Newsletter Richard Ratliff

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, November 2018, Professional Standards of Performance

Professional Standards of Performance: Application #10

By Richard L. Ratliff 

Today’s Issue: Aplomb (Poise Under Pressure)

Scenario: A butler was summoned by the lady of the household to her office. Voice trembling in frustration and anger, she said, “I can’t read these instructions. Even the pictures aren’t in English.”

The lady had just received a mechanical device with a lot of wires and random packages of parts and pieces. It came with instructions, including illustrations. The instructions were written in engineering jargon, an unfamiliar dialect for many of us. And the pictures were small close-ups, hardly recognizable. Although she had not lost her sense of humor, she was indeed troubled and emotionally upset. This situation called for a butler’s calming attitude and demeanor—aplomb.

The Standards: The Professional Standards of Performance state that the “critical attributes” of a butler include being “well composed.” Several other provisions apply in this case, but here I shall focus on the butler’s effort to calm the situation and solve the problem expeditiously with ease and confidence.

Comments and Recommendations: Butlers can take a leaf from Lao Tze, in Tao te Ching. He said that “The best of all [leaders] is but a shadowy presence to his [followers]…. When his task is accomplished and his work done, the people all say, ‘It happened to us naturally.’” Exuberant personality, dashing appearance and behavior, and dazzling performance, however competent or entertaining, attract attention and focus on the butler, when the attention must be on the household members, who are the real stars of this drama. The butler—quietly caring, efficient, effective, and well composed—directs the correct focus on this stage.

Different households can have very different personalities—energetic, active, quiet, orderly and organized, spontaneous, boisterous, diplomatic, confrontational, etc. It is not the butler’s responsibility to join in, as it were, but rather to create a stage and setting where the household can operate at its best, comfortably in character.

So, with appropriate caring and aplomb, the butler attended to the lady of the household, saying, “Sorry for your trouble, Madam. Perhaps I can help. May I also look at the instructions, from the beginning?” Then together, slowly, step by step, they were able to break the engineering code and solve the illustrative puzzles. The process took about 15 minutes. It seemed to happen naturally.

The butler could have taken over the project, too, without bothering the principal further, and should in some cases; but for the lady of the house to truly come out on top, rather than feeling bested by the poor instructions and therefore have less affinity or liking for the related equipment and so invite further trouble with it, allowing her to emerge on top, at cause, is the preferred option.

A complimentary booklet on the standards of service, upon which this column is based, and also written by Professor Ratliff, is available for download in electronic format.

Professor Ratliff is a retired butler who co-authored Volume 1 of Serving the Wealthy and has published three other books and over thirty articles. He can be reached via the Institute.

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.