‘Business manners’ are based on courtesy and common sense

Dear Joan:
Recently, a woman vice president interviewed me. The position I interviewed for reports directly to her. At the conclusion of the interview, she escorted me down a corridor. At the end of the corridor was a closed door. As I normally do, I opened the door and held it open for her to pass through first. Although I didn't think anything of it, from the look she gave me, I gathered that she had not expected me to do this. Were my actions appropriate or did I commit an unintended act of chauvinism?

On the contrary, I think you committed an intentional act of courtesy. It strikes me as odd that she would give you a "look" for such a simple thing, unless:

1.      It isn't everyday behavior where she works.

2.      She is hypersensitive about such things.

3.      Your behavior was exaggerated or overly dramatic.

With women wanting to be treated as equals in the workplace, and so much in the press about sexual harassment, it's no wonder that men (and women) are confused about the rules of etiquette at work.

The old rule, "Ladies First," often doesn't apply in the workplace. Instead, the protocol is usually determined by the relative positions of the people involved. For example, deference is given to people who hold higher status in the hierarchy, regardless of gender.

Men, who display social manners toward women at work, rather than "business manners," are generally viewed as being old fashioned. Fair or not, they are usually viewed by women as being out -of -touch with modern thinking. In some cases it can even come across as chauvinistic or patronizing.

I'm no Miss Manners, but here are some common sense rules I've observed in action:

·        When approaching a door, whoever gets there first opens it and does one of two things. He or she either holds it for the person approaching from behind, or walks through it and pauses to hold it for the person behind him or her. It doesn't matter if the person is a man or a woman.

·        When approaching an elevator, the same basic rule applies. There is nothing wrong with a man or woman entering the elevator first, but typically, they hold the door for others who follow behind. When the door opens, whoever needs to get out simply eases through the others to make his or her exit. There is no need for all the men to exit in order to let a woman out.

·        When business people are driving together, the driver usually walks over and unlocks the passengers' doors first (unless it is automatically done from the driver’s side). If a male driver walks around to open the passenger door for a woman, he usually holds the door and closes it behind her. However, there is nothing wrong with the woman opening and closing her own car door.

·        Regarding shaking hands, most business people do it spontaneously, whether they are male or female. There is no need for a man to wait until a woman's hand is offered first.

·        When introductions are made in a group, and a woman is present, each person is introduced to every other person. Special care is usually taken to introduce the others to the person who has the most senior position, rather than introducing everyone to the woman.

·        Status and circumstance rather than gender determine whether to stand when someone enters the room. For example, a senior executive who enters a room is often greeted by others who stand and introduce him or her to new people. However, if a senior executive joins a group of people he or she knows, usually no one will stand. There are some circumstances when the safest thing to do is stand. For instance, when meeting anyone for an interview, meeting a person for the first time (regardless of gender or status) and whenever you want to show respect.

·        There is no need to stand when a man or woman leaves the room. For example, at a business dinner, the men don't need to stand when a woman excuses herself to go to the rest room.

·        When ordering food in a restaurant, the woman in the group is usually encouraged to order first. If there is more than one woman in the group, the server usually starts with a woman and then proceeds in order around the table. There is no need to take all the women's orders before the men order.

Am I the definitive authority on business manners? Hardly! But I've observed classy business professionals in action and I think they have a good grasp of common sense behavior.

Things get a little more confusing in a social situation. Women are becoming so used to being treated as equals at work, it can seem awkward on a date. (Do I open the door? Do I let him open the door? Do I show poor manners if I don't stand when she leaves the table?) What I notice is that the conventional rules of social etiquette are changing to become more like those at work. In some ways it's too bad, but I suppose the desire for equality doesn't stop at five o'clock.

I become particularly annoyed, however, when women are rude to men who are only trying to be polite. In my opinion, there is no excuse for a nasty attitude or an indignant remark. Many men are only acting the way they were taught to "treat a lady." With all the changing rules, is there any wonder why they might be confused about what is chivalrous and what is chauvinism? Give 'em a break and gently educate them with good humor and a gracious attitude.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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