Executives' Manners Need More Polish

MORE women are bringing home the bacon, and that's why there's no one there to teach their children how to eat it properly. ``Corporations are finding that while their best and brightest young recruits are extremely accomplished in their fields, they lack sufficient instruction and practice in etiquette, particularly business etiquette, to handle meetings with clients and potential clients over a meal,'' holds Kenneth Marvel, chairman of Fitz and Floyd, a Dallas manufacturer of fine china.

As a result, such companies as Westinghouse Corporation, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corporation, Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., and many others have sponsored lectures and seminars on good manners for key employees.

``There is an awareness for the first time that there is a real need,'' says Letitia Baldrige, an expert on etiquette. Her book, Letitia Baldrige's Guide to Executive Manners, has sold more than 200,000 copies since it was first printed in 1985. Her latest book, Letitia Baldrige's Complete Guide to the New Manners for the '90s, is also selling well. Other books on manners sell steadily, including those of Judith Martin and Elizabeth Post, granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post.

Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers, written by Walter Hoving in 1961, remains a ``bestseller'' at the jeweler's stores.

``Manners are obviously something people are returning to, realizing the importance of,'' says Patricia Russo, director of publicity at Tiffany & Co. The store's etiquette courses for children, involving a meal in a hotel dining room, are always sold out. ``We are besieged by adults for courses.''

Many younger executives, lawyers, accountants, doctors, and other professionals are woefully ignorant of the basics of proper wardrobes, conduct at the dinner table, and other aspects of good manners, Mr. Marvel finds. He sees this as a result of the social and cultural upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s when the issue was ``saving the world,'' and style, taste, etiquette, and the establishment were considered irrelevant if not contemptible. Then came some years when youths concentrated on getting a practical education. Next, adds Marvel, the 1980s were devoted to entrepreneurship.

Another social trend, the breakup of many families, has not helped in teaching children manners. ``These issues fall through the cracks, in families which have fragmented,'' says Marvel.

Ms. Baldrige notes that with so many mothers working, families often do not eat together. The children jam their meals into a microwave oven and watch television all night.

``It is not helping the young ones learn anything of manners,'' she says. ``It is not their fault.''

Both Marvel and Baldrige see a revival of interest in etiquette. When Baldrige began offering corporate seminars on executive manners in 1980, she often found that though the personnel department liked the idea, older chief executive officers thought it humiliating for their companies. She sometimes gave a free course as a result. But now, she says, ``there is a real demand'' for such courses, so much so that some people whom she regards as less than fully qualified are jumping into the business.

``This generation is increasingly aware of the realm of quality, as well as quantity,'' says Marvel. Its members are turning to issues of taste, style, and manners as part of civilized life's finer pleasures. But they are having to learn such matters as how to seat guests at meal, how to use utensils at the table, how to put others at ease, how to write thank you notes, and so on.

In general, manners proceed from consideration of others, he notes. When not followed in business settings, they can be disastrous. Marvel recalls that one executive tucked his napkin into his belt (a taboo) - but it really was the table cloth. When he stood up to leave, the entire table setting came crashing to the ground. Another businessman, squeezing a lemon into his iced tea, failed to hold his hand correctly for this task. It squirted into his client's eye, eliciting shrieks.

``Manners are important,'' concludes Marvel. ``We need to adapt and find new resources for this area of education that mom has had to relinquish.''

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