By Ron Leir
Are you one of those unfortunate souls who slurp their soup?
Do you “feel badly” when you’re unwell?
Are you comfortable plodding around in sneakers at a formal affair?
If you’ve answered “yes” to the above queries, then, dear reader, you are clearly in need of Brian C. Haggerty’s “Personal & Professional Life Skills For Success,” a prescriptive approach to functioning well in the world, no matter what your station in life.
It’s an “expansion and enhancement” of the Lyndhurst resident’s first book, “Mannerly Speaking: A Modern Framework for Social and Business Etiquette; Grammar and Public Speaking,” which was published last year.
So enlightening is his new text that the Belleville Board of Education recently engaged Haggerty, a member of the Lyndhurst Township Commission, to impart his insights to high school students one day a week for five weeks.
“I wrote it, more or less, as a textbook that could be adopted by schools,” Haggerty told a small audience invited last week to the Lyndhurst Public Library to learn more about the new book. “There’s a need and a calling for it.”
For the most part, the author drew rave reviews. Several people agreed that the social skills promoted by the book were missing from many of today’s citizenry – young and old, alike.
Evelyn Pezzolla, president of the Library Board, said: “I read the first book and Bryan does a wonderful job with it. We’re so proud.” She said that young people could benefit by a thorough grounding in both book’s contents.
As a former businesswoman, Pezzolla said, she discovered that, “It’s surprising what young people need to know and don’t (know).” When she was hiring receptionists, Pezzolla added, “it was surprising to see how many (job applicants) don’t know what to wear and are frightened to use the phone.”
Indeed, Haggerty’s new book touches on those issues and more, offering tips on “making the best personal presentation in each of three key areas in which we are assessed by others: the way we carry and conduct ourselves, the manner in which we speak and the way we dress.”
The book, he said, is intended as a “confidence builder” and a tool that will unlock doors for the otherwise uninitiated who haven’t learned these success skills, which are generally “not taught in schools and not promoted in popular culture.”
In a nutshell, Haggerty said, “it’s about being civil – creating an atmosphere where everybody feels comfortable … treating people the way you’d wish to be treated.”
On speaking well, “knowing what to say and how to say it” – as opposed to concentrating on speaking the “King’s English” – is essential for younger folks competing for a job or promotion, Haggerty said, “because employers, above all else, look for the ability to communicate.”
Common vocabulary usage pitfalls noted by Haggerty include the confusion between “I” (subject) and “me” (object); “irregardless” (wrong) versus “regardless” (correct); “I could care less” (meaningless) vs. “I couldn’t care less” (correct); and “lie” (recline or resting) vs. “lay” (put or place an object).
On conducting ourselves, people should pay attention to “being on time, being your word, being reliable,” according to Haggerty. Equally important, he said, are quick responses to dinner/party invitations and dining etiquette, such as how to properly engage in conversations at the table, understanding place settings and use of utensils, passing food at the table, not to mention bill paying and tipping.
On how to dress, Haggerty observed that “jeans, T-shirts and sneakers” seem to be the preferred mode for teens. What’s more, he added, “If I go to one more funeral where the altar boy is wearing sneakers under his robes, I’m going to scream.”
With that in mind, Haggerty is happy to outline the “classic dress codes,” aimed at “dressing for success,” whether it’s for a job interview or for a formal affair.
A tuxedo may be fine for some occasions, he said, “but I’m trying to bring back the white tie and tails as formal attire.” Some misguided folks are of a mind to appear in loud, colorful garb that only call attention to themselves, Haggerty said. Guests at a formal affair should dress the same, whether in white or black, he said, because “the purpose is to honor the event, not the individual.”
Civility says it all, Haggerty said. “It’s not about ourselves – it’s respect for each other in society. Each of us needs to embody civility to make a better world. Instead of yelling and screaming at each other, much better to hold back before you speak.”
No use blaming TV for broadcasting the frequent vitriol mouthed by critics or politicians of all stripes, Haggerty said. “We’re caught up in sensationalism today and the media is a reflection of what we the people want to see,” he said.
“That’s why I don’t write negative messages on email and, remember, given our technology, what you write is there forever, and, by the way, that’s why I use spell check,” Haggerty noted.
Also to be avoided like the plague, he said, is texting or taking a phone call during a conversation or at the dinner table. But here again, you can’t fault the instruments themselves for the lack of civility, he said. “Technology is an extension of who we are.”
And that’s why there must be a true commitment by people to engage in civil behavior, Haggerty said, because “you can’t legislate that. Nothing will change unless we, individually, change ourselves.”
“Personal & Professional Life Skills” (173 pages with illustrations) is available in softcover through amazon.com.