The Power Of Business Etiquette
Good Business Behavior Makes Everyone Feel More Assured
You may have read or heard about manners in the workplace, but what does that mean to most business people? Many of us use good manners daily; we say thank you, please, excuse me and other terms as we behave politely toward each other.
This article is not about manners—it’s about business etiquette and protocol. Manners are polite or well-bred social behaviors. Etiquette is a standard code of conduct and procedures within a particular group. It tends to follow rules inherent to specific situations. Business protocol guides us in understanding cultural differences and can make or break an important meeting, influence a first impression or impress a potential client.
The need for cultural awareness is critical to suppliers as they work with overseas factories, and to distributors who work in close collaboration with client companies in different parts of the world.
You must know the business protocol when working in other countries and it is crucial to understand the differences in concept and importance of people’s rank and status. The correct definition of the word protocol includes principles that are defined and widely accepted, and includes everything from behavior and dress to task execution. Protocol is observed in government, diplomacy and the military, and protocol executives are becoming more common in university settings and Fortune 500 businesses. In some organizations, protocol executives are often also responsible for purchasing promotional products; it’s a great niche market. Protocol also specifies the treatment of particular people with roles in an established hierarchy as it relates to precedence, seating, courtesy and application of rank and honors.
Making an introduction may seem easy, but doing it correctly means you must understand the hierarchies in each country in which you are working. While forms of address are more flexible in the U.S., don’t break the rules of protocol when working outside the U.S. Instant familiarity is not appreciated in most countries, and you must use appropriate titles and last names.
Introducing others is a skill that many people have not yet learned. The simple thing to remember is to first recognize the most important person and to introduce lesser-ranking people to that person. In a business introduction, the most important person would be the client. Within a company, that person would be the senior executive. Remember to look at the most important person and speak to him or her first, and then turn to the lesser important person or others in the group as you complete the introduction. For example, if your client is Mrs. Smith and you are introducing your sales assistant, Joe Jones, to her, the correct introduction would be “Mrs. Smith, may I introduce Joe Jones?” Speak clearly and use courteous language.
Here are a few additional tips:
• Don’t call an international visitor by his or her first name unless you are invited to do so.
• In Europe and Asia, executives who work together for years may still use titles and last names.
• Middle Easterners with whom you are on a first-name basis may prefer Mr./Mrs./Ms. and then their first name.
• North Americans are uncomfortable with class distinction. We don’t like it when others act superior or try to pull rank. The most influential people often make an effort to appear approachable and may ask you to call them by their first name. However, you are always safe when using Mr. or Ms. with the last name until invited to do otherwise.
• Internationally, titles, ranks and honorifics are considered necessary when greeting or introducing someone, so always include the complete name string. If someone has a title, use it correctly.
We have all heard that you only have one chance to make a good first impression. This saying has never been truer than when you are working within a different country and culture. During meetings with international visitors, we are ambassadors for the firms we represent and must understand the business and social customs of the person with whom we are negotiating. The first step is to make sure that what is visible is appropriate—your attire, behavior and language— while your values, assumptions and beliefs are less visible.
When you are culturally aware, you will establish productive relationships and work better in teams. That knowledge will allow you to better handle disagreements, motivate others who cooperate with you, and make decisions and build agreements. You must make sure that your preconceived cultural impressions are not in play, and only collaborate with the accurate data you’ve learned. Be careful not to stereotype a group, or generalize cultures or nationalities. Once you understand the beliefs in another country and how people there do business, you will be able to separate intentions vs. perceptions.
A few key points to improve cross-cultural communications include:
• Share information about your culture, look for similarities and use this to create a foundation.
• Always show respect and flexibility. Be prepared for higher levels of ambiguity.
• Make sure you focus on building trust and always assume positive intentions.
• Learn a few words of greeting and appreciation in the other person’s language.
It’s easy to say that you do this all correctly, but I attend many events and see behaviors that need to be learned to be successful. For the next event or meeting you attend in your own country or in another, remember these tips:
• Think about what kind of entrance you will make.
• Check your appearance in a mirror before entering a room.
• Check your hair, teeth and clothing—it all matters.
• Eat a snack before a networking event, so you don’t appear hungry.
• Walk into the room, survey the room and spot key persons you want to meet.
• Let others see you have arrived as almost everyone watches the entrance to a room.
• Create an impression of confidence and maintain good posture.
• When you meet people in a business setting, look at their upper face, eyes, brows and forehead. That is professional.
• Maintain eye contact when conversing with others.
• Are you comfortable with small talk and do you know when to approach a group of individuals already in a discussion? If you see a group that is heavily engaged in a conversation, find someone else or another group. Also, networking events or meetings are not the best time to create a conversation that is not inviting to everyone. The best time to have a longer or a more in-depth discussion may be after the meeting or on another occasion.
• Always ask permission to join a group and make your way into the conversation.
Practice shaking hands. In the U.S., shake from the elbow, not the wrist or shoulder. Two smooth pumps are all you need. Don’t be the bone crusher in the crowd or the fingertip holder. Handshake greetings are different in every country. In Australia, use a firm grip and two pumps; in France use a light grip and one brisk pump. If you are meeting with someone from the Middle East, note the handshake is likely to be a limp and lingering grip with only a slight up and down movement, never a pump. The person who extends a hand first has an advantage. That person will have established control and shown that they take the initiative. The woman who extends her hand first eliminates any hesitation. Remember, every meeting, business or social introduction, begins and ends with a handshake.
Being A Host And Guest
There is a lot to learn about being a good host and a great guest. For example, practiced dining skills are crucial for feeling comfortable during meals with business associates and being able to make a good impression while conducting business at the table. There are a number of rules about dining including sitting, using your napkin, excusing yourself and even eating difficult foods. Here are a few key points:
• If you are hosting a meal, consider your guest’s likes and dislikes, and choose the restaurant in advance.
• Let your guest know the purpose of the invitation and be precise about the time and where you will meet.
• Approach the right side of your dining chair and enter it from your left side. By doing this you will avoid the collision that happens when everyone approaches the table at the same time. When the meal is over, push your chair back from the table, rise and exit from the right side and push your chair back under the table. Note that during a business meal a woman never should expect a man to pull out her chair. However, if a man offers it is polite to accept with a nice thank-you.
• The placement of dinnerware on the dining table is easy to remember with this trick: all your solids (bread plate, napkin) are on the left and anything liquid (water goblet, wine glass, coffee cup) is on the right.
• When hosting a dinner, precedence determines the seating priority. Did you know that square tables are preferred to round tables for negotiations? Always allow the leader of the host group to approve seating.
There are many more dining suggestions, and I would suggest a local class to make sure that you not only learn what’s correct but are able to practice with others so you are comfortable during a business meal.
As promotional products professionals we are always learning new industry-related skills but having knowledge of these soft skills will allow you to more deftly navigate the international business world.
Adrienne Barker, MAS, is vice president of distributor Barker Specialty Company in Celebration, Florida. She recently earned her certification as a corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant and has subsequently launched Professional Global Etiquette to provide training in business etiquette and protocol. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your personal brand is highly dependent on your use of proper etiquette and protocol. PPB spoke with Adrienne Barker, MAS, about her recent certification in corporate etiquette and international protocol, and her subsequent business expansion to provide training in these areas.
PPB: What does this certification signify?
Barker: I graduated from the Protocol School of Washington with the ability to teach licensed programs created exclusively by the school. I have been trained by the only nationally accredited school in this field.
PPB: What was required to earn it? How long did it take?
Barker: The class was six days long and there were 18 students from all over the world. We learned and studied all day and had some work in the evening. There are approximately 4,500 alumni of this program throughout the world.
PPB: What kinds of new skills and knowledge do you now have?
Barker: I now can teach business etiquette and international protocol. I have always enjoyed speaking and this gives me a platform that I find engaging and exciting. This field is always changing and now more than ever we need to understand that business etiquette makes a difference in your success and that of your business.
PPB: How will it help you better serve your clients as a distributor?
Barker: Our clients often need to work with their customers overseas and I can offer not only gift-giving protocol but also tips and ways to help their business support offshore staff. We can also offer our clients workshops and seminars for their clients or internal staff.
PPB: In what ways will you be expanding your customer base and the types of clients you serve?
Barker: Our industry is always changing and it is important to create different niches. Protocol officers purchase promotional products, and connecting with them is now easier since I graduated from a school they recognize. I can quickly Google protocol officers and find a nice list of new prospects.