With her entertaining video entry featuring toxic—and nontoxic—rules of office behavior, Alabama’s Tammy West is the 2017 winner of our National Business Etiquette Week Contest. As a business manager and designer with a busy southeastern design firm, Tammy certainly knows a thing or two about making proper presentations and building good interoffice relationships in your professional life. Her experience at several Fortune 500 companies and years in executive management has also taught her how to use good business etiquette to make a more productive and happy workplace. Learn more about Tammy in our blog below and read her advice on how to tame toxic behaviors in today’s workplace.
Tammy, congratulations on winning the National Business Etiquette Week contest! Tell us a little bit about you, your professional career and your current position.
I am of Spanish and Arabic descent and was born and raised in the southeastern United States. I have also been fortunate to have the opportunity to live in New Zealand, Nicaragua, and Israel. I currently live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and have been married for 31 years to the love of my life and we have two beautiful daughters. When I am not working as a business/project manager and designer specializing in floral, event, and interior design at a design firm, I enjoy SEC football (Roll Tide), cooking, painting, theater, and long walks on the Black Warrior River with my two dogs Boo and Scout. I bring 25 years of diverse experience that includes working and managing Fortune 500 companies and international and national corporations. My professional experience includes retail and executive management, advertising, public relations, branding and product development, fundraising, business consulting, and I was a restauranteur and entrepreneur.
How did you hear about the contest and the Protocol School of Washington?
I learned about The Protocol School of Washington (PSOW) from my neighbor and good friend, Shanna Ullmann; she was notified about the contest opportunity and encouraged me to enter it. Ms. Ullman attended PSOW in 2007 and I am so impressed
with her knowledge and expertise in etiquette and protocol. I have a deep interest in learning more about protocol and etiquette and had already planned to attend the school at some point this year. I have a competitive nature and once I learned about the competition, I thought, “What an amazing opportunity, why not enter, what do I have to lose?”
This year’s contest focused on lack of civility/toxic behaviors and how these things can adversely affect business relationships. Why did this subject matter resonate with you?
I have been fortunate in my career to have experienced civil work environments, which I ultimately contribute to my professional success. In hearing of stories from others with toxic work environments, I understand the importance of having a positive and civil work environment. Negativity affects morale, productivity, confidence, and hinders employee development. I am an optimist at heart and believe that leaders in the workplace, regardless of their title, must be a role model and demonstrate honesty, humility, compassion, integrity and authenticity. Actions speak louder than words, and I think it is critical to be the change you want to see in the world.
Do you think toxic behaviors in the workplace have become more commonplace? If so, why?
Unfortunately, I believe toxic behaviors in the workplace and incivility have become the rule rather than the exception. Some of the reasons that contribute to this rising occurrence include: management focusing solely on what employees are doing wrong or correcting problems rather than giving positive feedback for what is going right – an all sticks and no carrot mentality; a singular focus on profits, beating the competition and cost cutting without consideration of other bottom lines; the increasing tolerance of bullying and intimidation of employees by management, or toleration by management of employee to employee bullying; people are considered to be objects or expenses rather than assets, and there is little concern for their happiness and/or well-being; instituting internal competition among employees enforced by a performance assessment system that focuses on individual performance rather than team performance; little or no concern for work-life balance, where a personal or family life must be sacrificed for the job; and the decline of commitment to making contributions to the community, worthy causes or making the world a better place. These behaviors and approaches have resulted in high levels of stress, turnover, absenteeism, and burnout.
What toxic behaviors in the office are the most egregious to you personally? And what have you done to eradicate them from your own life?
Because I am an optimist, negativity is the most egregious toxic behavior in the workplace to me personally. Negativity stifles creativity, efficiency, and breaks down teamwork. Attitudes are contagious, and a good leader maintains a positive attitude even when situations become challenging. To eradicate the negativity, I always try to maintain a positive attitude and focus on the big picture. My life mantra is to “create a great day,” and through daily practice, I try to ensure my thoughts, actions, and words synergize with my mantra. Life is a series of choices, so why not choose to be a positive inspiration to others?
Tell us about your video for the winning entry. How did you get the idea to do a video entry and why did you choose to focus on the toxic behaviors that you featured?
I was inspired by my youngest daughter who has a love for videography and theater and thought a video presentation would be fun and effective (who doesn’t love an episode of “The Office?”) Gossiping, stealing ideas, disrespect, and cultural insensitivity are behaviors I or others close to me—including my oldest daughter—have witnessed, and I have seen the impact of these uncivil behaviors affect personal and organizational success and well-being. Because of the commonality of these toxic behaviors, I thought they would resonate with many others.
How do we as a society reinstate civility in our personal and professional relationships?
Being an example of civility and demonstrating such qualities is impactful - don’t talk about it, be about it! Awareness is key and I think there needs to be more focus placed on individuals in both professional and personal situations to set examples and implement good practices. I believe we can all be an element of change. We must strive to set the standard high and be consistent in practicing positive and civil behaviors.
You’re from the south, a place that has a reputation as the birthplace of good etiquette and civility. What is some good old fashioned southern advice that speaks to good manners and treating our colleagues with respect?
My mama always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Being respectful is an inherent value in southern culture. The foundation of good manners and being a southerner is not just saying nice things, but also acting accordingly. In the south, we have a deep tradition of loving thy neighbor as thyself.
As winner of the contest, you will be attending the Train to be a Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant course in September. What are your goals for this training and how do you hope it translates into your professional plans?
I work closely with the students at the University of Alabama, and have often witnessed poor etiquette. I am in a unique position to teach and mentor young women and men. In today’s society, it is more important than ever to equip these young men and women with proper etiquette, so they can compete in the ever-changing market place and stand out from the competition. In addition to the everyday role I have to influence these young minds, I also hope to influence my current work environment and those I meet and work with on a daily basis. I have recently joined a global business consulting firm and have aspirations to provide protocol and etiquette in my new professional role.