Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Politeness Gone Too Far – Way Too Far

So, the evening had started off horribly (Read: “Phoenix & Dragon Flames Out”, below), but now we were in the event room, where I took it upon myself to tell the organizer and the presenter what had just occurred next door (the organizer excused it by saying that “Candace has just hired a few new people; I will speak with her about this"), and ready to hear the presentation, which both my colleague and I had been looking forward to.

First, though, we had to sit through an introduction by the event’s organizer, who started with a “brief meditation, so that you will feel your power” and then went on with a misplaced etiquette lesson. Misplaced, because my colleague and I are international businesswomen, who have traveled the world, are completely at home in culturally diverse environments on several continents, are respected in our professions and have excellent relationships with our clients. Nevertheless, we were told how important it is that we always make a good impression and make sure that people we meet like us. Neither my colleague nor I are particularly hung up on being “liked” by our clients and prospects. “Respected”, yes, but “liked” is not a prerequisite. As if that were not already – what shall I say? “unnecessary”? – yes, let’s keep it polite: it was “unnecessary”! – she then went on to lecture us on the importance of always using “please” and “thank you” in our interactions with others, giving as an example appropriate restaurant conduct. We should never order something by saying: “I’m going to have . . .”, or “I want . . .”. Rather, we must always say: “Please, may I have . . . .”, to show our respect for the waiter.

What the bloody hell!

In order not to embarrass my colleague, and out of respect for the program presenter, I stayed in my seat (good thing I did, the program was excellent!), but I had had it “up to here” with this nonsense and told the woman that when I am in a restaurant, I conduct a business transaction. “They have a piece of meat for sale that I want to buy; they deliver the piece of meat to my table and I pay for it. There is no ‘please, may I?’ involved in the process.”

That is a principle. But there’s more to it. These days, in many restaurants, wait staff is poorly trained and has no clue about appropriate interaction with clientele. I will not go back to places where I am addressed as “sweetie”, which recently happened, or where a colleague and I are addressed as “you girls”, which also happened a few weeks ago. So, according to our evening’s “etiquette trainer”, I should say: “please, may I have . . .?” to a waitress who calls me “sweetie”, just so that she will like me and recommend me to her friends who may want to hire me as a writer or publicist?

Not bloody likely!

Finally, the presenter came on, and, without blinking an eye, delivered a superb program. As the only two attendees (if you wonder about that, yes, so do I!), my colleague and I received fabulous personal attention and enjoyed the interactions that took place over the next hour. Evening saved, but who needs the hassles?


Katja said...

Very true! I’m the colleague who joined Lya for the workshop at Phoenix & Dragon. I also found it rather irritating to be given a lecture on manners, etiquette and cultural differences such as, for example: “We (as Americans, that is) are taught by our parents to say “please” and “thank you”. Maybe that is different in Europe”. (It is not). I was quite surprised and somewhat amused, especially since we had just been told before that we should always be “nice” and create “goodwill” since everyone could be our “next potential client”. As for the lecturing organizer, one thing is for sure: Two potential clients lost, and no goodwill created here. I humbly recommend comprehensive cross-cultural training – PLEASE!

Barb Giamanco said...

What a bunch of bull! I'm all about being courteous and treating people with respect, but if the speaker is that inexperienced and insecure, she should find another line of work. Adults who have both traveled and made their mark in the business world, do not appreciate such juvenile treatment.

Peggy Parks said...

Wish I'd been there! I know I could not have been "a nice girl" and sat through this woman's lecture. She sounds very condescending and patronizing. Guess you should have thanked her for that!!
I admire you two for staying. But as you said, the presenter was good. I know she is, we are in the same industry.