Outclassing your competition
Once, in the middle of a seminar, Deborah Rinner watched in amazement as a participant answered his cell phone and, rather than excusing himself from the room, ducked completely under the table skirting and proceeded with a lengthy conversation. Several minutes later, he emerged and took his seat as if no one could have heard him.
If all business faux pas were that obvious, there might not be a need for the corporate etiquette classes Rinner teaches through Tero International Inc.
Rinner, a former teacher and business owner who trained at the Protocol School of Washington, D.C., has conducted the course, “Outclass Your Competition,” for the past two years in conjunction with the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Offered several times a year, it covers business etiquette issues, including a four-course lunch at the Des Moines Embassy Club to practice “dining like a diplomat” and the basics of international protocol.
More than 200 business people from a wide range of professions have attended the “Outclass” class in the past two years, and in many cases, have either recommended the class to others or invited the West Des Moines training company to conduct personalized workshops for their companies, Rinner said. And as Iowa companies have increasingly forged ties in overseas markets, preparing executives with information about the cultures with which they’ll be dealing has become more important.
Some of the skills reviewed in the course include the proper way to introduce yourself or other people to each other, as well as networking methods and conversation tips and such business essentials as the correct way to greet someone with a handshake.
“A lot of times it’s easier for an outside company to come in and address business etiquette than it is for them to do it internally,” Rinner said. “It’s amazing the amount of interest that is out there for a topic that perhaps people still perceive as social-type skills, but it’s definitely a set of ‘business intelligence’ skills.”
MORE THAN A BRUSH-UP
Jeff Rose, a senior vice president with U.S. Bank in Des Moines, took one of the first sessions of “Outclass” two years ago and has since sent about a dozen of his employees to the class.
“When I took it, I thought it would just be a brush-up or reminder course, but it was a lot more,” Rose said. “For instance, (it covered) how to introduce a customer to an executive, or two clients to each other. Even eating continental-style, I knew nothing about that.”
Rose said he had taken a business etiquette course shortly after he graduated from college about 25 years ago.
“Frankly, when I first took it, I don’t know if it was that helpful when I was an analyst and rarely saw people,” he said. “But now that I’m in the position I’m in, I use it a lot. In fact, U.S. Bank is considering providing this type of training, but tailored specifically for bankers.”
The “Outclass” course has attracted participants from every type of industry, Rinner said. “Normally, we have half to more than half males in our classes, which is interesting to people because they sometimes think of etiquette as gender related, but it really is not. Our feedback has been very positive. We will have anywhere from a new hire coming in who just wants to get the kind of skills to set them in the right direction. We’ve also had executive management come in.”
Among the participants in the most recent class earlier this month was Christine Lebron-Dykeman, an attorney with McKee, Voorhees & Sease, who attended with four associates from her firm.
“We’re given the opportunity to come, just because we have a lot of social situations that involve networking, such as going to conventions, and we’re meeting with clients regularly,” Lebron-Dykeman said. For instance, she and other attorneys in her firm attend an annual trademark law convention that draws up to 7,000 participants, which includes interaction with attorneys and business people from other countries.
“And personally, I like to travel overseas, so it’s nice to have some understanding of what’s appropriate or inappropriate,” she said.
Rinner stays current on international protocol by attending seminars at the Intercultural Communications Institute in Portland, Ore., and incorporating what she learns into courses designed at Tero.
“There are about seven tenets inherent in every culture, such as how time and space are used and what the social hierarchy is,” she said. “Once a person can figure out where their culture lies with these tenets, then they can see where the culture they’re going to interface with lies. I need to understand the things that are underlying what they do, these beliefs and tenets, and then I can figure out what I’m seeing and learn how to adapt.”
As an international company, Kemin Industries Inc. has used a number of Tero’s courses, including its etiquette training, said Libby Nelson, Kemin’s corporate counsel.
“Tero has done training for us in all of our locations internationally,” she said. “When we have people (coming in for meetings) from all over the world, it’s really important that everyone be comfortable with someone from a different culture, if you haven’t had that experience before.”
Additionally, those executives joining Kemin who have international responsibilities usually travel to each overseas site within their first year, and salespeople will also travel to those locations to become familiar with their customers’ needs, Nelson said.
LITTLE THINGS COUNT
Rinner said one of the basic mistakes Americans make in interacting with business people from other cultures is being too informal.
In greetings, for instance, “we use ‘hi’ in the United States, and internationally, ‘hi’ just doesn’t cut it; it’s too informal,” she said. “And phone conversations should be closed with ‘goodbye,’ rather than ‘bye-bye,’ which is acceptable in the United States but does not sound professional. Little things like that can make a huge difference in how we’re perceived.”
Overall, whether you’re overseas or in Des Moines, simply slowing down to put more attention into introductions will result in a more professional image, Rinner said.
“If we’re introducing two people who don’t know each other, we tend to rush in the United States,” she said. “There is an adrenaline rush that tends to hurry us along, and hence the interaction doesn’t have the significance that it could.”
Similarly, a simple act of a closing handshake before moving on to the next person at a networking event “encapsulates that conversation and makes the person feel important and gives a greater significance to the interaction,” she said. “It’s a very simple thing, but not something we tend to do in our culture.”
These types of networking tips are valuable, said Brandon Litton, an account representative with John Deere Health Care Inc. who took the “Outclass” course.
“Knowing how to introduce yourself to someone appropriately, or just getting in a position to introduce yourself to somebody, are helpful,” said Litton, whose manager recommended the course after attending it himself a few months ago. “It’s not easy meeting a complete stranger. If you’re well armed, so to speak, you can be more comfortable doing that.”
Litton said he and another John Deere Health sales representative were attending to determine whether the course would be useful to others in the company.
“I have a feeling more account reps like us will be doing it in the future, but they wanted to see how it would apply to our jobs on a daily basis,” he said. “If we see the benefit, and there are benefits, I believe, more and more of us will be doing it.”