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There's a proper way to do everything--from paying for lunch, to making introductions, to schmoozing at a cocktail party. Not only do manners matter, but they're easy to learn and simple to practice every single day.
You are always being judged and you have to learn how to act accordingly. -Hilka Klinkenberg, Etiquette International
The young man at the business lunch daringly flouted the rules, tucked his napkin into his belt, and proceeded to eat his meal. This tiny breach of etiquette went unnoticed until he stood up and walked around the restaurant--with the napkin still tucked in his belt!
Perhaps it wasn't the worst meal faux pas ever, but it didn't slip by his recent dining companion, etiquette expert Rosanne Thomas, president of Boston-based Protocol Advisors Inc.
Your doctoral degree, 150 I.Q., and your father's Wall Street connections won't get you anywhere in life if you chew food with your mouth open.
"Manners matter," says Hilka Klinkenberg, president and founder of Etiquette International in New York. Not only do they matter, but they are easy to learn and simple to practice every single day. "You are always being judged and you have to learn how to act accordingly," says Klinkenberg, who works with business leaders and executives who want to polish their etiquette.
Where have all the manners gone?
Some manners experts blame the disintegration of the traditional nuclear family for the current state of etiquette confusion. "Many people who came into the workplace in the last 10 years came from dual-income families," Klinkenberg notes. "Parents didn't spend the time drilling basic manners and courtesies into their children because they wanted quality time with them."
The good news is that it's never too late to learn civility.
And, even if you weren't raised in a barn, you may not realize that social etiquette, based on gender and chivalry, is not the same as business etiquette, which is based on hierarchy. Here are some basic pointers to remember in business charm.
Don't bear hug the boss
Kissing is the kiss of death in business--don't do it. If you sense you are about to be kissed, get your hand out fast, lock your elbow at 90 degrees, smile, and utter your greeting with a broad smile.
Note: In some non-traditional business settings such as the art world, or Hollywood, there may be no way to avoid the flagrant "air kiss," or its cousin, the "double air kiss." "Every industry has its own culture, and you have to know what the norms are," Klinkenberg says. "Your behavior and your appearance have to be appropriate to the environment."
Pleased to meetcha
The tools of the trade
Small talk is a great thing to master, but stay away from the "Big Three" topics of religion, sex, and politics. Stick with tried-and-true topics like the weather, sports, books, movies, and restaurants. If you are in a situation where you are not introduced, simply stick your hand out during a pause in the conversation, and introduce yourself, Klinkenberg says. When you are ready to move on and circulate, end each conversation politely with a handshake.
Manners are not hard to learn, and if you aren't sure how to act, get a book, take a course, or get a mentor to give you some honest feedback, Klinkenberg says.
None of this is difficult, she adds. "It just requires an awareness and constant practice."
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