Mint the business newspaper from Hindustan Times had a long piece on business etiquette in their Career section last Wednesday.
Etiquette is much more important than we think….and much more than what we think it is. It’s not something we put on. It’s who we are. We are respectful of others as we expect them to be respectful of us.
I remember that when I was at the Fashion Institute of Technology, before I knew it, interview season arrived. I’d gone to the career center and the library, to read up on interview techniques which I practiced with a tape recorder in front of a mirror. I knew I was Canadian, not American so I needed to not only just get a job, I had to be “so damn good,” a company would be willing to sponsor me.
Once past the initial hurdle, all the companies took shortlisted candidates for dinner. Yep this was back in another era when companies had budgets for such stuff. This was where I became quite nervous. I was a middle-class Indian immigrant kid. My parents sent money back to India, not on frivolous restaurants. I headed back to where I’d always found life’s answers: the library. Now you can find them courtesy of Google. What I remember of the advice I must have found was to order nothing with bones and nothing with a sauce which may stain. For the next week, I proceeded to make boneless chicken and pasta and eat it with the knife and fork until I was confident eating in public. Multiple offers followed. The one which was accompanied by an agreement to process a Green Card, followed four months later. Plenty of companies rejected me outright as well. Such is life.
Sonal Agrawal (see link below) focuses on several main areas of etiquette. I’ve simplified them down to the ‘Six Commandments.’ These remain fixed, no matter where in the world you are.
1. Grooming: Be a neat, suitable and conservative version of seniors in your industry.
2. Greeting: Begin with smile and firm handshake. After that, follow the host’s lead.
3. Time: Respect yours and others’ time. Yeah, traffic sucks. Plan for it.
4. Present: Give time and focus to the one you’re with…not the one on the phone.
5. Communicate: Practice and reading improve your writing. A concise e-mail impresses.
6. Problems: Attack the problem, not the person. Bas itni choti see baat hai.
Roughly twenty years before, I struggled with dinner etiquette, my father, an engineer who went to Canada in the 1960’s also struggled. A middle-class man from Bhopal, he was an MBA student on a stipend. He needed to be ready for dinner interviews despite never having eaten at a restaurant. Growing up in India, he didn’t think of books for learning. He followed #2 and learned manners by watching others. He was obviously a lot smarter than me. He could learn from AND be focused on impressing interviewers all at the same time.
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