How do I tell someone they need to improve their table manners?

posted 3 years ago in Career
Post # 137
4008 posts
Honey bee
  • Wedding: October 2016

cbgg :  I think it is so insane how much crap you’re getting from other Bees about this! You have every right to mention his issues with his manners when it is interfering with his work functions. I feel bad that you’re getting so much flack for this! 

Innerdonught :  your posts are so dramatic! OP has no bad intentions here, she’s just trying to get some advice. Relax


fredthebasil :  lol you are being mean and abrasive but I agree with you completely! 

Post # 138
253 posts
Helper bee

I totally disagree with the folks who are telling you to do an office wide refresher. If one person had a serious BO problem that was impacting their work would you host an office wide seminar on cleanliness? No. Address it with him directly. Don’ beat around the bush and embarass everyone. This is the part of being a boss that sucks.

Post # 140
1215 posts
Bumble bee

I haven’t read all the other responses, but OP… I think your initial way of handling it sounds perfectly fine to me! Of course you aren’t intending to hurt his feelings… but clearly he isn’t aware of how he comes across to others and if improving his table manners gives him more of a professional polish, then there is nothing wrong with that. If it was ME that had the bad manners, I would want to know, particularly if it was interfering with my ability to be successful at work. I would be embarrased, but grateful that someone let me know rather than having years go by when people would snicker at me behind my back…. becaues you know co workers talk about you when you eat in this way. (not saying that you would purposefully make fun of him… but I am sure you are not the only one who noticed his bad manners!)

I have a co-worker (and I am NOT her boss, we are peers) who comes to work dressed like a homeless person. She literally looks like she just rolled out of bed. I have struggled with having a genuine conversation with her about this, because as smart as she is, she lacks professional credibility because she looks like a slob…. I decided to keep my trap shut about it because I think it’s my bosses job to talk to her if she thinks its necessary. In the OP’s position…. she IS the boss so I think she should say something.

FWIW…. I went on a date with a guy who didn’t use a knife at dinner. We ordered steak and he picked it up on his fork and just took bites out of it. Because it was large, he had to hold it up high and then he lowered it into his mouth. I was mortified. We weren’t at Chucky Cheese… it was a nice place. I seriously couldn’t stand it so I said, ” Please put that on your plate and cut it with your knife in small pieces.” The guy looked really surprised. He called me again and asked me on a second date and I said that I was flattered, but no. So then after an awkward pause he asks, ‘ is this because of the steak thing?’ and I said, ‘yes. it is’ . So…. that was the end of that! I often wonder if he ever took that advice to heart or if he still eats in the same way.

Post # 141
3405 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: June 2016

Let me just say that I see both sides of this debate. But to offer another perspective: as a client, I would personally not care if on a business lunch, someone failed to cut their broccolini and instead stuffed it into their mouth, especially if they covered their mouth with their hand. I cannot imagine something like that ever affecting my decision to do business with a company, unless I was hiring the company to teach etiquette classes. I cannot see myself even noticing someone’s table manners. Even if the guy spilled sauce all over himself and chewed with his mouth open, to me that is not representative of the company or product and would not cause me to question whether or not I should work with them.

Am I totally alone feeling that way? I think I must be, since no one else has mentioned that?

Obviously if OP feels that the business will be affected by his manners, then she should say something. To me, taking two minutes to discuss some basic “lunch with clients etiquette” during a staff meeting is not a bad idea. Not a seminar, just a minute or two to quickly say that table manners may affect business, so try to be careful during business lunches. Or even just sending an email. If he continues to stuff food into his mouth, she should mention it to him directly. But this is such an unusual, personal, embarassing issue. I would not say anything to him unless I was positive that it would affect business.

That said, I am a “special snowflake millennial”, so my opinions may be considered invalid. 😜

Post # 142
864 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: July 2011

SmartCookie1 :  That date story- WOW. I would have died on the spot lol.

Post # 144
2342 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: January 2015

cbgg :  my opinion- yes a fine and even helpful feedback in a date context (without being overly harsh obviously). My only concern was whether this was relevant to this to the workplace and this person’s job performance and any potential repercussions for you as a manager. Obviously this may differ greatly from my country to yours 

Post # 145
154 posts
Blushing bee
  • Wedding: June 2017

Funny enough I already had a feeling you are HR from your original post. Straight forward – you are crossing a line. You are trying to “correct” him on something that does not have anything to do with his job performance. Especially since I am assuming that this lunch is not on working hours. On top of that, I don’t understand why HR should take new employees out for lunch anyways.

Post # 146
627 posts
Busy bee

lifeisbeeutiful :  Best advice!

Don’t call him out, he’ll just feel bad. But I bet your entire office could benefit from what this bee suggested!

Post # 147
227 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: December 1969

The best time to correct him would have been at the meal itself. Don’t be flowery, just give it to him straight – “Hey, you need to cut your food when you eat so it doesn’t stick out of your mouth.” You haven’t said anything rude or incorrect. He is not cutting his food and it is sticking out of his mouth. Ideally he’ll be temporarily embarrassed and take the suggestion. That’s exactly how embarrassment/shame was meant to function, as a social tool. If you use a passive or passive-aggressive method, guarantee he’ll miss the message and everyone else will be inconvenienced.

Post # 148
2404 posts
Buzzing bee

It won’t be an easy conversation, but by speaking to him about his appalling table manners, you will be doing him a favor.  This is the kind of thing that can hold someone back professionally.  

I work with a guy who is a brilliant engineer. However, he has table manners similar to the employee mentioned in the OP, has a rather colorful vocabulary, and while his clothes and body are always clean, his appearance is extremely unkept. Wrinkled clothes, scruffy facial hair, hair not brushed/combed.  While everyone agrees he is brilliant, his manners, appearance, and lack of ability to self-censor his vocabulary is holding him back.  He doesn’t get face to face time with upper management or executives because of his…quirks.  There’s no way his manager would ever put him in a situation where he would embarrass the company.  (Before anyone asks, he has received the relevant feedback;he just thinks it’s “stupid”).

Its common for major companies to send employees above a certain level as well as employees who will be representing the company at social functions to etiquette classes and even charm school, to ensure they’re polished.  

Post # 149
819 posts
Busy bee

I can’t believe this post is 10 pages long. I am also shocked that so many people think it’s inappropriate to say something. Honestly, I would rather be embarrassed once than keep on doing something embarrassing and being clueless. I know you’ve already decided what to do. I also agree that this is a work issue and don’t see this as mothering him.

Post # 150
182 posts
Blushing bee

cbgg :  I have not read alll of the responses to know if anyone had similar advice, but I am on the fence because while I think it’s important for someone who entertains clients to know not to order messy things and to be slightly more self aware of his/her manners than say at wing night with friends, I am also not sure if this is something he could claim to be singled out about in a personal way.  Just for reference, I have a family member who is mildly autistic and when he was small he was not encouraged to use his utensils and those motor skills just never developed correctly for him, and while he is extremely bright and capable in most facets and is beneficial as a worker in many ways, even after tons of occupational therapy through his childhood and adolesence, he still cannot use utensils very well.  He interacts with new people marvelously, but if I were his boss I wouldn’t send him on a client lunch.  I’m sure in HR you have access to his files, I would make very sure he does not have anything listed for which he requires accomodations (though sadly, most people don’t list accomodations due to stigma or fear of not being hired).  

I know this may come off as passive aggressive, but one of my former managers, used to manage a smaller group of us within a larger company, and sometimes if he noticed etiquette types of issues, he would hold developement meetings with the entire group (like a dozen of us from this specific department) and he would give us all an article on the specific issue, so in your case table manners, and in this instance he probably would have had a lunch for us, and we would all be responsible for reading the article ahead and then discussing it and coming up with a plan to implement this new food for thought into our business.  If you do talk to your employee one on one, I wouldn’t lead in with “i noticed you don’t use a knife” but maybe saying, in general we all need to be very aware of our table manners when dining with clients, ordering things that aren’t extremely messy or involved and taking small bites so as not to be distracting in conversation.  I liked how one of the earlier responses mentioned putting it in a compliment sandwich.  I do believe we are too polite nowadays in many ways, but I think in an HR/management position you really have to cover your ass because most people, unfortunately, cannot handle being spoken to in a direct fashion.

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