Robin “Miss Conduct” Abrahams Speaks on Etiquette in the Workplace and Beyond
November 05, 2012
Robin Abrahams, author of the social advice column "Miss Conduct" for the Boston Globe Sunday magazine, spoke to Emmanuel students, faculty and staff on "What Not to Say at Work: Narrative, Civility and Etiquette for the 21st Century," on November 2nd in the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall.
This was not Abrahams's first time addressing the Emmanuel community. A visiting professor of psychology from 2003-2005, she remembers Emmanuel as "a wonderful place and a wonderful civil community."
In her talk, Abrahams stressed the importance of practicing "narrative management," or "telling your story in a way that makes sense to other people and protects your own privacy and psyche," especially as a way to deflect comments or criticisms on one's own personal choices.
"When they're telling their stories, most people think only of themselves-the star of the show. The secret ninjas of storytelling, however, create a role for the audience," Abrahams said. She suggests soliciting the asker for help or advice on a similar or future issue, reassuring the asker that you do respect his or her opinion, no matter how different it may be from your own.
Abrahams offered other practical advice for professional conduct in the workplace and beyond, including the topic of Facebook etiquette, tough job interview questions and the importance of thank-you notes.
On Miss Conduct's Three E's of Etiquette:
Ethics: The ethics of etiquette are based on the "Golden Rule" and common sense decency-treat others how you want to be treated.
Engineering: Always try to arrange a situation so that people automatically do the right thing without having to think about it.
Esthetics: This is how our outward appearance communicates who we are to other people - the way we dress, the way we use personal space, our voices and words.
Try not to conjure up any negative feelings in other people by your appearance, including fear, envy, lust, intimidation and repulsion. Always know your audience. The best judge of your own outward appearance is to ask yourself: Would you feeling comfortable approaching a stranger to ask for help? Would a stranger feel comfortable approaching you?
On etiquette in the social media age:
When dealing with colleagues who you feel are overstepping boundaries, don't be afraid to set a policy that you don't "friend" people that you work with.
Your Facebook wall is your living room. You set the standards of whether or not you'll tolerate profanity or harsh language. Someone else's Facebook page is their living room, so you should abide by the standards they've set. And remember, on Facebook, you don't always know who else is in the room with you.
On how to answer a question on "strengths and weaknesses" in a job interview:
What the interviewer is really wondering is what it will be like to manage you. First of all, know yourself. Walking the line between promoting yourself and being obnoxious isn't easy. Then, when naming your strengths, be sure you can back them up with evidence. Don't pose your weaknesses as your strengths, saying things like, "I care too much about my projects." Your interviewers know you have weaknesses, but they want to make sure you know what they are.
Say your weaknesses with confidence and with an understanding of your own processes. This is also place to manage the narrative-don't just come out and say what your weaknesses are, rather say what you need from them as potential employers. If you're more confident bouncing ideas off other people, don't say you are a craven coward, but say that you do your best work in a group.
Think of it as information sharing, not schmoozing. I have never regretting e-mailing or calling someone whose work I found interesting. And remember, don't just network up; network laterally.
On writing thank-you notes:
Everyone dreads writing them, but thank you notes are necessary, and they only have to be three sentences.
1. Thank the giver for their gift (don't be afraid to be specific).
2. Say something personal about the gift; i.e., how you plan to use the gift or what the gift meant to you.
3. Reaffirm your relationship with the giver and say when you hope to see or speak to them again.
Abrahams is also the author of the book Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners: Master the Slippery Rules of Modern Ethics and Etiquette and is a research associate in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Boston University.