Manners Training Now Has a Place at the Business Table

Baltimore Business Journal, September 3-9, 2004

by Joanna Sullivan

[excerpted] The grilled chicken Caesar salad seems safe. There is no messy bun to pick up, no fear of getting tomato sauce on your silk blouse and no soup to be slurped. But then that little gap between your two front teeth snags a piece of lettuce. You can feel it. Undoubtedly, the important client across the table—who, by the way, seems to be a descendent of Batimore’s own Emily Post—can see it. So what do you do? Charlotte Graham, 25, thought she knew. Just take the cloth napkin off your lap, cover your mouth and dislodge that unsightly green. She was wrong. Graham learned the right way—just subtly reach in and get it out**—when she attended a class at a local etiquette school. As a financial advisor for Legg Mason, Graham finds herself face-to-face, whether it’s over lunch or cocktails, with high-powered professionals. And like a growing number of people who grew up in an era when casual is the norm in business and life, she has a little catching up to do. Etiquette, as old-fashioned as it sounds, is gaining popularity as a way to make a good first impression in the business world. It goes way beyond knowing which fork to use. The experts espouse proper etiquette for networking, cell phone usage and just introducing yourself at a Rotary Club meeting. Companies and college are now offering etiquette courses because there are at least a couple generations who never quite learned good manners at home. The new demand has also helped spawn a mini industry of etiquette experts and self-help books. … The demand has enabled Carol Haislip and Cathy Hanson of Hunt Valley’s International School of Protocol to charge $250 an hour to teach children and adults communication and social skills. Table manners, of course, are part of the lesson. But Haislip said it is more about teaching people to feel comfortable in social settings. Nearly everyone who attends a networking event feels some kind of reluctance in making contact with strangers. Haislip says she tries to teach people how to start conversations. Shy people should just start asking the other person about himself, she said. Eventually, the two people will discover something in common. … Graham took Haislip’s class because first impressions will be key in attracting clients to her fledgling brokerage practice. At a recent networking dinner, she was able to help out when confusion broke out over the bread plates. “I feel so much more confident how,” Graham said. “I’m looking forward to trying it out.”

**This incorrect information was subsequently corrected in a letter to the editor to say that you should excuse yourself and go to the restroom to remove it if you could not subtley do so with your tongue.