Dining etiquette: 5 tips to dining confidence

In the movie Miss Congeniality starring Sandra Bullock and Michael Caine, there was a scene where Sandra Bullock’s character was chomping down steak at a fine restaurant, at which Michael Caine’s character was appalled and remarked, “I’m sorry, what was the question? I was distracted by the half-masticated cow rolling around in your wide-open trap.”

Such etiquette gaffes are not constrained to Hollywood movies. At a formal dinner in Kuala Lumpur recently, a second generation business owner not only erroneously claimed the bread on her right as her own, she chided the guest on her right who had touched the bread roll, “The bread is MINE!”. For those of us who sometimes will have problems remember which bread is yours and which drink is yours, the simple left “b” and right “d” hand [see picture] are fool proof discrete reminders in times of social emergency such as these.

Bread and Drink

 

These two scenes nonetheless reminds us that dining etiquette plays an important role in your personal and professional lives. However if you do not have access to a Henry Higgins or a Harry Hart, you are not doomed to be an uncouth Eliza Doolittle or Eggsy Unwin forever.

Here’s five easy tips to dining confidence:

  1. Think you have impeccable manners already but want to have a check? Eat alone in front of a mirror. If there are any half-masticated cows rolling around in your mouth, you will see it.
  2. When in doubt, watch the others on the table. Not sure which knife or fork to use? Watch what the majority on the table does and follow.
  3. Be sensitive to cultural norms – a quick google search will help if you are going to be in an international dining environment: for example, Westerners rarely share food off their plates unless its family style dining, Muslims eat only with their right hand, Chinese frown upon chopsticks stuck upright, Japanese do not use soup spoons, to name a few.
  4. Eating is not a race neither is it a solo journey: Do not start eating until everyone else’s food has been served, unless you are urged on; and try not to be the first or the last to finish on your table as it will hold the rest of the table back.
  5. Last, if the food is hard to eat; you will have to make a mental trade-off in your mind of whether you are going to make a mess or leave the food. Foods potentially to avoid during a business setting are french onion soup (imagine how you are going to break the gruyere cheese crouton with your soup spoon), steamed artichokes, crabs, fried chicken or even sloppy burgers.

And with that you’re equipped for your dining “Ascot”.

Bon appétit!

[Metamorphic Training offers bespoke presence and confidence executive coaching for C-level suite and candidates by senior ex-C Suite officers with international Fortune 50 experience. For more information, please email enquiry@metatrainings.com]

5 Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback Effectively

“If you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Growing up, we have probably heard that line being repeated over and over again by our parents. In Asia, people tend to avoid giving feedback, fearing that it might hurt the other party’s feelings. Yet effective feedback is a critical part in any organization’s ability to drive and improve performance.

This is why it is important to give feedback effectively. Below are some tips to help you provide feedback at the workplace:

1. Don’t beat around the bush

Confront the colleague associated with the incident once it has been witnessed. Speak in private, but be fact-based and avoid generalities. For example, “Our agreed timeline was 12 noon, but your email was at 130pm,” as opposed to “You are always late!”

2. State how the incident made you feel

Tell the other party how the incident has made you feel as a result of his or her actions. The receiving party is not in a position to deny the fact of how you feel. For example, if your colleague was late for work, inform your colleague that he or she made you feel anxious and concerned about the impact to the company and its client.

3. State future actions

Discuss with the colleague on the things that he or she can do to prevent the incident from happening again. In the example above, you can ask your colleague to give you a call to inform the team that he or she will be in the office a little later that day.

In addition to giving feedback, it is essential to receive feedback to help you see where you stand in terms of work performance. Some of the things that you should do when receiving feedback include:

1. Keep an open mind

Avoid getting defensive and wait until it is time for you speak to explain your situation to ensure that both of you are on the same page.

2. Establish future goals and action plan that can help improve your performance

Discuss with your supervisor to help you identify the things that you need to do to improve work performance and advance your career. These goals can be as simple as clocking in early for work and completing projects on time.

On a lighter note, these tips has also been proven to be effective in communication amongst spouses and significant others. 😉

Why train when people leave?

There is an oft-shared exchange between a CEO and a CFO that goes:

CFO: “Why train when people leave?”

CEO: “What happens if they don’t?”

The key learning from the exchange is that the decision to train should not be affected by potential attrition. In fact studies have shown that people do not leave companies, but they leave poor managers (Buckingham, 1999).

On the flip side, a company’s performance is driven by its managers. Thus if a company is battling an attrition issue, the logical action is first to ‘fix’ its managers.

I was once approached to provide customer service training to a hotel in tourist town, and when I asked the owner-operator if he was considering training his General Manager first, his response indicated that he felt that training his General Manager was not a good use of resources due to his resistance to change. But think about this, what if the hotel had proceeded to train the staff and having completed training goes back to an environment where expectations from the General Manager are different from what was trained? The training would not have stuck, and the training investment would not have been realized.

Here is another typical exchange when owners tell me about how they feel that their people need training.

Owner: “My people need training.”

Me: “What do they need training in?”

Owner: “They need to be better managers.”

So what constitutes being a better manager? My definition of a good manager is quite simple: an effective manager is one who is effective in driving business outcomes and retaining people.

But what are the actions and habits of managers that are effective in driving business outcomes and retaining people? How do you define and measure that?

Research has shown that employees who are in an environment with the following 7 traits belong to business units with good business outcomes and high retention rates (Buckingham, 1999). The 7 traits are as follows:

  1. They know what is expected of them at work
  2. They feel that they have the materials and equipment to perform their job
  3. They are given the opportunity to do what they do best every day
  4. In the last week, they have received recognition or praise for good work
  5. They feel that their supervisor, or someone at work, care about them as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages their development
  7. They feel that their opinions count at work

So here lies the necessity for training of the manager:

  • For the manager to deliver items 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 well; they need to possess skills that are commonly known as soft skills – yet soft do not imply easy. These are communication, coaching, problem solving and execution skills that typically require years of on-the-job training. Yet, a good starter leadership development course that is experiential that involves role-playing will be able to cultivate an awareness of the skills a manager is required to perform better.
  • With regards to item 2; these are function/technical-based training as well as tools (e.g., software) required for their jobs. This does not mean a carte blanche for managers to ask for sophisticated customization on their software. When faced with a RM20,000 software customization request once, I asked if the executive could generate an increase in revenue of RM2,000,000 with it. And when he could not make a case for an increase in revenue, the customization request was abandoned.

As for the subordinates, continued evaluation of what it takes for them to perform their current job better as well as what skills they need for a promotion demonstrate continued organizational development. Often times, in emerging markets, employees are promoted mainly because they expect a salary increase, not because they are able to perform in the role that is above them. For example, a high performing writer may not automatically perform well as a managing editor. In an ideal scenario, the Human Resources and Training Development function will be actively monitoring the progress of high-performers and be working hand in hand with business functions to craft career paths for these individuals.

So why not train to improve your business performance?

 

[Metamorphic Training offers 2 signature 5-day General Management Workshops that focuses on (1) Leadership Skills and (2) Functional Skills. Additionally a host of other workshops and ready to go courses are available. We also offer training needs analysis to ensure that any training investment is focused. For more information: www.metatrainings.com]

Works Cited

Buckingham, M. a. (1999). First, Break All the Rules. London: Simon & Schuster.

 

 

To quit or not to quit: The truth about goal-setting

When I first started college, I declared mathematics as my major because I thought that was the right decision at that time – I didn’t know what I wanted to do and math was one of my strongest skills. After pursuing the course for almost four semesters, I soon found out that I did not enjoy math after all, and that was reflected on my grades.

By the time I realized that I was in the wrong major, I had already done two years’ worth of schooling. That was when I thought to myself – should I continue pursuing mathematics since I was already half way through my major? Or should I switch my major and use my time doing something I truly enjoy?

What about those two years, where countless hours were already spent studying and completing math courses? If I change my major, there was a chance that I might graduate later than my peers.

I was torn between the two years that I had spent in school (sunk cost) and the things that I could be doing should I decide to change majors (opportunity costs).

It was a tough decision to make, but I ended up changing majors and graduated within two years.

The main reason that I was able to graduate within two years even after changing my major was because I had set my mind to achieve that goal. Goals are important because they give you a sense of direction in life. Setting a goal is the easy part.

Following up with that goal, however, is another thing altogether.

For example, if you are working on a fitness goal, it is easy to give excuses to skip your workout session. Below is a 3-step routine that I have found helpful in following through goals:

Step 1: Prepare your workout gear the night before. On the day of your workout, break down the steps of your morning routine by getting out of bed, washing your face and putting on your exercise clothes.

Step 2: Monitor your performance. For instance, you can observe your fitness level by looking out for improvements such as running at a longer distance within a short space of time. As you get closer to your goal, employ different tactics to mix up your workout routine so that it does not become mundane.

Step 3: Celebrate your achievement with rewards that are aligned with your goals. For example, instead of cheating on your next meal, you can buy new clothes that you can now fit into as a form of reward.

This principle of goal-setting also applies to business and management. A classic example is providing training in sales to café employees:

  1. Start with smaller and more attainable goals such as teaching employees on the right way to greet customers.
  2. Acknowledge employees’ success and set the next round of goals by introducing new tactics of selling to keep employees interested in the training.
  3. Celebrate employees’ success with congruent rewards such as “free drinks” for employees who perform well.

When you feel like slipping after setting a goal for yourself, remind yourself of why you set the goal in the first place. If you really want to give up, then the goal that you have set for yourself may not be a good fit for you or may not be worthwhile after all. In life, we need to know when it is time to quit. In my case, the emotional cost of pursuing something that I love offsets the sunk cost of spending those two years in the wrong major.

Quitting does not mean failure. It may be a sign for you to revisit your goals so you do not regret your action 10 years later knowing how far you have come.

Getting awareness to change

I recently watched the movie Freaky Friday, a story about the strained relationship between a mother and her daughter and how they resolved their issues. My favourite part of the show was when the two characters switched souls and woke up in each other’s body. It was not until the switching happened that both realized the other person’s life is not as perfect and easy as they initially thought. Once they were aware and understand the challenges faced by each other, only then their souls were switched back and their issues resolved. After the souls were switched back, their attitude towards each other changed for the better and the mother-daughter relationship was restored.

The story above shows how important it is to have awareness in our daily lives. Awareness is the ability to be conscious of your current situation and realize whether or not change is needed to improve that situation. In the movie, both mother and daughter became aware of the challenges faced by each other only when they start living in each other’s shoes. Believe it or not, people get awareness to change when bad things happen (in the case above, when both protagonists switched bodies and had to live each other’s lives). This is because when the situation is at its worst, people will do almost anything to get out of it, knowing that they have nothing to lose since by that time, they have probably lost everything. A classic example is the predicament faced by major corporations during financial crisis, where some will survive, while others collapse. The companies that last survived because they were aware of their situation and decided to make changes such as developing new procedures and revisiting company values.

Awareness involves changing your current belief of what you think is the right way to do things. In order to develop awareness, you have to get to know yourself and reevaluate your values. You have to be able to view things from a different perspective and most importantly, keep an open mind in this process.

As a result of awareness, you will either decide to make a change, or choose to stay in your current situation. The choice is yours. If you decide to make a change, be prepared to go through ambiguous circumstances, where at times things may be difficult, but you will grow from your experience. You can also choose to stay in your comfort zone, but there is little opportunity for growth. It is when you go through tough times that you will actually make progress.

Here’s a short exercise for you. Ask yourself the following questions to analyze and be aware of your current business situation:

  • In the last year, have your business objectives and targets been met? If yes, congratulations! You are on the right path.
  • If not, have you and/or your team been doing the same activities? I.e.,
    1. Have you and/or your team reviewed your business processes and sought improvement opportunities? Do you have discussions about this and craft plans to be implemented?
    2. Have you performed a market / competitive analysis?
    3. Has anyone attended training or development? And if yes, have they applied the knowledge back in their day-to-day work? How is this tracked?

If you had answered “No” to any of these 3 questions; while you are not meeting your business objectives; you should probably be aware by now that there is a case for trying out new things that may lead to change.

The 3 prerequisites for change

In our previous blog post, we discussed about taking the first step toward change and why it is important to take this step. In this post, we will focus on how managers can take this step.

There are three prerequisites for change:

  • Awareness: Awareness for the need to change that comes from within.
  • Desire to change: Once you are consciously aware that you need to make a change, you have to decide whether or not to actually go ahead with the change.
  • Capacity/skills: When the decision to make the change is supported by the desire to change, you can then put together an action plan to make it happen.

Exhibit A: Wendy passed away due to diabetes. She was overweight and although family members urged her to lose weight, she would not listen to the advice and insisted that her flab was flesh or muscle. As a result, she did not lose a single pound until the day she passed.

It is human nature to resist change, especially if they are comfortable with what they are used to. Change is scary, and more often than not, painful. In order to gain awareness for change, observe your current situation and ask yourself questions such as what are the advantages and risks that are involved in this change? What will the company gain and what will it lose?

Exhibit B: John was diagnosed with gout. Although he is aware of the excess weight that contributed to his medical condition, he is still adamant of not wanting to change his diet. Maybe he will get to a point where he finds the desire to change, maybe he won’t, but awareness on its own is insufficient unless there is desire to change.

Once you have realized that change is necessary for your company, you have to make an informed decision to make the shift toward something better. This is what we call the desire to change. It is a decision that only the individual can make when he or she understands that the gain from change outweighs the fear of stepping out from his or her comfort zone.

Exhibit C: Susan is trying to lose a fair amount of weight. She is restricting calories; but still consumes white bread for lunch, thinking it is a good diet food. Those who have successfully shed pounds know that white bread is a definite no-no when trying to lose weight because it represents refined sugar that causes insulin spikes and subsequent hunger pangs. This illustrates that awareness and desire need to be coupled with the right knowledge or skill (depending on the circumstance) before change happens.

In order to make the change, the individual has to be equipped with the capacity to physically take action for a better outcome. From fixing prices to hiring the right people, you need to do everything in your power to make the change.

Change may not be comfortable at first, but there are many resources that managers can use to alleviate the pain of making the change. Metamorphic Management is an example of a free resource site that houses a collection of proven management practices and tools that enable companies to take the next growth step.