Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Fabulous Example of Unexpected Kindness

I'm a bit of an information junkie.  First thing in the morning and last thing at night, I can be found trolling through my favourite news, opinion and pop culture websites and blogs, catching up on the latest news.  Lately, it seems this obsession has been just feeding my belief that the world truly is going to hell.  Lately, the world seems to be rife with the sad - teens murdered in Norway, the distressing - the UK phone hacking scandal, and the truly pathetic - the cost of a Kardashian wedding.

It's really easy to absorb all of this and to assume that there's no hope, everyone is corrupt (or corruptible), reality shows (and the 'stars' they spawn) are taking over and dumbing down the entire population and most people will do anything for a buck.

But, the upside of having an emotionally-charged personality is that it doesn't take much to bring me out of my reverie.  A little bit of human kindness lifts my spirits and I bounce right back.  Here's what did it today.

Image: Allan Guei making a free throw
A while back, Alan Guei, an 18-year-old high school student from Compton (Los Angeles inner city), won a $40,000 scholarship at a free-throw basketball competition.  A few weeks later, he was awarded a full scholarship to the university of his choice.
Knowing that his post-secondary costs were now taken care of, he donated his entire $40,000 prize to the other kids in the free  throw competition.  In his words,  “I’m well taken care of to go to school. I could have kept the money, but I figured why
not give the money to others that needed it more than I (do). These kids wanted to go to school and they were having a lot of financial (troubles) and I figured why not help them.”. You can read the whole story here

It's interesting that this story took place in Los Angeles, which also happens to be home to the biggest collection of spoiled, vapid, irresponsible young people in the world, a world where people become celebrities for nothing more than being born into wealth, videotaping their sexual escapades and behaving like cretins on reality TV.  Although he didn't seek fame or notoriety, this young man has achieved celebrity for his kindness and we can all learn a lot from him.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Just when I think I've seen it all...

People often ask me to name the worst etiquette faux pas.  While there are some basic etiquette rules that should never be broken, there's no list that ranks gaffes in order of most egregious.  Besides, people are annoyed by different things and what might be the height of rudeness to one person is perfectly acceptable to another. Having said that, I know what my answer would be.

 In order, the top three things that drive me crazy are:

1. Inappropriate cell phone use
2. Cheating at four-way stop signs
3. Chewing gum with your mouth open

So I'm always ready to share cell phone horror stories and remind people of cell phone etiquette courtesy (whether they ask for it or not).  In Toronto, we are surrounded by a cacophony of jangling ringtones, loud talkers and people trying to balance phones between their shoulder and jaw as they try to multi-task.  While other people can tune it out, I never get used to it and it continues to rankle me day after day.

Just when I thought I had seen (and heard) it all, I witnessed something the other night that shocked even me. 

I was getting a pedicure in a local salon. It's a small shop and in addition to myself, there were three other customers and three staff members.  One of the customers was making very loud, back-to-back cell phone calls all through her manicure.  When the technician was working on one hand, she would hold the phone in the other.  When it was time for that hand's nails to be painted, she would switch hands.  You get the picture.

When her nails were finally finished, the technician politely asked her to refrain from using her phone until her nails were completely dry.  I breathed a sigh of relief that we would finally have some respite from her incessant, one-sided chatter.  But it was not to be.  Without missing a beat, she placed the phone on the table, carefully punched in some numbers and then (gasp), put it on speaker phone.  A man called Boris answered and she proceeded to have a loud, annoying conversation with him without even telling him that a) he was on speaker and b) seven other hapless victims were hearing the entire call. Their conversation lasted about 10 minutes, turned into a heated argument, revealed lots of personal details about poor Boris and had the cumulative effect of making all of us squirm in our seats and look at each other in amazement.  We tried to give her the look of death but she was absolutely immune to it, so wrapped up in her own world.

The salon staff apologized to the other customers but didn't seem to feel comfortable asking her to end the call so I did it for them, in the most polite way possible of course. She looked at me like I was the rude one, stood up and stormed out of the store.

This example is rife with examples of poor cell phone etiquette but, just as a refresher, I'll summarize the usage guidelines here:

1. Don't have a long cell phone conversation in a place where people cannot escape from you - this means elevators, grounded airplanes, cafes, restaurants, retail checkout lines and salons.
2. If you must have a cell phone conversation in public, try to maintain at least 10 feet between you and the next human.
3. Unless it's a business boardroom and a conference call is planned, never have a speaker phone conversation in the vicinity of other people.
4. Never put the person on the other end of the line on speaker phone without asking their permission, or at the very least, giving them a heads-up.
5. Don't yell.  The microphones on cell phones are so good these days that you could almost use a whisper and people would still be able to hear you.
6. Don't share sensitive information in the vicinity of other people - for security and embarrassment reasons, refrain from sharing personal details, phone numbers, email addresses, snail mail addresses, negotiation or proprietary information or information of a competitive nature.
7. Ditch the cutesy rings if you're an adult - I know many people disagree with me on this one but I don't want to hear a tinny rendition of "All the Single Ladies" squeezed out of the tiny speakers on your iPhone.
8.Turn off your ringer in any place where it would annoy others (e.g. during a speech, at an awards show, at a  performance, at the movies, etc.) and if you happen to forget, please for the love of God, don't pick it up and start talking.

Hope this is helpful.  Let me know if there are any other cell phone situations that bug you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Weigh the options before you pull a Johnny Paycheck

Take this Job and Shove It...If you're over 40, you probably remember that old Johhny Paycheck song. It's a sad tale about a man who worked long and hard for no reward. It struck such a chord with disgruntled workers in America, that it spent 18 weeks at Number 1, was the basis for a movie of the same name and has become an anthem for overworked and under-appreciated employees everywhere.

I found myself humming this song as I read about Kai Nagata, a 24-year-old CTV correspondent who became so disillusioned with what he termed the "Barbie and Ken" style of TV news that he felt he had no choice but to resign. But he didn't just hand in his letter, eat his farewell cake, clear his desk and leave. Instead, he chose to vent his frustration in a 3,000-word missive about everything that's wrong with the business. The essay went on to receive widespread attention from journalists across Canada and was even lauded by Roger Ebert.

Before I go any further, let me say that his parting words, admittedly well-written, are much more eloquent than the words in the Johnny Paycheck song and he makes some valid points. Among other claims, Nagata bemoans the "unspoken ratio of talent to attractiveness" and the focus on the recent royal visit when "there was real news happening". And, in a world where few people act with integrity, I admire his decision not only to resign from a position which doesn't align with his personal values but also to have the courage to outline the reason for his departure in so candid a manner.

From a business etiquette viewpoint however, I don't believe it's a good idea to burn your bridges so spectacularly at such a young age. I'm not totally against the burning of bridges and I've torched a few myself but in each case, I weighed the pros and cons of the consequences and really asked myself if my discomfort, dislike or disgust of the person or organization was so great that I was comfortable knowing I could never count on them for support again On the few cases, I decided to burn a bridge, I shared my opinions freely but only with my direct supervisor, in person and in private and without any desire to gain fame or notoriety from it.

Although he may be one of the few to act on his impulses, Nagata is simply the latest in a long line of young people (myself included) who have chosen a profession, studied it and dreamed of all the wonderful things we would do with it, only to find out that, once we were finally working in our chosen field, it didn't live up to our expectations. This is a huge disappointment for an idealistic young person and sadly, remains a source of frustration for many people who have been toiling away for decades.

We are all tested in the workplace and we all face times when we have to decide whether or not we should continue working at a job which has become unpleasant, that is, assuming we have the freedom to do so. If such freedom exists then we need to establish our personal threshold for frustration. How important it is that the way we pay our bills match our personal values, that the role we have is the one we signed up for, that the business operations of our employer match the values on its mission statement, that we feel comfortable with the state of the industry in which we toil?

And if it's unbearable, then we leave, and etiquette dictates that we do it in as gracious a manner as possible, not only because it's the professional thing to do, but also because it's a small world and we need all the friends we can get.

I'm not sure how the future will unfold for this young man. Perhaps the infamy he has achieved from his farewell letter will catapult him to a much more rewarding position and his risk will have been well worth it. But he's very young and has a lot of working years left. Let's hope he never has to ask his former employers for a reference.

Have you ever told someone to "take this job and shove it?" I'd love to hear about it.