Etiquette Bank

03 May 2012

Courtesies - Holding the door for the person behind you

Walking through a door to enter into an office for an official assignment may be foremost on your mind to the extent that you are oblivious to the people around you. Whatever your mission and however urgent it may be, a public place requires due consideration for the other people in close proximity to you.

In this article, the discussion is centred on the process of walking through a door. A scenario would be Mr A wanting to enter a Bank to withdraw funds from his account. He is probably preoccupied with the transaction ahead and may not notice the people ahead of him or behind him.  If you walk through a swing door with the mindset just described, the likelihood is that you will just push the door, get in and walk off to the presence of the nearest cashier. However, if you are only concerned with what you are about to do in the bank, you may not fully realise that the simple process of handling a door well may leave a good or bad impression of you.

If anyone walks through a swing door without thinking of the next person on the line, it is very possible that the door would swing back with full force and may hit someone else in the face. This unfortunate 'someone else' would be the man or woman who happens to be standing behind you. This means your simple indifference to the person behind you may result in the door slamming shut on their face or even hitting the person.  Sadly a door does not discriminate who it hits in the face so it may be the chairman of the company or the sweet lady who works at reception that bears the brunt of your indifference.

The lesson here is to always hold the door for the person coming behind you. This applies to both male and female; it is a simple courtesy that transcends gender, age or social status. It is applicable to everyone.
Most people do not go out planning to be rude, nasty or to hurt people around them. However, our actions speak a completely different language and indict us even when we mean no harm. This makes it incumbent on us all to make the effort to be considerate to people around us. As this discussion relates to doors, the lesson here is to never assume there is no one behind you when you approach a door.

In fact it is best to assume there is someone coming behind you and hold the door for them. If it turns out that there is no one close to you then you can safely let go of the door knowing that no one would get hurt.
The converse to the above is to assume there is nobody behind you and allow the door to return to its original position only to discover that it has swung its full weight and shut in the face of your work colleague. If you are not very lucky, it may be in the face of the company chairman or your interviewer who will decide if you are to be given the job.

The need to form the right habit cannot be overestimated. When it becomes second nature to you, it would not matter who is behind you as you would do it by rote. This is the place where everyone of us must seek to reach. The place is where we do the right things habitually.

Remember that doing things right would differentiate you and set you on the path of promotion. Here are few tips regarding dealing with doors at home, in the work place and everywhere else you come across a door:

  • ·         As you walk through a door, think of the person behind you.
  • ·         You need more than a thought though, you need to consider them and act accordingly.
  • ·         Acting accordingly means holding the door with one hand as you pass through the door.
  • ·         The above should not affect your passage, or increase the time spent at the door.
  • ·         You are not required to hold the door open for all to pass through except this is your job.
  • ·         If you are a gentleman, you may find it in order to open the door to allow a lady to go through   first.
 We all benefit when we do things right!

31 March 2012

‘Excuse me’ rather than 'Sorry' - Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time

We all know that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are two magic words that set people at ease, and make life easier for everyone. Whatever you may believe about these words, saying the right thing at the right time can open doors and resolve major problems. The African culture places huge importance on words; it is said that “the right words can bring out kolanuts from a friends pocket.”

Just like the two magic words above, ‘excuse me’ is a short key phrase that can also differentiate a person. An appropriate use will show the user is courteous and well mannered. There are occasions where the right display of manners is to say to someone ‘excuse me’ rather than having to apologise profusely after an irrational or thoughtless behaviour.

Unfortunately, this latter situation is what appears to be common. An example is a case where there is a small crowd in a banking hall or at a supermarket checkout. Here comes Mr Olu whose main pre-occupation is how to cash his cheque or pay for his goods. He looks around and realises that he needs to navigate his way through the crowd to the extreme right to see Miss Emeka, the Customer Services Supervisor/Cashier. Mr Olu then begins to push his way through the crowd until he gets to the Customer Service desk. As his body brushes against other people, they start to complain about being pushed. Eventually everyone was complaining about his behaviour and raining abuse on this ‘rude’ man. Mr Olu is embarrassed and he is forced to say sorry as all eyes are fixed on him.

The lesson here is that Mr Olu did not need to go through the harsh and embarrassing experience only to start apologising. He needed to simply say ‘excuse me’ in order for the people to move out of his way. This is certainly a more civilised and polite way to get through a crowd than pushing people out of the way.

A parallel can be drawn with the life lesson of being proactive. It is always better to confront and handle the matters of daily living rather than avoiding them and pretending they would go away. So many people ignore serious issues that require urgent attention, hoping that by doing so they can escape the difficult reality of the situation. In the event that this backfires, they are quick to offer an apology to their spouse or neighbour or whoever was wronged. What happens in such cases is that the matter becomes worse, and what was thought to be slightly difficult turns into chaos and sometimes calamity. At this point ‘sorry’ does nothing to repair the damage that has been done.

It is always better to have the mindset of taking responsibility for life issues rather than saying a meaningless sorry after the damage has been done. An example is Mr Yusuf, a client who has scheduled a meeting with Mr Bakare, a solicitor. Having realised he could no longer make it to the meeting at the arranged time, he did nothing, and procrastinated on calling Mr Bakare to either cancel or reschedule the meeting. Mr Bakare is completely unaware that Mr Yusuf would not be available and he turned up as planned.

After waiting for 45 minutes, Mr Bakare placed a call to find out Mr Yusuf’s whereabout, only for him to start apologising that he could no longer make the meeting. “Sorry, I’m so sorry,” he says. Sorry in this case clearly means nothing as the appropriate path Mr Yusuf should have taken would be to inform Mr Bakare once he realised he could no longer make the meeting. At the very least a text message to alert Mr Bakare would have sufficed.

Somehow many people choose the ‘apologies’ or ‘sorry’ path rather that the ‘excuse me’ path. In cases where money is involved, this is even worse as debtors rarely make the move to reassure the lender when they can not meet a commitment to pay their loan. It is always better – though not an easy task – to tell your lender “I am unable to pay as I promised, please give me two more weeks.” Rather than do this, they avoid their creditors or disappear and turn a salvageable issue to a friendship-destroying calamity.

A few points to consider are below:

  • Saying ‘excuse me’ is always better than apologising later.
  • In the same vein, doing the right thing at the right time is always better than apologising later.
  • Carefully and sensibly deal with issues before they become a disaster. He who fights and runs away, as they say, will live to fight another day.

· The key is to be proactive, think ahead and choose to do the right thing always.

· Do not use sorry as a means of getting away from facing the consequences of your actions.

· Let your sorry be when you truly regret something not as an afterthought.

· Put yourself in the position of the other person and decide how you would rather a situation be played out.

We all benefit when we do things right!

29 February 2012

The Wedding that Wasn't

Since the announcement by Tunji Olu-Blair of his engagement, there had been a buzz in the Olu-Blair family. In the four weeks preceding the ceremony, various family members and friends of Tunji’s mum have been visiting to pick up their respective ‘aso-ebi.’ A particular one stands out, this is the lace material with big motifs of pink flowers on a silver background exclusively chosen for a few, well-heeled friends of the groom’s mother.

Even the city is bracing itself for this society wedding; the press is poised to make a song and dance of this event. It’s a big wedding and most people would covet an invitation. Tunji’s father wrote the cheque for the final instalment of the event manager’s fees last week. This much sought-after contract is being organised by ‘Bobbah’ the premiere events company in Lagos.

The groom is also excited to have bagged a well-educated and hardworking young lady as a bride. Angela, his fiancĂ©e has just completed her master’s programmes and has secured a job at a blue-chip company in Lagos. She is slim, beautiful and truly the kind of wife that would make any man proud. Angela is also from a well respected family of medical practitioners; her parents run a well known hospital in the city.

For his wedding suit, Tunji travelled all the way to Germany where he also bought the suits for his six groom’s men. His bespoke shirt and tie were commissioned from a well known tailor on London’s Savoy Row.

However, 48 hours to the wedding, this preparation and joy was abruptly cut short after Tunji called off the wedding. The buzz in the Olu-Blair family has been replaced with a sudden quietness. The loud music and flow of visitors have disappeared, replaced with a mellow, sombre almost depressing mood.

Why was the wedding called off? The sudden turn around in situation was caused by what should have been a minor part of the process set out by the bride’s church for those seeking to get married. Both the bride and groom were required to go through an eight-week marriage counselling which is the church’s method of setting the right foundation for each marriage. At the end of the eight week, a few older women usually complete the counselling session by answering any question which the bride may have relating to her role in the marriage. This is also the opportunity for a urine sample to be collected in order to conduct a pregnancy test to ensure that the bride is not pregnant before the ceremony. In Angela’s case, it came out positive.

The positive pregnancy test result was a blow to the groom. This is because Tunji and Angela as part of their Christian faith had pledged to each other to remain pure till their wedding day. In the two years of their courtship, Tunji had never as much touched or slept with Angela and she could not deny this fact either. Angela on the other hand had carried out sexual liaisons with other men. The embarrassment to both families was huge.

This is a true life story. Imagine all the various aso ebis, and all the money which had gone into the preparation for this amazing wedding. Even harder to imagine is the horror of the experience to the families involved and the pain which the groom and the bride went through as this gradually became public.

Horrible as this may sound, many ladies have been caught in this type of situation because of their choice of lifestyle. Many have formed the habit of dating and sleeping with more than one man at a time. It is safe to assume that Angela certainly did not want to go through this embarrassment. However, her lifestyle which she may have successfully managed and kept secret has now become a public disgrace. It is possible that Angela did not know she was pregnant; it is also possible that she knew and planned to go into the marriage with her secret hoping that not even her new husband will find out.

The only way to avoid the above scenario is to clean up any moral habit unbecoming of a decent person. No one deserves to go through such a painful disgrace that the couple and their families experienced, so no one should engage in such behaviour as Angela’s.

The issues of honesty, integrity, truthfulness and commitment between courting young people come into play here. Many young men are afraid to get into serious relationships because they believe there are no serious ladies around to date. This makes it easy to perpetuate the wrong of cheating, lying and deception amongst young people.

Some people have been hurt by those they trusted, some scarred so badly that they are determined to do no good to anyone they meet. Sadly it is a case of wickedness begetting wickedness. No one wins in cases like this.

A few points to consider:

  • Do not deceive anyone with whom you have a relationship. As they say “what goes round comes around.”
  • If you do not like a lady or man, do not enter a relationship with them, as some people do, hoping to find a more appropriate partner person along the way. It often backfires like the above story.
  • Learn to be content with what you have; the quest for money and material possessions can make people get involved in relationships for the wrong reason and even with the wrong person.
  • Never date two people at the same time. Do to others as you want them to do to you.
  • Trust is the bedrock of a marriage, do not lay a foundation of lies in your relationship, it will only beget more lies and deception.

We all benefit when we do things right!

26 January 2012

Taking pride in your vocation Part 2

Zero to 100km/hour in five seconds is a common phrase amongst those in motor racing sports like Formula 1. This refers to the speed of a highly sophisticated racing car built solely for the purpose of competing against other cars in a Grand Prix at extremely high speeds. This concept of going from zero to 100 km/hour in an extremely short time should however be limited to racing cars alone. The reality of life is that most things are not instant; they are planned and brought to maturity over time.

Pregnancy is a classic example of a venture that needs time to mature. A person who wants a child would need to take the time to first conceive, then wait for nine months as the baby matures in the womb. The baby is only successfully brought to the world after the right length of time when all the organs are developed and are functioning well.

For the vast majority of people in a career or business, there is no such thing as ‘hitting it’ or ‘making it big’ overnight. Achieving success or wealth usually comes from having developed and perfected a skill and then becoming renowned in it. A renowned person is sought for his expertise and can call the shots when it comes to fees. People will be willing to part with large sums of money for the privilege of having you design their home, organise their party or manage their company if you are exceptionally good at what you do.

Whilst talent may help you to identify an area of a passion or interest which can be turned into a business, you will however need much more than talent to keep a business going and to make any serious money. This is where commitment, expertise, diligence, patience, hard work, financial prudence and wisdom come in. These are the virtues that make a person go from ‘zero to 100’ within in a few years. In other words, luck, blaming others, and prayer with no action must make way for virtues that bring success.

Let us take a further look at some of the virtues that will propel your career or business into the big league:

Diligence – constant and earnest effort to accomplish a task or project. It means regular effort and focus on a task. It should become a way of life for the person who wants to succeed in a career or business. Being an entrepreneur, although attractive, is not always easy; you need to carry on working and believing in yourself even when everyone else does not.

Patience – is required to nurture seeds to maturity. The misnomer of instant success has hampered this virtue, yet it is a much needed virtue that everyone must adopt for their diligence and expertise to be appreciated by the world. As they say, Rome was not built in day. If you are good, the whole world will notice you. It might just take some time for the word to get round to everyone, but it sure will.

Prudence – Some people marry new wives and purchase many cars when they have made some money from their business although the flow may not yet be steady. Perhaps a lucrative contract had come in unexpectedly and there is more money than previously was. Rather than reinvest and expand, many people deceive themselves and act as if they have arrived. To sustain a business for the long run, it will be irresponsible to splash out money anyhow.

Expertise – This is what it takes to become the best. Expertise is gained from experience and constant development. If you are not the best, you cannot realistically expect people to come and spend their money on your product or service. Everyone desires that the service they pay for be rendered efficiently. If I enlist the services of a caterer, I would expect that it would be food that is delicious and very well presented. It is therefore crucial for any business to have the expertise needed and also to offer a perfect service. Customers who are happy will tell others and bring in more business. Customers who have been disappointed will tell others too.

Hardwork - This is the icing on the cake of all the above principles. A person who runs a business or has a career in another person’s business must be prepared to go the extra mile. This includes being hands-on in order to deliver an expert job. There is no room for doing the minimum and expecting to get referrals.

In conclusion, taking pride in your vocation means that you give your best and develop yourself to such a level that your work will speak for you. Success in life is not usually by chance. Although there is no one way or definite direction to success, the principles above are common to those who have succeeded in their chosen fields.

There is dignity in labour, regardless of what you do, give it your best and the sky is your limit.

We all benefit when we do things right!

10 November 2011

Taking pride in your vocation 1

Having the right attitude to work can be a determining factor in the success or failure of an individual or business. Often people find themselves in a job that is not their initial choice, or something they may not like to do. Let’s consider for example the case of Ade, who successfully completed a degree in Business Administration, with the expectation of getting a job managing a department in an international business. Having job-hunted for one year without success, he is forced to take up the only job on offer with a local business that sells flowers and birthday cakes. Ade hopes that he would only have to do this for a few months before he gets a more attractive offer. This is the real life experience of so many young people today. They have worked hard to study and pay for a university education only to graduate and have to face unemployment or under-employment with their pressure and pain.

In a situation like this, the tendency is to take any frustration out on the people around you. Many people in Ade’s shoes would consider their fill-in job as substandard and would give it ‘substandard’ commitment. Their attitude would be ‘When I get a job that suits my qualifications, I would give it my best effort and commitment.’ However, they often lose out in the end as they may not get the dream job sooner enough and they also lose out on the opportunities that may open with the present job.

My point is this article ‘there is dignity in labour.’ Whichever vocation you may find yourself, whether it is temporary or for the long term, it is imperative that the best attitude and effort is applied. Far too many people lose out on further opportunities and promotion because they consider some jobs as beneath them. To succeed there need to be a change of attitude to recognise that there is dignity in labour, and to appreciate whatever vocation you are in and what others do as well.

The reality of our country and the experience of many people is that there are not enough white collar jobs to go round all the people who will graduate from university each year. To compound this matter, there is also stiff competition from people who have graduated from foreign universities and are coming back home to seek employment. Therefore, many job seekers may need to follow in the footsteps of successful entrepreneurs of our time by starting businesses and becoming employers of labour.

There are a few examples of people in our society who have gone from nothing to owning successful businesses and becoming millionaires in vocations that many may consider odd. The common thread amongst these people is the hardwork they put into business and the excellent spirit and passion with which they pursue their choice of work. The most recent example I heard is of a woman who was a house-help who has now moved on to become an wardrobe-arranger because she has a skill in this area and has given it her attention. She has become known in this vocation and there is a demand for her services. Demand for your service means the privilege to name your price and to choose what you want to do, how you want to do it and when it is convenient. This is a good place to be in business but no one gets there by chance, it is only through dedication.

There is also the story of the man who is the king of small chops (finger food); he is at every notable party as he serves his small chops hot. They are cooked at the venue to ensure top quality service; his dedication has paid off after many years of consistent effort and he is now a very successful gentleman.

There are makeup artists who have excelled to the point that they are unable to cope with demand. There are caterers, florists, cake decorators and hairdressers who have become millionaires. The common thread is that they did not consider any of these vocations as too low. They often started small and gave their very best.

I will like readers to ponder on the following:

  • Whatever your hands find to do; do it well.
  • Do not regard any vocation or job as beneath you, there are untapped opportunities in our economy.
  • Work is better than handouts; don’t denigrate anyone trying to eke out a living whatever they may be doing provided it is legal and moral.
  • If you start small, and are devoted to excellence, you will strike it big one day.
  • Any vocation can be turned to success; don’t forget the small chops man, the wardrobe arranging woman, or the make-up artists, all of whom have made it big.
  • Don’t copy other people, identify a need and go for it.

We all benefit when we do things right!

01 September 2011

Beyond the University Degree - Developing Skills for Life

For so many school pupils, the greatest challenge that presents itself is that of passing exams and getting into university. The ‘challenge’ of WAEC, GCE, NECO and JAMB is so real that everything else fades in the light of passing these examinations. Sadly, only a minority are able to wade through these treacherous waters to secure admission into a university. For these ones, the belief is that their future is set and all that needs to be done is to stay afloat for four to five years, pass all exams and come out with a reasonable class of degree.

However, in today’s world, nothing can be further from the truth. Anyone who still treasures such a belief is living in cloud cuckoo land. The reality of our world is that things have changed so greatly in the last 20 years and anyone who wants to survive must understand how the world now works. The value of a degree has certainly diminished for a variety of reasons. One is the unfortunate decline in standards of education; this has not been helped by the incessant strike actions by lecturers due to pay issues and conditions of work. There is also the issue of examination malpractices, a high level of leaked examination papers and impersonation. All these have contributed to fallen standards in education which has taken a toll on the employment market. It is a fact that education in Nigeria is largely academic and it appears that this trend will continue.

The sheer number of people who graduate from university each year in Nigeria and also in other countries has also increased employment competition. As the world has become a global village, anyone can apply to any job from anywhere in the world. This means that a Nigerian university graduate applying for work at an oil company in Lagos is in competition with other Nigerian graduates from Ghana or even from Canada. Frankly, the competition in Nigeria is keen enough with so many thousands of graduates from across the country going for the same few jobs.

This scenario is not peculiar to Nigeria, many other parts of the world including Europe and the Americas are also experiencing a global meltdown which has reduced the number of opportunities available. The reality is that not enough jobs is being created to go round making it imperative for anyone who wants to get a decent job to be multi-skilled. It is no longer enough to have a good degree, it is absolutely necessary to gain other skills directly or even indirectly relevant to your degree.

Basic life skills are extremely important too as they make a difference to what a person can offer. Today’s employers now extend their interests beyond well educated geeks who can only sit by a computer to intelligent programmers with good interpersonal skills who can also relate well to clients. Life skills are basic skills which are necessary to function in life. Often these are simple transferrable skills that can be employed in any sector once acquired.

Life skills are non-negotiable if a person intends to amount to anything in life and includes timekeeping, organising and planning, relating to people, speaking in public and being proactive. These skills can be used anywhere in almost any job and they enhance your college degree.

Interestingly, these skills can be learned without possessing a degree. You can even function with these skills exclusively in many jobs with or without a degree. An example would be if you have a job as an executive PA, there are hardly any specific skills which you need to learn at university to function in this role. There are however, many other skills like planning, organising and interpersonal skills which are crucial to this kind of job. Theses same skills can be enlisted in managing a building project. Assuming this PA is offered a job in a property development company as a project manager, the PA skills will simply be transferred to manage this project effectively.

In the above example, the new project manager will apply his timekeeping, planning and organising skills to ensure that the architects, engineers and artisans work to timescale with deliverables to show for it.

This same person can work in logistics - managing coca cola goods from production to distribution across the country.

The points below will further illustrate the objective of this discussion:

  • A degree is no longer sufficient to make headway in life.
  • With increased global competition for work, you need additional skills to give yourself an edge in life.
  • Everyone needs to complement their degree with basic life skills.
  • Employers are increasingly looking for people with these life skills and you will do yourself good by developing them.
  • It’s never too late to start developing yourself in this area. For example if you read widely, you will begin to develop your communication skills.
  • Start to be genuinely interested in people and you will develop interpersonal skills.

We all benefit when we do things right!

31 May 2011

Avoiding the culture of ‘entitlement’

Africans are known to be hospitable and have a sense of community. We believe that a whole village raises a child, so everyone looks out for the person around them. This is even more so within families where any of the older siblings can assume the responsibility of raising younger siblings. This often goes beyond the case of a nuclear family and extends to aunties, uncles and second and third cousins. Even in cases where there isn’t any particularly definable family tie, a successful relative is expected to share in the responsibility of ‘helping’ younger and struggling family members.

Whilst this is a noble idea that has worked well over many decades, it has also become a case of people believing that they have an ‘entitlement’ to certain benefits and privileges from their well to do relatives. I have seen cases where a family member secures a job in an oil company and has the ‘misfortune’ of rising to a senior post. The 'misfortune' is due to the fact that his siblings, cousins and extended family members all believe that he has the power to find them work in the same company. He is declared a persona non grata if he doesn’t deliver.

It does not matter that the person in need of work is not qualified for the job to which he aspires or that there is a procedure for interview that must be followed including sitting for a written examination. What they believe is that having a relation who works in ‘Chevron’ automatically negates the need to excel academically and to strive to pass the interview. The ‘Chevron’ uncle becomes an enemy because he failed to deliver a fantastic job. Sadly, this may not be the opinion of just one person as this uncle may have many brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, first cousins, and second cousins.

The mentality that people are entitled to some benefit from a family member or even a close older friend who is wealthy often destroys family and friendly relationships. Sometimes it is a case of a young person who becomes acquainted with an older person in their community or religious setting. It could also be a technician who visits a house to carry out maintenance work or domestic workers within a home. It may be a mentee to mentor relationship. It may even just be someone who has extended a helping hand to a young person in their time of need. In many of these relationships, a person who believes he is not as well to do as the other assumes that he has an eternal ‘entitlement’ to help, money or other privileges from the person who is at the ‘higher end’ of the relationship.

There is nothing wrong in asking for assistance from anyone who is in a position to offer it. It is however absolutely imperative that one seeks such assistance within reason to avoid destroying relationships that would have been otherwise mutually beneficial. It is important to start from the position that no one owes you anything. This means the wealthy uncle, aunt or cousin may or may not be able to assist you financially or get you a job. If they are able to do so, of course, this should be appreciated. If however they are unable to do so for whatever reason, there should be no hard feelings.

Even if they are perceived to be stingy or mean, it is still their prerogative whether they give out money or not. It is only fair that they are allowed the privilege of making such a choice freely. No one has a right to another man’s pocket, even if the pocket is running over with money. It is the choice of the owner of the pocket where he offloads his overflowing pocket.

Having a mindset that there are no ‘guaranteed entitlements’ would mean that a person is set free to relate well with others without expecting anything in return. If there are no expectations, there is no disappointment and no damaged relationships. An entitlement means ‘the right to guaranteed benefits.’ In many Western countries, only the government can offer this type of guarantee for example in welfare programmes that guarantees a small income to purchase food and ensure survival for their unemployed citizens. Individuals should not and can not be expected to offer such guarantees.

Sadly, many relationships end abruptly when an unreasonable demand has been made. An example is a young person who decides he wants to start a business and needs a sum of 300,000 naira to do so. He writes out a plan of how to get this money by writing a list of people who he thinks has the money. Usually the criteria for choosing these people would be the size and brand of their cars, the size of their homes or their lifestyle. The reality is that these factors can be highly misleading in judging someone’s pocket. The fact that a person appears rich doesn’t mean they have money in their pocket. Placing a huge demand on them will strain a relationship as often the person who is assumed to be rich may be scouting for money for children’s school fees or rent that is due. Making such a request makes a person uneasy as they ponder over why such a large sum is being requested and the dilemma of how to convince people they do not have the money. It is never a pleasant experience.

The truth is, a big car does not equal a big bank balance. A big, cosy house may not necessarily mean the person has liquid cash either. Let’s avoid the culture of entitlement as it only destroys relationships.

We all benefit when we do things right!