Anyone who works in the typical office these days knows that dress codes are decidedly lax. Long gone are the days when men routinely donned suits and ties and women wore tailored dresses and pumps.
That may be a boon for workers who don't want to fuss about what to wear, day in and day out, but it can hinder career success, says workplace etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore. "Basically, we're a vision-oriented society, and we make judgements about people in 7 seconds or less," says Whitmore, who's written a new book on the subject, titled, "Poised For Success."
Dressing well is key, since it reveals to people how we feel about ourselves and establishes first impressions, says Whitmore, whose first book, "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work," provided uninitiated readers with the basics of etiquette, such as the proper way to shake hands.
Although separate chapters are devoted to men and women on assembling a wardrobe and creating a personal sense of style, Whitmore's latest literary effort tackles more than just the clothes we wear. It takes etiquette training a step further, honing in on perfecting what she calls the four P's: polish, presence, professionalism and passion.
"It's not that people don't know etiquette," says Whitmore in an interview with AOL Jobs. "But it seems when we get into the business world, all these rules go out the window."
What's more, technology that was supposed to make our lives easier -- smartphones, email, etc. -- actually creates additional barriers in establishing relationships, since messages sent using those devices can seem unusually curt or dismissive
"It's just so easy to shoot off an email and just say things to people that you would never ever say to them in front of their face," Whitmore says.
To many people, the art of etiquette -- or manners -- may be as outdated as rotary telephones. Whitmore ardently disagrees. A good grounding in etiquette can help workers navigate the world of increasingly complex business relationships.
Companies today are focused more than ever on hiring and retaining employees with emotional intelligence, the ability to control one's own emotions and perceive those of others.
To that end, Whitmore's book includes advice on basics such as tone of voice and proper grammar as well as more complex subjects, including how to entertain, be a good guest and establish your own brand.
Personal brand, defined as "self impression" combined with how others perceive you, is becoming an increasingly important component in building a successful career.
To many employers, a well-honed brand that exemplifies a positive self image is indicative of the kind of work you will do on the job, says Whitmore, who has been dispensing etiquette advice for 20 years.
What's to blame for the decline in good manners? It depends on whom you ask, she says. Some blame movies and television, others point the finger at media and technology. But 60 percent of people blame parents for failing to teach their children proper social skills. "If you see a rude child, you'll probably see a rude parent not too far from that child," Whitmore says.
That's also true for the workplace. Bosses who treat their employees in an ill manner will likely find that their workers will mimic that behavior. "It trickles down from the top," she says.
In today's overtly casual society, manners are needed more than ever, Whitmore says. "We aren't as mindful of our behavior and how it impacts other people." And that, she adds, is where problems start to arise.
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