If you read my last blog, you know that during the day I read a lot, primarily in the area of Aboriginal economic development and best practices. Believe it or not, when I go home, I usually end up reading there as well. My home bookshelf is a little more diverse, ranging from classics like The Count of Monte Cristo (who I jokingly refer to as my boyfriend as I slowly make my way through the lengthy fiction) to biographies of little-known inventors like Leon Theremin (who invented one of the first electronic musical instruments in the 1920s — my favourite lecture topic of all time and always part of the music history classes I teach). Recently, on the lighter side of things, was a book I picked up in the bargain bin called Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano (some of you will recognize her as the author of French Women Don't Get Fat).
I'll admit it. I didn't have high hopes for this book and was initially thinking of it as merely brain candy — and I will say sometimes it was difficult to take it seriously. But I do think that it provides some valuable lessons to women in business and maybe men as well. Sharing stories from her own life experience, Guiliano covers such topics as maintaining a work-life balance, improving communication, and mentoring up-and-coming colleagues. However, she also addresses very practical isues, such as table etiquette and entertaining — topics that aren't commonly found in "how to succeed in business" books.
From reading reviews online, I know that some people have interpretted this as Guiliano stating the obvious and useful only to those with no business background whatsoever. This criticism may be true to some extent; however, I'm willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will learn something new. For example, while at a restaurant or dinner party, if you get up from the table to take a phone call, etiquette dictates that your napkin should be left on your chair (personally, I've only ever seen it laid on the table — which is appropriate only if you aren't returning). To signal to your server that you are finished your meal, you place your cutlery on your plate in a 5:00 position (I always do this when I'm finished a meal, but didn't actually know/realize why — I suppose I learned it by mimicking without ever questioning). Perhaps it's the folklorist in me that enjoyed this part of the book — I have a natural curiosity about customs and traditions. But curiosity aside, these little points have given me a host of conversation starters/continuers to be used at some point in the future. ("Did you know…")
There are also suggestions on how to craft your signature style so that you develop your brand — and it's more than just the clothes you wear. The most valuable piece of advice that I took away was that in an increasingly digital world, the power of a hand-written note has never been stronger.
Think about it. When is the last time you received a hand written note? Even thank you notes these days come via email or text message in most cases. We're all encouraged to engage in social media — the way of the future is Facebook, Twitter, apps, and other tools that haven't been dreamed up yet. And certainly, I'm not suggesting that these tools don't have their place — they do. But when you think about a person taking the time to sit down and hand-write a message, locate a snail mail address, pay for a stamp, and put the note in the mail, it says something. It indicates value.
And in an increasingly digital world, it separates you from the pack.