Otsukiai: Subtle things can happen with proper etiquette

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

ONE of the best personal strategies I’ve used to nurture professional work relationship is to remain committed and faithful even to verbal promises, even in my work as a volunteer to non-profitable endeavors. Palabra de honor (or word of honor) is one basic test of a character. We don’t need to sign a formal agreement to make things happen. It’s as simple as that.

But why can’t people reciprocate in the same manner, if not give a hint of respectability to others?

I’m telling you this. There are people who have tons of money but they’re poor in basic courtesy. Sometimes, they’re called a bunch of social loafers. They call themselves as loners even if they’ve more than 4,000 friends and relatives on Facebook. Also, they join volunteer groups and professional associations, and then commit to doing something, but at the end of the day (or year), you’ll see them fade away to oblivion without doing anything, and yet they want their names on the credits.

And worse, you don’t even hear them apologize.


Let your answer be either “yes” or “no.” Saying “yes” but doing “no” is against Christianity.

Recently, I had the pleasure of self-publishing my third book. Some copies were given away to some acquaintances, friends, loyal clients and prospective clients. Out of about 100 copies that I gave to people, only a handful acknowledged the gesture with a belated “thank you.”

That’s because I texted them if they received it. Was it LBC’s fault for the late or mishandled delivery? I doubt it. The tracking numbers can’t go wrong.

What’s happening to our business world? Having that great belief in executive etiquette has dramatically reduced my respect for people. You may have the money, power, and influence but you remain to be at the lowest rung in my hierarchy – only a bit higher than tapeworms. Every time I meet people like you, expect my guarded belief in your words and promises.

Pardon my mild irritation. But, do we still practice business etiquette? Am I missing anything? The Japanese may have the equivalent of otsukiai – or the subtle things of professional decency and business protocol, like knowing where to sit at a table in the presence of high-ranking corporate executives or when to take the first bite during lunch or dinner, or what to do even during funerals.

Many years back, during a field trip organized by one volunteer association, we had to rent a bus to our provincial destination. I was the head of the secretariat at the time. And you know what? For some unexplained reasons, my seat was arrogated by a low-ranking tadpole that I had to settle with an uncomfortable seat and endured clutching my aging limbs during a two-hour trip.

Asking him to vacate the seat would be uncomfortable for both us. And besides, I don’t want to spoil the trip for that single incident. Now, I know. If there’s one thing that unites us, it’s the belief that only baby boomers have learned much from GMRC (good manners and right conduct).

Going back to the Japanese, are they really serious with otsukiai? Well, not exactly, at least in the case of some Japanese living in this country. Take this example. We hired a Japanese to serve as an interpreter for one of our public seminars. I gave him his professional fee at the end of the event. To my surprise, he begged off from signing the receipt on the spot and said he’d send it to my office. OK, fine, whatever. No worries.

After more than two months of waiting, the original receipt couldn’t be found. Instead, he sent us a scanned copy of the receipt, which could prove nothing even under a simple accounting policy.

There’s another case in point. I was introduced by a Japanese friend to a group of Japanese working for a giant conglomerate. Feeling like Japanese at the time, I bowed slightly and gave them my calling card facing toward them, complete with a two-hand gesture of humility.

You know their united reaction in broken English? “Sorry, we don’t have a business card.”

Am I asking too much? Or was it a case of—“when in Rome, do what the Romans are doing”? Today’s business protocol, unwittingly enforced by technology is far from ideal. We’ve gone to doing unnecessary things.

Tune in to your favorite social media and all you see are men and women who would rather join the senseless debate on same-sex marriage, than voice an opinion on what matters the most, like China, for instance.

Will this craziness ever end?

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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