E•Connections

For exhibit and event professionals  

Where Have All the Manners Gone?

April 29, 2011 By Editor

Why etiquette needs to make a comeback.
eConnections speaks with etiquette expert Colleen Rickenbacher

You’re struggling with your briefcase and some boxes as you approach an office building. The person ahead of you opens the door, enters and lets go of the door, which slams in your face. You’re trying to get out of a parking lot onto a main road and see an opening in the traffic. As you inch out, an approaching car speeds up, cutting you off.

This kind of bad behavior doesn’t have many repercussions in social situations. But when it comes to the business world, bad manners — a lack of etiquette — can cost people promotions, customers and even their jobs. Conversely, practicing proper etiquette can improve relationships and careers.

To find out more about the basics of business etiquette, eConnections spoke with Colleen Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP, CPC and CTA. Here’s what she had to say.

eConnections: Why is etiquette important in building or nurturing business relationships?

Colleen Rickenbacher: If you ask people about professional ties, they’ll tell you they go to a person with strong etiquette, honesty and civility. Even if you deal with people from other countries, you’ll find every culture values etiquette and protocol.

eConnections: When working a crowd, how can someone approach or engage potential clients or prospects?

Rickenbacher: The best group to approach is a smaller one, with one to three people. Larger groups are fixed, in solid conversation or split into smaller groups.

When you approach someone, smile, extend your hand and introduce yourself. Say your name slowly. If the person you approach is someone you’ve met before but haven’t seen for a while, reintroduce yourself.

Always have 10 topics ready to go, but never religion, politics or personal questions unless you know the other person well. Also, have five to 10 elevator speeches ready, starting with your name and what you do. Keep it intriguing without a lot of details, or the other person will lose interest. For instance, I say my name and that I speak on etiquette and protocol, so they ask me more questions. In your introduction, always leave something for the other person to ask about you, what you do or your company.

Have a business card accessible and ready to go. When you give the card to someone, present it with your name to the person, meaning with your name facing that person. When you receive the other person’s card, say, “Oh, I see you’re from …,” “Oh, I see your title is …” or “Where is your company located?” A business card gives you a lot to chitchat about.

Whatever you do, don’t stand around with a co-worker all night, enjoying the food and drink. And don’t keep your business cards in your back pocket. They’ll be wrinkled and warm when you hand them to people.

eConnections: Does the way someone is dressed affect this kind of interaction?

Rickenbacher: Absolutely. Sometimes, you don’t get a chance for a second impression, and how you present yourself can make a big difference. Your hair and overall appearance should be neat and clean. No bra straps or underwear showing. And shorter, tighter, more revealing clothes should be saved for nonbusiness times. Think about it: How impressive do you think you are in flip-flops or jeans?

You want to be remembered for the right reasons. This is how you’ll be perceived by everyone you meet. And when you travel, wear high-end business casual. Whenever you’re in public on business, you’re representing your company.

eConnections: What are some of the basics of etiquette for nurturing an ongoing relationship with a client or prospect?

Rickenbacher: Punctuality and honesty. Deliver what you promise on time or early. Be prepared and think ahead.

Thank-you notes are also important. Use the 3-3-3 rule: three minutes to write, three lines for the thank-you note itself and send it within three days. So few people send thank-you notes that this will separate you from the crowd.

For birthdays, send a card or call to wish your business associate a happy birthday. Make time to find out about clients so you can remember important dates and facts. People really appreciate this.

But remember at the end of the day, although you can be friendly with professional acquaintances, you have to be professional. Even though they might like you, if you fail to do your job, they will find someone to replace you.

eConnections: How can etiquette be applied to the different means of communication technology available today?

Rickenbacher: Emails are important in today’s business relationships. But remember these are whole forms of business communication, so send full communication. Include a subject line and start out with hello or thanks; don’t just jump into the message. If you’re setting up a phone or in-person meeting, be clear on the time and date, and don’t forget to specify the time zone.

Read every email before sending it. And don’t rely on a spell-checker. A spelling may be correct, but it could be the wrong word. Use proper language, watch the slang and abbreviations, and have a signature line so people know how to contact you. But don’t include color in your signature or pictures. It wastes ink and paper.

When you respond to an email, reply to that person only, not “all.” If the topic stays the same, leave the subject line as it is. However, if you introduce a new subject, change the subject line. Nobody wants to wade through emails with the same subject line to find a particular message.

Also, remember any email you send could go on to other people, so watch your tone and message. The recipient could forward it to someone who forwards it to someone else and someone else, and you could wind up being fired or sued.

If you’re in a meeting with someone, talk; don’t text anyone or interrupt the conversation to answer the phone. If there’s a situation you know will require your immediate attention, tell the other person first that you’re expecting a call. But don’t answer the phone unless it’s a true emergency.

If you leave a voice mail, keep it short, something like “This is___. I’m calling because ____. You can reach me at _____.” Don’t put two digits together in your phone number, like 65 instead of six-five. Tell the person you’re calling a good time to contact you, and repeat your name and phone number before hanging up.

eConnections: Many people have grown up learning little more than the basics of etiquette, like saying “Please” or “Thank you.” When this is the case, how can someone not just follow the rules of etiquette but make them second nature?

Rickenbacher: We live in such a fast-paced society, we forget etiquette. But it has to become the norm, and that’s not hard to do.

For instance, May is Civility Month. Get into the spirit of it. Keep a journal, and each day, write down something kind you’ve done for another person. It doesn’t have to be anything big, maybe just saying hi to someone in the elevator, finding a long-lost friend on facebook or sending someone a birthday card. Even just saying hello and complimenting someone on his or her appearance counts.

Everyone has a degree of etiquette in him or her. What matters is how you show it. Treat people as you want them to treat you. It should be natural, normal. If you respect others and are willing to extend kindness to them, etiquette will follow.


Colleen A. Rickenbacher of Colleen Rickenbacher Inc. is a business owner, author, speaker, trainer and consultant. Speaking engagements on the importance of protocol and etiquette have taken her around the world, and she regularly appears on national television and radio.

Rickenbacher was recognized by Meeting News magazine as One of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry and, most recently, was inducted into the Hall of Fame and awarded the Lifetime Achievement designation by Texas Meetings & Events magazine, which is their highest honor. She is the author of three books: Be on Your Best Business Behavior; Be on Your Best Cultural Behavior; and The Big Book of People Skills Game.

Rickenbacher has achieved her Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), the Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP), her Certified Protocol Consultant (CPC) and most recently her Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) designations. She can be contacted at 214-341-1677, colleen@crspeaks.com or via her website at www.colleenrickenbacher.com.








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