Karaoke & Business Ethics

It’s Friday, so how about something fun:

Officials faulted for not singing karaoke (from Reuters) [Dead link deleted Nov. ’08]

In Vietnam, where karaoke is not only recreational but also business etiquette, failing to show your talent can cost you dearly.

Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper reported Wednesday that state oil monopoly Petrovietnam’s financial arm PVFC ordered 21 officials to make “self-criticism” reports for not singing karaoke at a contract-signing ceremony near Hanoi Saturday.

Just how stringent is the ethical requirement to be a “team player?” The Reuters story talks about etiquette, not ethics. But clearly there’s a link. Etiquette (or manners) is in fact closely related to ethics. According to Sarah Buss, manners are a crucial way of signaling that we see others as having value, and as objects of moral concern. “When we treat one another politely,” writes Buss, “we are directly expressing respect for one another….” (“Appearing Respectful: The Moral Significance of Manners.” Ethics 109, July 1999. 795-826.) So etiquette in business — where the trust generated by shows of mutual concern is crucial — is no small matter.

Of course, one of the great things about most bits of etiquette is that they take so little effort. Greeting someone using the correct term of address, or dressing appropriately for business typically implies little burden, and so the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. But that’s not always the case. In the case of the story cited above, proper etiquette apparently required employees (managers, in this case) to spend considerable additional time away from family (i.e., to bear a significand hardship). Whether this is reasonable or not will clearly depend largely upon the terms of the contract — formal or informal — between employer and employee, something about which this news story tells us nothing.

Relevant Books:
Customs & Etiquette of Vietnam
Business Etiquette for Dummies
Karaoke Nights : An Ethnographic Rhapsody
Karaoke, Karaoke, Karaoke!

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