Family practice
Etiquette expert Anna Post gives advice

Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of author Emily Post and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, recently sat down with staff writer Deanna Allen to discuss a topic her family has always felt strongly about - etiquette.

DA: What is the importance of knowing and practicing proper etiquette in today's society?

AP: Etiquette's important because it tells us what to do and what to expect others to do. By this I mean when I come in to meet you for an interview, I know that we're both going to stand and shake hands and I know that we're going to talk about why I could be important to your company and why your company is of interest to me.

I understand both the function of things like a handshake or how to sit down with a client and use a fork and knife, but I also understand what's going to be occurring in terms of dialogue, in terms of conversation, and when people's expectations meet, you can turn to business and to developing that relationship that you're there to focus on. You don't want any distractions. So it isn't simply to do or to practice good etiquette for its own sake, it's really there to smooth the way for you to focus on business relationships.

DA: Is there an area in particular in which improvements in etiquette are most needed?

AP: Technology, and it's not that technology itself is bad. Technology is simply a tool, whether it's a Blackberry or a cell phone or any other device, a Bluetooth ear piece for example. All of these make our lives, well, some would argue easier, some would argue harder, but whichever way you go, they can be used effectively in business. It's all in how. How is so important to this part of the equation.

So if I use a Blackberry and I check it during breaks from a meeting, this is great. If I use it while I'm in the airport, this is great. If I'm speaking with a client and I pause the conversation to look down at my Blackberry and text, that's not OK. That kind of awareness and the basic manners of how we use them, it's still, I think, becoming set in our society, but there's clearly a demand for it, for good manners with it anyway.

DA: What advice would you give for discussing politics - a topic many feel strongly about - politely and respectfully?

AP: Absolutely. First off, keep your cool. Stick to facts. This is important. It's very easy to get into dangerous territory with this one. It starts off with just a small exchange, "Well, I understand, but I really think this ..." Tone of voice is very important here and knowing when to stop. If a conversation is at all getting heated, be the person to pause, no matter how much you want the last word, and say, "I'm sorry. I think we may just have to agree to disagree on this one."

I believe that the relationship you have with another person, whether it's a friendship or a business relationship, is more important. It's tough to argue if the other person shuts down.

DA: Gwinnett County places a great deal of emphasis on its strong business community. What are some basic skills in etiquette in the area of business?

AP: Always be prepared. That could be being on time. It could also be knowing who you're meeting with, knowing what your agenda is and being ready to follow up afterwards with any other details or information that you need to send to somebody. (Also) adhere to common courtesies within the workplace, whether it's saying hello to colleagues, not eating their peanut butter in the fridge without asking.

Civility in the office is in high demand. We often spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families. It's important to maintain those relationships, too. And lastly, whenever meeting with a client, if you're at all in doubt of what the other person's expectations of you are, err on the aide of caution, whether it's dressing notch up, arriving extra early, using formal titles. Whatever it might be, until you're sure, err on the side of formality and caution in your actions and image.

DA: Gwinnett County is a busy area with a lot of traffic. What are some tips you have for driving etiquette?

AP: (Laughs) We will all get there. Road rage is dangerous, first and foremost, and secondly, it's really not that necessary. It's a perfect example of where I see rudeness occurring. People don't wake up wanting to be rude. In some cases, it comes from lack of awareness, and in others, like in driving, sometimes it comes from feeling justified. Well, you cut me off so it's OK for me to honk and swear at you. It's really not. Two rudes never make a polite.