Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Most Timeless Accessory: Exceptional Etiquette

True or False: I strive to behave appropriately in most situations.

If the answer is true… keep reading for some thoughts and ideas on etiquette from Diane Gottsman.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Diane, an expert on all things etiquette, at a dinner put on by the Texas State McCoy Business School/MBA program. She spoke about the do’s and don’ts of business dining and I learned so much from her presentation. Diane has graciously agreed to have a discussion with me about a few 21st century business etiquette topics!

Who pays the bill?

I’ve always been taught that the customer NEVER pays. And if I have to go to extreme measures to ensure I end up with the tab in hand, I’m not above it. I’ve been known to show up early to meals with especially generous customers to prep my server ahead of time or slip them my card. While this may seem like a small detail, paying the bill is an expression of respect for the business that your client gives you and simply the polite thing to do. In social situations, I’ve heard that the general rule is that whoever extended the invitation is usually expected to pay. Personally, I don’t stick to this strictly. For instance, I wouldn’t expect for the birthday girl to pay for my meal at her birthday celebration at a local restaurant. The larger the party, the less likely the inviter is paying the bill in a social situation, at least in my circle of friends.

Diane weighs in: I agree Rachel, the customer is your guest under most situations (unless he/she is also your neighbor and you have been invited out to dinner with their family!). Socially, the standard rule is the person extending the invitation pays but good judgment also prevails under those circumstances. If you are invited to a birthday party for two and the only other attendee is the birthday girl, arrive early and take care of the check…Happy Birthday.

To hug or not to hug?

This is an interesting topic and one that may surprisingly depends heavily on your geographic location. My general rule for this is that in business, I don’t hug unless the other person initiates in an effort to preserve the personal space and comfort of others. As a woman in business, I never want to appear weak or present myself in too friendly or sexual of a manner to my male cohorts. That being said, I would feel impolite to decline the hug of a colleague or customer, so I usually reciprocate if the effort is made on the others’ part.

Diane weighs in: Watch the other person's body language. If you observe that your best client is greeting you with her arms extended for a warm hug, do the same as you would not want to offend her. Although a firm handshake is the most professional greeting, the rules get murky when long time clients become friendly and familiar. Allow your client to extend their hands for the hug rather than initiating the hug first.

What is “business casual” and what is not (and why should I care?).

As a manager, I have my own opinions on the topic of “business casual”. My personal thought is why would I or anyone on my team ever dress down when there is an opportunity to dress UP? I would much rather be on the upper end of the acceptable scale of clothing options in any situation, whether business or personal. Dressing in a clean, thoughtful and professional manner is a great way to advance your career and create meaningful relationships with the people you do business with very quickly. If you take good care of yourself and your appearance, it sends the message that you will also take good care of your customers and responsibilities.

In my opinion, business casual IS: Clean, pressed, lint-rolled, tailored, well-fitting, vibrant, black or muted (as long as not faded), modest, flattering and most importantly event appropriate.

Business casual is NOT: Jeans, flats, skin, cleavage or reverse cleavage (aka plumber), flip-flops, t-shirts, ill-fitting, anything you couldn’t wear a normal bra with (one shoulder, strapless).

Diane weighs in: I couldn't have said it better, Rachel. "Business Casual" is certainly not wrinkled clothing, ratty jeans and sneakers unless you happen to work in an environment where you are required to dress down due to the nature of the particular job. Khaki pants, starched shirt and a jacket hanging from the back of the office door in case a customer drops in is the acceptable norm for men and a nice pair of slacks or skirt and a cotton or silk blouse is the standard for women. If jeans are the norm in your business casual office environment they should be a dark wash, free from holes, starched, not frayed and certainly not super "Skinny" or "Jeggings".

What’s in a name?

One of the most important keys to making a place for yourself in any group of people is having others know your name. Additionally, one of the quickest ways onto someone’s list of favorite people is to learn their name quickly and use it often. The sweetest sound on earth to any given person is the sound of their own name. So call people by name as often as you can, and when you mean someone new, introduce yourself with first and last name. Do you really want to make an impression? Stick your hand out, offer a firm hand shake coupled with some confident eye contact. If you follow that combination with a sincere question or comment, you are likely to be remembered in a positive light and succeed at making a lasting and positive first impression.

Diane weighs in: You are a wonderful student Rachel and I can tell you were listening at our session!

More Questions for Diane:

What is etiquette really all about (I remember you saying at the dinner that it is all about making others comfortable and putting them at ease with your own behavior and confidence)?

The way we treat others is "telling". Building relationships does not just happen and great conversationalists are not born with the skill. In order to put your best foot forward you must make an effort to put others at ease. It's important to be interested in the other person and show respect to those with whom we come in contact. Lack of confidence shows when you are boastful, arrogant or intolerant of other people. Etiquette has very little to do with perfection and everything to do with the way we treat other people. We all have awkward moments, it's a matter of how we handle these moments that sets us apart from the rest.

If you could tell the world one thing about etiquette, what would it be?

Money does not buy class - genuine effort (notice I use the word "genuine") and training are necessary to be the best person you can be.

How can I use things I learn about etiquette within my group of friends and coworkers (You mentioned that people need to worry about themselves and not correct others which I thought was a great point)?

The minute you criticize another person you lose your personal power. Acting in a manner that shows deference and respect to others is the ultimate goal. Treat others as you would like to be treated and don't miss an opportunity to learn new skills as you grow both personally and professionally.

Finally Rachel, it has been my pleasure to be a part of your blog and I am honored that you asked for my input.

My very best to you,


The pleasure has been all mine! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise!

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