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Business

Five Questions for business author Richie Frieman

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Business author Richie Frieman has studied fine arts at the University of Maryland, launched a music-focused Internet magazine, written children's books, invented a device that keeps shirt collars crisp and created a pop culture-inspired children's clothing line — Charm City Babies.

He even toured the Mid-Atlantic as a professional wrestler, retiring in 2008.

So what does all of that have to do with good manners?

Frieman, author of workplace etiquette book "Reply All … And Other Ways to Tank Your Career," considers himself an artist first and foremost. That's led to a variety of careers, including one as manners and etiquette columnist "Modern Manners Guy." Since 2010, the Owings Mills resident has hosted the weekly column and podcast for a Macmillan Publishing advice website called The Quick and Dirty Tips Network.

After three years as an advice columnist, Frieman was tapped to write "Reply All." Since its release last fall by St. Martin's Press, it has become a top Amazon.com best seller in three categories, Business Etiquette, Business Lifestyle and Self-Help & Psychology Humor.

Frieman talked with The Baltimore Sun about good and bad behavior in the business world.

What kind of etiquette-related lessons do you offer workers, managers, business owners through your book? What kind of help do you think they need most?

Being mannerly is not all white-glove, Downton Abbey, aristocratic or snobbish behavior. People tend to associate a "proper" person as someone having a certain level of wealth, or dressing like they're going to Lyric every night for the ballet. This is not what having manners means. Wealth and status do not make you classy.

One lesson I stress in "Reply All" is that it's one thing to be different but it's another to believe that your way is the only way, and that's when people clash in the office. … No one rewards stubbornness and arrogance.

Another lesson I point out is that being mindful of others and respectful does not mean you have to be a pushover. Just because you help someone out, don't make yourself an errand-boy/girl.

How do people fall short when it comes to proper manners and etiquette in the workplace? Are we less polite at work than we used to be? If so, has the digital age contributed to that?

The biggest way people fall short when it comes to manners and etiquette in the workplace is when it comes to communication. And yes, the digital age is to blame. I call it keyboard muscles. Keyboard muscles is when someone gets behind their computer and types away like they are the biggest, slickest person on the planet. They say things in email or texts they never would simply because they don't have the guts to communicate it in person. And this is where etiquette in the workplace falls apart the fastest.

It's not necessarily that people are less polite at work than they used to be, it's that there are more avenues for them to care less about those around them because we're all digital. Don't get me wrong, I'm huge fan of social media and email, but there comes a time when you have to interact and have those skills.

Do you see a correlation between manners and etiquette, and success or failure in business? What is the No. 1 way people tank their careers?

I believe that manners and etiquette play a key role in the success or failure in a business on multiple levels. … It starts with the person at the top and how they project onto the people in the company. My first job out of college, I worked for a complete tyrant who everyone despised. My co-workers were great people. … Because of him — not the field, not the company — one by one, we all left.

Look at companies like Zappos, Google, [eyeware manufacturer] Warby Parker and you'll see global brands that have an employee base who are incredibly committed to the firm, in and out of the office. And it's not about the pay — it's all about the way the employees are respected. They work harder because they feel passionate about the brand.

Of all the major ways people can tank their careers, I believe the prize goes to an improper ego. There is a misconception about confidence and ego. Confidence is knowing you are the best person for the job and gladly take on certain roles that said job requires with grace. Being egotistical, however, is when you think you know how to do something better than anyone else, and insist on walking down the aisles of the office, like a cage fighter after he just knocked someone out.

When it comes to ego, the best advice in business and in life I ever heard was from my professional wrestling trainer. In wrestling, every match involves two people (or more) working together to entertain the crowd. The winner is put over because the loser allowed it and made them look good. … Remember the people who helped you along the way. Instead of bullying people out of their spot, earn your own with your skills.

You talked to CEOs and entrepreneurs for your book. Did they have different views on etiquette and manners, or were there some common themes?

I interviewed well over four dozen CEOs, entrepreneurs, celebrities and industry taste-makers in a wide variety of fields. One day it was singer Lisa Loeb, the next day it was the CEOs of Marquis Jet and Avion Tequila, the next day it was the COO of Maker's Mark, and the next day it was real estate mogul and "Shark Tank" star Barbara Corcoran. … Despite varying fields, the underlying — and rather surprising — theme they all mentioned was how that most people do not have the simple, good manners today. They were all floored that even at their level they still witnessed rude behavior. … The basics like, "please and thank you" or returning calls/email were common threads. … They stressed that people who did have good manners, and projected themselves properly, always stood out above the rest.

How important were manners in your house growing up?

Manners was very important growing up in my house, but in a unique way. My parents divorced when I was very young, so I grew up spending time with them separately. With that, I learned many valuable lessons about what it meant to be mannerly and treat people properly from varying environments. My father has been in sales his whole life, and I'd watch him interact with co-workers and colleagues, and picked up on his mannerisms. As well, he taught me how to dress properly at a very early age. During the bar/bat mitzvah time period of my life, I have vivid memories of my dad ironing my shirt and suit to the sharpest point possible, while other kids rarely had matching socks.

My mom is a breed all to herself. … She's a one-woman band of uniqueness. She always has a crowd around her and always taught my brother and I how to be yourself with everyone you meet. She has been a catering manager and event planner for nearly 30 years and knows everything there is to know about how to properly entertain. … She taught me a very valuable lesson when it comes to manners: "Never take no from someone who doesn't have the authority to say yes." It's a message to mean: Go for what you want … and do it with tact.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Richie Frieman

Age: 35

Residence: Owings Mills

Education: Owings Mills High School; University of Maryland, College Park

Birthplace: Richmond, Va.

Family: Wife Jamie; daughter Maddy, 6; son Cole, 2

Hobbies/interests: Working out, spending time with my kids and wife, biking, eating great food, reading, painting

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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