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"Teaching business etiquette as the subtle, redefining confidence which enables people to excel and succeed in today's corporate culture."~ Cindy Grosso, Founder

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The business of business etiquette

By CLAY BARBOUR


The business meeting was unlike any Mary Helen Condon Moore and Alex Opoulos had ever experienced. As financial advisors with Charleston�s Merrill Lynch, the two young professionals were accustomed to the fast-paced world of high finance. But for them, business meetings usually focused on commerce not courtesy, on money not manners.

Today�s meeting was different. A kink in office communications had led them here, to Cindy Grosso, head of the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette.Mary, it seems, is a type 3 personality. That is to say, she is a talker, a left- and right-brain thinker who takes a while to get to the point. Alex is a type 1, a right-brain thinker who prefers all work-related conversations be short and to the point. The differing styles, though not abrasive, have caused roadblocks. So Grosso was brought in to help.

It�s not a new position for Grosso. For 13 years she has taught people every manner of social grace, from dinning etiquette to dressing for success to polite interoffice dialogue. But since 2000, when she opened her school on protocol and etiquette, Grosso has turned her attention to the business or business etiquette. �Companies are always concerned with the bottom line, that�s just the nature of industry,� she says. �But what they�re starting to realize, is that in this fast-paced world of computers and telecommunication, the personal touch is missing. And when it comes to dealing with other people, that will ultimately affect their bottom line.�

NO SECOND CHANCES
Grosso is serious about image -- always has been. Maybe it started in high school when Grosso worked selling Avon. Maybe it happened at the University of South Carolina, where she majored in marketing and finance. But somewhere along the way, she became convinced that a person�s presentation says a lot about who a person really is. �People might say, �Hey, that�s superficial. What about my inner beauty?� Grosso says. �But the fact is, 55 percent of what people think about you is based on appearance. And most of that comes in the first 30 seconds. So maybe you are a truly special person, but most people will never know if you give them the wrong impression to begin with. That�s just the way it is.�

How does this relate to the buttoned-down world of business, where money and power are what matter? According to Grosso, a mastery of etiquette, an ability to act the part as well as look it, is the very key to success in business. And if her schedule is any indication, many Lowcountry businesses have come to the same conclusion. There are really multiple benefits to this type of training, says Nick Gavales, local head of Mass Mutual, a financial services group. Gavales hired Grosso for three seminars this year. Manners and etiquette help smooth out inter-office communications, which in turn helps morale, he says. That in turn helps businesses. We work better and do better work. And it also is a good personal development program to offer your employees. How does this relate to the buttoned-down world of business, where money and power are what matter? According to Grosso, a mastery of etiquette, an ability to act the part as well as look it, is the very key to success in business. And if her schedule is any indication, many Lowcountry businesses have come to the same conclusion. �The are really multiple benefits to this type of training,� says Nick Gavales, local head of Mass Mutual, a financial services group. Gavales hired Grosso for three seminars this year. �Manners and etiquette help smooth out inter-office communications, which in turn helps morale,� he says. �That in turn helps businesses. We work better and do better work. And it also is a good personal development program to offer your employees.�

Grosso began teaching these types of programs in 1986, working mainly for
modeling schools. She later owned a Charleston modeling school from 1997
until she sold it in 2000. It was then that she decided to take her lessons to the business community. Backed by an accreditation from the Protocol School of Washington, the Harvard of protocol schools, Grosso opened up shop in Charleston. Her schedule filled in immediately. Some clients wanted help in improving customer relations, some wanted to improve the relations between their employees.Others wanted help refining their image, an attempt to climb the corporate ladder.

The 41-year-old former modeling instructor developed a series of lectures, with topics ranging from how to give a good first impression to business etiquette and outclassing the competition. She even developed seminars on international protocol, an especially hot topic in these international times. These seminars cover everything from how to dress, to body language and the importance of listening. Grosso also gives one-on-one counseling sessions, breaking down a person�s habits and what those habits say to people. To some it would seem these all fall under the category of  "Things your mother should have told you." But Grosso says a surprising number of people are in the dark on such matters. "You would amazed by how many women don�t know how to cross their legs (for the record, it�s crossed at the ankle) and how many people don�t know how to dress," Grosso says. "It�s not common sense, if it�s not all that common." Grosso did not invent this business niche. Business etiquette specialists are sprouting up all over the country.

Letitia Baldrige, one of the nation�s most respected etiquette experts, has
been speaking on the topic for years and even wrote a book on the issue in
1996 titled �Executive Advantage.� The book focused on how manners and etiquette can help people get ahead in the business world. �What we have to do is become more aware of other people,� Baldrige says. �That�s very hard in this electronic, computer age, because we are pushing buttons and looking at machines all the time.�

Gloria Starr, who is based in Palm Beach, Fla., has addressed the issue in
seminars for 18 years."You know people have a lot of education these days, but few are taught the basics of etiquette and dress," she says. "It�s a lost art. But it�s one that many businesses are finding a use for these days. And the reason they
are finding it useful is because they are seeing how it affects their success."


BOTTOM LINES
Sear Sauls had a problem.For every 100 people who entered Rick Hendrick Imports of Charleston, 50 were choosing to shop elsewhere. The question for Sauls, the store�s general manager and a 30-year veteran of car sales, was why? �Something was happening that was leading some people to go somewhere else and I couldn�t shake the feeling that maybe we were doing something to put them off,� he says. Buying a car is a major purchase, one that most people take seriously. Sauls says that often the smallest thing can convince a car buyer to shop with another dealer. So he hired Grosso to give several lessons on manners and etiquette to his staff.  "You want to be comfortable with who you�re buying a car from," Sauls says. And that�s just not always the case. The last thing we want to do is steer away business when a simple courtesy is all that is required."

Like Sauls, Tim Sebold works in an industry that relies heavily on consumer confidence. As the managing partner of Lifequest Health and Fitness, which operates three gyms in Charleston, Sebold is aware that a slip in customer service could easily result in loss revenues. He hired Grosso to give his employees a refresher course on manners and etiquette. "I looked at it like exercise," he says. "You can�t stop working out or you will revert back to old form. The same is true with manners." Sebold says his employees loved the experience.

But that�s not always the case, at least not going in. "At first I was skeptical," says Nancy Herritage, Mass Mutual�s agency administrator. "I was like, �I have manners. Why do I need her to tell me what to do?" After one session, Herritage changed her mind. She could see the change in how people were dealing with one another. And she noticed a change in herself. �I was unaware of some of the rules I was breaking," Herritage says. "I crossed my legs and shook hands wrong." Herritage was so impressed with Grosso that she signed her daughter up for a one-on-one session.


THE BASICS
When teaching etiquette, Grosso has found it's best to hit the basics. This often
means the handshake. Historians say shaking hands originated with knights, who extended their sword hands � usually the right one � as a sign of peace. Today, the simple courtesy says so much more.

Are you a logical thinker? A tad too emotional? Perhaps you�re insecure. It�s all there, between the webbing of your thumb and the tip of your forefinger. And everyone you meet knows it. Or at least they think they do.  "When someone shakes your hand, they immediately draw a conclusion as to who they think you are," Grosso says. "And right or wrong, that�s a perception you�ll have a hard time changing." During Moore and Opoulus� two-hour meeting, Grosso had the financial advisors stand and shake her hand. A proper handshake requires web-to-web contact, a firm grip and a single pump. Bone-crushing grips are a sign of insecurity, as is the dreaded dead fish. Eye contact should continue throughout the introduction and the person should smile always.

Moore�s handshake was a little too close to a dead fish for Grosso. It's a common problem for women, who are rarely taught a proper handshake. �Web to web, Mary,� Grosso said. �Web to web.� The Moore-Opoulos session lasted another hour, in which Grosso broke down other rules of etiquette. One lesson, how to communicate effectively, was especially interesting to them. Grosso explained that as a type 3 thinker and a type 1 thinker, they both would have to become more aware of what the other needs. Mary, Grosso said, needs to get to the point quicker. And Opoulos in turn needed to learn that Mary requires more information.
Most importantly they both needed to be aware that neither way of doing business was wrong, just different. They just needed to observe proper etiquette when dealing with one another.

�It�s all about making the other person feel more comfortable, more confident,� she says. �And that helps you out in the end.� Both Moore and Opoulos were impressed enough with the session that they hired Grosso to give another seminar � this time to the rest of their team. �I look at it as a focused attempt to refine myself,� Moore says. �I think it will definitely help my career.�




Source: Article published in the Post and Courier

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