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In fact, says Blais Comeau, we need to know the rules of politeness now more than ever, in order to navigate our brave new complicated world of communication. "It matters so much when it comes to your reputation in the business environment," she says. "These days, a small mistake can go global in one click."
Here is Blais Comeau's advice on safely navigating the modern minefield of polite communication:
Let's say you're in a meeting, at a conference or out for coffee with a colleague, and your phone buzzes. What is the polite thing to do? "Face time—and by that I mean look-into-my-eyes face time—will always have precedence over any device," says Blais Comeau. "As soon as a device is taken out or is put on the table, it's no longer two of you—it's three. That device commands attention." Don't give in, she says.
Ever regretted a heat-of-the-moment email, a misguided tweet or an ill-informed Facebook post? You wouldn't be the first person. Minor misunderstandings can usually be cleared up easily, but larger, more public mistakes can have tough consequences. "We've seen reputations ruined by one click or one share," says Blais Comeau. Here's what to do if that happens to you:
- Apologize as soon as possible.
- Fix what you did. If you don't know how, actually ask, "What can I do to make this right?"
- "Have integrity," says Blais Comeau. "Do what you need to do to fix things right away." Sometimes, though, the harm is irreparable, and people lose their jobs as well as their good reputations. "If we say something that damages the credibility and image of the corporation we work for, then there are consequences," says Blais Comeau. In such cases, she says, all you can do is accept those consequences, own what you did and do whatever you can to repair the situation.
Caitlyn Jenner's recent debut shone a spotlight on how well—or poorly—people handle talking to, or about, those who are transgendered. What's the wisest course of action in terms of how to refer to people and what pronouns to use? "First and foremost," says Blais Comeau, "the person in question is the one who will guide you. Listen carefully: How do they introduce themselves? How do they refer to themselves? How do they dress?" Still not sure? Simply ask politely—in a one-on-one situation.
Teach and learn
We need to teach youth how to communicate, in order to prepare them for the workplace, says Blais Comeau. With so much global competition, the distinguishing factor is often someone's interpersonal skills. Youth—or anybody, for that matter—can get those skills by aligning with a respected, media-savvy mentor. Or brainstorm some social media scenarios and run them by a panel of trusted peers before posting them. Some universities host business etiquette seminars where you can learn essentials in a matter of hours—a small time investment with a big impact. "It's important that people like and feel comfortable with you," she says. "Knowing the rules of etiquette will give you the skills and make you shine."
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This story was originally part of "Career Tool Kit" in the October 2015 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!