Politeness, use of etiquette making a comeback

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2008

PROCTORVILLE — In a world where the casual mindset rules dress and behavior, the word etiquette can elicit reactions from gales of laughter to mirthless derision.

However, when it comes to getting and keeping a job, those out in the world are discovering it pays to be polite.

That’s why etiquette has moved away from the realm of Mrs. Emily Price Post and her blue book of manners that taught how to maneuver an artichoke and that you don’t drink out of the finger bowl.

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Today, etiquette consulting is big business and one whose demand apparently keeps growing, if a check on the Internet and book stores are any indication.

Ingram Library Services Inc. is the major book vendor for the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library. From 1983 to the present it lists 435 books on etiquette available. In 2007 alone, it listed 111 books published that year ranging from business to e-mail to golf etiquette, according to Christine Hunt, adult services librarian at Briggs.

This year Ingram

expects 15 new books on the topic to be available.

Factor those stats in with the etiquette consulting Web sites available that provide their own experts to come to a business for in-house seminars or workshops. In other words, manners have turned into a

major factor for success in the marketplace.

One such etiquette consultant is Stephanie Burcham, director of Ohio University’s Proctorville Center. For the past nine years Burcham has offered classes in manners for students at Ohio University as well as commuting to Columbus to provide the same service for businesses ranging from accounting firms to hospitals in Central Ohio.

“Manners matter,” Burcham said. “When a company hires someone, they are trying to choose someone who is a reflection of themselves and their business.”

Finding that particular reflection most often is determined during the infamous and nerve-racking job interview. And that job interview many times is followed by a lunch or dinner with prospective employers.

With nerves frayed, a job candidate who knows that his or her manners are so ingrained that there’s no need to worry has a leg up on the competition.

“You only have 30 seconds to make a positive first impression,” Burcham said.

However, boorish behavior can douse that good impression quickly as an interview continues through a meal. For that reason, Burcham teaches a class on business dinner etiquette taking her students through an actual dinner from how to make conversation to how to use utensils to how to eat difficult foods.

“One of the things we highlight is that you are dining, not eating,” Burcham said. “If you are eating with a friend, the object is to satisfy cravings. When dining, interaction is more important. There is less emphasis on the food.”

In all her workshops, Burcham finds a variety of backgrounds and ages show up.

“Most of the students are nervous at first,” she said. “They are uncomfortable about the word, etiquette. They envision ladies with hats and gloves and finger elongated with cups of tea.”

However that image is far from how Burcham sees etiquette. Rather she views manners as a kind of toolbox.

“You have this skill and when you need it, you take it and use it,” she said.

Some of these etiquette mishaps come from lack of experience or knowledge. While others apparently arise from the highly competitive job market where networking can take precedence over anything else. So says an article in the New York Times.

“Pressed for time and worried about the skittish economy, many people have been networking at a frenzied pace, career and network consultants say,” according to the story by Sana Siwolop. “But there is a right way and a wrong way to network. To help people learn networking etiquette, a growing number of courses and seminars are being offered across the country.”

One of the major players in the field of etiquette consulting is Ann Marie Sabath, who founded the Cincinnati-based At Ease, Inc. in 1987.

In a recent interview with The Ironton Tribune, she talked about the state of manners today.

“It is teaching students a whole new set of skills,” she said. “We are reinforcing what parents tell them.”

Insisting that it is not true that fewer people have good manners, Sabath does emphasize the importance of manners in succeeding in the workforce.

“Most students believe the world is waiting for them,” she said. “They need to work at getting a job.”

Besides workshops and a Web site with advice and tips, Sabath also trains etiquette consultants — one of whom was Burcham.

The student agrees with her teacher’s philosophy.

“There has been a McDonalization of pretty much everything we do,” Burcham said. “When people enter in the workforce, they see that there is a need for an edge, a way to step up. The workforce is so competitive, you want to present yourself as a polished business person. People do know the right way, but courses and workshops are a great reminder.”