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Tweet Boomerangs On The Sender

Posted by Peter Post March 26, 2013 07:00 AM

Imagine you’re at a conference and you hear a fellow employee tell what is clearly a sexist comment. What would you do?

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Tell a manager about the incident.
  3. Tweet the alleged sexual comment and include a photo of the individual who made the comment.

Adria Richards was working for her company, SendGrid, at the PyCon 2013 when she overheard the person telling the joke. She turned around and snapped a photo of him, and then posted the photo in a tweet along with the alleged comment.

The reaction was swift and, for Richards, unexpected. PyCon 2013 officials saw the tweet almost immediately. An article on Boston.com quoted Jesse Noller, chairman of the conference: “We pulled all the individuals aside. We got all sides of the story. They said she was right, and they were very apologetic.”

While owning up to the transgression and apologizing was the right thing to do, the person making the comments was fired. Unfortunately for Richards, she was fired, too.

And therein lies the problem. Twitter is a public forum. In posting the tweet, she not only exposed and publicly shamed the perpetrator, she potentially hurt the company’s reputation. Instead of excelling at the conference, SendGrid had to initiate damage control and deal with an employee problem.

Richards forgot a key teaching point of etiquette: it’s not a matter of “if” you’re going to do something, it’s a matter of “how” you do it that’s important. From SendGrid’s point of view, there’s no question that she should have reported the incident. The issue is how she chose to do it. SendGrid’s CEO explained the company’s decision in a posting on its website: “Her decision to tweet the comments and photographs of the people who made the comments crossed the line. Publicly shaming the offenders — and bystanders — was not the appropriate way to handle the situation.”

Twitter is a great communication device when used appropriately. But because it is a public means of communication, when it’s used inappropriately, it can boomerang and end up hurting you as much as you are trying to hurt the person you are tweeting about. Don’t believe me, just ask Adria.

You can follow me on Twitter at @PeterLPost.

Finding The Private Emily Post

Posted by Peter Post March 19, 2013 07:00 AM

I visited Emily Post this past weekend.

Emily-and-Sons-web.jpgOr perhaps, I should say, I visited her burial site. Emily is interred at the cemetery in Tuxedo Park, NY. Just below and to the right of her marker is that of her son Bruce who died in 1927. Just to the left and below her marker is that of her son Edwin “Ned”, my grandfather, who died in 1973.

I was asked to give a talk about Emily at the Tuxedo Park Library. Prepping for that talk began a journey for me into the private life of Emily. For years I have been writing and teaching about etiquette and drawing on the public Emily, the one known as the arbiter of etiquette in America ever since her book, Etiquette, was published in July, 1922.

I’d like to share three things about Emily, who is my great grandmother, that even I didn’t know before.

First, Emily should never have been an etiquette expert. Her real love was being on stage. Had it been up to her she would have been an actress, except in her day and age, she toed the line of her parents’ edicts. After seeing Emily on the Tuxedo Park stage, Pierre Lorillard, who founded Tuxedo Park, commented to Emily’s parents, that she should not be allowed to pursue acting as a career. It wasn’t ladylike to be in the public eye. Her parents concurred, and that was the end of Emily’s acting. What’s ironic is that after Etiquette was published, she became one of the most famous people of the twentieth century, a very public author with a newspaper column and a highly successful radio show. She ended up on the largest stage of all, the American stage.

Second, Emily returned to Tuxedo Park after her divorce. I always thought she continued to live in New York City after her divorce from Edwin Post in 1906, but instead she chose to live in her family home in Tuxedo Park. Her choice cements for me how important Tuxedo Park was to her. It was the place she turned to after the trauma of a very public divorce at a time when divorce, and especially divorcees, were frowned upon by “polite” society . Here she felt safe, accepted, and could be herself.

Third, as a writer and novelist Emily gave clues long before she wrote Etiquette about what she believed was really important and at the heart of etiquette. One clue came in her novel The Title Market, which was published in 1909, almost 13 years before Etiquette. The story is about an American woman who marries an Italian prince. It turns out that even though she gains a title, she does not gain the accompanying wealth one would expect. Yet, the heroine is the perfect model of a wife and a hostess. In spite of the fact that all she served at her parties were “small cakes and sandwiches,” Emily wrote, “the princess was one of those hostesses whose personality thoroughly pervades a house; a type which is becoming rare with every change in our modern civilization, and without which people might as well congregate in a hotel parlor. Each guest at Palazzo Sansevero carried away the impression that not only had he been welcome himself, but that his presence had added materially to the enjoyment of others.” That, in Emily’s view was the real mark of a hostess.

I loved having the chance to find out more about my great grandmother, the private person, the person who loved to act and who cared deeply about a place and who intrinsically understood what is really important—not some rules about how to behave but how we treat each other. That is Emily’s real legacy.

Now you can follow me on Twitter @PeterLPost.

Steve Stricker Helps Tiger Woods Because “He’s a Friend.”

Posted by Peter Post March 12, 2013 07:00 AM

Tiger Woods won again at the WGC Cadillac Championship.

That’s not what this blog is about. It’s about a fellow competitor, Steve Stricker and his role in Tiger’s win. Stricker came in second, two strokes behind Woods. That wouldn’t be blog-worthy.

What’s blog-worthy is that on Wednesday of last week, the day before the tournament started, Stricker gave Woods a putting lesson. And in spite of how the tournament turned out for Stricker and for Woods, Stricker never once bemoaned his choice of helping out his friend and competitor.

You should know that Steve Stricker may be the best putter in the game. He worked with Woods for about 45 minutes, suggesting subtle changes to his posture. The result: Woods started sinking putts and gaining confidence. And, in putting, confidence is the key.

There was a time when Tiger Woods was the master of putting. He was winning tournaments and majors and overwhelming his opponents. But as he hit hard times, his putting became merely mortal. Don’t get me wrong; recently he’s been winning even while not putting like the Tiger of old. Consider that in the past 19 tournaments played he has won five times, four of them before Stricker’s lesson.

Rory McIlroy (he’s number one in the world right now, although Woods is breathing down his neck) texted Stricker after the tournament: “PUT A SOCK IN IT NEXT TIME, MAN. YOU AWAKENED THE BEAST. WITH FRIENDS LIKE YOU, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES? SIGNED, JUST A GUY WHO WANTS TO HANG ON TO THE NO. 1 RANKING FOR A FEW WEEKS LONGER.” We’ll interpret his remarks as a little tongue-in-cheek ribbing.

What Stricker did is unique in sports. He offered a competitor advice, actionable advice that markedly improved his competitor’s performance. Woods completed the four rounds with exactly 100 putts. For any non-golfing-readers, that is lights-out putting. Can you imagine Peyton Manning going over to Tom Brady before the start of a game and offering some subtle advice on arm position that improves his passing and leads to a record-setting day for Brady? Not likely.

Remember, Stricker lost to Woods by only 2 strokes. His lesson could have been the difference between walking off with the trophy and $1.5 million rather than second place and $880,000. When asked if he regretted giving Woods the advice, Stricker said, “Who knows, he might have putted just as good without my help. He feels really good about what he’s doing on the greens, so that’s a good thing.”

In his post-game interview Stricker never second-guessed his choice to help out his friend. He knows it was the right thing to do. “It’s good to see him win even though he clipped me by a couple of shots. It’s always good for our tour and for us when he does well. He generates a lot for our sport. A lot of attention comes our way when he wins. It’s all good. And he’s a friend.”

Kudos to Stricker not only for being willing to give the advice but also to defend his decision even in the face of coming in second and all he didn’t win.

The Electronic Brick Wall Doesn’t Protect You When Unfriending

Posted by Peter Post March 5, 2013 07:00 AM

An attitude has evolved with people using the electronic world that somehow they are protected from the reaction of others when they do something negative to the other person. They hide behind what I call “the electronic brick wall.”

That brick wall provides a sense of immunity for people who are on social media and who communicate electronically. The result: They say or do things they would never do if they were face-to-face with the other person. They also use that brick wall to avoid dealing with another person face to face. Obvious examples include bosses firing employees over email or someone breaking up with a significant other via texting.

Take friending for instance. Friending is ubiquitous on Facebook. People casually mention the hundreds of friends they have. Of course those “friends” aren’t always really friends. The nature of online friending has changed the very meaning of the word “friend.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary online defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” Clearly, all 657 people who someone claims as “friends” aren’t all attached by affection or esteem.

So, it follows that if they’re really not friends, at least not in the traditional way friends are thought of, then unfriending them shouldn’t be a problem or result in repercussions that severing a friendship in real life might cause.

Right. And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to talk to you about.

A recent study done at the University of Denver tells us what we already knew: Unfriending a friend online has a real chance of materially hurting your relationship with that person. In fact, the study found “40 percent of people surveyed said they would avoid in real life anyone who unfriended them on Facebook. Some 50 percent said they would not avoid the person and the remaining 10 percent were unsure."

That’s 50/50 that you’ll avoid a person in real life who has unfriended you online. So before you go pushing that unfriend button, think twice about who you’re unfriending, why you’re unfriending them and what the real life consequences might be for this online, behind-the-electronic-brick-wall action you are about to take. And given that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you might want to take more care with accepting friend requests in the future.

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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