Q: After my aunt died, my boss and a co-worker gave me a sympathy card, which they left on my chair. Later, I was told (by my boss) that I was ungrateful because I did not say "thank you" in response to the card. What is the proper etiquette when one receives a card?
-- L.P., Indianapolis, Ind.
A: What a shame that a kind gesture at a time of grief and sadness turns into an issue at work. In this case, two errors occurred. When people in your office go out of their way to leave an expression of sympathy, like the card your boss and co-worker left, it is appropriate to thank them, both to acknowledge their thoughts and to let them know you've received the card. If they had given you the card in person, you would have thanked them. That it was left on the chair doesn't change the appropriateness of acknowledging the card by saying thank you.
That said, your boss should have let the matter drop or at most simply inquired as to whether or not you had received the card. To criticize you for being "ungrateful" was unnecessary, especially given the circumstances.
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Q: Is it proper etiquette for a receptionist to ask, "Who's calling, please?" It seems that he is screening calls and is deciding whether or not to put the call through depending on the answer to the question.
-- H.A., Millis, Mass.
A: There is nothing wrong with a receptionist inquiring, "Who's calling please?" One of a receptionist's jobs is to ask the question so he can tell the person being called who is calling. There are four basic components of a correctly answered call: a pleasant greeting, the name of your company, your name, and a question asking how you can help the person calling.
The more egregious mistake is when you make a call and don't identify yourself right away. When you are the caller, the best practice is to identify yourself and the company you are with.
Remember, it's not only the words you use that matter, it's the quality of your voice as well. Think about the tone of your voice: Is it angry and frustrated, or is it pleasant and welcoming? Do you race through your greeting, or do you speak moderately and clearly? So smile as you answer the phone. First impressions matter, even on the phone.
Peter Post is a director of the Emily Post Institute and the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in
Business," published by HarperCollins. He is one of Emily Post's four great-grandchildren.