Five Questions for business author Richie Frieman

Business author says bad manners can tank your career

  • Richie Frieman is the author of "Reply All...And Other Ways to Tank Your Career."
Richie Frieman is the author of "Reply All...And Other… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
July 05, 2014|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun

Business author Richie Frieman has studied fine arts at the University of Maryland, launched a music-focused Internet magazine, written children's books, invented a device that keeps shirt collars crisp and created a pop culture-inspired children's clothing line — Charm City Babies.

He even toured the Mid-Atlantic as a professional wrestler, retiring in 2008.

So what does all of that have to do with good manners?

Frieman, author of workplace etiquette book "Reply All … And Other Ways to Tank Your Career," considers himself an artist first and foremost. That's led to a variety of careers, including one as manners and etiquette columnist "Modern Manners Guy." Since 2010, the Owings Mills resident has hosted the weekly column and podcast for a Macmillan Publishing advice website called The Quick and Dirty Tips Network.

After three years as an advice columnist, Frieman was tapped to write "Reply All." Since its release last fall by St. Martin's Press, it has become a top best seller in three categories, Business Etiquette, Business Lifestyle and Self-Help & Psychology Humor.

Frieman talked with The Baltimore Sun about good and bad behavior in the business world.

What kind of etiquette-related lessons do you offer workers, managers, business owners through your book? What kind of help do you think they need most?

Being mannerly is not all white-glove, Downton Abbey, aristocratic or snobbish behavior. People tend to associate a "proper" person as someone having a certain level of wealth, or dressing like they're going to Lyric every night for the ballet. This is not what having manners means. Wealth and status do not make you classy.

One lesson I stress in "Reply All" is that it's one thing to be different but it's another to believe that your way is the only way, and that's when people clash in the office. … No one rewards stubbornness and arrogance.

Another lesson I point out is that being mindful of others and respectful does not mean you have to be a pushover. Just because you help someone out, don't make yourself an errand-boy/girl.

How do people fall short when it comes to proper manners and etiquette in the workplace? Are we less polite at work than we used to be? If so, has the digital age contributed to that?

The biggest way people fall short when it comes to manners and etiquette in the workplace is when it comes to communication. And yes, the digital age is to blame. I call it keyboard muscles. Keyboard muscles is when someone gets behind their computer and types away like they are the biggest, slickest person on the planet. They say things in email or texts they never would simply because they don't have the guts to communicate it in person. And this is where etiquette in the workplace falls apart the fastest.

It's not necessarily that people are less polite at work than they used to be, it's that there are more avenues for them to care less about those around them because we're all digital. Don't get me wrong, I'm huge fan of social media and email, but there comes a time when you have to interact and have those skills.

Do you see a correlation between manners and etiquette, and success or failure in business? What is the No. 1 way people tank their careers?

I believe that manners and etiquette play a key role in the success or failure in a business on multiple levels. … It starts with the person at the top and how they project onto the people in the company. My first job out of college, I worked for a complete tyrant who everyone despised. My co-workers were great people. … Because of him — not the field, not the company — one by one, we all left.

Look at companies like Zappos, Google, [eyeware manufacturer] Warby Parker and you'll see global brands that have an employee base who are incredibly committed to the firm, in and out of the office. And it's not about the pay — it's all about the way the employees are respected. They work harder because they feel passionate about the brand.

Of all the major ways people can tank their careers, I believe the prize goes to an improper ego. There is a misconception about confidence and ego. Confidence is knowing you are the best person for the job and gladly take on certain roles that said job requires with grace. Being egotistical, however, is when you think you know how to do something better than anyone else, and insist on walking down the aisles of the office, like a cage fighter after he just knocked someone out.

When it comes to ego, the best advice in business and in life I ever heard was from my professional wrestling trainer. In wrestling, every match involves two people (or more) working together to entertain the crowd. The winner is put over because the loser allowed it and made them look good. … Remember the people who helped you along the way. Instead of bullying people out of their spot, earn your own with your skills.

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