(or, How I Became an Etiquette Advocate)
I am not a blue blooded Brahmin, nor am I a debutante. In fact, I never attended finishing school. My background is as a Human Resources professional in a variety of settings, including: the Federal Government, a Fortune 500 Manufacturer, a Management Consulting Firm and the Financial Services Industry. I hold a Master's Degree in Industrial and Labor Relations and a Bachelor's Degree in Motivational Psychology. Yet, I have built a business teaching etiquette to others. How can this be?
First, we must define etiquette. If you ask most people what etiquette is, they will answer something about knowing what fork to use. Etiquette does deal with appropriate behaviors. But what etiquette is really about is using behaviors so that you are comfortable with yourself and able to make those around you feel comfortable. Taking into account comfort and consideration as primary elements in etiquette, my background makes perfect sense.
My fascination with etiquette began in high school. I was a people watcher. Being shy allowed me to carefully observe other students. I was intrigued by how the “popular” students behaved. The students who were consistently popular were those students with good social graces. Just being friendly, thoughtful and nice made other students want to be around them. Being nice could help you be well liked. Now here was a practical skill that anyone could learn and use.
It was in college that I began studying behavior and teaching workshops on social skills. I majored in motivational psychology studying behavioral predictors of success in social situations. The theories of behavior from inside the classroom were also useful outside the classroom. As my sorority’s Recruitment Chair, I taught the members formal introductions, proper handshakes and conversation techniques for meeting and recruiting new members. These recruitment skills, also known as Meet and Greet skills, were useful not only with extracurricular activities, but also with my job. I worked in the University's admissions office interviewing prospective students and training new interviewers on recruitment strategies and skills. These Meet and Greet procedures were not just for recruitment, they could be applied by people in everyday life.
Upon graduation, I created and delivered training on polishing one's people skills for the Federal Government. I conducted programs for employees who were technical experts in their field, and who had been recently promoted into a position supervising their peers. Managers attending my programs learned how to distinguish themselves from their former peers through behavioral techniques, how to foster positive working relationships and how to effectively deliver feedback to produce desired results. These higher level people skills are essential not only for managers, but for any individual who wishes to succeed in business.
About this time, my phone started to ring. A call from my parent's neighbor - she was wondering if I could conduct a mock college admission interview for her son. A call from a college friend – he was up for a big promotion, could I give him some hints for impressing his boss. A call from a co-worker's cousin – she was getting married and was hoping I could provide some tips on table manners for her fiancée. Word of my interest in etiquette was spreading.
I returned to school to pursue a Master's Degree in Industrial and Labor Relations, studying the correlation between perception and reality within an organization. The issue of culture and how employees behave within a culture became my favorite research topic. In addition, I worked in the Office of Career Services presenting workshops on resume writing, interviewing, networking, and dressing for success. Not only were these workshops well attended, but students were seeking me out in the library and waiting in the hallways when I finished my classes to ask me questions about putting their best foot forward for job hunting. Being perceived well and making a good first impression is an integral part of etiquette.
Helping a blue-collar workforce change their behaviors was my next assignment. The plant was transitioning from a manual process to a highly automatic manufacturing process. I developed and delivered a training program that would enable workers to change their behaviors to be successful in the new environment. I knew I had an impact when an employee pulled me aside in the lunchroom. He was very excited to tell me that not only did he use the techniques on the shop floor, but he tried one of the change exercises at home and was able to get his teenager to be more civil at the dinner table. Understanding which behavior is acceptable in which setting is why knowing etiquette is important.
As part of a consulting team, I helped identify behavioral traits that led to success in our clients' organizations. The basic premise was that by studying successful individuals within a company, specific behaviors could be associated with those individuals. Then those behaviors were used as the basis for interviews as well as on-the-job training. Analysis of behaviors that enable individuals to positively interact with others is the basis of etiquette.
As a human resources line manager and a member of the senior leadership team in the financial services field, I worked to establish teamwork among a group with explosive growth. The challenge was to open lines of communication to allow relationships to develop while maintaining the original mission and culture of the organization. This was accomplished through a three pronged approach using team building training, cross-functional process enhancement meetings and informal social functions. By approaching the situation in this manner new employees were involved in the group, integrated into the work and introduced to the other employees. By addressing the comfort levels of all employees, social skills smoothed the way for better working relationships.
My background has shown me the importance of etiquette. As humans, we are social by nature. Our abilities in other areas are generalized based upon our social behaviors. Individuals who are comfortable with social graces experience the best success. As an etiquette advocate, I am delighted that sharing my knowledge and experience helps to ensure my clients' comfort and success in their endeavors.
Whether you are interviewing for a new position, building your business or seeking new social relationships, etiquette and manners matter.