Thursday, October 25, 2007

Unzipped: To tell or not to tell

If someone's zipper is down, or if they have something on their face, do you tell them or not? Was speaker at lunch meeting and asked why skipping lunch. Told story of how years ago had significant amount of catsup on my face, gave entire presentation, walked around the room, and when leaving found over a hundred people noticed but didn't mention it. No more eating two minutes before intro for me.

Which led to riveting question: if you noticed someone's zipper down, would you tell them? And if yes, how. Answers ranged from no to maybe to depends how well know them to yes. Men said they'd tell men as easily as a woman; and women said they'd tell men as easily as a woman. Consensus that best way to do it is quietly/privately say "your zipper/fly is down" without adding anything else. Also thought if someone said "XYZ" (examine your zipper) wouldn't know what talking about; and expressions about barn doors would be clueless or closer to uncomfortable than direct approach ("your barn door's open", "don't let cow out of the barn").

Real Simple says this: "In many cases, it’s not your place to step in. 'If you're in a large group or the person is the CEO of the company, you don't have to say anything,' says Jodi R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm based in Boston."

Take it from me, Jodi R. Smith and others - if they're in a large group, and if they're a CEO, it would be really nice/helpful to tell them.
Wouldn't you want to know?


Anonymous said...

Don't know if I agree with your assessment here. Discretion is the better part of valor, as they say. If the CEO's fly is down, how would you go about telling them? And in front of a large group? Really? If doing so really embarrased the individual, do you want to be remembered as the person who put the CEO in an uncomfortable position?

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Butts,
Thank you so much for mentioning me. While it is such fun to take quotes out of context, I thought your readers might want to see what I said in full.

"However, if the faux pas is truly mortifying and no one is acting to correct it, look for a moment when the person is alone and quietly mention the problem. But always take care to distinguish between those times when a “flaw” can be fixed (such as toilet paper stuck to a shoe) and when it can’t or might be intentional (a blouse that’s too sheer)."

To tell a CEO to XYZ in a group is quite distasteful. Instead, pull him/her aside to tell them privately, with minimal embarassment.

And please, when you do have an etiquette emergency, do contact me at I would be happy to explain the in's and out's of manners.
All the best ~ Jodi Smith

Cindy Butts said...

Full article always linked to post for anyone to read context. My concern includes CEO being singled-out initially as a person with no obligation to tell; and the follow up sentence saying to "look for moment when the person is alone" - which only works if the person is ever alone. I strongly agree with added info in post - to CREATE a situation where you can get them alone - but unfortunately, that suggestion wasn't in the article.

If someone has problem - with zipper down or food on face - for hours in front of large group, then truly no point telling as they head out the door to leave. At no time suggest or advocate announcing it to a group - in fact, specifically say "privately/quietly".

My opinion is figuring out how to do it privately or quietly is key. If they're in a crowd and know me I'd say "sorry to interrupt, but I need to speak with you for just a moment" and tell them alone; if the person has absolutely no idea who I am, I would excuse myself for interrupting, hand them a note and say "I was asked to give this to you right away" (and note would say "sorry to do that - but zipper down and I thought you'd want to know") -- or I'd hand a note to whoever is in charge of a program if the person is already on stage and will continue for considerable period of time (i.e., more than 20 minutes). Then that person can figure out how to handle. Sometimes person in charge does have signal with speaker for need to take break, or for them to momentarily come off stage. I might also stand off to the side in the front with a paper (held in a way it would look to others like just holding materials) that only the person on stage could see that says "food on face" or "zipper down" - and hope they notice; or send them an email/text message hoping they check that sometime during long talk.

Definitely don't mean to imply that I am remotely a manners expert, and appreciate there are real manners experts (like Jodi) who spend careers trying to rescue us all from our own errors. But as I frequently speak to many sized groups, my bias is definitely towards getting info to speaker early (rather than later or not at all), because I personally would want to know.