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Try to Be Nice

Feb 1, 2010

Terry Pithers, co-owner, Style for Success Inc.

by Scott Messenger

When Terry Pithers was growing up, a dining faux pas could elicit a wooden spoon to the knuckles from his manner-minded British mum. While he and wife Joanne Blake have taken a milder approach to teaching table etiquette and remedying boorishness in general with Style for Success Inc., their Edmonton-based image and protocol consultancy, they’re still bringing out the best in the business set. Last fall, the firm’s instructional DVD and online training program, Dining for Success, earned more than just polite applause from the Wall Street Journal, which named it the best of four dining tutorials reviewed. But there’s much more to sealing a business deal than knowing you shouldn’t be using the salad fork to savage a lobster tail on your neighbour’s bread plate. If you don’t know what that is, Pithers, the firm’s “business etiquette guy” (Blake’s the “personal image expert”), can teach you, no wooden spoon required.

AV: Are etiquette and manners different?
Yes. We say the rules are the etiquette and the manners is how you use them. It’s basically that you’re making yourself feel comfortable and others feel comfortable and that’s where the manners comes in.

What impact can good etiquette have on business relationships?
People would rather do business with people they know, like and trust. If your prices are a little bit higher or they have to go a bit out of their way to work with you, they’ll still continue that relationship if the know, like and trust is there.

What aspects of business etiquette most commonly go overlooked?
I suppose because we’re so busy, we don’t take the time to find out a little more about our colleagues and clients. People don’t leave companies or quit being clients generally over money; they quit because they don’t feel appreciated or acknowledged. The other thing is the BlackBerry technology. When we’re at association meetings, as soon as there’s a break, people are checking their text messages. That should be the opportunity to build some relationships.

Mingling at business functions can be hard. What helps?
We’ve got a couple of neat little exercises. One is called “the fishing line.” It is the safest way to get into conversation. It’s a rhetorical statement that you throw out there. If no one picks it up, no big deal. It’s something that should be light, about the shared environment, non-threatening, [like] “Boy, it’s a long lineup,” or, “The food looks good.” If the person picks it up, you’ve signalled you want to talk, they’ve signalled they want to talk and that gets the ball rolling.

How do I properly deliver a handshake?
Firm means a lot of different things to different people. We say a good handshake shouldn’t be memorable, it should just be there. If someone walks away thinking, “Oh, I got hurt,” or, “Boy, that was weak and wimpy,” then you haven’t made the impression that you could.

What do you tell people who say nice guys finish last?
Being nice doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. Having good manners doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for yourself and you’re not a good business person. It makes it easier to build teams. It makes you a better leader and a better business person if you have a touch of niceness to you.

Is there a basic rule that should guide all our business interactions?
We call it the “host mentality.” Hosts make the other person feel comfortable, the good manners come out, they introduce people, they don’t do things that diminish the other person, they build up their colleagues [and] their friends, all these things. It all comes down to that: Treat everyone as though they are a guest in your business or your life and you won’t go wrong.

So, what’s the wrong way to eat spaghetti?
You’ve put too much on your fork and it’s falling off while you’re trying to eat it. We suggest spinning it against either a spoon or the plate. And the slightly classier method is against the plate.


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