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Good Business Mandates Good Manners

By Monika Ruef

Mom always said, "watch your manners" before you went to eat at a friend�s house. As an adult, perhaps you think table manners aren�t that important, but a new trend in business etiquette and protocol education suggests otherwise.
Classes on how to eat properly at business dinners, pamphlets on how to dress impressively for presentations and specialists� advice on appropriate conduct during meetings exemplify the newfound emphasis on business behavior.

Social skills - a lost art?
Pam Thompson, franchise owner and manager of Norrell Temporary Agency, says, "A lot of people have not been taught social graces. Just like some companies work on individuals� management skills or computer skills, some companies have realized they are going to have to work on social skills."

Cindy Grosso has been teaching etiquette and protocol for 12 years. "Social grace is a lost art, but people are going back to that," she says. "They see how attractive and graceful someone is when they act correctly and have good manners."  Manners have become less important because of the fast paced life society leads, with microwaves and fast food becoming the norm, says Grosso. "We don�t slow down enough to teach our children good manners. No one has time. You don�t grow up in a society like that and have manners when you grow up."

Taking time to learn
Grosso says that having good manners is not an inborn skill. "I teach very intelligent people who just don�t know [what the protocol is]. It�s not rocket science, but it�s something you have to take time to learn."  Business protocol and etiquette are mostly about self-confidence and self-esteem, says Grosso, and these are the things she teaches. "There�s a lot of business that�s done outside of the office. If you go to a dinner and have worry about which fork to use, you become self-conscious. Then you can�t pay attention or focus on the conversation." She adds, "It�s knowing how to walk in a room confidently or carry on a conversation confidently. It�s an inside job."

Dining for success
The College of Charleston has also keyed in on the need for graduates to have proper business manners. Many graduating seniors recently attended a "dining for success" event during which students received tips on the art of mingling, small talk and table manners at business functions.  Linda Robinson of the college�s career services office says that, "The interview process now often includes a second, third and often even a fourth interview at the company�s headquarters. These on-site interviews sometimes include lunch or dinner with company representatives. We felt it important that our graduating students develop some knowledge and awareness of dining etiquette as well as to practice using verbal and non-verbal communications skills in order to be comfortable in this type of situation, whether it be in an interview or later on after they have become employed."

First impressions matter
Attire and general manners are just as important for business success.  "The first impression is incredibly important," says Norrell�s Thompson. "This includes how [the applicant or employee] is dressed and whether they look serious or professional."  Thompson says she knows people who have been rejected from a job or a promotion because of a low neckline, heavy perfume, open-toe shoes, not wearing stockings, wearing too much make-up or wearing too much jewelry. "A person�s attire should enhance the person," she says.  According to Thompson, part of the reason education is required on attire is because the dress in some sectors of the economy has become much more casual. The meaning of "business casual" in the workplace has to be interpreted for the employee. "It has to be really specific," she says, explaining that while "business casual" may mean jeans for one company, it may mean slacks and a button-up for another.

Grosso agrees the meaning has become more confusing. "Business casual has gotten more extreme - some people have taken it to a whole new level. She says she teaches people not only what is appropriate to wear, but also what fits an individual�s body.

Nationwide trend
The increased emphasis on business protocol is not limited to the Southeast - the trend is nationwide. Corby O�Connor is the founder of Corby O�Connor & Company, a New Jersey-firm focusing on business etiquette and protocol. She says, "With the new business casual atmosphere and a new generation entering the workplace, [employees] must ask themselves, �Do I look like I mean business?�"
O�Connor has authored etiquette pamphlets including 101 Ways to Look Like an Executive (for Women). The pamphlet gives tips on how to dress and, says O�Connor, "contains a �recipe� for a basic business wardrobe."   Thompson sees the need for business etiquette training. "Some people who are talented will not get jobs because they don�t know what to do," she says.  She adds that as long as there is a tight employment market, an employee may be hired because they have the talent and required skills to do the job, and the company may have to pay to teach them etiquette. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don�t know what to do, and unfortunately, it�s having to be addressed."

"Good manners is good business," says Grosso, "and that�s one reason why [the trend] is coming back."

Source: Article published in the Charleston Regional Business Journal

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