Dear Mrs. (Slightly) Sophisticated

I have a co-worker who always sends snarky emails when we have group projects. She is not my supervisor, nor is she a friend. What are the rules of email that we all should use? How do I respond to this?

Dear Non-Confrontational Communicator,

Email should be treated like a face-to-face meeting. Never say anything in an email you would not say to someone in a face-to-face meeting. That being said, many people do not understand this rule. There are many basic rules to professional correspondence, but they all boil down to my first sentence. I am happy to give examples and explain.

Punctuation—Use of all caps and exclamation points should be used sparingly. They both imply screaming or shouting. Would you shout in a business meeting with everyone around you? That is exactly what you are doing in an email with either of these items.

Passive Aggressive—People often use this in emails to belittle others. Some also use it in reply to rude emails. Neither is helpful. You both look to others like you are still in middle school.

Indirect Tone—This seems to be the most common in rude office emails. Below is an example:

“What is the status of the presentation boards for the group project? I have not heard anything about them! I hope that those are taken care of, as they are vital to the presentation! I need to know if they have even been started!”

We are all in the same group. The sender of the group email is not in charge, nor do they deserve to be.

My advice is just to hit the nail on the head. Use “reply all” sparingly, as it just adds more fuel to the fire and gets nothing accomplished. Reply to the person and let them know that, as a co-worker, you expect proper email etiquette to be followed in the office. If this still does not seem to work, please take up the matter with human resources.

If this still does not get the outcome you would like, you may need to go to a supervisor. Ask human resources or your supervisor about sending out company-wide communication regarding email etiquette. This person may think they are actually showing leadership skills by using this behavior. Supervisors should direct them to do otherwise.

As a last resort, give me her name, and I will print this and put it on her desk. Not really, but it sounds like fun.

I was recently promoted at work to a traveling position. I am in sales, so I am going to be entertaining clients. I feel I need to brush up on my dining etiquette. What are some of the biggest mistakes?

Dear Fish Out of Water,

Most mistakes come from one simple habit. That is overindulgence. Whether it be from alcohol or simply being over the top with your voice and language, all apply.

Of course, basic table etiquette is required at business meals. Emily Post has a list of ten top rules.

  1. Chew with your mouth closed.
  2. Keep your smartphone off the table and set to silent or vibrate. Wait to check calls and texts until you are finished with the meal and away from the table.
  3. Hold utensils correctly. Don’t use your fork or spoon like a shovel or stab your food.
  4. Wash up and come to the table clean. Do not groom or attend to hygiene at the table.
  5. Remember to use your napkin.
  6. Wait until you are done chewing to sip or swallow a drink.
  7. Pace yourself with fellow diners. Cut only one piece of food at a time.
  8. Avoid slouching, and don’t place your elbows on the table while eating (though it is okay to prop your elbows on the table while conversing between courses, and always has been, even in Emily’s day).
  9. Instead of reaching across the table for something, ask for it to be passed to you.
  10. Bring your best self to the meal. Take part in the dinner conversation.

You would be surprised how many adults smack and talk with food in their mouths. All of this seems like common sense when you think about it. Don’t act like you are at a trough, and everything will be okay. There are a few finer points, though. You can either cut and move your food the American style or Continental. In American style, you put the knife down on the plate and turn the fork toward the sky. In Continental, you do not put down the knife, and the fork points toward the plate. If you are confused about where your bread plate is located, put your index finger and thumb together on both hands (under the table, of course). Your left hand makes a lowercase “b.” Your right hand makes a lowercase “d.”

Read the room. If you are at a French restaurant, do not order a cheeseburger. If the restaurant is a steakhouse, do not insult the chef by asking for steak sauce. If you do that, you might as well go home and pick up Applebees on the way there—big no-no.

Reading the room also brings me back to my first suggestion. If the place is a noisy and boisterous room, feel free to use a louder volume at the table. If it is quiet and elegant, amend your tone. Never drink more than your guests. No one wants to do business with someone who passes out in their soup. No one wants to do business with someone who talks about themselves the whole time. Engage your guests. Be yourself and take your time with your meal. Almost any minor mistake can be rectified or may even go unnoticed. But not the steak sauce. Everyone will remember that.

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