The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


February 13, 2014

Manners mean money: Good etiquette skills taught now can pay off

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Instilling table manners in children now could pay off later when it comes time for job interviews and business meetings, according to a career services expert.

"We can't stress enough how important that first impression is," said Mindy Cloninger, director of Pittsburg State University's Office of Career Services. "Today, so much of what we do centers around food. Maybe once you are hired, meals or social events where food is served will be a part of your job. Or your spouse's job, and you'll be in attendance, too. Starting out introducing these manners young is a great way to set children on the path to feeling comfortable and poised about it later."

Each year, Cloninger's office holds two student etiquette dinners on campus to help future graduates prepare for how to handle food, conversation and table manners during job interviews and, should they land the job, future business meetings.

Last week, more than 120 students attended such an event and found from the presenters that table manners extend much further than simply knowing which fork to use.

Cloninger says if adults start having conversations with their children about what etiquette means now, it will build a solid foundation for their futures.

Strategies include:

¥ Eat around a dinner table at least once a week.

"It's hard to do that every night in our family, and I know it is in most everyone else's, too, with all that everyone is involved in," Cloninger said. "But doing so is a way for children to learn to pass serving dishes, place a napkin in their laps and use it to wipe the corners of their mouths, and to make conversation."

Good conversation starters are questions that can't be answered with a yes, no or a shrug. Rather than "Did you have a good day?" ask, "What was something that challenged or frustrated you today?" or "What was one thing you learned today?"

¥ Adults can use a meal at the table as a way to model etiquette for children.

"For example, if dad takes his ball cap off at the table, children are going to see that and understand that they shouldn't do it, either," Cloninger said.

¥ Adults can demonstrate to children how to show appreciation in social situations by thanking the person serving the meal or making note of a particular food that tasted good, and how to show respect to a host by politely declining something that they either don't want or can't have because of allergies.

"They need to know that if they send you out to represent the organization or meet with a client, you will be professional and respectful," Cloninger said of prospective employers.

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