`We seem to let cobwebs grow' on rules of etiquette, says Joan Webb Scornaienchi

Manners mavens find eager etiquette market

September 06, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

A smiling, energetic, sharply dressed couple stood in front of several dozen employees at Johns Hopkins Health Care in Glen Burnie and laid out the things many people would love to say to their co-workers:

Don't let your cell phone ring during meetings. Don't eat strong-smelling food in your cubicle. Dress appropriately for a work environment.

John Scornaienchi and Joan Webb Scornaienchi of Columbia say they are not the etiquette police, but they are trying to remind people to be considerate of others.

"We seem to let cobwebs grow on some of those rules," Joan said.

As founders of Ambassador Protocol, the couple have turned their passion for propriety into a fast-growing, home-based business that offers several seminars a month for schools, community groups and business clients.

Another Columbia businesswoman, Henryette A. Neal, noticed the same scarcity of social skills and started Steppin' Out, a charm and imaging school for young people, out of her home.

After several years of leading seminars for schools and community organizations, she began holding six-week classes in Columbia this spring. The next session runs Saturday mornings, beginning Sept 16, in Long Reach.

"We have gotten kind of lax about manners," Neal said. "It should be a part of you, it should become a good habit. ... There are a lot of the little things that we let go."

The local entrepreneurs have tapped into an expanding market for etiquette education.

There does not appear to be an official count, but P.M. Forni, leader of the Civility Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University and author of the book Choosing Civility, said, "Anecdotal evidence tells us that we are witnessing a renaissance of interest in the teaching of etiquette."

For many parents, he said, etiquette lessons have become another stop in the routine of sports practice, music lessons and other scheduled activities.

"In today's overscheduled and overworked two-earner and one-parent households, there seems to be little room for a solid training in good manners for the children," he said. "I know that many schools for etiquette in this area and around the country are thriving."

The Scornaienchis and Neal say the need for etiquette education is fueled by a society that is much more casual than a few decades ago.

Busier lifestyles and highly competitive work and school environments often mean people often feel they don't have time to teach their children -- or always use -- good manners, while some people simply do not know the guidelines.

Etiquette rules may have adapted over the years, Joan said, but people still judge others on how they act in business and social situations.

"Certain rules need to be upheld," she said. "If [people] don't use it because they don't know it, they are being held back. ... It's the little stuff, but it's the stuff that make us like people."

Allison Wimms, a training development specialist at Johns Hopkins Health Care, said employees asked for etiquette to be one of the topics in a regular series of seminars.

"Everyone recognizes there is a need for it," she said, although some people recognize the need more readily in their co-workers. "A lot of times, people are interested in having sessions so somebody who bugs them [will attend]," Wimms said.

The Scornaienchis started out being bugged by the lack of politeness they witnessed every day.

John is a manager at Grant Thornton LLP, an accounting and consulting firm, and has worked in financial services and in the federal government. Joan works for the Maryland Department of Education, assisting grant recipients, and she has worked in education for nearly 20 years. After talking many times about the need for people to learn manners, Joan said, in September 2005, "We finally looked at each other and said, `Why not us.'"

In addition to tailoring programs for children and adults, the couple have developed expertise in disability and multicultural etiquette. They said they hope one day to be running Ambassador Protocol full time.

Neal said she developed an interest in etiquette when she was mentoring young people at her church and realized they needed better social skills to be more successful in life.

"You need to know what to do," Neal said she told them, "otherwise you are not going to get a chance. It takes only six seconds to make a first impression."

Neal was on leave from her previous job and battling breast cancer when her employer closed down. When she was healthy again, Neal said, her husband encouraged her to pursue her enthusiasm for etiquette.

Neal received help from a nonprofit group called Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore and entered into a licensing agreement with an etiquette teacher in Illinois, who provided a curriculum.

She said it did not take long before people started finding her Web site and hiring her to teach.

In her six-week program, students learn telephone manners, how to make introductions, dining etiquette, sportsmanship and grooming and presentation tips.

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