Polish Up Your Protocol

Q: What is the most frequent business-world etiquette mistake?

A: That's very easy. Lateness. People need to realize that if they're early, they're on time. If they're on time they're late, and if they're late they're out of luck. What we do when we train managers is recommend that they lock the door five minutes prior to the start of a meeting. We also train people to write down the time they need to leave for the meeting, rather than the time they need to be there.

Q: I notice your manners training also includes issues with dress code, like confusion with "business casual."

A: It's very common for people to confuse "business casual" with "business sloppy."

Q: How should people dress on casual Fridays?

A: Well, it's different for each business culture. Always dress like the job you want to have - model your business casual wardrobe after your bosses' wardrobe.

Q: Speaking of different standards for different cultures, what are some etiquette issues that come up when doing business internationally?

A: People in their 20s and 30s today travel internationally they way their parents traveled to Florida. Travel abroad is much more frequent now, and there are many rules for people to remember. One of the most frequent problems that Americans encounter is believing that yes means yes.

Q: As opposed to...?

A: As opposed to yes meaning maybe or no. In some cultures, Japan for instance, people doing business will say "yes" when they don't necessarily mean it, in order to save face. They're saying yes to be polite, not to agree with you. People assume that since so many people internationally speak English as a second language, they must also have a Western mind set.

Q: Are there professions where business manners are especially important?

A: Well, anyone who is doing business with others face to face, or ear to ear. Law firms, accounting firms, although really, any service or industry that involves contact with other human beings.

Q: And what level of professional is likely to seek this type of training?

A: Funny thing is, these programs on manners are usually used to keep the bar high. The level of professional most likely to get training in better manners is most likely to be a senior level person, a "rainmaker" - it ends up being a sort of corporate charm school.

Q: How do you define charm?

A: Charm means focusing on other people rather than yourself. It's the ability to get others to do what you want them to do, by first establishing a relationship with them.

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