Previously published as part of Business Class.
Effective networking and business etiquette require study and practice before they becomes second nature but both are powerful, practical, and profitable skills you can use when it most counts to get a job, keep a job, or succeed on the job. It is a set of rules and guidelines that makes your professional relationships more harmonious, productive, manageable, and meaningful.
International etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore provides solid tips and tactics you can implement immediately for making good business connections—and keeping them—gleaned from the experience of a multitude of successful CEOs and top managers including.
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About the Author
Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert and the founder and director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. Jacqueline has helped thousands of high-powered executives learn how to avoid the missteps and mistakes that may stifle their business relationships and tarnish their reputations. As the Cell Phone Etiquette Spokesperson for Sprint and the founder of National Cell Phone Courtesy Month in July, she makes radio and television appearances to educate consumers about the importance of cell phone courtesy. Jacqueline and her husband, Brian Gleason, live in Florida.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an internationally recognized etiquette expert and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. Her extensive client base includes the U.S. Department of Defense, Booz Allen Hamilton, Office Depot, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Deloitte, Merrill Lynch, Ernst&Young, Bloomingdale's, Sprint, and Burger King Corporation, among others.
Jacqueline is a popular guest on radio and television and her etiquette advice has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Real Simple, Fortune, and O: The Oprah Magazine. Jacqueline and her husband, Brian Gleason, live in Florida.
Read an Excerpt
HOW TO MINGLE, NETWORK, AND REMEMBER NAMES (Chapter 1)
Whoever said “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” was absolutely right. In business and in private life, we either consciously or unconsciously make judgments about someone’s professionalism, character, and competence based on first impressions. The best way to make a positive first impression, especially during first-time business encounters, is to be on time and be prepared.
Uncommon Common Sense
- Give a firm handshake.
- Say “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Excuse me.”
- Don’t interrupt or finish a persons sentence.
- Return phone calls promptly.
- Be punctual.
P. M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct and cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, says that one of the reasons we experience stress in business encounters is lack of preparation. “It’s like an exam. If you have studied for the exam, you will be less nervous and will show authority and poise,” says Forni. He believes that when you are prepared, you think more clearly. Instead of investing nervous energy in anticipating the situation, you invest that energy in thinking about the problems and issues at hand. Pre-meeting preparation will give you an enormous advantage over someone else who shows up without having done their homework. James R. Lucas, president and CEO of Luman Consultants International, a management consulting company in Overland Park, Kansas, and author of Fatal Illusions: Shredding a Dozen Unrealities That Can Keep Your Organization from Success, believes you set yourself up for failure when you don’t take the time to learn anything about your client or vendor. In a recent phone interview, Lucas told me, “Learn everything you can about your clients. Each one is uniquely different and each has their own special needs. Don’t try to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Customizing builds memorable relationships.”
During one of my etiquette seminars, an attorney told me he prepares for a business meeting the same way he prepares for a trial. In preparing for a trial, he researches the evidence, interviews suspects or witnesses, and finds out as much as possible before presenting his case. Before meeting with a client or his law partners, his preparation is similar. If you spend the time it takes to glean important background information, you can be better prepared for your next client meeting or job interview by doing the following:
- Find out with whom you will be meeting. Memorize the names and titles of those you don’t know. During the meeting, use each person’s name several times in conversation.
- Visit their Web site to view the company’s history, mission statement, staff biographies, articles, news releases, and more. Take notes on index cards and review them just before the meeting. This research is also good fodder for conversation.
- Break the ice by discussing topics that interest those who are attending the meeting. Aside from the weather and traffic, most people feel comfortable talking about their alma mater, hobbies, special interests, and vacations. If you don’t know what interests the person outside of work, ask a colleague who knows him well. If you share something in common, like running in marathons, make mention of it.
- Familiarize yourself with the industry in which you’ll be working. Read trade publications and get acquainted with the acronyms, buzzwords, trends, and the client’s competitors’ problems or issues.
- Brush up on current events by reading weekly news magazines and one or two major daily newspapers. You’ll appear more interesting and knowledgeable if you’re apprised of what’s going on in the world.
A strategy is equally important when you attend internal meetings with your boss or coworkers. To prepare:
- Read over the meeting agenda and support material and familiarize yourself with the topics to be discussed. Suggest any modifications to the agenda before the meeting begins.
- If you’re unable to attend a meeting, send someone in your absence.
- If you’re chairing the meeting, make sure everyone contributes to the conversation.
- Discourage sidebar conversations.
- Jot down any pertinent questions or issues you want to address. The worst thing you can do is go to a meeting and say nothing.
- If you’re chairing the meeting, make a “call to action” list and document who is going to follow up on certain tasks. Assign deadlines for each task.
- Distribute meeting minutes within twenty-four hours.
BEFRIEND THE GATEKEEPER
First impressions begin as soon as you arrive at someone’s office, so it’s best to be friendly to the receptionist or whoever greets you as you walk in, or when you stop by to drop off information or arrive to meet someone. In a survey commissioned by Robert Half International, 91 percent of executives polled said they consider the opinions of their executive assistants when it comes to hiring someone for a job or making certain business decisions. Anyone who is rude or indifferent to a receptionist or executive assistant (or anyone else in the company) can sacrifice their chances of getting a foot in the door.
Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO and CCO (chief creative officer) of the Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency in New York City and coauthor of BANG!: Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World, says if a business candidate treats her executive assistant poorly, she refuses to do business with that person. One day while Kaplan Thaler was interviewing a job candidate, her executive assistant, Fran, brought the candidate a cup of coffee. “I thanked my assistant for getting the applicant’s cup of coffee but the applicant just looked at her and kept on talking to me,” says Kaplan Thaler. “At that moment I decided not to hire this person. When he didn’t thank her, I got a complete snapshot of his character. It’s the small things that define someone’s true personality,” she explains. “If you break a mirror into a million pieces, you can pick up one sliver and still get his or her whole character reflection.”
Eva Rosenberg, publisher of TaxMama.com, a tax information Web site, agrees with Kaplan Thaler. She says it’s a mistake to assume the gatekeeper has no decision-making power. “If you’re a sales rep who calls my assistant and you are rude to her, you’ve already lost the sale. She’s going to say to me, ‘This guy’s a jerk,’ and I’m going to take her word for it. I always rely on her to tell me which calls are important. In fact, many times, she has the authority to make purchases on her own,” says Rosenberg.
C. Leslie Charles, founder of TRAININGWORKS, a human resources development firm in East Lansing, Michigan, and author of Why Is Everyone So Cranky?: The Ten Trends Complicating Our Lives and What We Can Do About Them, recalls the time when she worked with a copy machine sales representative who ruined his chances for a sale because he let his ego get in the way. While Charles was a job trainee shadowing a sales rep, she saw him trying to go over the secretary’s head to get to the president of the company. “He thought he was a hotshot and treated the administrative assistant as if she didn’t know a thing about copy machines. In the end, the president of the company let the secretary choose the copy machine because she was the primary user. Needless to say, Mr. Hotshot didn’t make the cut due to his poor judgment and bad manners,” says Charles.
Here are some ways to win points with an executive assistant:
- When you meet an executive assistant, shake his hand and acknowledge him by name if you know it.
- If you are offered a cup of coffee or a glass of water, accept it graciously. This is a great time to start a brief conversation.
- While waiting for your meeting, engage in some small talk with the executive assistant. This will help establish a rapport, as long as you are not distracting her from her work. Comment on pictures of her children or a nice pin or scarf she may be wearing. When all else fails, talk about the weather.
- During the holidays, go the extra mile and bring a small gift, like a box of chocolates, to the executive assistant. You will be remembered for your thoughtfulness and you will have something to talk about the next time you call or visit. (Some companies have strict policies on gifts, so research the limitations ahead of time.)
- Thank the executive assistant by name when you leave.
- During follow-up phone calls, use the executive assistant’s name in conversation and exchange pleasantries before asking to speak with the president or CEO. For example, say something like, “Hello Chris, this is Ken Hines. Did you have a nice vacation?”
DURING THE MEETING: MEASURE THE MOOD
Food lovers have been known to travel hours to the world-famous Inn at Little Washington for a taste of chef Patrick O’Connell’s grilled black figs with tangy lime sauce, a medallion of veal tenderloin with woodsy mushrooms, or a slice of Valrhona chocolate cake with roasted-banana ice cream. While the food is delectable, it’s the attention to detail that takes the dining experience over the top.
Chef O’Connell believes that people aren’t impressed by what you know or what you can offer until they see that you care. He believes you can’t possibly care in any meaningful way unless you have some insight into what people are feeling and why. Staffers in the one-hundred-seat dining room are apprised of a guest’s “mood rating” upon arrival. Using a scale of 1 to 10, with 7 or below indicating displeasure or unhappiness, the captain secretly assigns to each table a number that corresponds to the guests’ apparent state of mind. The mood rating is typed into a computer, written on the dinner order, and placed on a spool in the kitchen where the entire staff can see it and react accordingly. “If guests ran into terrible traffic on the way here, or are in the midst of a marital dispute, we need to consider it our problem. How else are we going to ensure that they have a sublime experience?” muses O’Connell.
In business, the ability to measure a client’s or colleague’s mood is even more invaluable if you want to get a business discussion off to a good start either on the phone or in person. First determine whether the person you’re meeting with wants to socialize or would rather get down to business right away. Some people want to jump straight into a discussion, while others want to ask about your family, vacation, or other personal matters before talking shop. If someone is cheerful and wants to small-talk before getting to business matters, then you do the same. If someone walks in the door and is eager to discuss business, then happily follow along. Although chitchat is an important part of building relationships, it might not be expected or encouraged when attending a meeting, so follow the lead of the person in charge.
SLOW DOWN: MAKE FRIENDS
Regardless of whether a meeting is held at or away from your office, the first few minutes will generally involve some chitchat. This is a good time to establish rapport. If you are meeting with someone new, glance around their office as you walk in and look for indicators of personal interests. Like one’s home, an office often reflects one’s personality. Personal items on the desk or wall, particularly pictures of family, pets, or sports, are fodder for conversation. If you notice any plaques, diplomas, or personal or professional awards, comment on them. Everyone loves recognition and genuine praise. When you establish rapport, you gain a friendship. When you gain a friendship, you increase your chances of gaining a job, a referral, a recommendation, a promotion, or a long-term contract.
AFTER THE MEETING:
DEFINE GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
At the end of a meeting, ask questions and then summarize the person’s concerns and expectations and share ways in which you can help summarize goals, responsibilities, and deadlines in writing. Follow up when you say you’re going to follow up. Under-promise and overdeliver, and deliver on time or even sooner. If your client or coworker has expectations you can’t fulfill, explain what you can realistically provide. If there’s something you aren’t able to accomplish by yourself, recommend others who may be able to help. Maintain a stellar professional reputation. It may take years to gain someone’s respect but it takes only seconds to lose it.
TIPS FROM THE TOP
Find out what you can about a person before an Important meeting.
Be extra nice to the executive assistant.
Establish rapport before getting down to business.
Build a friendship and the sale will eventually follow.
Don’t promise more than you can deliver.
HOW TO MINGLE, NETWORK, AND REMEMBER NAMES Copyright © 2005 by Jacqueline Whitmore