Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Looking Your Best Is Easy Does It

I was having a conversation the other day with a British colleague, William Hanson, who presents workshops and conducts seminars on business and social etiquette - not unlike my own. We enjoy comparing notes and swapping recent stories about questions on etiquette which cross our respective 'desks' (desk in quotes because many desks today are hand held!). William wanted my opinion on a question asked of him while presenting a workshop in Milan. A woman asked him whether it was proper etiquette for a man with a hairy upper chest to wear his shirt with the second button open or not. William explained that there is no etiquette rule for this situation and that it was a matter of personal preference. I agree with this answer and would have added an explanation of what the consequences are of that particular personal preference.

I have discussed the importance of a proper handshake and the complex of messages communicated by one. Similarly, how we present ourselves in respect to proper attire is equally important. The visual image you portray also communicates strong messages, some subliminal. This is the essence of a first impression. Looking one's best is easy to do. There are a few guidelines which make this possible. To begin with, select your clothes with careful thought and intention. If you are going for a job interview, dress as though you want a job a level above the one for which you are applying. Dress to impress. Wear tasteful clean clothes,leaning toward traditional items in terms of cut and colors, pressed appropriately, and with shined shoes. Be sure your hair is clean, combed and brushed and and looking well kept. Unless you are interviewing for a job as a musician in a rock metal band, dress conservatively, but with individuality. This can be easily achieved by choosing one piece of clothing as an accent, for example a colorful neck tie, scarf, shirt, blouse or piece of jewelry. But only choose one such accent. This basic rule actually applies for social occasions as well, both formal and informal.

Accessories are best kept simple. For men, resist the Mr. T look of wearing an excessive number of gold chains and garish rings. Save this look, along with the heavy colognes, for private times. For women, choose any jewelry with care. A plain gold or silver choker, single strand of pearls and a simple decorative pin make for a very professional look. Avoid flashy rings and 'heavy' jewelry during the day time. Add extra bling for evening wear at larger social gatherings.

For social outings, dressing with a little flair is fun. It's best not to overdo it though. Your host and hostess should not be intentionally upstaged. If they are likely to dress conservatively, I recommend following their lead. If they are of a more festive nature, then go with more flamboyant attire! Whatever you decide to wear, be sure it fits you well. Clothes that fit too snugly impart an image which is neither professional nor attractive. Dressing appropriately entails knowing your body type and looking in a full-length mirror is always an excellent idea. Consulting a partner or even a sales clerk might be another way to go in discovering your look.

No matter what the reason for going out, even if it's to the grocery store, have a quick peek in the mirror before heading out. How you present yourself to others speaks volumes about you feel about yourself. If you don't particularly care how you look or what impression you project, that message will come through loud and clear. A pet peeve of mine is the wearing of hats indoors. The message it delivers is one of laziness, low self esteem and disrespect for those around you. And wearing a hat or cap inside has also unfortunately become a bad habit that too much of society has accepted. That may well be the way you feel. We all face daily challenges which test our stamina, level of happiness, and regard we have for others.

By taking the time to look for best, you will feel good about yourself. Making such an effort has a very positive effect on ones self. It also makes a very positive impression on those around you and tells people you care enough about them to make the effort to look nice.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Priorities and Responsibilities

Today, I want to look at two different situations we all encounter in our daily lives. The first one is about the importance of being on time. How important is it to be on time? How important is it to teach children to be on time? In some cultures, the Dutch for example, value punctuality above almost everything else. In other cultures, such as our own, more flexibility seems to be acceptable.

The question arises after one decides that being on time really does matter. Why does it even matter? For one thing, being on time shows we have respect for other people’s time. For another, it enables us to accomplish goals that are attached to deadlines. However, becoming obsessed with watching the clock can lead to unnecessary stress, sometimes even panic. One reader was grappling with punctuality versus civility. He wonders whether ‘rushing the kids out the door’ to get to an activity is more important than actually enjoying the process more holistically.

The responsibility lies with the parents. Children do not yet understand how much time it takes to tie shoes, comb hair and pack school lunches. That is a fact. Even if you think they should know, it takes time for children to practice putting all of these moving parts together into a homogeneous action before ‘second nature’ eventually takes over. The process of practicing these skills takes time. Be sure to allow as much time as necessary to accomplish all of these small tasks without the stress imposed by the thought of being late. Potential tardiness is not an appropriate excuse for incivility. It is indeed during these times of everyday small actions that we learn to be kind and to integrate patience and compassion into our lives.

In some cases, being on time is very important. Business meetings, professional appointments, and cultural and sporting events usually begin on time. In business, if you want to succeed, being prompt helps. Most professional offices operate on a schedule of appointments; therefore, keeping on track is vital. Likewise, when going to a theatre performance, be sure you are comfortably and quietly seated prior to the curtain rising.

The second question concerns who takes responsibility for customer dissatisfaction. This situation can happen at a restaurant, a beauty salon, or even at a doctor’s office. Quite by surprise, we don’t like the way the chef has prepared our food; we are shocked and unhappy with the new look facing us in the mirror; or, we suffer further discomfort or develop new symptoms after a doctor’s surgery or treatment for an illness. The question is how do we handle these situations appropriately.

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, reactions can range from a mild reprimand to a tirade.  Or, we could play the martyr and feel sorry for ourselves. As the customer, we are well within our rights to express our displeasure, but doing so with civility. We are all human beings and face challenges every day. It’s important to consider the intention to displease you or harm you in any way. In most cases, these situations were accidental. But, poor skills at work can also create bad results. What each of us must do is differentiate between what was done badly out of malice and what is done because of a lack of ability.

Anytime we are confronted with an angry attitude, our natural tendency is to go on the defensive. When this happens, we can lose our cool if we become too upset with the situation. There is a shared responsibility, that when accepted can greatly aid in resolving the issue. The injured person is absolutely owed an apology and suitable restitution. In the case of a poor meal, the charge should be removed from the bill; in the case of a bad dye job or hair cut, there should be no charge. Once an apology is made, it is up to the customer to accept it and acknowledge it with an understanding, accepting reply.

As I write this column, today it is International Kindness Day. I ask each of you sit quietly and remember a time when you were upset by a bad experience as a customer. Think about how you reacted, if you held any grudge, if you left any scars. Replay the scene, substituting a kinder response. Hopefully you can sense a difference in how you feel, perhaps wishing you had handled it that way in the first place. Maybe the next time this happens to you, you will pause a moment before responding and consider the intention behind the situation. If we all approached stressful situations with more compassion, we would react less harshly. This form of kindness is very contagious. Try it; you’ll like it.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Common Sense and Common Courtesy

So much of what we do today is based on common sense.
Common sense is essential to showing that we are actually
paying attention to what we are doing in our business and personal
lives, and what we are saying through our various forms of
communication.  As decent folks, we are
naturally kind and friendly, primarily because that is how we like to
be treated. A healthy society relies heavily on these dynamics in
order to survive. It's just plain common sense to want to go through life
in a reasonable way, pleasantly interacting with our fellow human beings.

Occasionally, I am asked where and when the rules of etiquette started;
have they gone out of fashion; and are they really important? First of
all, the term was coined in the court of Louis XVI and meant simply
KEEP OFF THE GRASS, reminding the public to tread respectfully at Versailles.
Common courtesy was most likely practiced in prehistoric times though there is
nothing to document the practice.
Etiquette was nicely presented in the 12th century as King Arthur created a
chivalric order in The Knights of the Round Table. It was Arthur's wish that each 
knight of the realm have equal status and be treated with equal
respect. He was to be seated with his knights at a round table
which had neither head nor foot. In modern society however, the common
rules of courtesy evolved through necessity and were recorded by
ancient Romans and continued through George Washington and on to Emily
Post and a whole host of self proclaimed experts. These rules of etiquette
were originally developed as a safe way of communicating with dubious new
acquaintances, indicating peaceful intentions. They evolved into
musings of how polite society ought to behave and became almost like
doctrines by the early 20th Century. Make no mistake about it though;
these notions were fabricated by a variety of persons; and yet always with a
generous helping of common sense and an acute awareness of right and wrong.

Etiquette rules are flexible, however, and just as fashions, lifestyles, and
societies change and evolve, so too do the guidelines of accepted
behavior. Their importance does not diminish however. As the result of
some world events and technological eruptions, both the business world
and society at large have relaxed these rules, in my opinion, about as
far as they can go. Common courtesy is still effectively extended when
friendships are formed and are transformed into long term
relationships. People will never lose their innate desire to woo a
potential spouse; and this is true of both sexes. We like to be
treated kindly and soon come to discover that the easiest way for that
to occur is to be kind ourselves.

In business, especially in today's shrinking world, competitive
atmosphere and increasing markets, we have the luxury in many cases to
do business with people whom we like, feel we can trust, and who share
 common sense which is a human trait. Many a business deal is closed
on a golf course or during a shared meal. These venues reveal our true selves
to one another and speak volumes about our strength of character and
core values.

I find that if I take the time to slow down and temporarily leave the
rat race of life, enjoying a quiet cup of tea at the local coffee
house or having a relaxed chat at the local hardware store, 
these brief sojourns can be very therapeutic.
We have a chance to listen to what our
friends have on their minds, and it gives us a chance to be empathetic and
to share a bit of our time in a selfless way. This seemingly small act
speaks volumes for how we ourselves feel about the world in which we
live, be it local or global. The ability to express our opinions
freely is a cornerstone of a free and healthy society and one which we
too often overlook and take for granted.

Another indicator of whether what we are doing or saying is correct
and respectful is to look inside of ourselves. If we feel in our
hearts that what we intend to do is kind and thoughtful and not
solely self serving and hurtful, then we're probably on the right
track. This in essence is what etiquette is all about. After all,
being kind comes naturally to us as humans.

Being sensible about and mindful of courteous behavior is never going to
go out of style nor fashion. Flexibility in the rules governing what
is acceptable behavior will guarantee that. The underlying principles
of respect for all things including ourselves will preserve what we in
the Western world have come to know as normal. Common sense is within
each of us, let us apply it daily.