit near your colleagues.
Good manners, just like common sense, are not so common to everyone. Have an informed week.