5 social dilemmas where good manners can work for professionals

DURING Women’s month in March, I was invited to speak before a convention of 300 Filipino women judges. The organizer had asked me to discuss “Manners in the Workplace,” but in the formal invitation that was later given to me, my subject bore the title “Professional Conduct for Women Judges in the Workplace.” Right there and then, I felt that I was hardly in a position to teach professional conduct to women of such a distinguished profession.

Fortunately, my long years in the public relations industry have taught me the importance of delicadeza when dealing with people. And so I decided to go beyond tackling issues on simple etiquette. Instead, I shared with them a slew of topics from my book Pinoy Manners, which I told them was a guide to delicadeza in modern times.

I then presented my subject as something that addresses situations in the real world, giving it the intriguing title “10 Horror Stories about Manners” that most professionals won’t ever want to encounter.

After all, the audience consisted of eminent judges whose work required them to conduct themselves with dignity, integrity and the highest degree of professionalism. Foregoing basic workplace etiquette, I opted to present several “unique” situations that no professional would wish to find themselves in—and gave my personal insights for each.

For the purposes of this column, I will cite only five social dilemmas that professionals can relate to, whether they are judges, lawyers, doctors, advertising, PR or marketing bosses, or CEOs of companies.

Situation No. 1: Socializing with the ‘frenemy.’

YOU are at an important event, and you find yourself in the company of your worst enemy/archrival in your industry—or yes, even your husband’s “other woman.”

First of all, you will—from time to time—find yourself in the company of people you find extremely annoying or people who simply bring out the worst in you. This could include a competitor or a client you have had unpleasant experiences with.

It is understandable if an encounter like this rouses toxic feelings or makes you feel upset. Human nature is such that you will find it tough to simply conceal your emotions. But conceal these you must. While your initial reaction may be valid, you can’t make a public spectacle of your aversion to this person.

Those dramatic catfights you see all the time in teleseryes or the movies may boost the ratings or ticket sales, but in real life, you are a respected professional, and your public persona must be kept separate from your private life.

What to do:

How do you behave when caught in this situation? You simply ignore the “enemy.” If you are compelled to interact with her, you must appear civil and dignified.

This can also happen at weddings of children of separated/divorced couples. For the sake of their child, estranged spouses must transcend their personal animosities and be genuinely engaged in the celebration. This is especially true if one or both ex-spouses brought along their new partners who may or may not try to assert their presence during the event.

If you’re bound to encounter an episode like this, remember to stay positive, focus on the joyful occasion, and gladly participate in all the rituals, including the requisite selfies and groufies. Wear your best smile always and bask in the company of your family members and friends who are supportive of you. Always come out as the bigger—or more decent—person.

Situation No. 2: Memory malfunction

IN a party, someone comes up to you and says “hello,” but you can’t remember this person’s name or recall how and where you met. And worse, this person seems to know you very well.

This is one of the most awkward situations that can ever happen to anyone. It’s not a rare occurrence, too, especially when your business or profession causes you to move around in different social circles.

What to do:

I offer three possible options in a situation like this:

First: Just greet her warmly and smile. Listen to her talk because you could catch snippets of information that may help you figure out her identity.

Second: Be honest and candid. Simply apologize and cheerfully say, “Your face looks familiar, but I can’t seem to remember your name. And I’m excited to know how we met because I feel good about meeting you again.”

Third: Just sound sincerely regretful about your lapse. No one likes their name to be forgotten, especially if their monikers are unique (like Proserpina) or commonplace (like Zeny). So it would be nice to overcompensate for it and make the person laugh. “You must forgive my forgetfulness, but I went straight from midlife crisis to senior moments—and it gets worse when I meet old friends like you who don’t seem to age at all.”

Situation No. 3: Calling out the tactless

SOMEONE tells you, “Kailan ka magpapapayat? Ang taba-taba mo na!”

This remark is not just annoying—it’s downright hurtful. I’m aghast at how some people think they can get away with rude comments like this. This has happened to me and to this day, I can never forget how a neighbor made me feel bad by loudly declaring that I had gained weight. But the Universe has handed over her “just desserts.” Today, she’s twice my size.

What to do:

Well, when this happens to you, you can say, “Eh ikaw, kailan ka gaganda?” with a wide grin.

But if you feel that this retort has too much sting, try this, “Thank you! It’s been nice seeing you, too,” while hoping that the irony didn’t go over her head.

You may also call her out on this and say, “That was not a very good thing to tell anyone,” in a lightly teasing manner.

Of course, this should also remind us NOT to say this to other people. Such distasteful remarks are often attributed to the “Titas of Manila” so if you’re a Tita or Tito, make it a point to resist dishing it out.

Likewise, telling someone they have lost considerable weight may be off-putting, too, especially if that person has had health issues. So play nice by saying, “You look good!” or “You’re blooming!” But only when you mean it.

Situation No. 4: Dealing with the ‘oversharer’

SOMEONE from work asks you for advice about what to do with a married man who keeps trying to start a relationship—and it isn’t the first time she’s seeking your counsel either. She does it each time she’s grappling with some personal issue or the other.

What to do:

This is a little tricky, but I always advocate setting boundaries in your relationships with bosses, coworkers and subordinates and ensuring that professionalism is maintained at all times.

It is natural to want to forge friendships with colleagues, but avoid crossing some lines in a typical workplace friendship or boss-subordinate relationship. This is where your sensitivity or EQ (emotional quotient) or where your sense of delicadeza comes in.

Be mindful of your interactions. How often does it happen? Do you communicate personally, via Viber or text, over coffee or dinner? Does she have the same kind of relationship with other people in the workplace?

If you’re starting to feel queasy about the situation, you can try reducing the frequency of your interaction or being upfront with this person. Point out that you are feeling quite uncomfortable about being privy to her personal issues and that it would be best for her to seek professional help.

Situation No. 5: Tricky lines to cross

WHERE do you draw the line between professional and friendly ties with your work mates? Is the social gesture of beso considered normal in the workplace?

My opinion is that the beso should be reserved for friends, family and acquaintances outside the office.

Another question related to this is about being tapped by co-workers or subordinates to be ninong or ninang at their weddings or at their children’s baptism. Should you accept such invitations from people at work? Again, this is a highly personal decision and must be resolved on a case-to-case basis.

Complications may happen in the future, like if your inaanak works under you and then at some point, there are reasonable grounds for letting her go, terminating her services or even reprimanding her. So think long and hard before saying yes.

As for other social dilemmas, most can simply be solved by practicing mindfulness, good manners and delicadeza. A basic guide to follow would be: Be kind, respectful and sensitive to others—and be honest with your words.

PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association, the world’s premiere association for senior communications professionals around the world. Joy Lumawig-Buensalido is the president and CEO of Buensalido & Associates Public Relations.

PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or comments to [email protected].