Dubai boss’s messy eating upsets employee

Boss who double dips his breadsticks in hummus at business lunches needs to be tackled, albeit by his own boss.

I regularly attend business meetings with my male boss. The problem is that he is a very messy eater – he eats and talks at the same time, laughs regularly spraying bits of food everywhere and often has most of his meal left on his teeth at the end of lunch. He also double dips, ie dips a breadstick in hummus, takes a bite and then dips the same breadstick back into the hummus. Etiquette at a business lunch is key but how on earth do I raise my boss’s lack of it? CA, Dubai

The assumption here is that the boss is having a negative impact on customers and prospects because of his table etiquette. Now, I can see from your description that he is no fun to be with. I wouldn’t want to share a table with him, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy the hummus. If he was the lead representative of a company with which I was considering doing business, then he would have a negative impact on me. I like doing business with people I like – and I believe that a lot of us, consciously or unconsciously, are the same and make decisions based on these subjective prejudices. Personally I don’t like or respect people with these sorts of table manners.

However, actually proving that the shreds of dead flesh hanging from his teeth are having a detrimental effect on the new business efforts of the team is much harder.

Basically this comes down to subjective belief. You believe that this man has bad manners, and (reading between the lines) you believe he makes a bad impression. I think you are going to have a hard time taking this set of subjective beliefs to him and getting him to clean up his act. He may well offer you some hard facts in his favour: despite his appalling table manners, he may point out, he has his current role and he has his past successes. Unless you can directly show that his lack of table etiquette is linked to a failure to close deals, then you are probably wise not to tackle this head-on.

Which is not to say that you should not tackle it at all.

I think you probably need to find a way to share your concerns with someone to whom your male boss reports. If this person could be fastidious, neat, tidy and a polite eater, then all the better. You should find a way to share your legitimate concern that your boss may have table manners that not all would find appealing, or even acceptable. Be clear that you are not complaining, but you are concerned, and you don’t feel in a position to bring this to the attention of your boss. Frankly, you should not have to have this sort of conversation: that is what his boss gets paid all those dollars to do. You have done your job by bringing the issue to the attention of an appropriate person in a way that is balanced, non-judgmental and discreet.

What works in your favour is the importance of etiquette at the table. You don’t tell me the nationality of your boss. I have seen this sort of behaviour from many in the UAE and I have seen the glances around the table and the swiftly concealed looks of distaste that tell me such behaviour is noticed, is disliked, and will tell against the individual at a later stage.

These issues have always existed. At different times in my career, there have been challenges with people drinking at lunchtime or of people smoking throughout a meal – people would smoke between courses, which must have been awful for the non-smokers at the table – while this challenge of people simply lacking table manners has always been with us. I had a boss once who would frequently and inappropriately eat with his hands rather than use cutlery. Personally I am sure it did us harm in the image stakes with prospects. It ended abruptly after the chairman found himself lunching twice in a week with this individual – and yes, I had something to do with that being the case.

Doctor’s prescription: Good luck, and pass the breadsticks …

Roger Delves is the director of the Ashridge Executive Masters in Management and an adjunct professor at the Hult International Business School. He is the co-author of The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday Challenges. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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Published: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM

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