We have lost the ability to teach children to lead the good life.
--Dennis Prager, radio talk show host and author, Happiness Is a Serious Problem


Let me count the ways. Good manners do mean good business. Etiquette in a job interview can often mean whether you are described as a lout or someone with professional manners. People watch your actions. They judge you by the image you project.

Beepers Present the First Problem

The issues of etiquette or ways of behaving first begin with technology. Beepers come to mind. It is rude for a student to have a beeper go off where a professor is lecturing or giving instructions. All calls should be held until the classroom experience is finished. The student should not have to race past the professor every time the beeper goes off. I appreciated a student recently apologizing for the beeper going off during class. That student showed class and a willingness to admit an etiquette error. At the recent Comdex keynote meetings in Las Vegas, beepers and pagers went off during the presentation. If you can imagine, the person behind me answered the cell telephone and carried on a short conversation during the keynote address. That person should receive the "rude-of-the-day" plaque for being inconsiderate of others. Surely, the telephone call could have been answered later, or the person, in the worst circumstances, could have taken the call outside the meeting hall.

I thought the beeper problem was lessening in our society. Picture you are sitting in a comfortable theater listening to a production of the musical, Cabaret. Suddenly, a beeper goes off in the middle of the audience. How rude can that person be who let the beeper sound. Surely, no telephone call is so important that the person can't wait until the intermission to make that necessary telephone call.

Cell Rage Takes over Road Rage

Did you know over 76 million Americans dial with their cell phones? In 1987, only about 880,000 owned that ubiquitous communication tool ("Outrage Is the Order of the Day," USA Today, July 28, 1999, pp. D1-2). Peggy Post, who revised Emily Post's famous etiquette book calls this new phenomenon, "wireless rage." People have become extremely annoyed in restaurants, theaters, and elevators where these machines go off at will. I watched a person sitting at a small, circular table in a well-known coffee shop carry on a conversation completely oblivious of other diners and their feelings about the interruption.

Have you ever heard a cell phone go off at a wedding or a religious service? Cell users do not seem to mind invading other's space to receive that all-important telephone call. Here's a fascinating statistic to mull over the next time you hear a cell telephone: "Fifty-nine percent would rather visit the dentist than sit next to someone using a cell phone." When do people most abhor the use of cell phones, according to the USA Today survey? The statistics indicate:

86 percent--inappropriate over dinner
88 percent--inappropriate in a meeting
96 percent--inappropriate in a movie
98 percent--inappropriate at a funeral.
How do you judge whether a cell phone is inappropriate in a jury deliberation room or a classroom? If the cell phone interferes with the learning process or the seriousness of the situation, please place the cell phone somewhere else. The situation of banning cell phones in posh restaurants remains prickly. Where does freedom of speech begin and the rights of others coincide? Politeness and responsibility still have to exist in our society. Peggy Post, earlier alluded to, suggests personal removal may be the best answer:

People using these phones forget that everyone around them can hear every word they are saying, and they often speak loudly. It is preferable to remove yourself from a group to a quiet corner in order to make or take calls so as not to bother others. It is ludicrous to ask those around you to hush.
With this good advice you must use your best judgment. Others don't expect you to take the attitude you are not bothering them.

Don't Forget the Sweetest Words

Two of the sweetest words or phrases in the English language are "Please" and "I'm sorry." People appreciate individuals admitting their wrongs. Also, it is helpful in the Atrium or anywhere to say "Excuse me" instead of just bumping into someone who didn't seem to get out of your way.

Etiquette Books Abound

Lately, I came across a fascinating little book appropriately entitled The Little Instruction Book of Business Etiquette by Valerie Sokolosky. Here's an example of the homespun advice given about eating and good manners:

Be a good guest by practicing good manners:

In the list I especially liked how to handle the balancing act when you are given a plate of food and no place to sit down. Nothing is more frustrating than to watch at a Meet the Firms Night or whatever people trying to shake hands without losing their food on the floor. Common sense seems to reign in the previous list.

Informational Interviewee Expects Manners

Recently, one of my students asked about how to act during an informational interview. The rules probably also apply to an employment interview or other types of interview. First, go dressed for success. You are representing the university as part of your assignment. Therefore, first impressions mean a great deal.

When you first meet the individual who will provide your informational interview, wait until a hand is offered and shake "web to web." A firm handshake is necessary without breaking the other person's hand. Take your cues from the interviewee. Wait until you are offered a seat. You are a guest in that person's office. Listen carefully to the person's name and make sure you pronounce it carefully before, during, and after the interview. Look at the interviewee without staring. Make sure your questions are thoughtfully phrased. Enunciate your words and wait for pauses. Show you are interested in what the other person is stating. Ask if you can take notes or record. Then, assiduously apply your notetaking to get the main ideas or keywords.

Let's talk about what you do during a job interview when you are invited to lunch or dinner. Your purpose is not to eat. You are there to make polite conversation and sell your qualifications. You should take your cues from the interviewers about what to order. Still, I would not choose greasy foods or soups that require slurping. You want to have impeccable table manners. You should know what utensil is used for. Don't be surprised if you are greeted with a multitude of silverware.

Miss Manners Opens Up on Communication Devices

In her recently published book, Miss Manners Basic Training-Communication, Judith Martin (Miss Manners) commented on the newer communication means, such as fax, e-mail, and cellular telephones. She mentioned the following points for consideration: