Manners Make the Difference

By Alice Wheaton

Each day in our business and personal life, we are faced with many challenges that pre-empt us from achieving the success we desire. Some people make success look easy and some people struggle to find the elusive and missing ingredients that help pave the way up the corporate ladder. A goodly portion of the missing ingredients is about how we handle ourselves in a business setting. It has been said that familiarly breeds contempt. Just as we take our personal relationships for granted, we often take the people and situations in our professional life for granted. In the case of business situations and people, I would go on to say that contempt can be displayed as a relaxing of manners, dress, and attitudes. There are certain protocols that work to help put your best foot forward and position yourself as natural choice for the next promotion. 

 Peter Ducker said it best in his comment “…manners are the lubricating oil that makes the wheels of commerce go round.”

  1. On time for a meeting is ten minutes too late…this was one of the best pieces of advice my first sales manager at Xerox, Bill Irwin, gave me.   When you are late for a meeting, the lack of respect for the other participants is assumed, even though it may not be intended.

If there are association magazines in the lobby, you will be able to read about the industry issues and use that new knowledge to help you make a fast and meaningful connection. Moreover, those companies profiled can help build your prospect list.

  1. Success in a meeting is 90% preparation and 10% perspiration.  . Before every meeting, review each page of the web site and prepare one question from each page. Recently, I met with a CEO of an IT placement agency. When he talked about increasing his growth by 10% I was able to say, “So you want to grow from 2650 placements to 3000 in 2009?”
  1. Curb your enthusiasm…   Clients want value, not emotion and without specific interest in his or her problems, and the consequences inherent in therein, they will simply see you as a lightweight and an amateur. This is one reason I find a high number of professional of engineers adapt and become high performers with my sales training…they are willing to follow a systematic process and have no need to emote all over the prospect or clients!
  1. Use the language of leadership. Those who are unable to be accountable and responsible use the language of the ordinary; in other words they equivocate. These ordinary words include: should, maybe, I’ll think about it, we’ll see, that kind of thing, or stuff I’ll try, etc. Unequivocal language includes terms such as: I will; you can count on me; I know, etc.
  1. Dress like you don’t need the money. Business casual has become the norm in many business centers now that men and women are unclear about where the line is between too casual and too formal.  My recommendation is that you dress for two positions above the once you currently hold. Observe your surroundings and see how it is that your boss’s boss dresses. For men, absolutely no jangling coins in your pockets, and for women, if you wear low neck blouses you are leading with your beauty instead of your brains. Recently, an engineer confided in me that he wanted to be considered for every promotion and asked for just one piece of advice, aside from always do a good job…and the advice I gave him was to keep a suit jacket and freshly laundered white or beige shirt in his office so that if one of the VPs needed him to contribute in a presentation, so that in concert with him demonstrating his expertise he would also look the part.
  1. Rise for the occasion…if you are sitting down, please rise to shake hands and greet the other person.  This is a display of respect and good manners. The term to describe this is that it shows that you rise to any occasion. Never underestimate the huge impact that a smallest change can achieve. 
  1. Shake hands like you are delighted to meet each other. Some people shake the hands of women different than they would shake hands with a man. This is not appropriate in business. When you shake hands, the web between the thumb and forefinger of each person’s hand should meet. There is no need to apply a vice-like squeeze as that is just as off-putting as a limp handshake. While I was volunteering in Ethiopia, I noticed that as men shake hands they each lean forward that so their right shoulders touch!
  1. Basics of manners, say please and thank you to your professional team and the universe… learn to say thank you for whatever happens in your life as it contains a lesson that will assist you in the next leg of your journey. 
  1. Manage your energy to manage your time. Andy Sherwood, of Priority Management in Toronto, compares the top of a desk to a factory floor…it is where a knowledge worker puts their machinery, for example computer, calculator, and telephone. No manufacturer of precision equipment would have a messy environment, yet knowledge workers take pride in being surrounded by clutter. Your Microsoft Outlook contains many tools that can make your life easier.
  1. Silence is goldentoo many of us are addicted to our Blackberries and cell phones. When you leave a phone on in a meeting, you are displaying disrespect for both the audience and the leader. Instead, keep it turned off for the duration. If you do retrieve a panic message, you cannot do anything about it until the meeting is over so why subject yourself to that stress? When cell phones are set to vibrate their owners almost always look to see who called. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog!
  1. Manage emotions and feelings or they will manage you…if you feel like crying or venting anger in a business situation know that discretion is the better part of valour. 
  1. Cleanliness is golden…before a meeting check for coffee in the corners of your mouth. Smokers can dispel some of the residual odour by wearing an overcoat, which they take off later, while on a smoke break. In addition, I recommend sucking on a strong mint before the meeting. Some people are avid anti-smoking and some are more tolerant. You may never know where your client fits so let discretion be your guideline. 
  1. A stitch in time saves nine…sometimes coat hems drag or we are consumed by a fit of coughing so two items to have on hand in your briefcase are a small sewing kit (the complimentary kits from hotel rooms are perfect) and a package of Kleenex.
  1. Questions are the answer, aren’t they?… When salespeople are faced with clients’ problems, they are so intent on doing a great job and solving the problems that they do themselves, and their clients, a disservice by jumping in with an answer or a solution. You cannot sell by telling; you sell with questions where you find the obstacles between you and the deal.
  1. Listen with intent…have you ever caught yourself thinking of your next response rather listening to the points the other person is making? Instead, when you listen have the agenda that you would be able to reiterate, not only the information, but the emotions and feelings around the issues that were discussed. On the other hand, being someone who listens without contributing is also a drain on the client. The best ratio is 80/20 ratio where you speak twenty percent and the client speaks twenty percent.

Even though you cannot control everything about the outcome of every meeting, do what you can, when you can to positively manage the opinions that others will have of you. Don’t be surprised when you outsell your competition and earn one promotion after another!


Alice Wheaton is a best selling author with books translated into ten languages. She is a consultant, and speaker, working tirelessly to help bring out the best in others.

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