Be Nice In Bad Times: Recession Etiquette

Since the economy has gone downhill, you may have changed your shopping habits, your saving habits, even your eating habits. But have you changed your manners?

Etiquette rules are shifting right along with the financial markets, Early Show financial contributor Vera Gibbons pointed out Wednesday.

She offered a quiz to see if all of us know what's polite and what's not in the current economy:

1. When networking at a party you should:
a) Choose 1 key skill/accomplishment to share
b) Say nothing about yourself

The correct answer is B. With so many folks out of work, people are turning any gathering into a time to network. Cocktail parties, kids' birthday parties, even dentist appointments -- it seems like nothing is off limits. While it's pretty much accepted that networking is happening all around us, you should certainly take your cues from the person you're speaking with. Read their body language and if it's clear that they don't want to talk business, back off.

Even if they are open to the conversation, limit your chat to five minutes and -- here is the surprising part: don't say anything about yourself. The goal of this conversation should be to make the other person like you. Once you've made this good first impression, they will be more likely to want to help you down the road. See if you can follow up with a phone call or an e-mail.

At that point, you can then go after what you want.

2. If you don't want to help with a job search you should:
a) Do it anyway
b) Say no quickly

The correct answer is B. If you're the person who is being asked for a job lead and you don't know this person, don't like this person, or simply don't want to help, the key is to get out of the situation as quickly -- and tactfully -- as possible. Be empathic, respectful and honest -- "I'm sorry I can't help you right now, but I wish you luck." Then try and exit the conversation as soon as possible. If you don't want to meet for coffee or an informative interview it's OK to say no. As a matter of fact, it's worse to lead this person on if you don't intend to every follow-through with a meeting or phone call.

3. Your friend is still unemployed. You should:
a) Ask her out to dinner
b) Ask about her job search

The correct answer is A. If this person is a good friend you certainly don't want to ignore their situation. On the other hand, you don't want to force her to discuss it. Say "how are things going" and give her the opportunity to bring up the job search if she wishes. Chances are your unemployed friends don't really want to go out for dinner. They may feel like a loser as a result of losing their job, and they likely don't want to spend any money. But you should encourage them to come out. Tell them upfront, "My treat" so they don't have to worry about paying (do not say, "I'll pay" because that brings to their attention the money issue). Don't go someplace fancy because that, too, emphasizes the money issue -- basically that you have it and they don't. Take them to coffee, have them to your house for dinner, or go to a movie/some other activity to take their mind off things.

4. You're invited to a fancy wedding but can't afford an expensive gift. You should:
a) Give what you can
b) Decline the invitation

The correct answer is A. Just because a wedding is expensive doesn't mean you have to give an expensive gift. The good news these days is that expectations have really changed -- people don't expect you to give a fancy gift. For the most part, people seem to understand that times are tough, and cutting back is not questioned. In many circles, extravagant gestures are even frowned upon now.

5. It's OK to tell your unemployed friends how much you like your job.
a) True
b) False

The correct answer is A, but with caveats. Don't be ashamed that you have a job. And if this person is truly a friend they honestly want to know how things are going at the office. That said, be selective about what you tell your unemployed friend. Don't spend too much time talking about your job and tone down some of the good stuff. Maybe laugh it off some with a funny story about your boss. The bottom line is tread carefully -- talking about your fabulous job is like talking about your new baby with a friend who can't get pregnant. She's going to be happy for you, but there's a fine line you don't want to cross.

6. It's not polite to ask for separate checks at dinner.
a) True
b) False

The correct answer is B -- False. In many circles, it's common to just split the check, no matter who ate or drank what. Friends tend to figure it will "all come out in the wash." But if you're counting your pennies, you don't want to pay for someone else's lavish feast. Asking for separate checks is becoming more and more the norm. Just be sure to mention this to your server upfront.

And, once you tell the server, you don't have to discuss the matter with your dinner companions, it's simply a foregone conclusion; this may help avoid some awkward conversations.