NewportManners & Etiquette: Sexual Harassment, Unwanted Holiday Guest + Table Manners for Kids

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


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Handling sexual harassment and an unwanted guest, and how to prep kids for Thanksgiving dinner with the grownups were all questions to Didi Lorillard at NewportManners this week.

The unwanted guest who comes for Thanksgiving every year

Q.  We've always tried to invite friends for Thanksgiving whom we know don't have any place to go. For 15 years we've entertained a somewhat friend for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, nobody likes him. Neither of our children, nor any of the grandchildren like him and he's not kind to them. He left a voicemail saying he was looking forward to coming to us this Thanksgiving, and I don't know what to say when I return his call. I dread having him around, but we've gotten to be his go-to family for Thanksgiving. How do I break this traditional obligation that he's created?  DG, Providence

A.  Call your somewhat friend immediately to say that "something's come up" and you've "had a change in plans." And add, "You can't come this year." Leave it at that. You've had a change in plans.

I know it sounds cruel, but why would he want to be in a place where he is not wholeheartedly welcomed. He'll feel the tension and inhospitable vibes from your family. He'll sense that you really rather wished he hadn't put you on the spot like that by inviting himself again.

Take a break. Early next fall, you can revisit that narrative of the man who came to Thanksgiving dinner again and again... You might even find that you miss the grumpy old guest.


Preventing sexual harassment at holiday office parties

Q.  What flirting is O.K.? In planning our holiday office party, we're wondering what the sexual boundaries are concerning flirtation? I'm not asking about the blatant crotch grab or fanny pat, but about the more subtle flirtations. The banter, the teasing.

It would be easier not to celebrate at all than raise the issue of harassment with fellow workers. Should we cancel the party this year until we've figured out company policy on how women and men should socialize in an after hours setting fueled by festive booze? How exactly do we know when someone has crossed the line between party banter and hanky-panky?  BT, Chicago


A.  Wouldn't it be great if there was an app for that. So you could listen to what you're saying to another person and a little birdie, or Siri, who's monitoring your conversation would say, "You're being a tease by harassing her, pull back." Or "Keep your hands to yourself, take your hand off her shoulder."

The solution is not for men to avoid exchanges with women, because it is healthy for society to mentor and encourage men and women to be full participants in the workforce. 

  • Quite a few companies have long mandated anti-harassment training as a way of educating all employees about sexually abusive behavior. Although the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the training.
  • Talk about Hugs:  Hugging an old-friend is one thing, hugging a co-worker may have a different connotation. What about a half-hug?
  • Ask a co-worker directly if they feel harassed. 


The more naturally the topic of sexual harassment is talked about in the workplace, the stronger the bond between co-workers. When a colleague makes it clear how s/he feels about the harassment issue, s/he is safer from being harassed.

  • As far as harassment on social media, many companies make their policy clear to employees that they have a right to monitor electronic communications and many actually do.
  • Additionally, to avoid temptations for after party liaisons, move the holiday party date and time from a Thursday or Friday evening to a Monday or Tuesday in the late afternoon. 
  • Open bars can include game zones. 
  • Water down the signature drink -- less alcohol in the holiday punch.


Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace

Q. How do I go about reporting sexual abuse at my office without getting fired or sidelined? I feel so powerless as to how to handle this. If I report the incident to HR, everyone will know. I'll be a pariah. People will stare at me and avoid me. I'll feel so uncomfortable that I'll probably quit.  Name and location withheld


A.  You are not alone. One in three women have experienced sexual harassment at work -- and yet 71% of these incidents go unreported. Only two in ten female harassment victims dare to file a complaint. There are those who think that when women in the workplace go along to get along, they become part of the problem. 

The good news is that the younger millennials joining the workforce are changing the culture for the better. Because so many of them have had working mothers, these millennials are more sensitive to issues of women in the workplace, and are better able to monitor and control their own behavior.

Let's hope that we are at a crossroad. It all depends how strongly women -- who are better at reading facial expressions and body language than men -- voice their opinions on sexual harassment.

 As more self-help options become available, those numbers will improve. 

  • The app Blind lets employees at more than a hundred companies, including Facebook, Google, Uber, Airbnb and Amazon, sign up through their work email to chat about sexual harassment in a way that prevents the person from being specifically identified by name. Whether they are a victim or uncertain as to what is considered sexual harassment, or simply have witnessed it as a bystander, they have a voice.
  • Additionally, the online how-to guide to handling sexual harassment at work called Betterbrave has had over 300,000 visits since its launch last summer. It's an excellent resource providing, tools, and employment lawyers to targets, whether you have a fear of retaliation or distrust HR.


Holiday top 10 really best table manners for kids

Q. My two kids have the worst table manners. My mother-in-law is a stickler for good manners. She's prim and proper and thinks her five and seven-year-old grandchildren should tote the family line and have good table manners, as well. The big problem is that their friends don't know how to behave nicely at the table, and kids like to fit in with other kids. Any suggestions?  CM, Arden, NY

A.  Find time to take your kids out to eat where there are other people eating. A breakfast out on the weekend.  At home you're too busy serving them their food and cleaning up after them, so you'd be less likely to have the patience to talk about table manners in a playful manner. 

Role model good table manners and quietly point out the bad manners of other diners.

  • Talk about outside voices versus inside voices in enclosed spaces -- such as a restaurant.
  • To keep them focused, play a mind game while waiting for your food.
  • Talk about why you use a napkin and where it goes.
  • Elbows on the table are the primary reason why milk glasses topple over.
  • Don't lay your arms and head on the table for the same reason.
  • Flatware is not about waving flags and remains on the table or plate when not in use.
  • Chew with your mouth closed.
  • Don't talk with your mouth full.
  • Sit up straight, with feet on the floor.
  • Bring food to your mouth and don't eat like a dog with your head in the bowl.


You know the drill. Make table manners make sense to your children. When they mirror your good table manners, they win a chance to estimate the tip when the check comes -- and get to keep the change.

Reward the child with a present -- something other than food -- for having been a good, happy guest on Thanksgiving day.

Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at NewportManners for her forthcoming book.


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