In a manner of speaking

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 May, 2008, 12:00am

Behaving decently and respectfully can help you to get ahead in the workplace - rather than being left behind

Book The Etiquette Advantage in Business

Authors Peggy Post and Peter Post

Publisher HarperCollins

In an age of e-mail, BlackBerry and Facebook, you might be forgiven for thinking that there is not much room for a book on etiquette - let alone one produced by the great-granddaughter-in-law and great-grandson of the queen of etiquette herself, American author Emily Post.

Post was renowned for her romantic stories, serialised in Vanity Fair, Collier's, McCall's and other popular magazines, as much as for her 1922 book, Etiquette.

Heading straight to the top of the best-seller list, this was soon viewed as the last word on social conduct, straight from the lips of a pioneering American career woman.

It advised its readers on how to behave in a host of situations and how, most importantly, to apply good manners to all manner of occasions and occurrences.

In her original book, the elder Post wrote: 'Good manners reflects something from inside - an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.'

Her descendents appear to have picked up the family baton, writing between the two of them for Good Housekeeping, InStyle Weddings and Essential Manners for Men, not to mention generating television appearances on Oprah, Good Morning America and CNN Headline News.

This does, however, beg the question of whether Hong Kong business readers need to hear words of advice from the leading American authorities on topics that include ethics and table manners.

Can we really cram in some good manners in 2008, between our tightly packed deadlines, intensive self-development programmes, family commitments and daily battle for a seat on the MTR?

According to modern writers, such as super-successful business humourist Stanley Bing, the author of Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the Real Art of War (reviewed in these pages in 2006), if we want to make it to the top, we need to wage commercial warfare, not play nice.

In Wage the Real Art of War, Bing told us that we need to learn, 'how to make war, win and enjoy the plunder in the real world, where those who do not kick, gouge and grab are left behind at the table to pay the tab'.

In the opinion of the Post siblings, trampling over others has no place in civil society.

If good manners are seen as ethical values, respect for oneself and one's peers, nurturing one's customers and navigating job interviews, they believe that they are an essential part of daily life.

Behaving decently and respectfully is therefore not a sign of weakness. Instead, it can help us get ahead in today's increasingly competitive workplace - rather than get left behind.

Good manners can also provide tools for building solid, productive relationships with business associates that, the authors suggest, will help propel you and your company straight to the top.

Although etiquette is the terminology that is employed in this tome, the topics it covers could easily appear in generic business guides under titles such as effective leadership, employee engagement or employee retention.

If you consider that, in this guide, etiquette also embraces worker privacy, harassment in the workplace and knowing how and when to shoulder blame, it appears remarkably relevant to everyday business existence.

Consider, in addition, business guru Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, who believes that not only are the etiquette skills the authors impart not supposed to slow us down, they grease the wheels of successful business-making.

Dr Covey wrote in his original work that: 'This [book] makes etiquette, politeness, and courtesy not only the right things to do in lubricating all human interactions, but also a way of building moral authority and competitive advantage.'

Through a host of tips and advice, readers will find The Etiquette Advantage to Business a genuine 'how to' guide to doing 21st-century business and a source of invaluable people skills.

The six-section book is broken down into chapters ranging from the 'Keys to success' (why etiquette matters), to 'At the workplace (you and your co-workers, workspace, supervisors, among other issues), and 'Rising to the occasion' (customer relationships, business events and table manners).

Other areas covered include communication (being a good conversationalist, communicating on the telephone and electronically), 'On the road - here and abroad' and, last but not least, 'The job applicant'.

So, if we can get our head around that daunting e-word, and instead view it as being about how to do things properly, pleasantly and effectively, this book makes a lot of sense.

As Peter and Peggy Post's great-grandmother put it in 1922 in her book, 'to make a pleasant and friendly impression is not only good manners, but equally good business'.

In a nutshell

Who should read this? Anyone and everyone. Even if you consider yourself to be well-behaved, it never hurts to compare your behaviour with the gold standards set by the descendents of the woman considered to be the world's most authoritative on the subject.

Why should they read this? For sound, common sense from some of the leading writers on etiquette, good old-fashioned decency and how to get ahead in business without trampling people into the ground on the way up.

Five insights

1 'Etiquette is one of the misunderstood words in the English language,' write Peggy Post and Peter Post in The Etiquette Advantage in Business. 'Most people, when asked what etiquette means to them, reply 'Manners', 'Politeness', 'Thank-you notes, 'Rules'.' However, according to their great-grandmother, Emily Post, etiquette is what happens whenever two people come together and their behaviour affects one another.

2 Six ethical values to live by, according to the authors, range from equality to truth, honesty, integrity, co-operativeness and self-regulation. 'Most important of all, true ethics mean holding yourself to the highest level of behaviour because you want to, not because you're afraid of getting caught and punished for flouting a specific rule,' they write.

3 Business dress has undergone such radical shifts in the past 10 years that knowing what is appropriate is tough. 'Standards that used to speak for the entire work world now barely suffice for an individual profession,' write the Posts. If in doubt, they suggest you try to keep it understated, neat and clean. Finally, 'don't be a fashion victim'!

4 What are the secrets to getting along with your co-workers? Sharing your time for 40 hours a week with co-workers you had no part in choosing can be a daunting experience. Try hard not to be fashionably cynical about your colleagues as this is self-defeating; instead, make the best of things and work towards a harmonious atmosphere.

5 'All the rules of table manners are made to avoid ugliness' wrote Emily Post in the early 20th century. And this is just as true today. When you think about any action you take during a meal, write the authors, ask yourself 'does it have the potential to be repulsive, sound like an animal, or make a mess'? If it does, don't do it and you should keep out of trouble.