A CERTAIN rich man whose appointment to a foreign post of importance was about to be ratified, came into the corridor of a Washington hotel and stopped to speak with a lady for a few moments. During the whole conversation he kept his hat on his head and a cigar in the corner of his mouth. It happened that the lady was the wife of a prominent senator, and she lost no time in reporting the incident to her husband, who in turn brought the matter to the attention of certain of his colleagues with the result that the appointment did not go through.
It is not unlikely that this man thinks politics played against him, whereas the only factor against him was his exhibition of ill-breeding which proved him unsuitable to represent the dignity of his country.
Etiquette would not seem to play an important part in business, and yet no man can ever tell when its knowledge may be of advantage, or its lack may turn the scale against him. The man who remains planted in his chair when a lady (or an older man) speaks to him, who receives customers in his shirt sleeves, who does not take off his hat when talking with a lady and take his cigar out of his mouth when bowing or when addressing her, can never be sure that he is not preparing a witness for the prosecution.
The above does not mean that a gentleman may never smoke in the presence of ladiesespecially in the presence of those who smoke themselvesbut a gentleman should not smoke under the following circumstances:
When walking on the street with a lady.
When lifting his hat or bowing.
In a room, an office, or an elevator, when a lady enters.
In any short conversation where he is standing near, or talking with a lady.
If he is seated himself for a conversation with a lady on a veranda, in an hotel, in a private house, anywhere where smoking is permitted, he first asks, Do you mind if I smoke? And if she replies, Not at all or Do, by all means, it is then proper for him to do so. He should, however, take his cigar, pipe, or cigarette, out of his mouth while he is speaking. One who is very adroit can say a word or two without an unpleasant grimace, but one should not talk with ones mouth either full of food or barricaded with tobacco.
In the country, a gentleman may walk with a lady and smoke at the same timeespecially a pipe or cigarette. Why a cigar is less admissible is hard to determine, unless a pipe somehow belongs to the country. A gentleman in golf or country clothes with a pipe in his mouth and a dog at his heels suggests a picture fitting to the scene; while a cigar seems as out of place as a cutaway coat. A pipe on the street in a city, on the other hand, is less appropriate than a cigar in the country. In any event he will, of course, ask his companions permission to smoke.
If you had a commission to give and you entered a mans office and found him lolling back in a tipped swivel chair, his feet above his head, the ubiquitous cigar in his mouth and his drowsy attention fixed on the sporting page of the newspaper, you would be impressed not so much by his lack of good manners as by his bad business policy, because of the incompetence that his attitude suggests. It is scarcely necessary to ask: Would you give an important commission to him who has no apparent intention of doing anything but take his ease; or to him who is found occupied at his desk, who gets up with alacrity upon your entrance, and is seemingly on his toes mentally as well as actually? Or, would you go in preference to a man whose manners resemble those of a bear at the Zoo, if you could go to another whose business ability is supplemented by personal charm? And this again is merely an illustration of bad manners and good.
One advantage of polish is that ones opponent can never tell what is going on under the glazed surface of highly finished manners, whereas an unfinished surface is all too easily penetrated. And since business encounters are often played like poker hands, it is surely a bad plan to be playing with a mind-reader who can plainly divine his opponents cards, while his own are unrevealed.
Manners that can by any possibility be construed as mincing, foppish or effeminate are not recommended; but a gentleman who says Good morning to his employees and who invariably treats all women as ladies, does not half so much flatter their vanity as win their respect for himself as a gentleman. Again, good manners are, after all, nothing but courteous consideration of other peoples interests and feelings. That being true, does it not follow that all customers, superior officers and employees prefer an executive whose good manners imply consideration of his customers, his companys and his employees interest as well as merely his own?
The president of a great industry, whose mastery of etiquette is one of his chief assets, so submerges this asset in other and more apparent qualifications, that every plain man he comes in contact with takes it for granted that he is an equally plain man himself. He is plain in so far as he is straightforward in attitude and simple in manner. No red tape is required apparently to penetrate into this presidents private office, whereas many small men are guarded with pretentiousness that is often an effort to give an impression of importance.
In this big mans employ there is an especial assistant chosen purposely because of his tact and good manners. If an unknown person asks to see Mr. President, this deputy is sent out (as from most offices) to find out what the visitors business is; but instead of being told bluntly the boss doesnt know him and cant see him, the visitor is made to feel how much the president will regret not seeing him. Perhaps he is told, Mr. President is in conference just now. I know he would not like you to be kept waiting; can I be of any service to you? I am his junior assistant. If the visitors business is really with the president, he is admitted to the chief executives office, since it is the latters policy to see every one that he can.
He has a courteous manner that makes every one feel there is nothing in the days work half so important as what his visitor has come to see him about! Nor is this manner insincere; for whatever time one sees him, he gives his undivided attention. Should his time be short, and the moment approach when he is due at an appointment, his secretary enters, a purposely arranged ten minutes ahead of the time necessary for the close of the present interview, and apologetically reminds him, Im sorry, Mr. President, but your appointment with the Z committee is due. Mr. President with seeming unconcern, uses up most of the ten minutes, and his lingering close of the conversation gives his visitor the impression that he must have been late at his appointment, and wholly because of the unusual interest felt in his caller.
This is neither sincerity nor insincerity, but merely bringing social knowledge into business dealing. To make a pleasant and friendly impression is not alone good manners, but equally good business. The crude man would undoubtedly show his eagerness to be rid of his visitor, and after offending the latters self-pride because of his inattentive discourtesy, be late for his own appointment! The man of skill saw his visitor for fewer actual minutes, but gave the impression that circumstances over which he had no control forced him unwillingly to close the interview. He not only gained the good will of his visitor, but arrived at his own appointment in plenty of time.
To listen attentively when one is spoken to, is merely one of the rules of etiquette. The man who, while some one is talking to him, gazes out of the window or up at the ceiling, who draws squares and circles on the blotter, or is engrossed in his finger-nails or his shoes, may in his own mind be finessing, or very likely he is bored! In the first case, the chances are he will lose the game; in the second, lots of people are bored, hideously bored, and most often the fault is their own; always they are at fault who show it.
When one thinks of a man who is known in politics and business as a good mixer, one is apt to think of him as a rough diamond rather than a polished one. In picturing a gentleman, a man of high cultivation, one instinctively thinks of one who is somewhat aloof and apart. A good mixer among uncouth men may quite accurately be one who is also uncouth; but the best mixer of all is one who adjusts himself equally well to finer as well as to plainer society. Education that does not confer flexibility of mind is an obviously limited education; the man of broadest education tunes himself in unison with whomever he happens to be. The more subjects he knows about, the more people he is in sympathy with, and therefore the more customers or associates or constituents he is sure to have.
The really big manit makes little difference whether he was born with a gold spoon in his mouth or no spoon at allis always one whose interest in people, things, and events is a stimulating influence upon all those he comes in contact with.
He who says, That does not interest me, or That bores me, defines his own limitations. He who is unable to project sympathy into other problems or classes than his own is an unimportant person though he have the birth of a Cecil and the manners of a Chesterfield. Every gentleman has an inalienable right to his own reservesthat goes without sayingand because he can project sympathy and understanding where and when he chooses, does not for one moment mean that he thereby should break down the walls of his instinctive defenses.
It is not the latter type, but the Gentleman Limited who has belittled the name of gentleman in the world of work; not so much because he is a gentleman, as because he is not entirely one. He who is every inch a gentleman as well as every inch a man is the highest type in the world to-day, just as he has always been. The do-nothing gentleman is equally looked down upon everywhere.
Etiquette, remember, is merely a collection of forms by which all personal contacts in life are made smooth. The necessity for a rough man to become polished so that he may meet men of cultivation on an equal footing, has an equally important reverse. The time has gone by when a gentleman by grace of God, which placed him in a high-born position, can control numbers of other men placed beneath him. Every man takes his place to-day according to born position plus the test of his own experience. And just as an unlettered expert in business is only half authoritative to men of high cultivation, so also is the gentleman, no matter how much he knows of Latin, Greek, history, art and polish of manner, handicapped according to his ignorance on the subject of anothers expertness. Etiquette, in reverse, prescribes this necessity for complete knowledge in every contact in life. Through knowledge alone, does one prove ones right to authority. For instance:
A man in a machine ship is working at a lathe. An officer of the company comes into the shop, a gentleman in white collar and good clothes! He stands behind the mechanic and curses him out because his work is inefficient. When he turns away, the man at the lathe says, Who was that guy anyway? What business has he to teach me my job? Instead of accepting the criticism, he resents what he considers unwarranted interference by a man in another class.
But supposing instead of standing by and talking about inefficiency, the gentleman had said, Get out of there a moment! and throwing off his coat and rolling up his silk shirt sleeves, he had operated the lathe with a smoothness and rapidity that could only have been acquired through long experience at a bench. The result would be that the next time he came on a tour of inspection that particular man (as well as all those who were witnesses of the former scene) would not only listen to him with respect but without resentment of his class, because his expertness proved that he had earned his right to good clothes and silk shirts, and to tell those beneath him how work should be done.
The same test applies to any branch of experience: a man who knows as much about any specialty as an expert does himself, makes the expert think at once, This man is a wonder! The very fact that the first man is not making the subject his specialty, intensifies the achievement. Everything he says after that on subjects of which the second man knows nothing is accepted without question. Whenever you know as much as the other man, whether you are socially above, or below him, you are on that subject his equal; when you know more than he does, you have the advantage.
It is not in order to shine in society that grace of manner is an asset; comparatively few people in a community care a rap about society anyway! A man of affairs whose life is spent in doing a mans work in a mans way is not apt to be thrilled at the thought of putting on glad clothes and going out with his wife to a pink tea or a ball.
Just as any expert, whether at a machine bench, an accountants desk, or at golf, gives an impression of such ease as to make his accomplishment seemingly require no skill, a bungler makes himself and every one watching him uneasy if not actually fearful of his awkwardness. And as inexpertness is quite as irritating in personal as in mechanical bungling, so there is scarcely any one who sooner or later does not feel the need of social expertness. Something, some day, will awaken him to the folly of scorning as soft, men who have accomplished manners; despising as effeminate, youths who have physical grace; of being contemptuous of the perfect English of the well-bred gentleman; of consoling himself with the thought that his own crudeness is strong, and manly, and American!
But let success come to this same inexpert manlet him be appointed to high office, let him then shuffle from foot to foot, never knowing what to do or say, let him meet open derision or ill-concealed contempt from every educated person brought in contact with him, let opprobrium fall upon his State because its governor is a boor, and let him as such be written of in the editorials of the press and in the archives of history! Will he be so pleased with himself then? Does any one think of Theodore Roosevelt as soft or effeminate because he was one of the greatest masters of etiquette who ever bore the most exalted honor that can be awarded by the people of the United States? Washington was completely a gentlemanand so was Abraham Lincoln. Because Lincolns etiquette was self-taught it was no less masterly for that! Whether he happened to know a lot of trifling details of pseudo etiquette matters not in the least. Awkward he may have been, but the essence of him was courtesyunfailing courtesy. No rough, uneducated man has command of perfect English, and Lincolns English is supreme.
One thing that some Men of Might forget is that lack of polish in its wider aspects is merely lack of education. They themselves look down upon a man who has to make an X mark in place of signing his namebut they overlook entirely that to those more highly educated, they are themselves in degree quite as ignorant.
And yet, speak to self-made men of the need of the social graces for their sons, and nine out of ten stampedefor all the world as though it were suggested to put them in petticoats. Do they think a poor unlettered lout who shambles at the door, who stands unable to speak, who turns his cap in his hands, who sidles into the room, and cant for the life of him get out again, well trained for the battle of life?
Picture that Mr. Strong Man who thrusts his thumbs into his armholes and sits tipped back in his chair with a cigar in the corner of his mouth and his heels comfortably reposing on his solid mahogany desk. This is not in criticism of his relaxation, it is his own desk and certainly he has a right to put his heels on it if he wants to; likewise thumbs and armholes are his own. It is merely a picture that leads to another: Supposing a very great man comes into Mr. Strong Mans officeone whom he may consider a great man, a president perhaps of a big industry or of a railroad, or a senatorand shortly afterwards, Strong Mans own son comes into the room. Would he like to see his son abashed, awkward, spasmodically jerky, like the poor bumpkin who came the other day to ask about removing the ashes, or worse yet, bold and boisterous or cheeky; or would he like that boy of his to come forward with an entire lack of self-consciousness, and as his father introduces him as My Son! have him put out his hand in frank and easy and yet deferential friendliness? And then saying quickly and quietly whatever it was he came to say, as quickly and quietly make his way out again? Would he be sorry that the big man thought, Fine boy that! Ability too! Why would he think he had ability? Because the ease and dexterity with which he handled the social incident automatically suggests ability to handle other situations!
Another point: Does the self-made man stop to realize that his authority in business would be even greater than it is if he had the hall-marks of cultivation? For instance, when he comes in contact with college graduates and other cultivated men, his opinions gain or lose in weight exactly in proportion as he proves to be in their own class or below it.
A man unconsciously judges the authority of others by the standard of his own expert knowledge. A crude man may be a genius in business management, but in the unspoken opinion of men of education, he is in other contacts inferior to themselves. He is an authority they grant, but in limited lines only.