After my grandmother, an etiquette expert in her own right, passed away in 2004, I found among her belongings Etiquette: The Complete Modern Guide for Day-to-Day Living the Correct Way, published in 1956. Leafing through it serves as a reminder that many rules of civility don’t change. Still, I get a big laugh at some of the guidelines for “modern” business etiquette between “a man and his secretary” in chapter one:
—A man does not get up when his secretary comes in the room.
—A man may go through a door before his secretary without being impolite.
—A secretary would wait for her boss to start a conversation, rather than starting to chat herself.
Although many rules of etiquette have changed through the years, the basic, underlying truths of respect are central throughout this book and in the etiquette classes I teach.
Here’s just one from The Complete Modern Guide that I hope everyone in business continues to practice in the workplace, even if the last sentence is out-of-date: “You may have the gift of concentration, but many people don’t, so be quiet in the office. Don’t yell remarks across the room, don’t conduct your phone conversations in shouts. Don’t bang doors or slam drawers shut. Even such a minor racket can cause a girl cutting a stencil to make a typographical error.”
—Suzanne Willis, Southwest Florida etiquette consultant