Do's and Don'ts for Big Dudes A short course in etiquette for ultra-senior officers.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I know you don't have a lot of time, so I'm going to cut the chatter and get to the point. You're big. You're very big. You have big things to think about and big things to do. It's been that way for a very long time, and by now, along with all you've gained, you've forgotten some important things:

1. A sense of your relative size in the universe, compared with trees, large motor vehicles, and other people.

2. The reasons to engage in social interaction that doesn't have to do with getting your needs met. In fact, right now you could pretty much be defined not by who you are or what you've done, but rather by what you want that's not getting done the way you want it done at this point in time. Off with their heads!

3. How to behave, in general.

Consequently, let's face it: You're rude. Nobody tells you you're rude, because your being rude is what people expect. You're big. You're huge. You're rude. That's the way things are supposed to be.

But it's not really so. As we move forward to the ultimate destination of our lives, which is not Scranton, the little niceties that tie one human being to another begin to loom, particularly in their absence. If you want to avoid the long slide down the slippery path to terminal incivility, eccentricity, and unmourned death, if you're serious about wanting to reclaim your human heritage, you can begin by adhering to the following simple principles:

Don't pretend to know who people are. Most of the time, you don't. So don't fake it. The other day I ran into an ultra-senior officer of mine. It was clear two seconds into the conversation that he thought I might be either somebody else or nobody. He didn't handle it very well, staring at me with his mouth open and eyes agog, saying ah...ah...ah...and declining to introduce me to the young lady with whom he was lunching. "Hi, Wally," I said, and moved along. But my feelings were hurt. How much nicer it would have been if he had simply said, "I know we've met, like, 50 times, but the truth is, my brain is stuffed with too many thoughts about myself to remember other people very well. There's no reason we shouldn't try it again, though. So who are you?"

Do decline invitations to things you don't want to attend and at which you will be uncomfortable and frighten people. Not long ago I sat at a table with a guy who was too crucial to be there, eating bad steak and pretending to feel honorific about someone other than himself. He kept his dignity the whole time, even when the waiter took away a piece of pie that was actually on the way to his mouth, which is what you would pretty much expect at the Waldorf. How we would have laughed had he been one of us! How much more polite for him to have remained at home!

Do send a thank-you note for the suck-up present sent to you by some cringing wretch. A few years ago I sent a horrendously expensive fountain pen to an important senior officer in my company. Six weeks later his secretary called me and said, "Mr. Boorish wanted you to know he's using the pen." This made me feel bad about (1) Mr. Boorish, (2) his secretary, who insisted on being called his assistant, and (3) myself. How much nicer it would have been to get a card, signed by her, that said, "I'm using the pen! Thanks! Mike Boorish." Instead, I hate him now and will push him down an open manhole if I get the chance.

Do allow other people to precede you into elevators. Most ultra-senior officers tend to walk head down to their next destination, blowing by others as if they were spume in the wind. It's nice to let other people feel that their progress through the world is important too. And when you're in the elevator...

Don't forget to say hello to people. It's amazing what a hello from you can do for individuals who have small lives that aren't really progressing toward anything.

Do occasionally ask about other people's lives/interests/ thoughts. You start by interrupting your stream of self-related conversation, pausing for a moment, then saying something like "And how are things with you?" They may be shocked, but eventually they will say, "...fine?" or the equivalent. Then you can ask them, well, anything about themselves, including (1) how they're enjoying the weather this season, (2) something about your local sporting franchise, (3) how their family is doing, if they have one, or (4) something about golf.

Don't forget to listen to what they say! That way you can make an effort to remember a little part of it and refer back to it later. A little investment of concentration in this area goes a long way!

Do say please and thank you, even when you don't really have to. It works like this: Instead of saying something crude, like "Get out of here and don't come back until the third-quarter numbers work the way I want them to, you yutz," you would say, "Please get out of here and don't come back until the third-quarter numbers work the way I want them to. Thank you." Notice the difference? Sure you do!

Do use your knife and fork when you eat your food in front of people. You can use your teeth and hands when you're all by yourself, hopping around your palatial beachfront home on all fours in your loincloth, frothing at the mouth and munching on a leg of mutton. But when you're in polite society, use implements.

Don't yell at people with your mouth full. It's horrible when food falls out, particularly peas and corn mixed together.

Do wash your hands and face before coming to the table!

Don't torture that squirrel with that firecracker!

Don't take that other kid's bike! Get your own!

No, no! Don't hit little Johnny with that rock! Put it down!

Do try, each and every day, to make the world a more refined and cultivated place. You've done so much with your life already. This next step is important too--and it's up to you.

And if you fall off the wagon now and then, don't despair. Hey! The hell with other people anyhow! What do they mean, criticizing your style! It's what got you here! Why should you change it now? Screw 'em! Rude bastards! Politeness works both ways, you know!

Ah, good. You're back. What can I do for you now, sir?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.