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Nov 09

Review: Miss Manners Minds Your Business by Judith Martin

9780393081367I promise I haven’t died! Or abandoned this blog! A lot has happened over the last month, including final assignments in library school, job craziness, unexpected clients, windfalls of work, church mergers, and blessings of animals. In the midst of all that, who has time to read?

I made a little bit of time. I always make a little bit of time. And so my selection was Miss Manners Minds Your Business by Judith Martin and Nicholas Ivor Martin. I love etiquette. I think the world can be awfully ill-behaved at times, but if we can approach it with a bit of class and style, then everyone can end the day feeling better about themselves and society. And while I’m not a regular Miss Manners column reader, a well-placed barb while giving you something real is right up my alley.

Okay, and maybe you caught this before I did, but this is a whole book on business manners. Because she’s minding your business. Get it? (I didn’t). Anywho, it’s laid out in thematic chapters about things like interviews, firings, workplace events, salary, etc. Every chapter starts out with Martin offering a brief explanation of what’s wrong in that particular area of work life. Then, the sections are letters and their answers that deal with specific concerns.

And that’s the principal shortcoming of the book: instead of offering axioms, the responses are situation-specific and few universal rules are given. So, if you happen to find yourself in the same situation as a letter writer or something similar enough that you can extrapolate, then great. Otherwise, you’re just in it for the fun of it. And it can be fun.

The Miss Manners philosophy boils down to the idea of “If you can’t be polite, at least be vague.” And that extends to the workplace. She thinks its ludicrous that workplaces are places where everyone is supposed to be friends and to bond and to feel like a family. She (in my opinion, rightly) says that work is for work and your personal life gets left at the door (or preferably the door of your house). And she offers great ways to get out off work parties, avoid participating in office extortions, and how to be polite, kind, and firm in avoiding things you hate. Basically, everything you’d want an etiquette goddess to do.

So what does etiquette matter in the digital age? For someone who’s been writing as long as Martin, she has a vested interest in it. But she also provides it’s greatest defense:

You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you’re trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you…There are plenty of people who say, ‘We don’t care about etiquette, but we can’t stand the way so-and-so behaves, and we don’t want him around!’ Etiquette doesn’t have the great sanctions that the law has. But the main sanction we do have is in not dealing with these people and isolating them because their behavior is unbearable.

So, there you go. Be nice. And if you can’t be nice, be vague.

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

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