Life Imitates Business Etiquette Advice

Sometimes I’m surprised by the advice I give because it seems so practical and obvious, such as last week’s column about how to eat soup. And then I’ll have someone ask, “How should I eat soup?” and I realize that what etiquette does is to reinforce what people think may be the right way to do something. That’s valuable because it gives people confidence that what they think is the appropriate way to do something actually is the appropriate way, in most cases.

As an advice columnist, I love it when real life intersects with the advice I give. It’s added reinforcement that the advice is needed and has value. That happened today when I read an article on CNET. The gist of the story is that a man got on the London subway at the morning rush hour. It was crowded. Another man seemingly was in his way, so he shoved the fellow and told him to “go **** himself.”

One of the most important pieces of advice I give is that in the business world you are a 24/7 professional. The image others have of you is influenced by the actions you take not only while at work but when away from work as well. The audience nods and understands the theory, but the best way to teach is through real life examples. And thanks to that man on the subway, I now have the perfect one.

It turns out the man in a hurry had a job interview that day. When he arrived for the interview, lo and behold who should be the interviewer but the man whom he had earlier shoved and cursed. The interviewer later opined on the meeting, “It was totally awkward.” To the interviewer’s credit, he did what we advise when you run into a person who has been rude to you. The CNET article quotes the interviewer as explaining, “I approached it by asking him if he’d had a good commute that morning. We laughed it off and in a very British way I somehow ended up apologizing.” I’m not sure the interviewer is the one who should have been apologizing, but it seems he took the high road.


The interviewer wasn’t finished with the incident once the interview was over. Later he posted a tweet, “Karma – the guy who pushed past me on the tube and then suggested I go F myself just arrived for his interview…with me…” The tweet went viral.

The lesson for all of us: You’re on 24/7, not just 9 to 5. People will see you and form an opinion of you wherever you are. Our off-the-clock behavior can too easily have a real and negative effect on our professional lives. And, of course, there’s Murphy’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” My addendum to that law is, “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst possible time.

If you have a business etiquette question, email it to [email protected]

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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