One of my favorite moments teaching etiquette in a seminar comes when I sum up the day’s learning. I do this by asking, “What would you do in this situation?”
While driving to work one day, you are cut off by another driver as you enter an intersection. You mumble a few epithets and toss a universally understood rude gesture at the other driver. Later that morning at work, your new boss comes by to introduce himself and you both recognize each other from the earlier encounter. What do you do?
Not surprisingly, a couple of times over the years I’ve had seminar participants raise their hands and admit, “I had that happen to me.”
When I ask them what happened next, they invariably recount that both sides quickly offered apologies and the incident was put in the past.
These people did exactly what we counsel any time you’ve made a mistake: Immediately own up to it and apologize.
More important, this story illustrates a key concept everyone in the work world should realize: You represent yourself and your company 24/7, not just from 9 to 5. Your actions outside of work affect you at work.
Consider parents who are watching their son or daughter at a sporting event. How they cheer and behave at the event not only reflects on them as parents, it also could affect relations at work. Jeering at the official or yelling criticism at the children is a fast way to learn that actions outside of work can affect you at work if a client or prospect is nearby. The actions of the parents may well adversely affect business when they meet at work the next day or week.
THE WALLS HAVE EARS
It’s not only actions that can be a problem outside of the workplace. Your words can be a problem, as well.
I have heard numerous stories of people who conducted what they considered to be a private conversation about privileged information in a public place, such as a restaurant or a bar; on a train, bus, or plane; or even in the lobby of a building. These conversations can easily occur when using a cell phone. People don’t even realize it. I was most impressed by a person I was sitting near on a train a while ago. He had answered his phone. I couldn’t help but hear that he was being asked about interviewees for a job. Three times he told the person on the other end of the call, “I’m sorry, I’m not in a place where I can talk about this now.” Finally, after the third time, he ended the call.
AWARENESS IS KEY
While I don’t have to be dressed in a three-piece suit to go to the hardware store on a Saturday morning, I do need to be aware that how I choose to interact with everyone I meet can have an impact, positive or negative, on the image others have of me and, therefore, can affect me not only in my personal life, but in my business life, as well.
Remember, you’re on 24/7, not just 9 to 5.
Peter Post is a director of The Emily Post Institute (http://www.emilypost.com/ seminars), great-grandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”