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In the United States, we live in a business casual world but many people forget the first word is still "business." As such, we have to mind our manners. Having good manners will help you regardless of the business you are in. Any time you make contact with a client or perspective client, you are making a mini-presentation of yourself, ultimately representing your company, service and/or products.
I keep hearing more and more from top executives that people skills are very important, in many cases even more important than technical skills. But how can you mind your manners, if you do not know the rules. It is never too late to take the initiative to begin your own professional development. Here are some pointers to keep your manners sharp.
Address individuals by their honorific or title: There is so much informality in the workplace today that in many offices business is lost, and goodwill destroyed, because of total disregard for properly addressing clients. The proper way to address a client is to greet them using their honorific or title followed by their last name. It is up to the client to ask you to call them by their first name.
In business, the proper way to refer to a woman is "Ms.," regardless of their marital status. This is more than a passing fad; it was established in the seventeenth century as an abbreviation for "Mistress."
Enunciate your greeting: It's sad but true we've become a nation of name-tumblers when we introduce ourselves or other people; this is major problem especially on the telephone. We need to slow down and pronounce our names slowly, clearly and distinctly. At first it may feel as if you are exaggerating your name, but you are really helping the other person and improving overall communication.
Refer to individuals frequently by their names: Take the time and make the effort to pay attention to the name of the person you are being introduced to. A person's name means everything to them. To build rapport with a client, mention their name at least three times during the conversation. It will help you remember their name and make a connection - they will remember you. A person's name is the sweetest music to their ears.
Make contact: There are few physical contacts that are appropriate in business; the most important and acceptable is your handshake. Your handshake is a non-verbal clue that indicates to the other person whether or not you are a take charge person. For example, a firm and strong handshake suggests that you are decisive, in control. Now think of the impression you had after shaking hands with someone that presented a weak, slippery or lifeless handshake. What did that make you think of them?
The rules for shaking hands are: extend your hand with the thumb up, clasp the other person's entire palm, give two or three pumps from the elbow, avoiding both the painful ''bone crusher'' and the off-putting ''wet fish'' shake, and look at the person directly in the eyes with a smile.
Smile: This seems very simple, but it's amazing how people's moods and words are misjudged because their expressions are often overly-serious. A smile shows that you like yourself; you like your current place in the world and you're happy with the people you're interacting with. No one will say you're crabby if you're smiling. A smile says, I'm approachable and confident.
Make eye contact: Every time a person begins talking to you, look them in the eye and smile first, then get on with the conversation. Also, when you enter a room for a meeting, smile and look around at everyone. If you want to start talking to one person - or even a group - come up to them and smile. Again, this is another way to say, I'm approachable.
Introduce people with confidence: Most people hate making introductions, because they do not know how to properly make them. Introducing people with confidence is a great way to impress your customers. In business, introductions are determined by precedence. The person who holds the position of highest authority in an organization takes precedence over others who work there. For example, you introduce your company's president to a colleague.
The basic rule is: the name of the person of greater authority is always spoken first. The name of the person of lesser authority is always spoken last. For example, "Mr./Ms. Greater Authority, I would like to introduce Mr./Ms. Lesser Authority." A second example, would be: the name of the Senior Executive is always spoken first. The name of the Junior Executive is always spoken last. "Mr. Senior Executive, I would like to introduce Mr. Junior Executive, from the accounting department. Mr. Senior Executive is our Director of Public Relations."
Learning the rules of business etiquette is not hard to do, it is not costly, and it is the best professional development tool any business person can use to increase their chances of success. People truly desire to do business with those that make them comfortable and know how to best handle themselves in a variety of situations. Practicing good business etiquette is well worth the investment and pays back in spades.
Mercedes Alfaro is president and founder of First Impression Management, a national business etiquette training and consulting firm, helping individuals to excel in all aspects of their professional presence, online at www.firstimpressionmanagement.com or at 561-395-0256
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