tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:/posts EtiquetteDog 2022-12-22T12:50:16Z Sue Thompson tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1470369 2019-10-26T13:33:48Z 2022-12-22T12:50:16Z Get Over Yourself

It used to be that, generally speaking, particularly in what was referred to as "polite society," people kept their opinions to themselves. It was considered good etiquette to avoid incendiary subjects; we've probably all heard the old adage that it's best to avoid discussing politics and religion. I think this idea was on its way to being pitched out the window during the civil rights and women's rights movements, and then on into the environmental movement, when we saw a rise in tribalism and identification with causes. When "all politics is local" became the cry of special interest groups, the need to assert one's adherence to ideologies became quite important to some. (Ever thought about when bumper stickers really took off? It was in the '60s and '70s, for sure.) 

In his book Seculosity, David Zahn presents the thought that other social scientists have observed: as society has moved away from the formerly religious underpinings of gathering and belonging, individuals instinctively search for something to which to belong. We find our people in political parties, social causes, obsessive attention to body image or fashion or home remodeling/house flipping or whatever seems to ignite our passions for getting with other people who have the same ones. Along the way, we make sure everyone knows our passions and we have given ourselves permission to press them upon all passersby. 

Thus, I cannot go for a run without seeing a sign in the window of a home proclaiming, "In this house, we . . . " with a detailed list indicating the owners' politics. As I run by, I think, "Hmmm. Wonder why they think it is important that I know that." I don't know them. They don't know me. What compels them to make sure everyone driving by knows what is believed inside? I could understand a religious proclamation. But this is the same to me as listing foods to be avoided or the best breeds of dog: purely personal preferences.

Certainly the rise of online communication, including the ability to comment on articles and blog posts and tweet our opinions on anything and everything, has turned us to a practice of always making sure everyone knows our thinking on every subject at any given time, and insisting that if others do not agree, they are scum. When we see this practiced all the time, we begin to fall into it ourselves. 

Here's the thing: it's a mark of self-regulation to keep our opinions to ourselves. I don't need to know what you think to work with you. I can't read your mind, so don't help me with that if you know it could cause conflict. You don't have to like me to treat me with respect. It's none of your business how I vote, what I read, and the beliefs to which I subscribe, and I don't need to know the same things about you. None of us knows what another thinks unless the other opens their mouth to tell us. Zip it. It really is best to avoid some topics, and it is simply one of the timeless principles of good behavior to keep opinions to ourselves and get along. 

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1419989 2019-06-13T17:48:36Z 2019-06-13T17:50:59Z I'm Judgmental

Allow me to just put it out there. I'm judgmental. Yes, I do the horribly socially unacceptable activity of judging. I mean, I don't spend a great deal of time on it--it happens in passing most of the time. There are times when I focus on being judgmental, but I don't like to broadcast it. 

I judge between right and wrong. I do. Without this ability, I might kill someone who is ruining my day, and murdering someone is wrong. I judge what I will have for lunch. Some days I feel like Mediterranean, sometimes just a sandwich. I judge whether or not a restaurant is a good one for me. I judge whether my workplace is clean and orderly, or whether I work with a bunch of slobs (whoops! there I go!). 

I read there are some with brain injuries who cannot make a decision between a ham sandwich or a turkey sandwich because the judgment center has been damaged. Without judging capabilities, we will be forever indecisive. We will agonize over the blue or the green shirt, tea or coffee, Collies or Shepherds. Here's the solid truth: to prefer one thing over another is not judgmental. It is preference. To see something that is not right and call it that is not judgmental; it may be based on my moral code, my religious beliefs, my personal philosophy, or my understanding of science and technology. It might be mere common sense (which few seem to subscribe to anymore). (Whoops, judging again.) 

People are so fond these days of saying, "Don't judge me!" I get it. We hate to be held in the balance and found wanting. I don't like to be judged unfairly. But therein lies the key: we don't want to be unfairly judged, or judged hypocritically. And I'm amused by those who say, "Don't force your moral beliefs on me." That's what laws do--they enforce a moral code society has agreed upon. We keep changing it up, and we get mad at people who hold on to the old ideas of what's right/wrong, good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable. So you think something is fine while someone else retains the belief a practice or way of thinking is not okay, but there you go, judging them--and, might I say, unfairly and hypocritically. 

I can look at a person who is grossly overweight and think, "Hey, that doesn't look good." I don't consider that body-shaming. It's my perception. I don't shout out, "Hey, you look awful!" That would be rude. But I judge. And guess what? I've been overweight. I consider myself overweight. I look at a morbidly obese person with the knowledge of how awful it can feel being in a body that won't cooperate, no matter how many diets one has tried. I listen to hateful, angry people and think, "I don't want to be like that." Yes, I judge that as unacceptable. I avoid hateful, angry people who insist I think as they think and believe as they do. 

I have strong religious beliefs. I don't force you to believe with me. Because I believe them does not make me judgmental. Because I prefer certain types of people does not make me judgmental. Because I Iike my world doesn't make me judgmental. It makes me human. So let's all hush and go on about our business. 

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1335651 2018-10-24T19:54:27Z 2018-10-24T19:54:48Z It's a Mad, Really Mad World

I don’t need to tell anyone that civility has taken a nose dive in our society. It’s not just the extreme hatred, vitriol, and invective hurled at those who disagree with one another. It’s not merely the rudeness and disrespect and self-absorption we see in everyday life. It goes deep into the collective soul and exemplifies the simple, timeless truth that “out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

Referring to people in the most vile and offensive ways is hardly sneezed at anymore. Speech peppered with cussing and swearing is offered up by five year-olds. People used to curb their bad speech around children or women or the elderly, or in what we used to call “polite company,” but now children and women and those who are supposed to be older and wiser think nothing of shouting out the most disgraceful and vulgar verbal abuse. The f-bomb is part of common discourse, often several times in one sentence.

How we speak represents us, just as much as does how we write, how we treat others, how we present ourselves, and how we deal with conflict. The way in which we communicate indicates whether or not we know how to exhibit character and civility and anything resembling respect and professionalism. To be able to convey strong emotions, delight, disgust, or heartfelt confession, one needs to have a vocabulary to support some kind of intelligent discourse, but we speak sometimes like a people who know little more than grunts or gurgles. We are foul-mouthed because we don’t have any other words to express ourselves. We don’t know how to use words effectively. We’ve lost the art of the withering comment or the thinly-veiled insult many of us love so much in Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, portrayed so exquisitely by Maggie Smith in Downtown Abbey. “Vulgarity is no substitution for wit,” she snapped, and a truer word was never spoken.

We think we are providing emphasis by using words that used to shock or embarrass—but they don’t anymore, and now they don’t provide any emphasis, either. They limit us. They are tired, worn out, unable to articulate what it is we really want to voice.

That’s why I’d love to bring back old words, words long gone from our lexicon, words so old hardly anyone knows they once existed:

Instead of accusing someone of being an idiot, why not call him a moonling or a porgly?

Tired of someone who complains incessantly? You know she is a smellfungus.

I need another word to describe that meal, since I refuse to call a pizza “awesome,” so I’m going to use superlobgoshious.

And those of among us who curse like sailor (or truckers, or dockworkers)? Muck-spouts, I say.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1324845 2018-09-23T19:00:28Z 2018-09-23T19:00:29Z When I'm Good and Ready

Still enjoying Live Long and . . . , William Shatner's just-published autobiography. Subtitled What I Learned Along the Way, Shatner delivers his thoughts on relationships, life philosophy, and memories of childhood, interspersed with some marvelous, funny stories one can almost hear him telling in that famous voice. He considers what it has meant to him to work and how he has approached it. “Just like everybody else, I have been working my entire life,” he writes. “I started working on a radio program when I was six years old and just never stopped. I never saw a reason to stop. There was never anything I wanted to do more than what I was doing. In some ways I have been a workaholic. I rarely go to Hollywood parties or just spend hours relaxing. For me, working is my relaxation.”

Here's the truth: some of us plan to work into our 70s if a company can be open-minded and farsighted enough to grab onto us for dear life. At some point, the corporate world is going to have to completely shed its last unjustifiable prejudice and retain the worker who desires to contribute well past what is now considered the age of retirement. We have the answers they need and the experience they may not yet realize they need. It’s funny to me how anyone can honestly dismiss an older candidate with the thought that he or she probably won’t be working very many more years. Who offers a job anymore expecting someone to stay for 20 years? How often have any of us have known a new employee to call one week in, saying they won't be coming back? All of us have watched those hired only a year ago, or 2, or 5 years ago, pack up and move on, or not work out at all and get a pink slip. If you think about it, there’s no guarantee any company will be around very long, much less aging workers. Why wouldn’t a company want the expertise and talent I possess for a good 8 or 10 years? That’s enough time to find someone young and put them under my tutelage.

I love my job, and I’m grateful to have been hired for it when I was past a certain age by a company that seems to have no qualms about hauling my decades of experience in the door. I have to admit that like Shatner, work is frequently my relaxation, and I want to keep doing it as long as I am having fun. There will surely come a day when the frustrations outweigh the benefits and I will quite happily hang up that part of my life and move on to the next. I hear of too many energetic, productive people who are gladly working well into their senior years to discount the possibility that I might be one of them.

Having loved his profession and the serendipitous path it has provided for him, Shatner notes, “No one should retire when their work remains pleasurable. What would I do if I retired? That’s the question I would ask anyone, whether they are a nuclear physicist or a laborer. If your job isn’t pleasant I understand the need to change, but retiring to sit on the back porch and rock will atrophy not only your body but also your mind, and it will do it within months. . . . People may retire from a job, but I don’t believe they should stop working.” I agree. We should live long, and work long if we want to, and prosper.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1320097 2018-09-09T22:55:43Z 2018-09-09T22:55:43Z My thoughts exactly, Captain Kirk

I used to feel privately guilty for not setting goals for my marriage (as one person says I should do) or my year (says another), or make a 5-year plan (as so many motivational speakers insist is necessary). "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail," I'm told with emphasis. "If you don't know where you're going, you'll never get anywhere." I'm supposed to have planned out my career path, my dreams, my big ideas. Because I didn't, I've apparently gotten nowhere and am just a total loser.

So I was delighted, absolutely delighted, to read a particular passage from Live Long and . . . , William Shatner's new book. The man so famously known as Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise is now 87 years old and going like a house afire. He's busy, he's on the ball, he's as bright a bulb as ever, he's got a gazillion followers on Twitter, and people like him make me know that each generation is redefined by the people who represent it most brilliantly.

Shatner begins the book by speaking gratefully of his long life and the mysteriously wonderful things he has been able to do, things he never expected, never looked for, never planned for. Here's the passage that made me nod in complete and thankful agreement:

"Years ago people confidently planned for their future, picking a profession and studying for it and working hard at it only to discover years later that this profession no longer existed. Technology had replaced it. The path that people had pursued so diligently and in many cases had become expert, had come to a dead end. . . . If I do have any wisdom at all it is limited to the area of my own experiences. . . .

"My career and my plans have always been dependent on the next phone call. And I never knew when--or even if--the phone was going to ring. We are under the illusion that we choose our own path, but we don't. The road isn't even paved. The road is being tarred as we go along. Those big rollers are just ahead of you and you walk along the road that you think you have chosen, but in effect you have little control over your life. Circumstances visit and you go along. You follow the winding road, you make some choices, but for the most part we are dependent on factors not under our control. Things happen. I never thought I would be an actor. I never thought I would make albums or write books. I never thought I would make speeches on subjects I had to research. All the various things that I have done--the acting, the traveling, the music, the books, the horses and motorcycles--all were not things I dreamt of doing. The opportunities presented themselves and I embraced them."

Honestly--I couldn't have said it better myself. Too many successful lights in our world became luminaries because they followed what came along, what appealed to them. Don't beat yourself up if you aren't a big goal-maker. You just might boldly go . . . you know. Where no one's ever.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1287710 2018-05-26T13:29:48Z 2018-05-26T13:29:48Z Practice can get you within spitting distance of perfect

It can be enormously difficult to forgive and be empathetic and practice kindness in a workplace where people seem to utterly absorbed in themselves, their stuff, their places, their domains. It means we must go out of our way to cultivate a way of responding that is counteractive to everything going on around us and counterintuitive to our personal survival skills. To decide to practice virtuous behavior is a challenge no matter how you look at it.

Take the angry confrontation, for instance: someone berates you openly, maybe publicly. They say something particularly nasty in the hearing of others. PRACTICE your response: “Jim, this is hurtful and unnecessary. Let’s talk when you’ve calmed down.” REHEARSE walking away immediately.

A coworker makes a snide comment that could be meant as a joke, but you’re not sure. PRACTICE saying, with a smile on your face, “I hope that’s meant to be funny and not nasty. Is it?” REHEARSE keeping your voice calm if the response is, “Oh no, it’s nasty. Your work is rotten” (or whatever), and saying, “Then let’s discuss this like adults and dispense with the sarcasm. Shall we go to my office?”  PRACTICE keeping your cool, particularly if the other person is emotional.

Consider this truth: you may be the only person in someone's life who has any interest in being empathetic or kind or generous. REHEARSE new ways to relate to people like this. Put on your creative thinking cap and make the person your project. A door might open that allows you to provide them with insight into why they don't get along with others.

Superiors act like fools? Forgive. Let them go. People who require your services treat you like an underling who has no feelings? Forgive. The alternative—living with poison in your veins—is a pain in the butt. Extending yourself is an honest-to-goodness, this-is-hard-but-I’m-doing-it-anyway, nothing’s-going-to-stop-me-now decision. Sometimes you drop the ball. Sometimes they get the best of you. We fall down, but we get up.

Practice and rehearse until being kind, forgiving, and empathetic is part of who you are. Character can be strengthened. Make yours rock-solid.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/1086892 2016-09-05T18:35:36Z 2016-09-05T18:35:36Z Silence as a practice

George Prochnik, the author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, says silence is a diminishing national resource. We assert that we despise noise, and yet we generate so much of it. While getting gas for my car this morning, the young man next to me had his car stereo cranked up and his driver’s side door open so he could bathe himself (and everyone else) in the beat. I’m agog at those I encounter on my drive to work who are listening to the headbanging kind of music that makes me want to veer off of a cliff. How can people begin the morning with that? To me, it’s like inviting chaos to the start of the day.

We complain of noise pollution but crank up our lawnmowers on Saturday mornings. We stand outside at our cars chattering in the middle of the night when sound carries so fluidly, unaware of those we are keeping awake. To be honest, I’m guilty of leaving a television on in the kitchen simply for the grounding voices seem to provide. I love a nice, loud Zumba class at my local ballroom studio, where the sound system puts us into step even when most of us are world-class klutzes. The truth is noise is a stimulant. It pumps us up. It signals to us there is some kind of life going on around us—not always the kind we want, but noise means people are present, and we crave connection. Noise is addictive. How often have you heard someone say of a place, “It was too quiet.” What do they mean? What do you mean when you say it?

“Instead of being against noise,” says George Prochnik, “I think we need to begin making a case for silence.” Silence is not the complete absence of sound. There’s noise everywhere—even if it’s only the beat of our own hearts. Silence is that pulling down of the distraction and decibel level to a quiet state of mind where we can truly hear ourselves think. Here’s what I know: some people can’t stand their own thoughts. They have no place to take them. There’s been no development of an inner life.

Nourish an inner life. Embrace silence. 

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/998003 2016-04-19T14:35:40Z 2016-04-19T14:35:40Z Perfectly Ordinary

Here's what I like about getting older--my own getting older, anyway: I'm discarding a lot of crippling thinking. I don't buy in to the pushy, relentless, rigorous notions of success that are so talked-about and blogged over. I am sick up to my ears of the ubiquitous platitudes that plaster our days: "YOU are the only person standing in the way of your success!" (No, sometimes it's my father with Alzheimer's or an overwhelming mound of debt.) "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" (Unless it weakens you considerably.)

I don't see success as spectacularism. Yes, I like exceptionality. I believe we're all unique. I believe in sharing that uniqueness and, when necessary, standing out in ways that show people that uniqueness. One of my living mentors and exemplars has a saying: "It takes so little to be above average," and I agree with that, particularly in a world in which slovenliness and a complete lack of common sense is pervasive.

But everyone is not spectacular. Everyone is not going to--nor are they capable of--being extraordinary and phenomenal. Many of us are merely ordinary, and how sad that our culture has come to equate "ordinary" with "loser." All of those sad contestants trying out for "American Idol" left with their tails between their legs labeled as such, unhappy that they couldn't get into the ranks of the staggeringly impressive. That's what we've become--a constant, never-ending series of tryouts for some version of "American Idol," and if you don't get picked, well, it's your own fault for not realizing you are committing the cultural sin of being just okay.

Guess what? Ordinary is pretty darn beautiful. I'm quite impressed with the ordinary people who make a tasty nonfat no-foam latte, the ordinary mechanic who works on my car, ordinary acquaintances I enjoy seeing at business meetings who brighten my professional life. I like ordinary days. I don't know why we can't be grateful for an ordinary marriage when so many have dismal ones, or why we don't see being an ordinary family as a blessing. My family was pretty darn ordinary and I turned out okay. Yes, there was dysfunction--an alcoholic/drug addicted brother (which I wrote about in my book, The Prodigal Brother: Making Peace with Your Parents, Your Past, and the Wayward One in Your Family), but guess what? That's ordinary these days. Hardly any family has escaped being touched by drugs, or alcoholism, or abuse of some kind, or mental illness, or disease . . . and yet, like ordinary people, we make it through.

Instead of focusing on the things that make me feel inadequate and zeroing in on my flaws, I honestly make effort to avoid them or simply ignore them. If I can't do anything about them--can't afford that neck lift just yet, can't change jobs right now, can't stop the world so I can get off--I have to find my happy place inside and go with the flow until things change, and circumstances are always subject to change. I fuel myself on that hope and pop the gear into drive and keep rolling. Others are far more driven to hit the heights of success no matter what the toll. More power to them. I'm taking time to enjoy ordinary pleasures and be delighted by ordinary joys. Join me?

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/982585 2016-01-31T21:48:00Z 2016-01-31T21:48:00Z Bombs are flying everywhere

I went into my local Barnes & Noble bookstore a couple of weeks ago, and felt almost assaulted by the titles of books displayed prominently that included the f-bomb. No less than three books with the bomb in the title had slapped me by the time I made it to the information desk.

I am compelled to ask--what is it, oh Author, that you feel can only be communicated with this word? Is your vocabulary so limited, your ability to communicate so reduced, that this is the only way you can express something emphatically and with emotion? Or are you going to tell me there's nothing emphatic there, there's nothing emotional at all in your choice of words? You just like it. You think it's funny and eye-catching and OH. SO. DIFFERENT.

You are so different that you are part of a trend. Wow. Congratulations on being so cutting edge that the title of your work can't even be announced in most company--I won't even say "polite company," because polite is clearly something you consider worthless. That title can't be announced on most radio and television shows, can't be displayed in most libraries, and even the current vulgarity of our culture will prevent most people from stating the full title. You have proudly announced to the vulgar culture that you are hand-in-hand with it, you will pander to it, and you delight in it. Yeee haaaa! Go ahead, then. Enjoy that distinction.

(I went, by the way, to purchase Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin. Absolutely brilliant, very strange and wonderful, translated from the Russian, written by a man with deep knowledge of Russian medieval history. He knows lots of words, thankfully.)

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/838364 2015-04-09T13:58:50Z 2015-04-09T14:27:13Z The Every Day Battle

In the spring of 2007, I reached the moment of truth regarding my weight. In a visit to my doctor, I was horrified to find I was well over 200 pounds. My diet of choice, which had worked pretty well for me for some time, was just not doing the job anymore. To be honest, maybe that charge belonged to me—I’ve never been a fan of exercise, mostly subscribing to the kind of greeting card humor that rang true: “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes.” 

I was overweight as a child. Weight has been a lifelong struggle. When I was in my teens, I silently vowed that if I ever reached 200 pounds, I would kill myself. I realize that for many people who are seriously overweight, 200 pounds was a long time ago, but does it matter? I felt like a cow. My size 16 clothes were hateful and shopping was humiliating. I resented my body. It seemed to have its own personality—demanding, hysterical, devious, childish. I couldn’t rein it in.

So here I was at the doctor’s office, asking what in the world I could do if the diet that at least held the fat dragon at bay had stopped working? “Just try something else,” she said, “something different.” A Weight Watchers group was starting at work, and I was desperate to try anything, because I truly did fear I might commit suicide. In the 10-week program, I lost 20 pounds. I was back under 200 (barely) but now had a little incentive, so I kept going in 20-pound increments. Each time I’d say, “Okay, that wasn’t so hard,” and I’d stick with it. I did this until I had dropped 85 pounds. I had not been this weight since I was 12 years old.

It took me 2 years to get there. I started to look ill. I had never been thin and I wanted to know what it felt like to wear a size 2 for a while. I’ve put that behind me, but I found out that maintenance is way, WAY harder than losing. I mean that. Since reaching a weight in 2009 I’d longed for all my life, I’ve gained 15 or 20 pounds, and sometimes that sends me into serious depression. It’s very hard to get used to this body being acceptable. I exercise. I started lifting weights six months ago, and that seems to help a great deal. “Find something you love to do,” the experts tell us. My problem is  there is nothing I “love” to do. Exercise is a detestable but necessary function. I enjoy riding a Trikke (check it out—www.Trikke.com), but getting my act together to do it is still a chore. Because significant physical activity was not a regular part of my growing-up years (save gym class in junior high and high school), it never became a habit. I must do it as though my life depends on it or I simply won’t do it. What has become a habit is beating myself up about this, even though I've resolved this year to stop doing that.

If you have never been significantly overweight, you don’t understand. People say, “You look GOOD!” I know how crazy I must sound. This is a mental block that many of us who have lost a lot of poundage deal with. It is a daily battle—one I guess I consider worth it, because I get up and fight it every day.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/790170 2015-01-02T00:50:15Z 2015-09-12T03:22:31Z The Way

I'm making some resolutions. Big ones. First, I resolve to stop beating myself up for not getting it right (whatever "it" is). I resolve to stop killing myself trying to be a success, fulfill my potential, and prove I have something to offer the world. I resolve to rest inside and embrace serendipity, chance, surprise, and the joy of discovery. I resolve to stay at peace as much as is within my power. I resolve to refuse (unless God speaks to me) to connect with people who don't like me or who want me to be something I don't want to be. I resolve to refuse to be rushed or feel obligated. I resolve to meet each day open to whatever the Holy Spirit leads me to, and to be grateful for good gifts--even ones that don't come packaged up with a bow on top. I resolve a year of freedom.

I don't know how long my resolve will hold out. It's my plan, my goal. I'm sure I'll fail at times. I'm sure I'll fall back into a mode of defensiveness, fearful sometimes of what others think of me if I don't play the game. I was told last year that I should "say 'Yes' to God," implying that because I wasn't jumping as high as I possibly could, I was thus saying "No." To God. Seriously. I felt like a complete loser in that person's eyes. I thought to myself, "I hope I never encourage someone right into depression."

I'm just done with efforts to put myself somewhere I may not need to be. I'm not saying I won't make attempts to do well and do my best--I always mean to do my best, because I believe that ultimately, I work for the Lord, not for the humans who have titles indicating they are my bosses--but I'm done with being made to feel if I don't do exactly what others feel I should be doing to prove my worth and value, I therefore have none.

A plaque in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle says this: "I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown and he replied, Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of GOD, that shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way."

THAT is my way in 2015, and beyond. Happy New Year to all!

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/768303 2014-11-11T19:09:52Z 2014-11-11T19:14:39Z You get what you pay for

I finish my workout at Retro Fitness and go to the front desk to purchase an iced drink. There's no one behind the counter; a potential customer is being given a tour. Fair enough.

Sitting at the counter, though, is one of the staff members. She has an array of papers, an open portfolio, an overstuffed wallet, and an insanely cluttered open purse spread out around her. She had lost the combination to the lock she used on her locker while she exercised. 

Few of the employees of this gym dress as though they care about how they look and, to be fair, few of the patrons care about their appearance, either. It's a gym, after all; we're all getting sweaty and red-faced and stringy-haired. We all look pretty awful, particularly after we've spent an hour on an elliptical or lifting weights.

But it's not unreasonable to expect the staff to look presentable. This young woman, who is very nice,  always looks like she simply rolls out of bed, pulls on her athletic pants and shirt, slaps on a wig, and heads out the door. It's quite possible she sleeps in those clothes. 

She asked me if I needed something, and I told her I wanted a beverage. She said, "I'll get that for you." She then proceeded to continue looking for her lost combination.

I glanced at the clock. I had only five minutes before I had to leave in order to make it home in time to place an important phone call.

A minute passed, then two. Mumbling to herself, the young woman, exemplifying the truth of "what you see is what you get," finally gathered up all of her papers, dropped the wallet into her purse, and walked away.

I left, drinkless. Add to this an aging locker room and bathroom floor that, even though it is clean, appears filthy, and floor space so crowded with equipment that to exit the facility requires action movie dodges and twists. The only reason I stay is it's close to home and so darn cheap and all I want is to use the free weights three times a week.

What should I expect, anyway, for $20 a month? But here's the thing: you can be low-end but still provide a great experience. It doesn't have to be this way. If Retro Fitness simply stayed on top of staff professionalism, changed out the degrading flooring, and removed one or two of the lesser-used machines, it won't be on par with an enormously expensive gym offering out-of-this-world accoutrements, but it could be good for the price. Too bad the management does not think this way.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/761070 2014-10-27T17:43:07Z 2014-10-27T17:43:33Z It's not hard to get a vocabulary

Character glows in the dark. Give yourself a good name.  Ad for Heineken beer

Oh, how I wish I had thought up that quote! It’s an effective double meaning—the quality of a good beer, like human character, shines. Character is highly noticeable, particularly because it seems to be markedly diminished in this day and age. It honestly seems that a majority of people don’t care how they act, as though this is some badge of glorious autonomy—proudly not caring what others think,waving their own flag of independence. (Interesting how they insist they don’t care what other people think of them, but they want to be sure everybody thinks of them as free from concerns of being thought of.)  Let’s just take some small indication of the erosion of character . . . hmmm . . . how about what used to be called cussin’ and swearin’ but is now referred to as expletives, dissing, or (being specific) dropping the f-bomb. 

People who have a command of language can express themselves without expletives, because they know other effective words. To say something is "f-ing great" is not going to convey an event or a moment was "spectacular," "astonishing," "beyond my ability to comprehend what was going on." (Lose "awesome." It's so overused it now means the same thing as "fine.") Drop the f-bomb and you sound crass, which means gross, obtuse, and stupid. Unable to complete a sentence without vulgarity? You're in danger of sounding uneducated and perceived as unmannered. Those who write for television absolutely love to throw around all they can get away with. I had to stop watching a favorite show because every sentence had the word sh** in it. Why? It didn't add to the drama at all. "Son-of-a-b****" is the favorite expletive of TV show writers. It teaches everyone how okay it is to sound like a truck driver (my apologies to truck drivers who know how to speak).

Isn’t anybody bored with it? It’s like celebrities who love to tell us how different and special they are because they are sexually more free than the rest of the universe and, oh yeah, they think the naked body is beautiful, particularly theirs. They think they set themselves apart by saying, “I like to push the envelope.” No kidding—just like everyone around you who also pushes the envelope. Here’s a press release: to really stand out as unique, be a respectful, thoughtful, polite, interesting, non-self-absorbed, quietly charitable person. Who doesn’t cuss or swear or drop bombs. And combs his or her hair for interviews. That would be so different it would be almost unbelievable. Reporters would fall all over themselves trying to get to the bottom of such envelope-pushing behavior. What publicity that would be for a celebrity or two! They would practically glow in the dark. 

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/760168 2014-10-25T11:45:08Z 2014-10-25T18:34:10Z So very well said

“Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

“Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction.”

“This is the purest expression of me: to express excellence in the most inclusive, generous, and hospitable way possible.”

                  Danny Meyer, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business

Hospitality is extending favor to guests and strangers, treating them with warmth and generosity. What a concept: to act hospitably toward all. When did we lose this? Why don't we care about being warm, generous people?

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/760167 2014-10-25T11:41:35Z 2014-10-25T11:41:35Z Did I miss something?

I guess I'm out of touch, but I always understood a working relationship with my boss to be that I should figure out what the boss wants and do that. In the world of employees and bosses, bosses rule, and the best way to maintain harmony and, if the goal is there, someday become a boss, then the idea is to refrain from being antagonizing, counterproductive, dismissive, and arrogant.

Don't misunderstand--I am fully aware that many bosses make work difficult. "So much of what we call management," said Peter Drucker, "consists in making it difficult for people to work." I've had my share of foolish, obtuse bosses who made my job significantly harder because they didn't know what I did or how I did it. But I did understand that it was essentially my job to please them. 

Someday soon, I hope, I will find an agent for my book Sheer Living Hell: Surviving a Tormenting Work Environment, where I address working with a superior who is evil and often psychopathic. In the meantime though, I'm simply noting that in most cases, we have pretty regular bosses with pretty regular faults. They may have personalities that rub us the wrong way or their knowledge of how we do our jobs may be spotty at best. They may ask us to do things we find ridiculous. Sometimes, they allow us to argue our positions; sometimes they do not, and frustration results. 

But folks, for the most part, when the boss tells you he or she wants to you learn Excel, then by golly, learn Excel. Don't go back to your workstation and decide you are so stinking perfect you don't need to do anything the boss requires. When the boss tells you they want something done in a particular way, don't cry the blues about his or her perfectionism. Just do it the way the boss wants it. (Cry the blues privately with a trusted friend, but get over it.) 

You may know more than your boss. You may have a better grasp on what is needed or necessary. You may believe no one else but the boss cares about some tiny detail. So what? You're not the boss. When you're the boss, you can be as unreasonable and insane as you now find the one for whom you work. What's funny is when you get there and act in what you consider a perfectly reasonable way, you'll find that someone on your staff will consider you a loser. That someone is still an employee, though, and it will be that person's responsibility to discover what it is you want and then do it. 

It's not hard to understand. It's life. It's about acting like a professional.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/759310 2014-10-23T12:46:36Z 2014-10-23T12:46:36Z Emotions at work . . . in so many ways

Remember the last time your flight was canceled and you tried to speak with a gate agent who acted as though she were holding onto secret information about the flight that had to be guarded with her life? Just recalling it can create instant emotion. Can I get some folks in my corner who have spoken with “customer service” agents in a call center who clearly do not grasp the meaning of the job title? You want to rip the phone right out of the wall. And speaking of the phone, I don't even have to ask how you feel about telemarketers who won’t take no for an answer and keep right on reading that script. And these are people you don’t even know!

On the flip side, how about going on an interview, filled with nervousness and that inexplicable dark cloud that tells you, “They won’t like you,” and finding a hiring manager who is kind and has a great sense of humor? You leave feeling like a million bucks, all because someone brought a bit of emotional lightness to the interaction. There’s not a person reading this who hasn’t been a witness to a coworker or acquaintance (or even strangers) being raked over the coals by some superior throwing their authority around like a hammer. You know what happens: sympathy and empathy rise up in you and, if you’re like me, you rise to the person’s defense. I used to work for a university president who could slice and dice her employees into utter self-doubt and despair. She’d end by saying, “That was just direct communication. Don’t attach any emotion to it.” Yeah, right. “I pride myself on being unemotional,” people say, clearly very proud of their pride. While I understand such a personality, my thought is, “Why?” What’s the payoff? 

To be sure, we cannot walk around at work with our hearts on our sleeves, and I’m not suggesting we do. After all, corporate life is about business, not therapy. But if we ignore the fact that all relationships are emotional we will create unnecessary roadblocks. We will not communicate our wishes and expectations effectively. We will not understand why no one cooperates with us, or why people respond with silence or irritation or even hostility. We’ll wonder why our suggestions fall flat. We will create resistance because we are blind to the role and effect of emotions in every interaction. 

There are emotions in the workplace. You know there are. Do you know how to identify them and deal with them skillfully? Because they're not going away.  

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/758745 2014-10-22T14:32:14Z 2014-10-22T16:33:51Z Open the door!

Every single time I do a presentation on the importance of professional presence, someone in the audience invariably crosses his or her arms and leans back in the chair, occasionally rolling the eyes. Whenever I have a conversation about the subject with colleagues or acquaintances, there's always a comment along the lines of, "This really doesn't matter." I've heard it a gazillion times. "What matters is the ability of the person, not what he or she looks like," someone will say. "I've worked with all kinds of people, and I can assure you I've never cared how they dressed."  

I have to tell folks again and again that professional presence has nothing to do with how brilliant a person is, how skilled, how talented, how enormously capable he or she may be. It has to do with being in context with one's surroundings. It has to do with how one is perceived. If I had time in most conversations, I'd explain that while one out of ten people with whom we interact might care about how we present ourselves, that one person might be extremely important--someone we need to influence or whose influence we want.

Can anyone seriously tell me they never consider the outward appearance and presentation of people they deal with? If you're a business professional and you're talking with a group of your peers, and one of them has a slight body odor and drops the f-bomb in every other sentence, do you truly not have a thought as to how this person is being perceived? Surely someone in the group will be offended or disgusted, or completely tune out, having decided this is not the kind of person with whom they want to associate. Your colleagues will walk away, most likely wondering why in the world the person can't bathe and wear deodorant and why they can't manage to complete a sentence without being crude and vulgar.

"That's an extreme example," someone might say. Yes, it is, but I use it to highlight the point that everyone judges by appearance or behavior. EVERYONE. If you wear a $1500 suit into a biker bar, there is going to be a judgment from the bartender and the patrons as to what kind of person you are. In the very same way, if you send a thank-you email to another professional and the written response is, "Your welcome," there really are some of us who have the kind of brief internal reaction that occurs when nails are scraped against a chalkboard. If it so happens that you know how to dress professionally but you act like a complete jerk, do you honestly think your behavior should not be considered against your skills and abilities? If you go to a business lunch and the person on the other side of the table practically puts his face into the plate and inhales, are you telling me you have no thought about that at all? Of course you do. People have reactions, even unconscious ones. Guess what? Some people make unfavorable judgments based on what they can see and hear. "Not ready for a promotion." "Insensitive fool." "I'm not talking to him about that habit. I'll just avoid him."

Your appearance, your behavior, and your personality and character strengths present you. Of course we all want to be considered only for our abilities and knowledge, but you can't wear skill. You can't walk around with a "Person of Integrity" sign on your back. You've got to open the door so people want to connect with the things you want them to see. Manage the judgment. Make the open door inviting. Once people are inside, they can see all your good internal qualities, and that's what you're going for.

As much as it is in your power, be exceptional in every aspect of your professional life. All it takes is one person who is impressed with the attention you pay to all the details to give you an opportunity that others, who may be better educated or have more experience, won't receive because they have shut the door.

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/749464 2014-10-01T13:15:32Z 2014-10-22T14:46:52Z Such a small effort to be above average

I was sitting at a stoplight yesterday behind two women who seemed to be having a pleasant conversation with the man in the car next to them. It was a beautiful day, and their windows were down. I was listening to the radio, so my windows were up, and I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I wondered if they knew each other and were taking this brief moment chance to catch up.

Then the light turned green, and to my utter astonishment, the woman in the driver's seat gave the man the finger and stepped on the gas. Both women extended an arm out the window with middle fingers prominent as they drove on.

My mouth dropped open. I almost could not move forward, I was so shocked. Then I was really sad, just sad for a culture that is so ready to be bitter and hateful and crude, crude to the core. Ready to start a fight, ready to curse instead of bless, ready to engage in the worst of human emotions. That two beautiful women could drive away with such a vulgar display, probably terrifically proud of themselves, just made me hurt for their ignorance. They don't know they are crowned with glory and honor by a Creator who loves them, so they imitate the only model they know: the snake who keeps them blind to this truth.

Every interaction in the day has opportunity for glory or for dirt. Dirt can be filth and grime, and wallowed in with utter depravity; sometimes it's just average, plain old stuff that I brush up against accidentally in a white shirt, messing up a lovely picture. Glory, on the other hand, is cleansing. Glory is the soft answer when others want to be hard. Glory is patience with an unkind clerk, a rude waitress, a snippy customer service rep. Glory is being able to stay disconnected from the ravings of a vicious boss or a terrorist coworker.

It takes a little more effort to respond with glory than with dirt, because dirt is what we are, and it's easier to follow one's nature. It takes a little effort to do glory, and some people can't do it at all because they have no concept of it whatsoever, much less the capacity for it. But in that moment where one feels instinct coming on like a flood, glory is the pause that changes the course and takes the situation from the average to the above average, and sometimes to the transcendent. When someone tries to start an argument, instead of engaging, glory pauses and, in its highest expression, hears the other person's struggle and speaks to it.

This is so rare. I wished for those two women that they would be pulled from the dirt. May we all consider how little effort it takes to rise to glory.  

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/706120 2014-06-21T21:41:44Z 2014-10-22T14:47:35Z Leave as a Blessing or a Thorn

So you've been told your job is eliminated. You've been given an end date. We all know it's usually best to look for work while we still have a job so an out-of-work period on our resume doesn't have to be explained. 

You may be hurt, or angry. Maybe extremely angry. Before you go into a place of bitterness from which it can be enormously difficult to extricate yourself, keep this in mind: this is so common in the corporate world today it's hardly worth mentioning. Organizations lay people off, eliminate jobs, slash workforces with astonishing regularity. It's nothing new. People lose their jobs every day, for good and bad reasons. Managers are told they must reduce their divisions by 10%, even if reducing certain divisions will have a negative impact on the company. Whole departments are deemed unnecessary. Sales fall so precipitously a company has to reduce its employees or face bankruptcy. It is what it is. It's not personal. Actually, that's the problem: it's quite impersonal. The people at the top most often do not care about the people who are losing jobs; they care about the bottom line. 

So keep this in perspective. It happens every day. You are not the first to experience it, even though it may be the first time in your life it has happened. 

The question is: will you leave as a blessing or a thorn? Will you do what's necessary to assist the person who will be rolling in behind you, usually wholly unaware of the personal devastation this event is having on your life? Will you help executives who may have never cared about you clean up a department as you go, or put files in order, or make sure an important client doesn't drop through the cracks? Or will you spread your bitterness around the office like so many little thorns, passively-aggressively dispensing pain and discomfort? Will you say, in essence, "I'll be damned if I'll help them. They certainly aren't helping me." 

I will say it simply here, and I hope you will chew on this and ingest it thoughtfully: it is beyond foolish to leave as a thorn. You shoot yourself in the foot by departing with a stink. Not only does such idiocy jeopardize any sort of recommendation you might need to receive as you search for new employment, it slams the door on the possibility that someone there who may have never noticed your contribution might just notice it now, and remember you. That person may be someone who calls you down the line as circumstances change, or you may need to call them for a favor. Leave as a thorn and no matter how long you have been there and how much people have liked you, they will be glad to see you go on your last day.

In addition, consider your integrity. (That is, if this means something to you. If it does not, read no further.) Do not allow circumstances to compromise your integrity. Do what is right because it is right. If you play silly games of sabotage or refuse to provide your service in your last bit on the job, you are not affecting the people who sliced your position off the map. Those people don't care. They can't see you. You are affecting the people you claim to like, who have worked alongside you, who have to pick up the excrement you have left once you're gone. Is that your plan? To make everyone pay? 

Go somewhere and grieve on your own. Decide to leave as a blessing. Grace always gives. Integrity always does what's right. Be a person of character even when others around you have none. It will benefit you later on--you'll see. 

Sue Thompson
tag:etiquettedog.com,2013:Post/701642 2014-06-08T22:24:23Z 2014-06-09T22:04:28Z Go, daddy. I mean it.

GoDaddy is dropping its blog product, and I'm not sorry to see it go. What I am sorry about is that I have been so lazy I didn't drop it before it dropped me. It is cumbersome and inartful and a pain, like its terrible website builder. My husband is a website designer, and has had so many people call him to redesign their site after they tried to do it with GoDaddy's builder, frustrated and angry at how it is billed as so easy but it turns out to be so hard. He often says, "Why GoDaddy, which has such excellent customer service and is known for how responsive it is, persists in creating such awful products is beyond me." I'm grateful for the super service regarding domains and web hosting, but in a world of far easier blog platforms, it is time to move on.

This isn't major revelation or anything. We do so much because it feels harder to change, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it will take so much effort and time and anxiety that we have to weigh whether it will be worth it in the end. I'm also convinced that some people are naturally willing to jump into new scenarios and plans and go for it, because they are fueled by change. People are fond of the platitude that "Nobody likes change," but that's not true. We change things all the time--our hairstyle, our cars, our route to work, the furniture, our choice of food, all kinds of things. I will change my grocery store in a minute if I find one I like better, even if the drive is slightly longer. I used to change my haircut about every six months. I enjoyed seeing how differently I could look. I don't mind changing jobs if I can find one that's more fun or provides increased vacation time. 

What is meant by "nobody likes change" is that we don't all jump at a change in routine. We don't like it when the paper towels in the bathrooms at work are changed, or Trader Joe's stops carrying our favorite snack. We don't want to have to rearrange everything just so we can get at one thing. The truth is, though, that some people don't mind packing up the entire house to move to a new place, and others are ready and willing to start a body transformation with a new exercise program and diet. These things have such a highly desirable end result that change is willingly undertaken. 

Since I have such limited experience with blogging, I do not beat myself up for taking so long to change. Maybe I was supposed to wait, because this platform, PostHaven, needed to come about. I believe in serendipity. It makes change quite enjoyable! 

Sue Thompson