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Profs Share Stories
of Bad Manners on the Job

Date: March 1, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos by: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Archive: Campus News

Since most Fortune 500 companies conduct job interviews over a meal, UC communication faculty members sat their students and alumni down for a formal five-course meal last week to learn about etiquette.

Scott Somers eats soup the proper way

About 60 people attended the meal at Vernon Manor hosted and planned by Lisa Newman, director of undergraduate studies and internship program director in the communication department at the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, and LisaMarie Luccioni, an adjunct in the same department.

Newman had done some homework before the evening began to prove just how important it is for young professionals to learn how to avoid a faux pas. She surveyed UC communication alumni by e-mail, asking them to share the most egregious etiquette errors they had witnessed.

She got some doozies. Bad behavior might not matter in casual relationships, but in a professional situation it can break you.

One respondent described how a finance consultant made a presentation for her company. During his talk, he first loosened his tie. Then, he undid a few buttons on his shirt. By the time he was finished, he had taken off his jacket and his shirttails were hanging out. "He lost all credibility," Newman said.

Another alum complained that a woman seated at a formal business dinner picked up a lamb chop in her hands to eat it. "You're allowed to pick up fried chicken, but not a lamb chop," Newman warned.

Emily DuwelYet another response recounted how an alumnus attended a business dinner appointment with a co-worker who licked her fingers continuously throughout the meal. The company did not get the account it sought because of this employee's ill-conceived dining behavior.

Although the word "etiquette" dates back to Louis XIV and the sign he posted using the word to warn people to "keep off the grass" in his formal gardens, the oldest surviving etiquette manuscript dates back to 2500 B.C. In it, Ptahhotep advises, "When sitting with one's superior, laugh when he is laughing."

Newman and Luccioni offered some further advice throughout the evening:

  • If you don't like what's being served, don't say so. Just keep quiet and let it sit. Place your spoon or fork on the plate (if soup, on the soup plate, not in the soup).
  • Don't put your used napkin on the top of the table. Leave it on your seat where no one has to look at it.
  • When confronted with a place setting of three or four forks and spoons that confuses you, a good rule of thumb is to start with the outermost utensil and work your way in with each course. In general the dishes for liquids are on the right, while dishes for solids are on the left.
  • If something that goes into your mouth must come out because it's gristly or unchewable, don't spit it out or into the napkin. Instead discretely place the item back on the utensil that delivered it to your mouth and deposit it on your plate.
  • Cut only two to three pieces of meat at a time. Resist the temptation to cut up the whole thing all at once.
  • Signal the servers that you are still eating by placing your fork and knife in an inverted V on your plate. When you're finished, place the knife and fork parallel across the plate from the 10 to 4 o'clock positions.
  • The opportunities for bad manners have multiplied with the new technology we have, leading to new rules of netiquette and cyber civility. Keep e-mails brief and never write anything you wouldn't want your boss to see.
  • When leaving a voice mail message, rehearse the message before leaving it. Keep it brief and speak slowly. Slowly give the phone number to call back twice.
  • Turn cell phones off when in presentations, at dinner or the theater. If you must have cell phone access, use the vibrator or voice mail options so you don't disturb those sitting with you or around you.
  • Send thank you notes by snail mail. Use e-mail thank you's for only the most casual relationships.

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