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Elevator Talk: Yes or No?

Posted by Peter Post January 29, 2013 07:00 AM

“What a coincidence. We’re both going to the same place.” I had just entered an elevator on the 28th floor of the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City where I’m conducting a seminar this afternoon. After the doors closed the person who entered the elevator with me had looked at me, smiled and made his comment. It was just the two of us in the elevator.

I responded briefly to his comment with, “Yes, it probably makes sense” as we were both going to the lobby. And then I smiled, and we were quiet for the remainder of the trip.

Other elevator rides during my stay got me thinking about how people interact on elevators. Do they make an attempt at conversation or not? And if they do, when do they seem willing to engage and when do they avoid making a comment?

Usually, when I entered an elevator that was already occupied, the person would smile and maybe nod in greeting or say “hello.” But if more than one person occupied the elevator or more than one person entered the elevator, never was any attempt made at conversation. However, if the people entering or already on the elevator knew each other, they would carry on with their conversation.

But when it was just one other person, then conversation or at least a comment was more likely. The most likely interaction would be to offer to push a floor button. But a real conversation starter, such as the one with my lone companion, that was unusual. Nice, but unusual.

I’m wondering what you think about elevator talk. Do you try to start a conversation with a person in an elevator when it’s just the two of you, or do you think it is better to ride in silence? And if you are in a group, is it okay for your group to carry on a conversation when people you don’t know are in the elevator; or should you pause your conversation until the elevator has reached your destination? Click here to take the Emily Post Elevator Talk poll. Thank you.

Splitting The Bill—Keep It Fair For All

Posted by Peter Post January 22, 2013 07:00 AM

I’ve been on vacation the past few days with two other couples. The trip is a reminder of one of the more frequently asked questions received at the Emily Post Institute: How do you handle splitting the check at a restaurant?

The short answer in our case is we each pay a third of the bill, usually by each couple putting in a credit card and then asking the server to split the bill equally. Even at restaurants that say they don’t do separate checks, splitting the bill this way is not an issue. Nothing puts a damper on an otherwise enjoyable evening faster than two couples quibbling over who had the Caesar with chicken and who had it without.

Here are two things to think about:

The tip. Two nights ago the server very kindly informed us that the gratuity had already been added into the bill. So, after ascertaining that the gratuity equaled what we would have tipped, we signed, thanked the server, and left. The next night the server gave us the heads-up that the gratuity had not been included. So between the three of us we quickly agreed on what a twenty percent tip would be, added it in, and signed our slips. I appreciate that in both cases the servers let us know what the gratuity situation was. On a number of occasions I’ve been in restaurants where nothing was said, and we had to examine the itemized charges carefully to determine if a gratuity was added or not. Remember, even if a gratuity has been added, you can always add a little extra if you think the service deserved it or if the amount of the gratuity is less than you normally would tip. Remember, too, that if you use a discount coupon, in our case one supplied by the resort at which we were staying, to tip on the full amount of the check, not the discounted amount.

Uneven split. The even split works when everyone has ordered a reasonably similar amount of food and drink. Problems can surface when for instance one couple doesn’t drink and the other two order a couple of bottles of expensive wine. In that case an uneven split is called for, and one of the imbibing couples should make the offer. Say the bill is $300 and the wine portion is $90. A fair split would be to figure the three-way split on the amount less the wine—$210 or $70 per couple. Then the two wine drinking couples split the cost of the wine—$45 each— and pay a total of $115 each. They ask the server to charge the cards accordingly, and everyone is fairly treated.

So, when it comes to splitting a restaurant check, be aware, be fair, and don’t worry about the pennies.

End The Annoying Distraction Of Email

Posted by Peter Post January 14, 2013 07:00 AM

Yesterday one of my employees said to me, “I sent you an email. Didn’t you read it? You never read your emails.”

To which I responded, “I read them, I just don’t read them the moment they enter my in-box.”

Emails are distractions, pure and simple. I used to receive an audible alert every time an email entered my in-box. Keep in mind that statistically, 90% of emails are spam. So that might imply that 90% of those alerts were for emails that I didn’t want to know about in the first place. The alert was distraction enough, but the knowledge there was a potentially important email (perhaps that one in ten) coupled with the annoying alert repeatedly goaded me to click on my inbox and read the email. And perhaps respond, too.

An immediate response is something people have come to expect. But the toll that immediacy was exacting on my productivity was very expensive.

The alternative to being controlled by my email was to take control of it. And that meant taking two actions. First, I shut off the email alert function. My computer no longer tells me I have an email. The silence is golden. Second, I established several times during the day when I review emails. Now, my focus is on my work without interruption so I’m more productive. And when I am processing my emails, I’m focused on them. Funny enough, I actually end up spending less total time looking at email by doing it in concentrated batches. While senders may not get an immediate response, they will get one at my next scheduled email session usually within an hour or two and that’s plenty fast enough.

Try it. Take control of your email, and you may end up being more productive and less stressed.

Fans Support for Coach Pagano Makes A Difference

Posted by Peter Post January 8, 2013 07:00 AM

Chuck Pagano, the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, wrote an open letter on January 5 to Colts football fans in The Indianapolis Star which demonstrates the fundamental heart and positiveness that Americans across the country display every day.

Pagano was named the Colts coach in January 2012 as the Colts were coming off a dismal season. In one season he has brought the team back to being in the playoffs. In October he was diagnosed with leukemia and had to step aside temporarily as coach for treatment. With his leukemia in remission, he was back on the sidelines last Sunday coaching the Colts in their playoff game with the Baltimore Ravens—a game which unfortunately did not turn out well for the Colts.

In the letter Pagano expresses his gratitude for the outpouring of support he and his family received. You can read the letter here. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt letter.

What struck me was the last paragraph: “On behalf of the Pagano family, thank you for helping me heal and for showing our country that we do have the best fans in the entire world; fans whose love for their coaches and players extends way beyond the football field.”

While I appreciate Pagano’s effort to thank the fans for their support, what struck me was the outpouring of love and care so many people had for a person they had never met. Across our country, in ways large and small, we do that; we step up to the plate to help out, whether it’s:

  • People donating to a fund for disaster relief after hurricane Sandy.
  • Volunteers packing boxes for our troops in Afghanistan.
  • The neighbor plowing my daughter’s driveway when he saw her out there shoveling away.
  • Fans and well-wishers offering their best wishes and letting Pagano know so many people were pulling for him.

Amidst the negativity that we see constantly on the news, it’s nice to remember all the good things, the kind things, the generous things we witness every day all around us. As the new year starts, look for your opportunities to be someone who steps up to the plate. You’ll make a difference.

“The Best Etiquette Absorbs Someone Else’s Mistakes.”

Posted by Peter Post January 1, 2013 07:00 AM

Recently Henry Alford caught my attention in a piece he wrote for the New York Times: When the Manners Police Knock.

In it he writes about the propensity we have for policing other’s foibles. When a woman initiated a cell phone call as a play was about to start, the gentleman seated in front of her gave her a dirty look and when that didn’t work he “reached around and yanked the phone from her hand, hung it up, and handed it back.” Or, on a more mellow note, consider Jenny Douglas the article continues, “who runs the Brooklyn Cottage, an arts salon in Prospect Heights, (who) takes a softer approach, and emphasizes compassion. When waiters sidle up to her at the end of a meal and ask the dreaded question, “Are you still working on that? she will either smilingly say, ‘Actually I’m still enjoying this,’ or she will look baffled and ask, ‘Might you be so kind as to bring me another glass of wine, please, so I can continue to labor?’” Ouch!

The snappy comebacks and quick put-downs are really such a temptation, especially when someone else commits a seemingly unpardonable faux pas. We become the manners police, our self-righteous goal to stop the offending behavior without regard for the effect our rejoinder might have on the relationship. And therein lies the danger of being the manners police: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

The biting sarcasm of Jenny’s comment to the waiter may not really matter to her because she'll probably never see that waiter again. Or maybe she will and service will be just a little slower. But what happens when Jenny finds she can’t turn the sarcasm on for strangers but turn it off for people she knows and cares for? That same sarcasm directed at a friend, significant other or child could mar her relationship with that person.

My daughter Anna, who works as a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, was recently interviewed on the Today Show. In one simply phrase she articulated the etiquette alternative to being a manners cop: “The best etiquette absorbs someone else’s mistakes.”

Today is January 1, 2013, the day we traditionally make resolutions for the coming year. This year we could all help foster a more civil, polite and positive society if we all made a grater effort to “absorb someone else’s mistakes.”

Happy New Year!

About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. The column is distributed by The New York Times More »

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