Modern Etiquette: What they see is what you get

Mon Sep 6, 2010 1:06pm EDT
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(Mary Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts." She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Mary Mitchell

SEATTLE, Sept 6 (Reuters Life!) - "What they see is what you get," fashion consultant Georgia Donovan told the Sotheby's staff in her talk entitled "Appearance Matters."

She expanded on the point with examples of how differences in geographic location, age, generation, and body language can be factors in how others treat us.

Try getting attentive service at Gucci wearing grungy cut-off shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops; you'll see what she meant. The power of her words hit home on a recent business trip to Washington, D.C.

During check-in, a handful of airline personnel and fellow travelers complimented me on wearing a suit. Everybody treated me especially well. (It's fair to tell you that given the travails of flying, I really wanted to wear jeans and a T-shirt, but I was traveling on business, as the face of my company, and I wanted my appearance and mindset to reflect that. My treatment, as it turned out, was a fringe benefit of that decision process.)

Fast forward to Washington, where I gave a speech on professionalism to a conference of women doctors. After my program, I strolled the grounds of the hotel to unwind. One woman caught my eye because she looked so jaunty and professional. Then I realized that I owned the same dress she was wearing.

Assuming that she was part of my group, I stopped her to tell her how swell she looked, and explained why I said so. We both had a laugh.

In fact, she was Colleen Lyons, principal of EthicalStability, a corporate consulting firm. She specializes in ethics; I specialize in professionalism. We obviously had a lot in common.   Continued...

<p>Office workers walk during morning peak hour in central Sydney in this October 28, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz</p>