Mind Your Manners


Clarence Thomas said, “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.”  Carolle Vargas would agree. She’s a business and etiquette coach and will be the speaker at the June 28 meeting of the WorkSource Professional Network. She teaches leaders the tools they need to refine their presence and improve the way they connect.  Her coaching helps professionals present themselves with greater confidence and authority, forge stronger relationships, and get and keep more clients.

 Vargas worked as a manager and trainer in call centers for Dell and Qwest, jobs which honed her understanding of how etiquette can impact success in business. She moved to Jacksonville from Austin, Texas in August of 2011 and works now with business professionals who want to understand the rules of etiquette and improve their people skills. She trained at the prestigious Protocol School of Washington, which is recognized as a leader in protocol, cross-cultural communication, and business etiquette.

Good manners, she says, are about respect and making the other person feel comfortable. You can be wrong even if you’re technically correct, she asserts. “Being right about an etiquette rule doesn’t matter if you embarrass someone when you point out mistakes.”

Vargas lists what she considers to be the three most important skills in etiquette: good eye contact, good listening skills, and a strong awareness of your environment (and the people in it.) Eye contact and listening skills make other people feel that you’re truly present and that they matter. Those are important factors in the respect component of personal interaction. Vargas also explains how a keen awareness of your environment is also critical to good manners. “People who notice that someone is trying to speak on the phone moderate their voices so as not to disturb them. They introduce themselves first if they see someone struggling to remember their name. It’s those small things that add up to how likeable you are.”

We have protocol and etiquette rules to prevent chaos, Vargas goes on to say. When we all understand how something should be done, like which way to pass food at the table, we can relax and focus more on our conversation and interaction. (For the record, you should always pass to your right.)Most manners are simply common sense and center around deferring to your host or the most senior person in the room. For instance, you should wait to be seated or to begin eating until your host or the most senior (in age or in status) person sits or begins. If you were to think it through, that’s the course of action that would probably come naturally. Etiquette training can help take the guesswork out of situations just in case you’re not a natural.

Introductions set the tone for many business meetings, and it’s an easy place to make your first faux pas (French for “false step.”)In both business and social situations, you should always introduce in the following order(courtesy of Monster.com):

  • Younger people to older people;
  • Junior ranking professionals to senior ranking professionals;
  • Business contacts and staff to clients;
  • Personal acquaintances and family members to business professionals when attending a business function; and
  • Guests to their hosts.

The way to know whether you have it right is to mention the name of the most important person first. The easiest and simplest introduction sounds like this: “Mr. Jones, this is Mary Peterson. She just started in our sales department as an assistant buyer.” Vargas says that business situations are gender neutral; you don’t need to observe certain rituals simply because one of the parties is a woman.  That might be confusing for someone who was raised with a set of rules that applied to the fairer sex, like standing when she leaves or enters a room, opening doors for ladies, or deferring to them as the most significant in the introductions above (unless they do outrank the other party.)

Do you have a pet peeve about modern manners? Not sure if your manners are top notch? Leave a comment.

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4 thoughts on “Mind Your Manners

  1. I have a pet peeve about proper spelling of a persons name. I feel it is important that you spell a persons name correctly, both first and last. I can’t tell you how many times someone has assumed my name is spelled “Vicki”, when it is actually “Vickie”. I can understand if I have only corresponded by phone and they did not know how to spell my name. But there is no excuse when an email is sent and the proper spelling of my name is included in the email address as well as in my signature. When it is misspelled, that tells me the reader did not pay attention to the entire message or does not pay attention to details.

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  2. Candace Moody and Vickie Cobb, allow me to address this issue. I am a human being well-versed in Name-Abuse, victimization.

    Like me, I’m sure you go out of your way to get a person’s name correct and are quick to apologize, when you are mistaken. With few exceptions, everyone has pet peeves. My solution has been to learn to laugh at the world and myself.

    My first and last name have been reversed, with people insisting my reversed name was correct, even as I informed them face-to-face, it was not correct. Both names have been misspelled; both mispronounced. In fact, I often compliment people, who pronounce my first name correctly, after spending much of my life trying to convince people, I KNOW how to PRONOUNCE my own first name.

    I suffered multiple insults of a local employer, who is a significant employer to Jacksonville’s present and future workforce. Their final insult, sending me a letter of rejection, after I went through their application process, with my names reversed on the address. The letter inside, used my last name as my first, while misspelling my name (as I recall)!

    I considered approaching corporate management of this company to ask them if this is the image they want their HR people to present to the public, but chose not to. I saved their letter, for fun and proof; I get abused, even by the best. (Their entire hiring process I engaged in is on my list of worst job hunting events I’ve ever encountered!)

    I look for “content” when I meet these kind of people, read their letters or e-mails, or speak with them by phone. Content is the real key and purpose to their communication. When they’re employers or other business concerns, they usually have the upperhand, because of my position in life. I am polite, but try not to antagonize, if I feel the need to correct them is important to the situation. I smile (or when alone) shake my head in amusement at these people. You know why?

    Many years ago, while a student in elementary school, our teacher had students to exchange papers, while grading some work in-class. The teacher instructed students to write the name of the person, whose paper they graded, plus their own name on the paper, before returning the in-class, graded paper. Not certain why she did this, but it served some purpose for her benefit.

    One day, a best friend (of a few years) handed my paper back with my last name spelled wrong! Since my name was written on the assignment, I was shocked! He knew me! Surely he had seen my written name many times before. “No,” he told me. He had no idea his spelling of my last name was wrong. It was a complete surprise to him, my last name ended with a T, not a D.

    From that shocking memory, came this knowledge: Even those who know you best, may not know you, as well as you think. Especially, your name; something they use with great regularity. If I had doubts, that taught me, for my psychological well-being, and others well-being, important as my name and its spelling is to me, an attitude with a sense of humor, best combats a desire to scream at the world, to get it right. They won’t. No matter what I do or how much I scream, they won’t get it right.

    Be thankful to those who do. That’s hard advice to take, even when very young. Try your best to adapt with humor, whether in public or private. Peeves will only lead to Jeeves tossing you out the door, when others you displease, because you, you, think you know your own NAME, better than they do!

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  3. Pingback: Manners Matter | @work: a career blog

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