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Home  > Article

Mind Your Ps and Qs

By Austin Kouvaris
Talent Zoo

Growing up in private school and being a member of a sorority at a large university in the South, I've been subjected to a good number of etiquette classes through the years.

I know which bread plate is mine and which glass belongs to me at both an informal and formal place setting. I know where to leave my napkin when I get up from the table to use the restroom, where to place my napkin at the conclusion of a meal, what the different placements of your knife and fork on your plate signal to the waiter, the correct direction to pass food, and even the proper way to eat escargot. I always look people in the eye when I meet them and make proper introductions, never fail to send a handwritten thank you note, and have a handshake that still makes my father very proud.

My parents always stressed the importance of manners, making my brother, sister and me practice our most refined skills at dinner Sunday nights and of course on all holidays and special occasions. And trust me, the handshake that makes my dad glow every time I greet someone did not happen overnight, but rather after shaking his hand an innumerable amount of times through the years until he was satisfied. Needless to say, countless hours of my life have been spent perfecting these talents, and I would be remiss if I didn't say that I truly am very thankful that I'm now fairly proficient in this area as an adult. But where does it all fit in and how does it translate - or does it - in an industry where talking animals are commonplace and Snoop Dog is considered a credible spokesperson?

Fortunately, and possibly surprising to some, etiquette is still alive and well in the marketing and advertising world and in the business world overall, despite the progression to a more informal culture. While we can all use an etiquette refresher from time to time, there are a few things that you don't learn growing up or until you are put into a certain situation, and a number of others that don't translate exactly to the business world. For example, you have no practical reason to study business card etiquette as a child, but knowing when to offer your business card and when to wait until someone asks for it can be key in making a contact and building a relationship. Gestures that are considered respectful and chivalrous in a social setting such as holding a chair for a woman when she is sitting down for a meal or standing when she leaves the table are not necessary and can even be perceived as sexist in the business setting.

So how do we know what to do when - and how do you remember all of it? As the introduction to Emily Post's The Etiquette Advantage in Business states, etiquette 'is not a set of ironclad rules,' but rather common sense driven by consideration, respect and honesty. Follow that, and you should be set. Easy enough, right?

There are a million etiquette guidelines out there: these are a few helpful tips and reminders about some of the more common circumstances if you want to brush up on your skills.

  • First and foremost, a handshake - and a good one at that - is almost always in order. A palm-to-palm, firm grip conveys confidence and authority. Many times, people size you up as they shake your hand, so make it a good impression. (Thanks, Dad.)
  • When introducing people, always talk to the more important person first. For example, introduce your client to your boss - 'Client ABC this is our CEO XYZ.' And don't forget to use full names and offer information about the parties so a connection can be made.
  • If you are in a situation where you are required to wear a nametag, wear it on the right side of your chest. This allows people to follow the line of your arm up to it and read it with minimal effort.
  • Offer your business card to an administrator when you enter an office, at networking events, and in sales situations. Wait for someone to ask for your card if she is senior to you or if you are in a situation intended to meet the business needs of your host. Make sure the card is professional and in good shape, and present it with the print facing the recipient.
  • At a sit-down meal, pass food to the right. The reason for this is that most people are right-handed: by passing to the right, they will be able to receive the dish with their left hand and serve themselves with their right hand. Also, always pass the salt and pepper together, even if someone only asks for one.
  • Your bread plate is always to your left, and your drink is always to your right. An easy way to remember this is by holding your hands in front of you and touching the tip of your index finger to your thumb on both hands, making a lowercase 'b' for bread on your left hand and a lowercase 'd' for drink on your right hand.
  • If someone you are with has something in his teeth or on his face, the polite thing to do is to subtly let him know. If you were in a similar position, surely you would want someone to inform you, rather than later discovering that you gave your entire presentation with spinach in your teeth.
  • Email: Know when it's appropriate, and still pay attention to the basics, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar - and remember that 'email privacy' is an oxymoron.
  • Above all, never underestimate thank you notes. They take less than 5 minutes to write and make a big impression. If you ask the question of whether you should send one or not, remember that it's never wrong.

Fortunately I did pay attention in those countless hours of etiquette classes in grade school, high school and college, and as much as my parents didn't think they were making an impression on me growing up, they did, and I'm thankful for the manners that are now second-nature to me. The etiquette I learned growing up I now use with confidence daily, no matter what situation I find myself in, whether at a client meeting, a business dinner or a chance encounter. No matter how formal or informal your workplace, good social skills are essential to your professional success. As the competitive nature of our industry increases, knowing how to conduct yourself in all situations can not only make an impression on others, but can be the thing that makes or breaks you. In the end, I suppose Emily Post had it right in 1922 when she wrote that "to make a pleasant and friendly impression is not only good manners but equally good business." is the online destination for both job seekers and employers in the communications industry. It's also a must for up-to-the minute content on industry trends, news, career guidance, or just to schmooze. Find a better life with Talent Zoo (

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