Etiquette: a plea for civility or a tool for your personal arsenal?

by Paula Moran in

A man walks strait up to you shakes you by the hand and addresses you by name.  You cannot remember his.  What should you do?


Being an honest person my first reaction is to admit my memory failure and once again ask him his name.  In a business setting is that the best course of action?  If I do so I gain the information I need to properly address him, but I also may send the message that I did not value him enough to remember his name.


According to etiquette and protocol trainer Ms. Nancy Mitchell just go with it, do not stop and ask his name.


Panic!  How will I eventually deduce this man’s name?  Here are some ideas:


1)      Invite someone new to the conversation and make the statement “Let’s all introduce ourselves”

2)      If you are the event host remind yourself to have a check-in table with name tags at the next event.


How many blunders could you have made in the past 30 seconds this conversation has been going on?  Did you properly shake his hand?  Have you been looking him in the eye as you to speak?  Are you stuffing your mouth with the buffet food as he speaks?  Are you calculating how much longer you have to speak to him before you can hand him your card?


As a career changer who has attended several networking events I did not realize how many business etiquette blunders I’d made until I took an extreme etiquette course.  I’ll probably not lose a job by accidently drinking wine out my water glass.  But certain things I had been doing may have. 


Etiquette is not simply having good manners.  As Ms. Mitchell put it etiquette is a business tool, a method of communicating respect and way of putting others at ease.  Without the later two you’ll never get your business done.  Sadly the rules of etiquette are not part of any standard curriculum and a large portion of our population blunders naively. 


I come from an upper middle class family.  So I learned formal table manners and what to do when there is more than one fork at the place setting.  But what of those parents who do not teach their children these manners?  I met a teacher who wanted to take some successful students out for a meal to reward them.  When she asked were they wanted to go the only restaurant they knew was a Chinese take-out place.  Other issues aside, how can these students navigate through other parts of society to better their socioeconomic standing if they have no experience even sitting down in a restaurant?


Luckily for most of us we are not in such a severe disadvantage.  But we could probably all use a refresher on finer manners.  From the pages of notes I took down during the course, here are my top etiquette tips.


1)      Keep your entirety of both your hands visible to the person in front of you at all times.  This puts others at ease.  While the reasoning for this may stem from our barbaric need to make sure other people are not armed, it will prevent posture no nos such as crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips.


2)      Stand up strait, look the other person in the eye, smile and say hello clearly along with your full name as you extend your arm to shake their hand.  You have 5 seconds to make a 1st impression be ready.


3)      Have a firm handshake.  Everyone will remember if you have the wet fish handshake and think you less of a person if you do.


4)      At least scan a newspaper or news gathering website so you can maintain small talk about things you may or may not care about.  But you don’t want to be “that guy” that doesn’t care about an issue someone is passionate about.


5)      Eyes on the speaker at all times.  If you hate eye contact stare between their eyebrows (they won’t be able to tell the difference).  Don’t look further than about 2 inches below the shoulders.


6)      Unless you have a family member that is imminently dying, the person you are speaking with is more important than anyone that might be calling on your mobile (or at least act like it).  Keep the phone turned off and out of site.  If by accident it rings silence without checking who called. 


7)      Stand up to greet people, it shows a great deal of respect.


8)      Introduce people to each other by name.  And it’s really nice if you give a factoid about one to the other so they have something to talk about.


9)      If you are awkward standing without something in your hand hold a drink not a plate of food.  And from my own personal advice make it white wine or a clear drink like club soda.  Red wine in a crowded room can only end badly.


Take an etiquette course to fill in the gaps I’ve left.  I took my course at First Class Inc in DC.  The course provider was Nancy Mitchell from the Etiquette Advocate.  While it might be a bit pricier there is an accredited etiquette school right here in DC, the Protocol School of Washington


As a parting request, event hosts please prove the sticky or clip on name badges, not the ones on a lanyard, so that we can look towards faces and not bellybuttons as we read each other’s names.  And event participants please wear your name tag high up on your right shoulder so I can read your name easily.