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Good Manners Play an Important Role in Business

Administrative Assistant's Update
May 1996

An interview with Adeodata Czink, president of the Toronto-based, Business of Manners. Ms. Czink provides specialized classes on the social graces. Her program includes instructions in making good first impressions, proper table etiquette and the protocol necessary to deal politely and effectively with people of different cultures.

AAU: Adeodata, what role do good manners play in the workplace?

AC: They make things run more smoothly. For instance, let's suppose that an important client is coming to see one of the top executives of a company. When the client arrives, he is greeted by a receptionist who is eating ravioli at the reception desk. She does not call the client by name. What's more, she doesn't offer to take his coat or even point out where he could hang his coat. Consequently, she has made a bad first impression And because people tend to generalize, she has set the tone for the whole company. This means that the executive is going to have a much tougher job convincing the client that he should do business with this company.

I tell businesspeople: Remember that you are representing your company, and you have only a few seconds to make a first impression. Make it a good one. Make it easy for the next person who comes along.

AAU: Do you have any specific advice for a receptionist or secretary when greeting business people from other cultures?

AC: It's important to realize that North American women have more freedom and play more important role in business than women en do in many other cultures. For instance, if a businessman from the Orient or an Arab Country comes into your office, he will probably hand the receptionist his business card. He is not likely to speak to her. If the receptionist realizes this, she will not embarrass him by engaging in small talk. And she will understand that he is not being rude to her - it's just a difference in culture.

AAU: Today, businesspeople often deal with clients and customers on the telephone whose first language is not English. What is the most polite way to handle the situation when we really don't understand the caller?

AC: When faced with this situation many of us make the mistake of speaking louder. This isn't likely to help unless the caller has a hearing problem. Speak slowly and clearly, use simple words, and avoid abbreviations. Also, don't embarrass people by asking them to repeat what they have said. They probably can't rephrase what they've said, so they are going to repeat it the same way. You can put the onus on yourself by saying: "Let me repeat what you said so that I make sure that I understand correctly."

AAU: Are formal table manners important in today's fast- paced world?

AC: Not necessarily. People can go through life quite well without them. Fried chicken, hamburgers hot dogs, fajitas, burritos ñ please put your elbows on the table. Table manners are really not that important ñ not unless you are the only one at a formal business dinner who doesn't know which fork to use. When people find themselves in that situation, they realize that table manners are important.

In fact, table etiquette is the most popular course in my program. The reason is that bad table manners are the biggest giveaway that a person lacks training in the social graces. It's like dancing the tango ñ either you know the correct steps or you don't.

North Americans have not attached as much significance to table etiquette as the Europeans, for instance. However, now that many companies are involved in international trade, table manners are being taken more seriously by the North American business person.

AAU: How do you teach table manners?

AC: At my "Let's Do Lunch" seminar, we combine learning with pleasure by eating a four-course luncheon at the elegant Elmwood Complex in downtown Toronto. Space is limited to five participants. We discuss all aspects of a high-profile business lunch. Who should arrive first? Who sits where? Who orders first? Which fork do I use? How do I hold the wine glass?

I also give a one-day seminar that includes luncheon and focuses on making good first impressions, interpersonal relations in the workplace, international etiquette, as well as table manners. I talk with each of the five participants before the seminar to find out what specific quesitons they would like addressed.

AAU: Adeodata, thank you for sharing this information with our readers.

The Business of Manners also provides on-site seminars tailored to suit a company's specific needs. For more information, please call (416) 971-9754