By Diane Stafford The Kansas City Star.
The businesswoman sitting across the table from me at the luncheon talked with her mouth full and food tumbled onto her plate.
Around the table, one person stifled a giggle. Another grimaced noticeably.
Respect for the speaker slipped. Good manners are a measuring stick in professional settings, even if people aren't overtly taking notes.
Entire etiquette books tell what constitutes good manners in social and business settings. They don't just instruct what fork to use when. They cover norms and expectations for behavior. Violate them and you may not get that job offer, promotion or plum assignment that you want.
I'm sometimes asked if "feminism" destroys manners. Some men tell me they don't know whether they should hold open doors or otherwise assist women in professional settings. They search for clear demarcation between giving offense and being mannerly.
Finding that line is a tough call. One woman may appreciate gallant courtesies; another may blanch. I believe that basic good manners are never wrong, and nobody should complain if someone else simply is trying to be polite without being condescending.
But questions about manners go far beyond gender issues. Here are some absolutes:
-Good table manners are essential. Check out an etiquette guide if you're clueless about when to sit, when to start eating, or how to eat various courses or foods.
-Pleasantries are socially expected, but use your "indoor" voice; you're not on stage (unless you are). Don't hog the conversation.
-Promptness is crucial. So are RSVPs; always respond exactly as requested. Write thank-you notes when appropriate.
-And the really big one: Hide and silence your cellphone. Never put it on the table, fixate on it in your lap or talk on it when you're supposed to pay attention to the event.