Whether you’re a cubicle dweller or occupy a corner office, proper protocol in the office has changed drastically in recent years. Enter Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, who takes on everything from email etiquette to office dress codes in a new book with tips for navigating the modern workplace, co-written with her son Nicholas. We talk to the pair about whether the “good old days” really were and how to win, keep and find a job with aplomb.


  • Judith Martin Columnist, Miss Manners; co-author, "Miss Manners Minds Your Business"
  • Nicholas Ivor Martin Co-author, "Miss Manners Minds Your Business"; director of operations, Lyric Opera of Chicago


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome, to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" connecting your neighborhood with the world. Every workplace has one, a person who seems oblivious to common courtesies, who intentionally or not causes colleagues to cringe whenever they bungle an introduction, leave a mess in the kitchen sink or drone on a meeting that was supposed to end half an hour ago.

  • 13:07:16

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn an environment where so many questions about protocol and proper behavior are brought to the fore, where are we to turn? To a source adept in all things etiquette, a purveyor of polite, the doyenne of decorum, we speak of Miss Manners, of course.

  • 13:07:33

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd here to help us navigate the social and professional minefield that is the modern workplace is the aforementioned, Miss Manners, Judith Martin. Judith Martin is the author of the "Miss Manners" column and best-selling books, the latest book co-written with her son is "Miss Manners Minds Your Business."

  • 13:07:55

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJudith Martin, thank you so much for joining us in studio.

  • 13:07:57

    MS. JUDITH MARTINI'm delighted to be here.

  • 13:07:59

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Nicholas Ivor Martin, he is co-author of the book and director of operations at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He's also the author of "The Da Capo Opera Manual." Nicholas Ivor Martin, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:15

    MR. NICHOLAS IVOR MARTINThank you for having me.

  • 13:08:16

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. Do you think office etiquette has become more complicated in the last two decades? Tell us what's easier and what's harder about getting along at work, 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there.

  • 13:08:44

    NNAMDII will try to ask my first question as politely as possible. What or who gives you the authority to be the resource on all things manners?

  • 13:08:54

    MARTINWell, it's a bit like Napoleon's problem. He had no one to crown him who was high enough in rank. He had to crown himself so that's what I did. I crowned myself.

  • 13:09:03

    NNAMDIWhat was the process by which this crowning took place? How did you evolve into or become Miss Manners?

  • 13:09:12

    MARTINI was writing film and drama criticism at The Washington Post, weekend section and I noticed that the same skills apply when you look around on the larger stage that is the world. So I started writing that column at The Post at the same time that I was doing criticism and then the column got bigger and bigger and bigger.

  • 13:09:38

    MARTINSo you ask about people's annoyances at the office. We would get a flood of letters and calls. The person next to me smells bad, asks them for money all the time, eats awful food and so on. It's everywhere.

  • 13:09:56

    NNAMDIThank you for describing me, 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org Nicholas, has it become more, or perhaps has it always been a family duty which you're engaged in here? What was it like growing up with Miss Manners as your mother?

  • 13:10:12

    MARTINWell, manners is a language like any other and so I didn't know I was learning it any more than I knew I was learning English, but frankly, in retrospect, I'm thrilled that I did because then I don't have to think about it when I go to a meal or an event.

  • 13:10:29

    NNAMDIIt's a natural part of parenting, you say Judith?

  • 13:10:31

    MARTINYes, people used to ask me if my parents were very strict and so when they had visions of them slamming me into next week if I made a small wrong move at the dinner table. What was done in my household, both of my parents and when I was bringing up my children is called child rearing.

  • 13:10:53

    MARTINYou explain civilization. You teach civilization to the children and it seems to be a long lost art but it's a very valuable one.

  • 13:11:03

    NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Nicholas.

  • 13:11:03

    MARTINI'm just learning that part myself now as I have a two-year-old daughter.

  • 13:11:07

    NNAMDIYes, it's a part of the process of maturity, that is, child-raising. But how does it transfer into the professional world? It's my understanding that both of your children are now co-writing the Miss Manners column...

  • 13:11:20


  • 13:11:20

    NNAMDI...and that you've written books with each one of them. What was the collaborative process like for each of you, starting with you Judith?

  • 13:11:27

    MARTINWell, I need to work with people who are very well brought up and I knew these two were and they are also in different aspects of show business professionally. My daughter teaches improv comedy at Second City and Nick, as you mentioned, is with Lyric Opera in Chicago. And so they know quite a bit about the things that I mentioned that I knew as a drama critic, judging content through gesture, through speech, through costume, through ceremony and so on. So they're very good at it.

  • 13:12:07

    NNAMDINicholas, what is the collaborative process like for you? You're working with your co-writer and your mom.

  • 13:12:13

    MARTINWell, the first thing I did. Of course I've been reading the column for many years and I know the voice and we wrote the book in the Miss Manner's character voice but the first thing for me was reading years and years and years of back columns that I hadn't looked at for a while which was wonderful fun.

  • 13:12:30

    NNAMDIYou know, one of the reasons I think the voice is so authoritative is because the voice refers to itself always in the third person. Why do you always refer to yourself in this manner?

  • 13:12:39

    MARTINYou have to be authoritative in this business. When I first went into this rather strange business which was in 1978 etiquette had been sort of co-opted by popular psychology and it was, oh do whatever makes you feel comfortable. Well, a lot of people are very comfortable being rude.

  • 13:13:01

    MARTINAnd, oh decide for yourself. Well, then why would you ask anyone? So I decided that since I knew best I would tell them.

  • 13:13:14

    NNAMDIThat's the voice of Judith Martin. She is the author of the "Miss Manners" columns and bestselling books, the latest book co-written with her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin who joins us in studio. It is called "Miss Manners Minds Your Business."

  • 13:13:28

    NNAMDINicholas Martin is director of operations at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He's also author of the "Da Capo Opera Manual". You can join the conversation simply by calling 800-433-8850. What is your biggest office place pet peeve? Do you find attempts at navigating work life balance causes a lot of tension both at the office and at home? How do you manage the two? 800-433-8850, you can also send email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 13:13:57

    NNAMDIPeople who do not read your column regularly may not realize that humor is a big part of what you do. How do you decide when and how to deploy it?

  • 13:14:06

    MARTINYou could hardly do this kind of thing straight and remain sane. Life is a human comedy and if you don't enjoy it and find it amusing, you're going to be in big trouble.

  • 13:14:18

    NNAMDIA sense of humor important for this, Nicholas..?

  • 13:14:19

    MARTINOh absolutely.

  • 13:14:25

    NNAMDILet's start going to the phones. We will go to Don in Reston, Va. Don, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:14:33

    DONHi, Kojo?

  • 13:14:34

    NNAMDIHi, Don.

  • 13:14:34

    DON(unintelligible) show. The question for Ms. Martin, I was raised when someone says thank you, to say, you're welcome. Today, people say thank you or thank you for having me. What's the correct answer, according to Ms. Martin?

  • 13:14:50

    MARTINOr they say no problem, which annoys a lot of people.

  • 13:14:57

    DON(word?) no problem.

  • 13:14:59

    MARTINYes, language develops and changes. It should be done in an orderly fashion, the way I order the changes in etiquette and whether they're good or bad. This is not the worst of the transgressions going on now.

  • 13:15:16

    MARTINIn other languages, for example, no problem is the correct conventional, old answer. (speaks foreign language) in French or (speaks foreign language) in Spanish so I'm not going to the ramparts over that although I have to tell you I sympathize. I don't like that kind of change myself. I like the answer, you're welcome.

  • 13:15:38

    NNAMDIHey, and thank you very much for your call, Don.

  • 13:15:40

    DONYou're welcome.

  • 13:15:45

    MARTINThank you. Endless change...

  • 13:15:46

    NNAMDINicholas, your day job, if you will, as in opera, some think of the theater as one surviving bastion of rarified behavior. Others are horrified to see people turn up for evening performances wearing jeans. How much have things changed when it comes to decorum and that sphere?

  • 13:16:05

    MARTINThere is a wide range of dress at the opera but honestly part of that is the opera companies, my own included, encouraging it.

  • 13:16:13

    NNAMDIWanting to make opera more accessible?

  • 13:16:15

    MARTINExactly, we have opening night of the season which is black tie and my wife and my season tickets are up in the upper balcony where jeans are frankly more the norm. The conversation in the balcony is quite good. They know their opera so I don't worry about the...

  • 13:16:31

    NNAMDISorry, Tayla Burney, jeans in the opera are fine. Judith, turning to the office there's a notion one, parents in particular like to perpetuate, that if we just be ourselves then everyone will think we're great. Why is this a misguided notion, especially for the workplace?

  • 13:16:50

    MARTINWell, it's not very useful under any circumstances. What does that mean, be yourself? Who would you be otherwise? And they always mean be your worst self. People say, oh, I want to be myself at home. They mean they're going to be really obnoxious.

  • 13:17:05

    MARTINYou have to have more than one's self. Etiquette is context dependent and that is one of the main themes of this book that professional manners should be observed on the job and social manners off the job instead of which, we've switched. So that if you want to hire someone you have a nice leisurely lunch and ask about that person's dreams and aspirations.

  • 13:17:30

    MARTINBut if you want romance you have, you put out a classified ad and you have a quick, fierce interview over coffee to see if the person is up to snuff. We've sort of reversed those two and there's not a consciousness that manners depend on context.

  • 13:17:47

    NNAMDIYou're really causing me to reflect here that indeed when people do say they want to be themselves that usually means they want to behave as badly as they feel like and have it nevertheless be acceptable.

  • 13:18:00

    MARTINExactly, exactly.

  • 13:18:02

    NNAMDII hadn't thought of that before. We're going to go back to the telephones. We will now go to Kirk on Cobb Island, Md. Kirk, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:12

    KIRKHi, I want to ask about the purpose of manners which is that if everybody follows the code of etiquette we can all be out in public and be comfortable with radically different backgrounds, beliefs and religious systems.

  • 13:18:30


  • 13:18:32

    NNAMDIThis raises a fascinating question. What is the origin, if you will, of manners?

  • 13:18:36

    MARTINIt's the origin of civilization, that if you curb your worst impulses and I curb mine, we might be able to get along. It's as old as communities. There's no such thing as a community, a peaceful community where there aren't manners.

  • 13:18:53

    MARTINInterestingly enough, with the start of the internet, everybody said, oh, this is free. We're not going to have any restrictions and the next thing you know, they started putting out rules because if there are no rules, people begin to annoy one another and worse.

  • 13:19:10

    NNAMDINicholas, I'm beginning to wonder here, what's the relationship between manners and what happens to be popular during any particular time? Growing up with your mother, Judith Martin as a teenager when there were teenage fads that your parents considered inappropriate, how were those resolved?

  • 13:19:30

    MARTINThere are teenage fads?

  • 13:19:34

    NNAMDIAnd you were allowed to participate in teenage fads?

  • 13:19:39

    MARTINAbsolutely, it depends, as my mother said. It depends a lot on context. You know, when you're going out with your peers dressing and talking one way is understood among the group and perfectly acceptable but that's part of understanding the language, is knowing the context.

  • 13:19:57

    NNAMDIAnd so if, as a teenager, Nicholas began every sentence in a conversation with you with the word, like?

  • 13:20:04

    MARTINFortunately, he didn't. We probably would have killed him because it's so annoying. But the -- he's absolutely right, that it's the context. We didn't object to his behaving like his peers with his peers. Presumably they were respectable peers. But life is different among -- in the family and among adults.

  • 13:20:27

    NNAMDIHow it was forced on my own peers is that when we gathered outside my house conversing, my mother would lean out the window and say, I can hear you talking down there you know.

  • 13:20:38

    MARTINGood technique.

  • 13:20:38

    NNAMDIImmediately the conversation changed. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be continuing this conversation with Judith Martin and her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, co-authors of the book "Miss Manners Minds Your Business." You can call us at 800-433-8850. If you have a workplace dilemma you'd like Miss Manners' input on, give us a call, 800-433-8850 or shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:22:54

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking manners with Judith Martin, author of the Miss Manners columns and Best Selling books, latest book co-written with her son is "Miss Manners Minds Your Business." Aforementioned son Nicholas Ivor Martin joins us in studio. He is the director of operations at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Also the author of "The Da Capo Opera Manuel." Nicholas Ivor Martin and the daughter of Judith Martin and her husband Jack Abina (sp?) also co-author the Miss Manners column these days.

  • 13:23:26

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Philip in Alexandria who says, "Every time we have a meeting, our team leader feels she has to tell us all of her medical issues and the trouble her child is having in school. She goes on and on. I'm tired of hearing it. What can be done, please?" Nicholas.

  • 13:23:42

    MARTINThat must be quite a meeting. We had many questions -- and this is obviously another one about meetings out of control. It's interesting that bosses are not interested in getting some work done. And we found that the best thing to do is after the meeting to gently say to the boss, you know, we have a wonderful idea. We could probably be very productive if we skip this meeting and instead -- and fill in something from the job. But change the subject is basically the answer.

  • 13:24:13

    NNAMDIJudith Martin, when it comes to business manners, you say that we need to remember that the quote unquote "good old days" weren't really that good. Why do you think we look back with such nostalgia and why were they not that good?

  • 13:24:26

    MARTINWell, people always have to think that things must've been better sometime because we don't like the way they are now. In the old system, indeed they did practice the professional manners that we advocate. However, courtesy was only for the higher ranking people. It was not for the lower ranking people. It was not for any women who were -- people were address by their first names but expected to use honorifics when they addressed their superiors. There was a lot of nastiness going on beneath the courtesy that the higher-up people practiced toward one another. So we don't want that back.

  • 13:25:13

    MARTINOne of the things about etiquette is the -- we are plagued with the idea that we want to go back to when everybody behaved perfectly, which I would love to do if I could find out when that was.

  • 13:25:24

    NNAMDIWe got -- speaking of which, we got an email from Mairi M-A-I-R-I. It might be pronounced Mairi in Tacoma Park who says, "I'm an advanced practice nurse and a woman of a certain age. I have years of education and experience. What should I do when a young physician introduces himself as Dr. Jones and then calls me by my first name? I think respect dictates parity. Either we're on a first-name basis with each other or we're not." What do you think, Nicholas?

  • 13:25:55

    MARTINWell, it's a fascinating question because, of course, there's a different element there which is there's an office hierarchy going on. You know, there is no question that everyone at work should be treated with dignity and with respect. And frankly, it is inappropriate for her to be addressed by her first name and have the doctors referred to as Dr. So-and-so. But there is also a hierarchy issue there. And so one has to take that into account.

  • 13:26:23

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Judith?

  • 13:26:25

    MARTINWell, this is part of this oh, friendship type of thing, I can call you by your first name. Dr. do that to patients too. And I have called them on it and when I do they say, well it's friendlier, it's friendlier. Well, you're not my friend. And I always say to doctors about the patient, if you're friends either both of you have your clothes on or both of you have your clothes off, but not one and one.

  • 13:26:53

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. We move on to Ken in Gaithersburg, Md. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:27:02

    KENYes, can you hear me?

  • 13:27:03

    NNAMDIWe can.

  • 13:27:04

    KENOkay. I'm old enough to remember when etiquette was taught in elementary school and reinforced by parents who (unintelligible) kid a tip on the head if they're mouthy. And what I have found in my younger patients or even in adults is that etiquette and the foundations of everyday politeness, at least in this country, has gone straight out the window. And I'm constantly dealing with patients -- young patients whose parents are probably less well-behaved than the children. So for me, it's a constant challenge.

  • 13:27:45

    KENThe other thing is that, again, not having been brought up in this country, I was shocked to find in this country that etiquette and manners seem to be universally proportional to income.

  • 13:27:57

    NNAMDIWhat country were you brought up in?

  • 13:28:00

    KENI was brought up in Taiwan.

  • 13:28:01

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Nicholas, I'll start with you. The first issue that our caller raised having to do with etiquette being taught in elementary school. Was that your elementary school experience?

  • 13:28:14

    MARTINNo, it wasn't actually. No.

  • 13:28:15

    NNAMDIOh my. Was that something that you recall?

  • 13:28:19

    MARTINIt's supposed to be taught at home. And to put the burden on teachers, I think, is outrageous. Now a teacher can establish rules for the classroom the way a judge can establish rules of the courtroom except the judge can have people taken away if they behave badly and the teacher has more trouble with that. But that is supposed to be taught at home. And the burden on the teachers is terrible because you can't teach anything else until someone has learned to sit down and listen and follow instructions.

  • 13:28:55

    NNAMDIOur caller also made a cultural reference saying that he was raised in another county and he feels that there was some fundamental difference. What have you found in your investigation of different cultures when it comes to manners?

  • 13:29:06

    MARTINThe American influence for better and for worse is going all over the world. And American informality and so on. But also American dignity of labor and the idea of equality. So the world is getting less and less diverse in that respect.

  • 13:29:26

    NNAMDINicholas, one major challenge for a lot of people is navigating technology while maintaining their manners. And it seems one of the quickest ways to get into trouble at work is to hit reply all either when you don't mean to or don't need to. What general email tips do you think people should keep in mind for work correspondence?

  • 13:29:46

    MARTINIt is very easy to get yourself in trouble these days, not just with reply all but just pushing send too soon.

  • 13:29:53


  • 13:29:54

    MARTINAnd it's interesting that some email systems have now tried to come up with quick things where you can take it back within 30 seconds. But the underlying issue is you probably should wait before you push send and make sure you mean it, just as you shouldn't put that angry letter that you write in the middle of the night into the mail until you've slept on it.

  • 13:30:16

    NNAMDISocial media, Judith Martin, brings its own set of issues as well. And you note that perhaps the biggest among them is that we've forgotten what a friend is.

  • 13:30:28

    MARTINIndeed. And we've forgotten what social is as well. What people are doing is posting advertisements for themselves, collecting great numbers of they think admirers but also probably a lot of nasty remarks and so on. And the same thing goes as for the email that you mentioned. Don't put anything on the internet that you don't want to have to have there for the rest of your life. People have not learned that yet.

  • 13:31:00

    NNAMDIHow does one navigate the social media in which people have 5,000 Facebook friends who -- the overwhelming majority of whom they have never met and don't know?

  • 13:31:16

    MARTINOf course, because they're never been away from their computers because they're sitting there trying to collect false friends when they don't have real friends. And this has become a real problem with people lacking the skills to deal with others face to face because they had these pseudo relationships for so long.

  • 13:31:34

    NNAMDIAnd Nicholas, in the interaction we have with our Facebook friends who we don't know, does that affect the interaction we have with friends who we do know in real life?

  • 13:31:45

    MARTINI think it very much does. I think it's remarkable how much social media sites are set up, not so much to communicate as to advertise. You are posting things for your friends to look at. In other words, you're constantly sending out press releases about yourself rather than interacting with another human being.

  • 13:32:02

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call as we have this conversation on the latest book co-written by Judith Martin, the author of the Miss Manners columns and her son Nicholas Ivor Martin. The book is called "Miss Manners Minds Your Business." You can call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Travis in Vienna, Va. Travis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:32:28

    TRAVISAll right. First of all, thank you for having me. I love your show and the variety of topics you have.

  • 13:32:32


  • 13:32:33

    TRAVISMy question is, when you're trying to be as polite as possible to someone and you're not receiving the same level of politeness or etiquette back to you, I guess mainly pertaining to customer service or things of that nature. I do a lot of work with parents and they get frustrated very easily when, you know, defending their child in certain, you know, business aspects. So I guess just kind of how do you -- how would you go about that in conveying to someone that you are trying to be as polite as possible but you want to politely also let them know that you don't feel they're being polite to you?

  • 13:33:22


  • 13:33:22

    MARTINWell, you would say, we're both trying to help your child and I think if we could do this in a mutual way and a quiet way, it would work better. It's part of a huge problem where people get rude very quickly, where service people feel that they have the right to get rude back and one thing leads to another. professional manners where you do not retaliate, you speak quietly and you insist on dealing with people who aren't behaving themselves. And if they're really behaving badly you say, perhaps we should do this another time when you're feeling better.

  • 13:34:08

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Judy in Alexandria, Va. Judy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:34:21

    JUDYHi, Kojo. Love you and Judith, you as well.

  • 13:34:25

    MARTINThank you.

  • 13:34:25

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:34:26

    JUDYAnd I've known you both since I think you both started. Anyway -- which kind of dates me. Anyway, I had a job in an office a few years ago where the people were all using speakerphones to both dial and speak to the person on the other end of the line. And it was a cubicle situation where you could definitely hear when they were dialing, which is really annoying. And you could definitely hear when they were speaking, as well as the other party. And I just wanted to see what your view on that is, Judith, as well as what your advice for if you agree with me that it's not correct, how one could approach a colleague and nicely ask without getting somebody to say something mean back.

  • 13:35:12

    MARTINWell, it must have been a very noisy office. If everybody's doing it then you want to speak to a superior and say, I don't think any of us are really concentrating. If it's just one person who's doing it, you wait until they have some kind of personal phone call and then you say, you know, I'm afraid, you know, we all heard about your problems with your spouse. And you might want to go off speaker and speak quietly.

  • 13:35:39

    NNAMDISpeakerphone etiquette and one-on-one conversations, Nicholas. I know that a lot of people dial on the speakerphone, but pick up as soon as the call is answered on the other end. Is speakerphone use only appropriate if one is having a meeting using a speakerphone, or is it also in some circumstances acceptable in one-on-one conversations?

  • 13:36:03

    MARTINWell, the main problem with speakerphones has been one of comprehension. And, in fact, that helps with the manners which is that if you do find it annoying to have someone speaking to you on a speakerphone, you can say, I'm so sorry, I can't quite make out what you're saying.

  • 13:36:20

    NNAMDIIt's one of the reasons that we encourage people not to use speakerphones when calling in to this broadcast because we can't...

  • 13:36:24


  • 13:36:25

    NNAMDI...always understand what they're saying. But thank you very much for your call. Even in an age when technology replaces some face-to-face conversations, meetings still remain the bane of some office workers' existence, whether because of frequency or inefficiency. Should Robert's Rules of Order be required reading for all meeting attendees?

  • 13:36:45

    MARTINRobert's Rules of Order is an etiquette book. You need to have your rules. If that one applies, fine. And there are other such books. But, yes, if you don't have rules you're going to have the kind of meeting the reader -- the listener described earlier where you hear all about people's medical problems.

  • 13:37:05

    NNAMDIOn back to the telephones now. We go to John in Silver Spring, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:37:14

    JOHNHi, Kojo. Thanks for putting me on your show. I just wanted to say that as I was listening to you talking to Miss Manners it occurred to me -- and I grew up in New York so maybe that was part of it -- but that at least in our culture being polite and gracious tends to be what people who are subordinate to you do to you. Whereas people who are in more of a position of power tend to swagger around and say whatever they feel like. And I wonder if in our culture we confuse subordination with politeness.

  • 13:37:53

    MARTINThere are people who believe that etiquette is just making everybody else feel comfortable and letting them walk all over you, where they're very comfortable. It is not. Etiquette has its defenses. But at the same time, apparently the people you know, at least in New York, have not heard of noblesse oblige, which means that you are supposed to be even more polite to the people who are in your power than to your superiors. Where there's if you're over-polite, there's a rather nasty term for it.

  • 13:38:27

    JOHNYeah, being a yes man or sycophant...

  • 13:38:31

    MARTINOr worse, yes.

  • 13:38:32

    JOHN...or something like that, yeah. Okay. So do you agree that in our culture we seem to think that being polite is more servile?

  • 13:38:43

    MARTINWe seem to think -- I'm trying to banish these thoughts. There are people who think like that. There are rude people. That does not make it a cultural signifier, I hope, because it needs to change.

  • 13:38:57

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:38:58

    JOHNIt does seem to go along with power, don't you think, when somebody yells, when somebody pounds the table, when somebody makes a big scene? That seems to be a primal primate kind of display of power.

  • 13:39:12

    MARTINAnd their reward is when they're on the way down and the people they were insulting are on the way up.

  • 13:39:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. But I'm thinking that even as America broke away from Britain, a country which had rigid class divisions -- and we do not have those rigid class divisions -- even, it seems to me in societies with rigid class divisions, there were manners that went across lines of class, were there not?

  • 13:39:40

    MARTINYes. There were manners of respect among the classes. And the founding fathers made a deliberate decision to reject stratified etiquette like that. And thank goodness they did. But we have never really solved the problem of if everybody is equal, how do you apportion respect? And unfortunately, it's usually been, well, then we can all be rude, as opposed to then we should all be polite to one another.

  • 13:40:08

    NNAMDIWell, Nicholas, one of the hardest things to do diplomatically in any setting is to correct someone, whether that someone is an employee or your boss. Somebody comes to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and insists on referring to you maestro all the time, how do you correct that person?

  • 13:40:25

    MARTINWell, that would be confusing indeed since I'm not a maestro. But you can't really correct someone. That is the height of rudeness itself. One can certainly set a good example. It's funny that you mention maestro because we do still use that backstage for the pianists.

  • 13:40:41

    NNAMDIBut you don't insist, or does anyone insist on being called maestro?

  • 13:40:46

    MARTINIt's very, very seldom.

  • 13:40:48

    NNAMDIExcept on "Seinfeld" as I recall.

  • 13:40:50


  • 13:40:51

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on manners, and take your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. How have you resolved problems you come across at work whether with colleagues, bosses, or clients? Let us know. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:42:56

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation with Nicholas Ivor Martin. He is co-author of the book "Miss Manners Minds Your Business," with his mother, Judith Martin. She is author of the Miss Manners' columns and best-selling books. Nicholas Ivor Martin is also the director of operations at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and author of the "Da Capo Opera Manual."

  • 13:43:21

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Patsy who says, "I read Ms. Martin's column regularly and always appreciate her advice, and with my office problem, a very common one these days, is noise. We lost our private offices, and most of us are in small cubicles or packing crates as we like to refer to them. There are no doors to close off noisy co-workers who have loud personal conversations with someone in the cubicle next door. Co-workers shout at one another as they walk by.

  • 13:43:49

    NNAMDI"There's the horror of gum smackers too. Supervisors aren't helpful. Because of an ear problem, I can't wear earphones to block the noise. In other words, there's a lack the courtesy. Advice, please? Thank you." Judith Martin?

  • 13:44:02

    MARTINFunny. I had the opposite problem when I left the Washington Post. I found things too quiet because the newsroom had been very noisy, which it is no longer, but it was then. Again, I believe that the most effective way to get to people who are noisy all the time with their personal conversations is to remind them that you know an awful lot about them that they did not intend to have overheard. And that -- people retreat from that very quickly.

  • 13:44:35

    NNAMDIThey notice stuff. Dining is a realm with many of its own etiquette issues to navigate, and in this era of doing more with less, many have taken to foregoing a lunch hour and eat at their desk. How can those who do so be sure to not offend their co-workers with crunching or with strong-smelling dishes, Nicholas?

  • 13:44:57

    MARTINThat is a problem. We actually have many problems that we here about related to be people eating at their desk because they also get interrupted with work because the people who come up to them, not unnaturally think that they're still working. The way to contain smell and noise is to be aware of it and to be conscious that there are people near you, and to be considerate.

  • 13:45:19

    NNAMDIWe asked on Twitter and Facebook what people's biggest office pet peeves are. We got a tweet from Jason who says, "Inviting 10-plus people to a meeting with no particular agenda or purpose for more than an hour." Jean posted, "Leaving passive aggressive notes in the community kitchen while using annoying fonts and smiley faces." And Ryan posts, "If you kill the joe you make some mo. People who finish a coffee pot and refuse to make more are wanton scum." Well, how is calling people wanton scum because they refuse to fill the coffee pot, how does that fit in with the office environment, Judith Martin?

  • 13:45:56

    MARTINWell, it's a free-for-all as you just described. And I bring all this back to the lack of professional manners. Everybody is feeling comfortable and at ease at being their worst selves, and it makes a very unpleasant environment for everybody.

  • 13:46:13

    NNAMDIWe move onto Tali (sp?) in Fairfax, Va. Tali, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:21

    TALII'm wondering if there's any ways in which etiquette is generational. I find myself in meetings fairly often, and my younger colleagues are pulling out their iPhones and checking messages and sending texts while someone is speaking. It kind of strikes me as being very, very rude, but they seem to have no problems whatsoever about it.

  • 13:46:39

    MARTINIt's not just the young people. Everybody's got a device and everybody's got something more interesting to do than whatever is in front of them. You have to have rules, and at a meeting it would be, okay, we're all putting our electronics aside and we'll talk to each other. Keep it short and you can check your things later. There are other places where they feel fine with letting people do this, but you have to have the rules, and people have to know what the rules are.

  • 13:47:09

    NNAMDIAnything you'd like to add to that, Nicholas?

  • 13:47:11

    MARTINWe had a very interesting question where someone was having that problem because their boss was checking emails in a meeting when they were trying to talk. And what we recommended was that if the boss is checking his email, then it's fine for everyone else to as well.

  • 13:47:25

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones, and the number again is 800-433-8850. We move on now to Moondancer in Forest Glen, Md. Moondancer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Moondancer, are you there? Oh, well, Moondancer seems...

  • 13:47:41

    MARTINOff dancing.

  • 13:47:42

    NNAMDIMoondancer seems to have hung up on us. Clothes tell others a lot about us whether we like it or not, but many resent being told what to wear, and terms like business casual don't always provide a lot of guidance. Are there general guidelines for dress that people should keep in mind?

  • 13:47:59

    MARTINDress is symbolic. People keep denying that, and they say, well, I just dress to be comfortable, and it expresses my inner self and so on. And I always say, well, if you commit a big crime and you have a very good lawyer, you will find out symbolic dress is. Rock stars show up in court with haircuts and suits and ties and...

  • 13:48:21

    NNAMDIGlasses, always glasses.

  • 13:48:21

    MARTIN... or dresses, glasses, yes, because it is symbolic. That's why when there was an understood professional dress code, people knew what it was. What is business casual mean? Nobody knows. And so if you don't have a standard, and there are different standards for different professions, if you don't know what's standard, then there are going to be people who violate it and who annoy one another and who criticize one another. Bad idea. I always thought that casual Friday was a terrible idea.

  • 13:48:56

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Kate who writes, "I came to work in an educational environment, a private high school, from a corporate environment. It seems to be that rudeness gets a greater pass in education than in corporate. Any idea why? A lack of accountability perhaps?" I raise this question with you, Nicholas, because you work in an artistic environment which some people feel is a world of its own, if you will, with its own morals and its own manners, so how does that operate depending on what kind of environment you're working in, corporate or educational?

  • 13:49:29

    MARTINThe arts world certainly is a world of its own, but actually a very polite one, and I've also worked -- I worked for OMB at the White House. I've worked in for profit. When we set out to write this book, I was surprised when I thought back on it on how similar the problems were across different things. I don't think the human condition or the business situation of etiquette these days is really that different by type of job or activity.

  • 13:49:58

    NNAMDIBack to the telephone. Now we go to Steven in Silver Spring, Md. Steven, your turn.

  • 13:50:05

    STEVENThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I appreciate it. We have a intergenerational conundrum. My wife and her sisters, and all the way back as far as you go in a southern family all went to cotillion where you learned to be a proper young lady. My daughters do not want to go to cotillion. I don't think they need to go. Their grandmother is very insistent about this, will pay for it. The girls have no interest in this. I think they're doing fine. How do we politely tell her this isn't necessary?

  • 13:50:53

    MARTINYou get the girls to ask her about how it went in her day and get all sorts of fascinating stories out of her so that they know they're paying attention to grandmother and her culture. And then they say, well, of course, it's no longer like that, and I don't think you would like us to try to use manners that other people don't understand nowadays. But once they've shown the interest, that's what the grandmother wants. She wants to know that her experience was appreciated by her descendents.

  • 13:51:34

    NNAMDIWell, contrast your experience, if you will, with Bill. We'll go to Bill is Ashton, Md. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:51:44

    BILLOh, thank you, Kojo. I've listened to you for years and love you shows.

  • 13:51:49

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:51:51

    BILLMy experience is, I'm now 60 years old, but when I was 10, my parents put me in a program them that they called cotillion where you learn social manners and graces and learned how to dance and talk to young women. And I don't see anything in today's society that matches that, but it made a tremendous difference in my life in the things that I do and the way I act now.

  • 13:52:21

    NNAMDIWas there a cotillion in your life, Nicholas?

  • 13:52:23

    MARTINNo, there wasn't. But I was going to suggest, come to the opera. We're looking for supernumeraries all the time where people walk on, and one of my first jobs was when I was 10 years old at the opera here in Washington, and I learned to dance, and I learned to speak with young girls my own age, and it was...

  • 13:52:42

    MARTINAt the Kennedy Center. He was always the little kid there in the show.

  • 13:52:45

    NNAMDIAt the Kennedy Center. Thank you very much for your call. The number is 800-433-8850, as we go to Carol in Fairfax, Va. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:57

    CAROLHello, Kojo. My question is, I've -- places that I worked, I met people from different areas from the United States, and every time I met someone, they tell me that in the Washington area people are usually not friendly, rude, not kind, selfish, and that is all of them are me, me, me. So I decide -- my husband and I to travel to Seattle, Wa., and I really noticed a difference. People were so nice, so kind and so different. So I want to know a little bit from you, the experts, about that (word?) .

  • 13:53:40

    NNAMDIIn defense of being defensive, you're talking with people who are born and raised here in Washington, D.C., and a third who's been living here longer than most people who were born and raised here, but allow me to have Judith Martin respond.

  • 13:53:54

    MARTINI get this sort of insult whenever I travel. People say, how do you -- not personally, but they say, how do put up with all those terrible, rude people in Washington, and I say, how do you think they got there? I was born here. Nicholas was born here. We're not rude. There are people -- I said, you sent them here. Why? Well, of course, to get them out of wherever they live. But they are talking about -- they're not talking about Washingtonians, they're talking about people they voted for. So when they ask me, is there any way to change this? I say, yes, it's called an election.

  • 13:54:29

    NNAMDIEither people they voted for, or people who were brought here by people they voted for.

  • 13:54:33


  • 13:54:33

    NNAMDIAnd that's the problem. Nicholas, how does Chicago compare?

  • 13:54:37

    MARTINChicago's a wonderful city. It's beautiful, but it also has all of the comforts of a major city but also all the conveniences, but also all the kindness and the gentleness of a smaller community.

  • 13:54:51

    NNAMDIWhat you need to do is discover the neighborhoods of Washington. Has there been in your view a decline in civility in this town over the last decade or so?

  • 13:54:59

    MARTINNot among the real Washingtonians.

  • 13:55:01

    NNAMDIAmong the political class.

  • 13:55:02

    MARTINAmong the -- well, yes. Because a campaign is in effect a job audition, but people like to see drama and excitement and conflict. So then they're surprised when they elect the most dramatic people who are opposed to cooperation of any kind because their morals are so high, and they're surprised when they act that way when they get here.

  • 13:55:31

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. We're running out of time, so please keep your questions or calls -- or comments as brief as possible. We'll talk with Frank in Washington, D.C. Frank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:44

    FRANKHi, Kojo.

  • 13:55:45

    NNAMDIHi, Frank.

  • 13:55:45

    FRANKYeah. Hi, Kojo. Thank you very much for letting me speak with you.

  • 13:55:50

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:55:51

    FRANKYou know, my problem that I've seen where I'm from originally, which is Ghana, when you go into somebody's office, you're supposed to greet that person with good morning, good afternoon, good day, and the person is supposed to respond back to you. But what I've seen with people in this country, is when you go into the office and you greet them, they just don't even respond back. If they do, they say, what do you want, or what can I do for you. You expect them to say, hi, good morning. So that's one thing I've thing I've seen with this...

  • 13:56:21

    NNAMDIWell, you have met some obviously very impolite people in whatever line of business you're involved in because...

  • 13:56:27

    MARTINExactly so. Because the rule is the same here. You greet people, and then you begin your business.

  • 13:56:34

    NNAMDIAs I said, we're running out of time very quickly, but we have enough time to go to Lanise (ph) in Washington DC who wants to remind us that a tradition still exists here. Lanise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:56:46

    LANISEHi, Kojo. This is Lanise. I've listened to you many times and never called in. But when I heard this back and forth that there was no similar program in Washington, I did want to put in a plug for a program that my daughter goes to called Capitol Cotillion, and it is packed and sold out for this season. And it's really fun, and the kids, boys and girls, learn how to ballroom dance, and they learn manners and all kinds of things, and they love to go. So I just wanted to make sure that you knew about it.

  • 13:57:17

    NNAMDISo that my own sons and Nicholas may not have participated in a cotillion, but one certainly exists, Judith.

  • 13:57:23

    MARTINMay I say that the children who were there obviously come from parents who care about manners, and, therefore, they are learning manners also at home, and there's no substitute for that. There's no outsourcing. This may be delightful, I take your word for it, but if the parents had been rude at home, it wouldn't work.

  • 13:57:46

    NNAMDIJudith Martin is the author of the Miss Manners' columns and best-selling books. Her latest book co-written with her son is "Miss Manners Minds Your Business." Judith Martin, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:57

    MARTINIt was a delight to be here.

  • 13:57:57

    NNAMDINicholas Ivor Martin is her co-author director of operations at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He's also the author of the "Da Capo Opera Manual." Nicholas Martin, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:08

    MARTINLovely to be here.

  • 13:58:09

    NNAMDIAnd they would both neither be here were it not for the diligence and work of one Robert Martin, the chauffeur. Robert Martin is the husband of Judith Martin and the father of Nicholas and Jacobina Martin. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows