Candace Johnson, a Memphis, Tennessee native, has lived in the Washington, DC metro area for the last decade. She currently works on Capitol Hill as a scheduler and executive assistant for Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08). No stranger to the PSOW’s contests, Candace previously placed third in a contest to honor National Protocol Officers Week in 2015. She has now earned the top spot in our recent musically-themed contest to celebrate National Business Etiquette Week with her winning entry—an etiquette-inspired rendition of the current hit “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. (Listen to Candace’s award-winning entry below.)
Candace, where do you live and what is your current occupation?
I work on Capitol Hill for Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) as a scheduler and executive assistant. In that role, I manage schedules, coordinate travel, and receive and process interview and meeting requests from constituents as well as from lobbying groups who want to meet with my boss. I drew upon my experience of constantly interacting with others for my song entry in this year’s NBEW contest. I currently live in Silver Spring, MD, which is in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
How did you become aware of the National Business Etiquette Week Contest?
I came across The Protocol School of Washington after doing a Google search on etiquette and protocol training, and I was very interested in the programs the School offered. When I learned about PSOW, I also learned about National Protocol Officers Week. I entered one of PSOW’s first contests with the hopes of winning as a way to afford attending one of the courses offered – I won third place! Through the years, I have kept up with the School and have received notifications about National Protocol Officers Week as well as about National Business Etiquette Week when that launched.
This year’s NBEW contest was about music and how it can remind us to follow protocol, rules of etiquette and manners in the workplace. What made you decide to enter this year?
I always considered entering in previous years, but I never did. But I thought this year’s theme was so perfect because I come from a moderately musically inclined family. I’ve been in marching bands, my brother is a singer, my dad sang in choirs when I was growing up. I was also an English minor, so writing and the creative process are things that I hold dear. I thought it would be perfect for me to enter the contest this year because I would be able to bring music, writing, and creativity together.
My first thought was to come up with a list of songs that talk about etiquette and manners and then do a musical mash-up, like in the film Pitch Perfect. I asked my brother for ideas, but we couldn’t think of enough songs—so I just decided to write my own song. I thought it would be an opportunity to flex my creative muscles. I knew “Old Town Road” was pretty popular, so I decided to work on my own remix of that.
I thought of the hook first (“Take my manners to the workplace, yo”). Then it took me about 3 hours to write the rest of the song. The original song became popular because so many people were recording their own versions of it using an app called Tik Tok. I had never used that app, but I saw some of the videos on YouTube. I had the idea to also make an elaborate music video, but I ultimately decided to just create a lyric video. I thought that would work well because it would allow people to see what I was saying, and it could reinforce the messages about etiquette that I was trying to convey.
In your role, you have to be very kind and diplomatic to a lot of people all day long. Is that correct?
Oh, yes. People come in to our office with varying degrees of excitement as well as varying degrees of frustration and anger about what is going on in their lives. I always have to gauge the situation and manage people’s expectations and make sure they feel that their voices are being heard. Engaging with people in this way certainly requires protocol and etiquette as well as good manners. It’s important to me to see people as people instead of just someone who is interrupting my day. You must really consider where other people are in their lives and what they may be going through when they walk in the door looking for help and to voice their concerns. That’s one of the lines I have in my contest entry – that when people walk through the door they feel they are at home.
Why do you think manners and respect are so crucial, especially in today’s workplace?
I think that people are so “busy”, but adding to that, we now have so many people on phones, so now we are distracted and busy. When we are so distracted, we tend to overlook people and their concerns or questions or whatever they may be going through. I think that, at its core, business etiquette is really just about seeing people. Seeing them as people with their own set of concerns—just having empathy for others. I try to bring that to my job. So, maybe I had a difficult morning, but then maybe the person standing in front of me had a difficult morning, too. Considering what others may be going through and not being distracted by my to-do list or the telephone or computer while engaging with constituents is very important. I have to not only think about what I have on my plate, but I have to take the time to see others as people and consider the things they are going through. That’s why business etiquette is so important—we need to just come back to the core of seeing people for who they are and respecting them just as they are.
What do you think is the number one rule of business etiquette that people need to follow?
I like to find something I have in common with another person—taking the time to find that. Just stepping back and putting our own worries, frustrations, and distractions aside is a big part of successful business etiquette because that will create an environment for civil engagement. It helps people feel welcome in the workplace and helps people feel seen and heard. You can go back to your own worries soon enough but taking the time out for someone else is the biggest part of business etiquette because that’s where everything else flows from. If you can find a common connection in the first few seconds of meeting someone, you can show empathy, build trust, and you can be on a path to engaging with business etiquette.
Working for a politician and being right there on the Hill, how do you think we can establish better etiquette as it relates to politics and to promote respectful political discourse?
That’s an important and difficult question to answer. For me, I believe that I have and can find something in common with just about anyone. And with that principle and value in my personal life, I strive to get to know and build relationships with people from across the aisle. I think that a lot of times in politics, people think that if you are on one side, you can only be on that side, and that if you cross the aisle you are not loyal or you’re not in support of a particular cause. But I think the opposite. I think that if you can establish those common connections, that helps people come up with solutions that can benefit everyone and not just one side – it allows us to have dialogue and to solve problems.
I don’t know what discussions happen behind closed doors, but I am hopeful politicians try to find common connections amongst themselves and between their constituent bases. Yes, politicians do have to work for their constituents, but everyone in a constituent base is not solely on one side. I’m not a political strategist, but whatever those strategists would advise, I would like to inject the practice of mutual respect and common connections into their strategy – find what we have in common that would help us facilitate further discussions and find mutually beneficial solutions.
What are you looking forward to with your complimentary training with PSOW?
I am interested in learning about the business aspect of the course. In the future, I would like to establish an etiquette consulting business for minority audiences and share business etiquette skills, strategies and tips. I see a lot of interns in my current position, and I think there’s an opportunity to help them learn etiquette skills for the workplace. I also look forward to learning the latest trends and principles in business etiquette. I think as society and culture changes; social and business etiquette also changes. So it will be interesting to learn if there are any new or modified etiquette dos and don’ts.
Any other professional ambitions you want to share?
Having gone through the protocol officer training years ago, I think that experience has put me on a path to a career in operations and protocol. In thinking long term, I would like to continue working in diplomacy, operations, and protocol and ultimately, be a protocol officer and liaison for different constituent bases.
No more music for you?
Well, I am taking bass guitar lessons! Music is definitely a part of me. You never know, maybe my brother and I will form a family band!