THE LAWYERS WEEKLY
February 3, 2012 | 23
Continued From Page 21
Those videos are sure to garner a few
chuckles, but they are riffing on reality.
Most of us have had experience with a co-worker who displayed “inappropriate
behaviour,” Ohnjec said.
Aside from the traditional etiquette disasters, the ubiquitous smartphone, use of
social media and instant communication
provide an array of new opportunities for
blundering, whether it be hitting “reply all”
on that snarky email you intended for just
one person, or being the one with The Final
Countdown ringtone that goes off during
Some firms try to address etiquette issues
through policies. For example, at Missis-
sauga, Ont.-based firm Pallet Valo LLP , a
code of conduct policy acts as a guide about
“how to stay professional while working
within a friendly, collegial, warm environ-
ment,” said Frances Wales, the firm’s chief
operating officer. “People need boundaries.
That’s what I see our policies as. If you don’t
put boundaries, how will people know when
they cross the line?”
There are policies for the use of social
media associated with the firm, policies to
help ensure clients waiting for a meeting
don’t end up hearing about one of the part-
ner’s weekend plans, policies that aim to
deter gossiping—even a policy on when it’s
OK to interrupt someone who is in their
office (hint: If the door’s just ajar, only inter-
rupt if it’s urgent).
“Good etiquette is about…saying please
and thank you and about trying to be helpful
and working together,” Wales said.
Sometimes, though, no policy can prevent someone from blundering, particularly
in social situations, Wright says. The Etiquette Advantage’s most popular workshops
focused on first impressions and small talk.
“Lawyers tend to be introverts,” she says.
“When they do studies, they are kind of aca-
demics. It’s not always the easiest thing to
For social events, Wright coaches falling
back on rituals to help calm yourself down,
such as smiling, making eye contact, shaking
;Email. Just received your 90th email of
the day and wondering which to reply to first?
Or maybe you’re eyeing the delete tab? Sorry,
you probably have to read them first and
make a judgment call.
;PDAs. Time is money and clients expect
that if you have a Blackberry, you will get
back to them with haste, right? But Wright
says lawyers must decide whether checking
that data is worth harming your relationship
with the people you’re with.
Don Johnston, a partner at Aird & Berlis
LLP, knows the feeling.
“You are sitting in a meeting and
everybody seems to be looking at their
knees— just under the surface of the table
everybody has got their Blackberry going,”
Johnston says. “You feel you are not getting
the attention you deserve if you are
addressing the group.”
“If you possibly can, don’t even bring
it into the meeting,” Wright advises.
“Turn it off.
“If you are expecting something coming in
and you know it is very, very urgent, tell the
people running the meeting, ‘Excuse me if I
may need to step out for a minute.’ But do
that —step out for a minute.”
hands and asking the person questions
about themselves—“What’s it like being a
criminal lawyer today?”
If you forget a person’s name, which
Wright says often happens “right off the
bat,” try asking for it again rather than let-
ting any awkwardness linger. Drop your
name into the conversation a little later on
too—“And my husband said, ‘You’re an
amazing navigator, Stacy.’”
“People will love you if you spare them
from embarrassment,” Wright says.
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;Social media. If you’re using Facebook
at work, you need to ask yourself what
behaviour is acceptable in the social
“Imagine the content of your Facebook
page on a billboard,” Wright says. “If you are
worried that the content will compromise
your credibility, get rid of it.”
;Personal contact. With email and
Blackberry messenger, every social introvert
can hold down a conversation, conceivably
without ever actually speaking to someone.
But, Wright warns, face or voice contact is
still important if you want to have good
“There are two levels of message,” she
says. “One that is straight information, and
one that has some emotional content. A
voice message can deal with both levels, but
an email or text may not.
“If you are generally communicating bare
facts in an email, think again,” she adds. “You
will have difficulty building a business
relationship without face to face or at least
voice contact. “
then you ‘hear’ a conversation. Be aware of
whether this is a ‘conversation’ or a business
letter. Err on the side of formality.”
;Greetings and salutations. Lawyers are
busy people. So, you might ask, why waste
time with ‘hello’, ‘how are you’ and ‘thank
you’ in a business email?
“Without salutations, the email ‘sounds’
abrupt,” Wright says. “Only do this when
there is a steady string of communication—
;Forwarding messages. MUST READ!
This will change your life! Well, probably not.
That ‘interesting’ article on ‘Five new ways
to cook an egg,’ while a fantastic read,
probably will annoy some of your colleagues if
you forward it to the masses. Wright also
advises against hitting ‘reply all’ to say
something you think is clever. In both these
scenarios you should only be sending jokes or
notes to “very good, trustworthy friends” and
only if the material will “never be passed on.”
To people who wonder, with all these rituals, “What about my individuality?” Wright
says save your eccentricities for later.
“They have to like you and they have to
trust you,” she says. “For a new job, you go to
the interview and you become a good repre-
sentative for the company but once you have
been working at a place a little while you know
the people you can goof around with and even
the clients. You just can’t do it right away.”
But Wright urges forgiveness when
people do get nervous and make mistakes.
She notes that walking up to a stranger and starting a conversation is
second on the list of social fears, after
public speaking. That might help
explain why that summer student with
her fingers, still sticky from handling
an appetizer, panicked when the lawyer
who hired her approached.
“I said, well maybe next time, just say
‘Sorry for not shaking your hand’ and explain
the situation,” Wright says. “A wet handshake is always a bad idea.” n
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