Monday, April 30, 2012

The Etiquette of Collaboration

There is very little as important to being a human being as connecting with others. As a species, like most species, we depend on connecting for our very survival. Healthy connections are what make our lives fulfilling, successful, and enjoyable.
For most of us, our work life occupies about a third of our time, maybe even more. For those of us who have taken on the mantle of entrepreneur, the opportunities to connect with other likeminded folks abound. As a result, we discover that through collaboration, we can increase our efficiency, our abilities, and our profitability.
New Brunswick is a fertile ground for many small businesses that have discovered the numerous benefits of working together towards a common goal. Recently, I watched an interview with two of our most energetic and successful entrepreneurs, Dave Veale and Chris Nadeau. I am flattered to have been asked to comment on the etiquette needed to make such collaborations successful.
One of the most important factors required is the desire by all partners for all partners to succeed in ways impossible to achieve as individuals. This really means taking the position that one wants one’s new partners to succeed even more than themselves. This is one way to help ensure the project gets off the ground and soars.
Another factor required is awareness. In this fast-paced world, we can become easily distracted, even derailed from our focus. Our business seemingly runs itself. Since this is an impossibility, the more time we spend making conscious choices and being aware of the people and events taking place around us, the better positioned we are to succeed. Raising our awareness to the effect we have on everyone with whom we interact, and the effect they have on us, makes us able to understand and incorporate the next important piece of the puzzle.
We need to be grateful. The world of business is overflowing with people who seem to view the world from a position of entitlement. This negates the ability to be grateful. Gratitude is important because we feel understood and appreciated. We are contributors to the process. Without gratitude we take everything for granted, we show little if any respect for our colleagues, and we become isolated as a result – very counterproductive to the very essence of collaboration.
We must understand clearly that we are not entitled to anything without some fair exchange and that we do not simply deserve ‘stuff’. Deepak Chopra expressed the thought of gratitude succinctly when he stated, “If one feels like one deserves something, one cannot have gratitude for it.”
Another factor that I feel is essential to a successful collaboration is that of compassion. I speak and write about this subject regularly and yet people remain confused about turning this thought into action. Understanding that compassion is not so much about other people as it is about oneself makes implementing this action possible. Many of us equate compassion with pity or empathy. This is only a tiny part of the true meaning of the concept. It is important to maintain compassion for ourselves as well as those around us. If we are disposed to behave in a kindly manner we are better able to conduct business with a realistic perspective. We are human beings and in the world of business we can be aggressive to the point of delusion. The golden ring becomes the focus of our journey to the exclusion of the journey itself. We set impossible targets for ourselves, and find when we fall short of our goals that we instinctively lay blame on circumstances outside of our realm of responsibility. This is not the sign of a true leader, nor the sign of a good team player.
Finally, we need to take responsibility for what is ours and recognize through skillful discernment what is not. In other words, mind your own business. As part of any collaborative effort, responsibilities must be delegated with confidence and accountability. Yes, there is usually a point person, where the ‘buck stops’, but along the way, people must be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, but not feel compelled to be in control of everything else too. We all know control freaks, office bullies, and know-it-alls; and collaborations are experiences in which these folks fail miserably.
If you are considering collaborating with someone on a project, you could be in for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Few connections are as rewarding in business as working together with others to achieve a common goal. As with most things in life, if we follow the Golden Rule and use a bit of common sense, the sky’s the limit!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Incivility in Box Stores

A faithful reader touched on a very relevant social misbehavior we all have come to accept as usual. I am so glad she felt she could share her concerns with me and now with fellow readers. Incivility within our communities can come around with a little effort and a good dose of awareness. Read her words and see just how easily we can relate. Some of us may even admit to being guilty from time to time. But, we can change all that. Let’s start right in our own hometown!

“Entitlement has evolved as the arrogance of believing that you ought to have it. It being the idea that there is no a single other human being on earth who is worthy of having it except of course you!

“We are just back from a brief (and I mean quick) trip to Costco. It is generous that Costco offers samples to shoppers of a variety of foods and of course the chance to buy what one needs in bulk is a savings. However, free samples now constitute lunch for individuals and families, who will aim their over sized shopping carts at you if you attempt to get between them and the food bits being served. The empty paper wrappers from these nicely presented tastes of different products are being stashed all over the warehouse. In amongst produce, packaged meats, baked goods, books or anywhere there is a tiny spot to just leave one's trash. There are garbage cans all over the selling floor. And yet people find it compulsory to drop whatever wherever never thinking that someone else might inadvertently stick their hand in to get an item and wind up with a filthy, half eaten sample cup stuck to their fingers.

“This is a reflection of the norm for public behavior that the population is currently practicing. This is what parents are teaching their children as perfectly acceptable. It is what adults are doing without a care in the world. And it is awful. The “I am in a bubble and no one is going to interfere with my getting what I want” mentality has reached outrageous proportions.

“Over sized shopping carts are frequently maneuvered the way in which a lot of people drive. No one looks, they just go and you had best get out of the way or risk being hit. Don't forget the shoppers who insist on stopping their wagons across an aisle making it impassable for others. And of course let us never forget the “I'm sorry” after you have been hit by a cart guided by someone who just does not care and refuses to look to see that anyone is in front or to the side of this moving vehicle.”

One can easily understand the anger and frustration in the tone of this reader’s concerns. I don’t think that behavior is irretrievable and these large box stores so prevalent here are the perfect place to learn all sorts of things. In addition to a crash course in bargain hunting and brand discounts, one can learn about and teach one’s children all of the concerns so clearly delineated.

These are not stores for free-range children however. Children and many seniors for that matter can become easily disoriented and even lost, with the feeling of panic that can set in. If you take someone with you to these large stores, keep track of them for heaven’s sake! Although many stores have a ‘lost person’ section, don’t find yourself guilty of needing to use it.

Some of these warehouse stores have incredibly efficient and well-trained staff; others do not. Don’t lose your patience with ill-trained staff. If you feel you must lodge a complaint, do so with the manager in duty. They are responsible for handling customer service issues far more effectively than floor staff in most cases.

Do take the time to familiarize yourself with whatever stores you visit and do be mindful of your fellow shoppers. I always am amazed to discover that the more aware of other shoppers I become, the more aware of me they become, and the whole experience is far more pleasant and efficient, too!

Friday, April 6, 2012

iPhone Etiquette Revisited

Selfish, boorish behaviour has become the norm rather than the exception these days when it comes to how many people act in public. People seem so rushed, so self-absorbed, and so inconsiderate of other people, one wonders if they are living in another world. This point is illustrated by the following question sent in by a reader.

“I was taking the train from Moncton to Montreal when both the young girl in the seat in front of me and the older lady behind me both began talking on their cell phones. I’m not sure who was more irritating. The young girl was calling a friend to determine where Campbellton was (she was erroneously told in Quebec). She swore profusely and complained about not having a smoke in forever. The older lady was four wines in and talked for four hours straight in between relentless hiccupping and giggling.

“Should it really be my responsibility to have to inform people on a train that they should not be on their cell phones having casual conversations? Shouldn’t a transit company nowadays with expanded mobile phone range be accommodating for these people that have to talk on their phones by suggesting an alternative area to have their conversation? Are you aware of a transit company of any other place of congregation that has cell phone friendly policies to make the experience more comfortable for both iPhoners and noPhoners? Thanks!”

In answer to your query about other transit companies having cell phone policies, indeed there are. Having never had the pleasure yet of riding the ‘Great Canadian Rails’, I will trust your observations and assume that either the rules were simply being ignored, or there are no such rules in place. In both Britain and the United States, there are carriages designated as “quiet cars”, where one may not use one’s iPhone for lengthy convos and certainly not for loud ones. One may not even carry on a lively chat with one’s fellow passengers in such a car. These cars are usually for first or business class passengers, and such rules are not train-wide, as they hopefully one day will be.

In the meantime, in answer to your question about responsibility, as given this is not a matter of train policy, so I doubt you’d get a lot of satisfaction from the train crew. Therefore, you are well within your rights to address the issue with both offending parties, but quietly and privately. Otherwise you are merely adding fuel to the fire. As with any situation where someone is being annoying by infringing upon your space, you can take the lead. Realize however that you run the risk of having a nasty confrontation with the offending parties because many people react badly to being told how rude they are, whether it is about using cell phones or anything else.

I am very generous when it comes to giving people the benefit of the doubt. After all, everyone is subject to emergencies and difficult days. This is in no way a ticket to obnoxious behavior however. People who are in despair or even just out of sorts should make an effort to seek solace with friends and family in a private place. Airing one’s dirty laundry on the train, discussing personal matters such as one’s health problems, boss problems, mate problems, et cetera is not acceptable at any time. But what happens to people when they are under sudden stress is that they become fearful and unsure of themselves. Broadcasting their issues to the public somehow makes them feel more connected, and justified in their misery. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Whether on a train, a plane, a bus, or a ship, respecting the space one shares with others is important and is the decent thing to do. Just because other people behave in an uncivil manner does not mean you can too. This backsliding of respect for other people, this utter disregard for how one affects other people, and this brash bullying behaviour needs to stop. Somewhere along the line, someone’s parents forgot to say ‘NO’.

My advice is that parents need to teach their children about the appropriate use of cell phones in public when they get their first phones, assuming the parents know of the existence of such guidelines. Until that point, returning to the reader’s question, it is up to us to protect our boundaries and comfort zones. Just be sure not to be rude about it!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Gratz Park Inn & Jonathan’s at Gratz Park, Lexington, Kentucky - Two Reviews

The Gratz Park Inn, Lexington, Kentucky

Flying over the horse farms of Kentucky Bluegrass Country for my first time was a beautiful sight indeed. I was attending a three-day seminar on Tea and Etiquette presented by none other than Bruce and Shelley Richardson and their wonderful associate Lois Quilligan. When I landed, Zedtta Wellman, the effervescent manager of The Gratz Park Inn, met me at the airport in grand style. On the way to the Inn, a short 15 minutes drive away, in a spotless Cadillac SUV, she explained to me proudly about the rich heritage of the region. I have friends who live there and Zedtta reflected the kind southern hospitality which all of the locals exude.

The Gratz Hill Inn is located centrally on a lovely tree-lined historic street only a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln. As I walked through the front door of the Inn, I knew right away I was in for a treat. As a former innkeeper myself, I could not help noticing the attention to detail shown in so many aspects of the layout, the décor, and above all, the genuinely warm hospitality.

Being a bit late and starving, I raced to the independently owned restaurant/bar, Jonathan’s (see separate review) to enjoy a Sunday brunch before it closed and before heading to my room to rest up for the seminar. The room was a comfortable size furnished with a king-sized bed, which served as my cocoon for the next four nights. The mahogany desk and bureau gave a rich feel to the room. My only negative would be the shag carpet, of which I am not a fan. The bathroom was clean, fitted with amenities the label of which are apparently changed every two years so that the many repeat customers don’t become bored. Basically, everything worked perfectly including the flat screen TV and the free Wi-Fi. After four days I still could not understand why this fine hotel had not been awarded four diamonds by AAA instead of the three it had garnered.

When I am staying in a hotel, I want cleanliness, comfort, and gracious hospitality. If that’s what you want, you will find you have landed on your feet here. I look forward to returning again and again!

Jonathan’s at Gratz Park, Lexington, Kentucky

I was completely caught by surprise from the first bite of Burgoo to the last bite of Crème Brulee over a four-night gastronomical marathon at Jonathan’s. There was no need to go anywhere else until I had the chance to enjoy almost everything on this fine chef’s menu. The offerings are so clearly regional that blindfolded, one could easily identify such classics as grits, collard greens, shrimp, braised short ribs, corn bread, fried chicken, bread pudding (and I could go on, but you get the idea), all laced perfectly with the requisite Bourbon. 94% of the world’s bourbon is distilled in Kentucky. Even as a teetotaler I was not overwhelmed or put off by this ambrosia.

As luck would have it, I managed to spend a few leisurely minutes with Jonathan Lundy himself and learn what his philosophy was for his menu creation and food preparation. He is an amiable fellow, in unusually fit condition for a seasoned chef, with a background in the culinary arts that stretches back generations. With his formal training at Johnson and Wales, his love of food is obvious as the twinkle in his eye sparkles as he delights in telling me how he layers traditional regional flavors together into a palette of very fine cuisine. Having owned and operated my own 4-diamond restaurant for eight years, it is always a pleasure and an honor to talk about food with well-seasoned chefs, of which Jonathan is unmistakably one.

For me the greatest surprises came in some of the details. I am a great believer that food should be enjoyed by all of the senses. Visually, the plates are carefully presented and invite the diner immediately to come closer and enjoy the wonderful blend of aromas. Tasting such accompaniments as risotto and pea fritters with a hint of citrus, just brought this to meal to a whole new level. I am also a fan of a carefully planned plate, not being dominated by any one part, but rather each enhancing the other. Here Jonathan excels like only a few I have known. This same skill is echoed in his use of fresh watercress and peas next to lamb chops (the only disappointment of the evening, being less than tender) with bourbon-laced white mint jelly. The short ribs are the best I have ever had, accompanied perfectly with collard greens liberally and successfully blended with horseradish. To bring the meal to a finale I enjoyed Jonathan’s brilliant Bourbon Ball Torte one night and his signature Crème Brulee brought to the table aflame with a generous pour of bourbon the next. This is perhaps one of the most amazing versions of the classic I have ever had with a concert playing continuously in my mouth right to the end.

The service staff was excellent, not being overly attentive (I hate hovering) while showing the innate ability to read their tables and the room with the sweep of an eye. Thankfully they did not commend me for my menu selections, another pet peeve of mine.

If you want to experience Kentucky cuisine at the very highest level, my bet is safely placed to win here. Thank you Jonathan for sharing your passion with us!