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MIREILLE’S MUSINGS: Seizing the Edge with Etiquette

According to an AP/Ipsos poll, 69% of respondents believe people are ruder than they were a generation ago. This reflects my personal experience, and it suggests a good way to stand out in business: be polite. Exhibiting proper etiquette sends a message to others that you are trained, competent and professional, and makes you more likeable. It can make the difference between sealing and losing a deal, climbing up or falling down the corporate ladder. At my company, I thought manners were such a vital part of the business that I instituted an etiquette session at our annual sales meeting; it made a noticeable impact with our clients.

I also devoted a good part of chapters four and five in Women, Work & The Art of Savoir Faire to the subject, and if you’re looking for a refresher, I would recommend a re-read (or first-time read). In the book, I suggest that etiquette is an important part of your “personal brand,” the image you present to the world. At a time when many people lack proper manners, displaying them will not only set you aside from the competition, it will help you win people over as you rise through the ranks. In addition to the all-important table manners, here are some simple but under-utilized etiquette tips:

Make it personal: Communication is the key to business success, and it’s not just about presentations. Communication is something we do throughout the day, whenever we come into contact with another person, and each of these moments represents an opportunity. Looking people in the eye and addressing them by name changes a communication from perfunctory to friendly and personal.

Never underestimate the power of a hand-written note: The old-world practice of writing thank you notes has served me well over the years. And though I never expect anything in return, some of my best business contacts came from sending cold-call congratulatory notes after hearing of someone’s success. Of course, it helped when I included a bottle of champagne…

Practice the art of good conversation: This is an under-rated and under-developed communication skill that can help you connect with people and get your points across. Women especially tend to excel at conversation and should exploit the talent.

Avoid anger and profanity: Over the years I never found it necessary to raise my voice. Being firm with a smile and steady voice surely distinguished me as shouting and profanity became widespread in the corporate world.

Practice good “netiquette”: Never send an angry email in the heat of passion. It’s a good rule of thumb to never say something in an email that you would not say directly to the recipient’s face. "Honey" beats "vinegar" any time, especially now that we see so much meanness on the web.