Is Improper Etiquette Costing You Clients?

The Business Monthly, December 2000

By Patricia M. Keeton

Do you know that a white wine class should be held differently from a red one, and why?

In the crush of corporate competition today, details like these can trip you up. Important business gets conducted over fancy dinners, in convention halls, at black tie galas, at embassy parties. In these settings, knowledge of proper etiquette can spell the difference between a client lost and a client won. The same knowledge can give you the winning edge that lands you a promotion or that new job you've been eyeing.

And on a more basic level, "being etiquette-savvy enables you to have a good time and make people feel comfortable around you," says Cathy Hanson, trainer/ instructor in Howard Community College's Business Training Center and director and co-founder of the International School of Protocol. "If you are at ease in social situations, you can ensure that both you and your colleagues relax and enjoy yourselves.

"The need for this kind of training is vital now more than ever," Hanson adds. "These skills are not being taught in the home or in the schools, and they are crucial to success in your career and life."

Other research confirms her belief. Albert Mehrabian, psychologist, researcher and author of many books o the topic, reports that 93% of communication in a social interaction is nonverbal. It occurs in such factors as eye contact, tone of voice, stance, physical distance and subtle body movements. And according to the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Institute, only 15% of the reason we get a job, keep a job and advance in a job relates to our technical skills and knowledge, while a whopping 85% stems from our people skills.

Offered for the first time this year at the college, Hanson's customized training provides tips on social and corporate etiquette, international etiquette, dining skills and public speaking. "You need that extra polish that will help you present yourself with confidence and grace," she asserts. Her social and corporate component covers such items as eye contact, nonverbal communication, subtleties of handshaking, forms of address, remembering names and electronic etiquette.

The second component helps businesspersons who interact with international clientele. "To succeed in a global economy, executives need to be sensitive to cultural differences in forms of address, business introductions, communication styles, rank and status, and body language," she says.

In "Dining Decorum," she teaches silverware savvy, the right way to toast, the "silent service code," American vs. Continental styles of eating, cross-cultural entertaining and handling accidents. "It's often at the dining table where business relationships get developed and strengthened -or ruined," she warns. "I had one student who was one of the top experts in the nation in the field of statistics, but he came to me not knowing the first thing about business lunches. This lack of knowledge had cost him a job through a failed luncheon interview. After learning the protocols, he finessed his next business dining experience."

In the final component, public speaking, Hanson teaches how to overcome stage fright, get and keep a listener's attention, analyze the audience and use opening and closing lines with impact. "The ability to speak with confidence is paramount to success in the business world," she says. She describes a young executive student who had no self-confidence in interviews. "He failed one after another. After talking to and working with him, I discovered the culprit: poor eye contact. That was what he was missing. After three classes, he come to me exclaiming, 'I've got the job! I've got the job!'"

Oh, and as for that first "Did you know…?"
Since white wine is served chilled and red wine is served at room temperature, you should hold white wine goblets by the stem to avoid warming the wine with the heat of your hand, and red wine goblets by the bowl to keep the wine at room temperature.

Cheers! Here's to good manners and good business.