Letitia Baldrige's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners

Letitia Baldrige's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners

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by Letitia Baldrige

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After sixteen printings in its first edition and two in this updated version, this bestseller remains America's most complete guide to the hidden asset that isn't taught in business schools — the personal behavior that can make you or break you in today's competitive workplace. Letitia Baldrige takes the reader from the first interview and first day at work

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After sixteen printings in its first edition and two in this updated version, this bestseller remains America's most complete guide to the hidden asset that isn't taught in business schools — the personal behavior that can make you or break you in today's competitive workplace. Letitia Baldrige takes the reader from the first interview and first day at work through all the complex knowledge we need to maneuver through the ranks and rise to the top.

• The ten major problems at work that never existed before, but which everyone from trainee to CEO must learn to handle today

• The twenty-four hallmarks of those who "work smart" today

• Which behaviors accepted a short time ago may spell disaster today

• The new codes concerning dress...language...socializing with colleagues...behavior when traveling and at conferences or meetings

• What degree of informality is acceptable today — and with whom

• What you must know about the new manners relating to diversity...plurality...family values...sexual freedom...and substance abuse problems...about hiring and firing...and much more

• A total update on today's business entertaining, from lunch with a guest at your desk to planning parties for thousands

• Running meetings, from interoffice to international

• Corresponding in every form, from traditional to high-tech electronics...forms of address...Plus the hidden rituals of business life that a polished professional on the rise must learn to handle with poise and confidence
As life at work becomes increasingly pressured, everyone needs to know more about improving interpersonal relations. You'll learn exactly what to do, what to say, and how best to present yourself, from this extraordinary guide. Plus — it's good reading!

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Ann Landers Letitia Baldrige...the premiere authority on etiquette in America today...whose books are considered gospel.

Executive Book Summaries Who should read this book? Anyone who mingles with other people.

Henry Kaufman internationally renowned economist and financial advisor Essential for all who aspire to move up the ladder...especially today, when business relations are more intricate and involve people not just on the local but the international level.

American Bookseller The first complete guide to manners at work shows people and companies how to perform flawlessly in every business situation.

Time America's leading arbiter of manners.

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Chapter 1

The Executive at Ease on the Job

Everyone has qualms when they're starting out in the business world. Even senior managers who have excelled in the workplace for decades confess to concern when plunged into strange, new territory, entering unknown situations, dealing with strangers about whom they know nothing other than their brief bios and some second-hand opinions.

The purpose of a book like this on human interactions and behavior is to give you information that can become a useful set of tools to help make life at work easier and more successful.

Everyone who goes to work wants to feel at ease (or "socially comfortable") in his or her surroundings. An executive known as someone at ease is a person who makes others around him comfortable too.

No one wants to be conspicuous by acting unsophisticated or unknowing. A person at ease walks with grace through the workplace. He thinks about other people, and that unconsciously takes his mind off himself and gives him poise. The fact that others get along well with him is not defined by his designer-made clothes or car of the moment. Rather, it's defined by something as simple as using three common phrases that are automatic, instinctive parts of his everyday vocabulary: "Please," "I'm sorry," and "Thank you." It's that simple. He doesn't have to own Cartier panthère cufflinks, know how to gossip in a foreign language, or choose the perfect wine every time in a restaurant.

A cold, ill-at-ease person would say to an employee, "Sorry, but you're going to have to stay tonight until you've analyzed this report and made the required number of copies. We need it for tomorrow's seven o'clock meeting." An at-ease executive would say, "Jim, I hate to have to ask you to stay late to finish the report and the copies tonight, but you're the only one who knows how to make sense out of this. We'll make it up to you for messing up your evening, I promise."


There is no rest when you are helping to manage a business. You have an excess of responsibility. You must motivate and guide people; watch over their safety, benefits, and health; realize profits; keep morale high; and avoid any criticism of the firm for exploitation of its employees or racism, sexism, or discrimination.

Luckily, a good manager usually has a good mindset, a positive attitude that is inherent in his actions toward the company, its employees, and the common goals they all share. This attitude is natural and automatic. A good manager does not have to force himself to summon up superhuman strength or a feeling of compassion, or dose of courage, to handle the inevitable people problems that arise in day-to-day work situations. He handles them quickly, fairly, and with insight and understanding.

A good manager is constantly concerned about the morale of the people on his watch. His employees, in turn, care about his morale, too, and enjoy doing a good job for him. That's teamwork!

Here are some of the components of an executive's behavior that make others want to be on his team:

Knowing When to Say "Please"

Whether you're asking the waitress at the diner to bring you another cup of breakfast coffee or asking your secretary to go to the copy machine, "please" should come forth without self-prompting or even consciously thinking about it. Hollywood, unfortunately, has set a bad example: Network TV shows feature sitcom stars yelling orders to people in their offices as well as waiters or shopkeepers. (There's never a "please" at the beginning or end.) You should view with dismay America's favorite child TV stars ordering around their teachers and parents in their shows each week. These kids would last about four days on a job in the business world.

Fortunately, the real world bears little resemblance to the screen world, because no matter how bad the manners around us seem to be, most children come to learn that when they grow up, their jobs will depend on how well they behave, not how much they can get away with.

How Many Times a Day Should One Say "Please?"

If you are in the business world, it's impossible to count the number of times. When you make even the slightest request of someone, you should begin or end it with "please." For every favor you ask, "please" should be the entrance or exit word.

To your spouse: "Please help me entertain the boss at Sunday lunch. I need your help."

To the taxi driver: "Take me to La Guardia Airport, please."

To the hotel cashier: "Please give me my bill for room 803."

To your secretary: "Please fax this to John Garrett, with a copy also to Joan Scribner in New Orleans."

To the waiter: "I'd like to see the wine list, please."

To the CEO: "Please note his criticism of our strategy plan in the second paragraph. It's pretty strong."

Knowing How to Apologize

(See also "Letter of Apology," Chapter 7)

The short phrase "I'm sorry" means so much to the person to whom it is addressed, even when you have to push yourself to utter it. Whatever your motivation, when an apology is called for, make it! For example:

* If you misdial someone on the phone, say "I'm terribly sorry, wrong number," rather than just slam down the receiver in the other person's ear.

* If you do something really hurtful, such as forgetting an appointment:

* Telephone your sincere apology.

* Follow it up with a personal note of apology.

* Send flowers or a gift of some kind, such as fruit, wine, or candy, to reinforce your apology.

* If a stranger does something nice, like picking up something you just dropped on the street but didn't notice, tell him with a warm smile of appreciation that he has really "made your day."

* If you arrive late at a meeting, apologize to the chairman or the host and to the others you have kept waiting.

* When you give someone in your office too much work to do on an emergency basis, use all three of these phrases:

"Please do it."

"I'm sorry to have to ask you to do this."

"Thank you very much for doing it."

* If you do something like bump a person as you move rapidly through a hallway, react quickly with a sincere "I'm really sorry. I certainly didn't mean to do that." (Your words will diffuse the hostility your act may have engendered.)

* If you cause damage to a colleague's possession, apologize profusely, then offer to have it fixed or replaced. For example, when you're a guest in a co-worker's, client's, or your boss's home:

* If you stain your host's good tablecloth at dinner, arrange to take it to the best dry cleaner available.

* If you spill something on his pale-colored carpet, arrange to have it professionally cleaned.

* If you break something, arrange to have it repaired at the best repair shop in town.

No matter what damage you do in someone else's home or office, always do the best you can to make amends — and write a good letter of apology.

Knowing How to Say "Thank You"

(See also "Informal Business Letters" and "Letters of Acknowledgment and Thanks," Chapter 7)

We should thank people a lot more than we do — automatically — but if we think about what we are thanking them for, we'll be more sincere. Some examples of the kinds of situations in our everyday lives where a little expression of gratitude can be very effective:

* When someone goes back to your office to get your glasses for a meeting

* When someone from the mailroom brings you the mail

* When a gas station attendant finishes filling your tank with gas

* When someone opens a door for you or holds the elevator door for you

* When someone serves you in any capacity, whether it's your secretary who brings papers to your desk or the person in the employee cafeteria who hands a plate of food across the counter

* When anyone gives you a gift of any kind

* When someone does a favor for you

* When someone praises you

Ways in Which to Say "Thank You" for Substantive Favors or Gifts

* Spoken. Convenient if you happen to run into the person. Careless and not very effective.

* Telephone. Effective, but only if done within twenty-four hours; if the call is made after that, it seems like an afterthought, not a sincere gesture.

* Written. The most effective, because it's on the record and can be shown around and reread.

Compliments — The Best Way to Accept and Give Them

(See also "Acknowledging a Compliment," Chapter 7)

Nothing is more affirmative than a compliment. Naturally, that compliment should not be exaggerated, snide, or phony, because then it turns into a negative gesture.

Say it from the heart.

A Smart Manager Compliments The Staff

Employees may feel they're doing a good job, but they don't know it until they hear it. Praise your staff when they do good work — when they get things done on time, when they make an extra effort, when they deserve special recognition. Sure, you may see to it that they get a raise the next pay period, but say it with words, not just a personnel action for increased compensation. People need encouragement as they progress in their job. Of course, you should correct any errors or laxities in their work, but how about telling them what a good job they've done on this and that?

Complimenting Your Peers

Many of our parents brought us up according to the rule, "If you can't say anything nice about someone, just don't open your mouth." Not bad advice.

There's always something you can find to compliment about anyone. It may be the color of a fellow executive's tie, or the print of a woman executive's scarf; it might be an employee's new haircut or snappy looking briefcase; it could be the good looks of his children, as seen in the snapshot on his desk; or the amazing progress an executive in the international division has made with her weekend Japanese lessons. Open your eyes; you'll see it. Then it's up to you to comment on it. It makes people feel good; it lifts their spirits.

The people with whom you spend all day — your co-workers — deserve your praise and cheering up. You have no idea how much influence you can have when you make your peers happy in their jobs. It's another example of an individual' s power for good.

Compliments Are to Be Accepted, Not Rejected

Nothing can take the wind out of a person's sails faster than to have one's compliment rejected. If someone says to you, "I think the proposal you presented this morning was first-rate," the last thing he wants to hear you say is, "I thought I did a lousy job of presenting it. I left out half the strong points." The fact that you personally felt you did not do a good job does not matter. Take the compliment in the spirit in which it was given.

If people compliment you on your appearance, don't correct them and point out all the negatives. For example, if someone says, "You look particularly bright and chipper this morning," don't make a retort, "I feel terrible, my eyes are all puffy from allergies, and I think I look awful."

What is the right way to accept a compliment? "Thank you. That's really nice of you!"

When a manager walks with ease through a business day, he makes everyone around him feel more at ease in turn. When he sets an example of excellence, courtesy, and caring, others rise to meet his standards. This is true leadership, out of which teamwork develops.

If You're a Mean Person, Eventually You'll Get Caught Being Mean

It's amazing how often a person is caught in his private life, away from the office, when he thinks he's free to act as he darn well pleases. A prime example of this is the young, freshly recuited manager, top of his class at Harvard Business School, who was observed one Saturday (by the wife of the CEO of his new corporation) in the supermarket's overcrowded parking lot. The manager did not see her, however. He had recently been to his boss's home for a lunch where he had impressed everyone with his graceful manners and charm.

The young business school graduate, driving a fancy sports car and bursting with impatience, looked around the congested parking lot and quickly solved his parking problem by pulling into a spot clearly marked for the handicapped, next to the front door of the store, and shutting out a driver who really was handicapped. By the time the CEO heard the report of this incident from his furious wife, who had spent fifteen minutes trying to find a nonhandicapped parking space, he decided to fire the young newcomer while it was still legally possible. At work that week, the boss told him he had been seen by his wife pulling a fast one after lunch on Saturday. "True meanness just isn't part of our corporate culture," he explained. "You won't go very far in this company, so you'd be better off working elsewhere."

The story has a happy ending, fortunately. The fired manager found another job and proceeded to work hard on weekends and at nighttime donating his services to the local hospital. At the end of a year he was given an award as the outstanding volunteer in the suburban community, which his old boss read about in the newspaper. He got his old job back.

When You're the New Kid on the Block

When you join a company, either in your first executive position or as a transfer from another company, you might as well accept the fact that you will be an object of curiosity and probably of some suspicion as well. You might also be a hate object for someone who thought he was going to obtain the position you have been retained to fill.

Remember, time is the great healer and dealer. It doesn't matter how cool the atmosphere may be when you arrive in your job. What matters is that you take your time to establish good personal relations and proceed slowly and carefully — the opposite of a shotgun approach. Here are some tips on how to handle yourself:

* Listen and learn, rather than do all the talking. Don't think you have to justify yourself to everyone. Spend your energies observing and asking smart questions rather than trying to let everyone know how much you know and how important you are.

* Be equally nice to everyone. The messenger may someday turn out to be your best friend in court. The receptionist may one day be able to give you the most important information of your life. The junior executive in the office next to yours whom you don't think is very important may one day be your boss.

* Don't make snap judgments about who's important, who's going to be your friend. You may change your mind about most of the people in the office, so it's smart not to form an opinion of anyone until you know them well and have seen them interact. Don't listen to negative stories about who's out to get whom, who's about to get fired, who's cheating. Resolve to keep an open mind and to make your own judgments later — much later.

* Ask your peers to lunch, one by one (one a week, for example). Get to know them on an easy, informal basis. It will be money well invested. Assume an "I honestly need your help to learn how this company works" attitude. If you make your peers understand that you need their assistance, that you know less than they do but need to know more in order to become a good team member, you will find they will help you. They won't mind your asking for information. What does not work is arrogance; what does work is modesty.

* Don't ask prying personal questions about others in the office. If you try to collect gossip, you'll instantly acquire the kind of reputation you don't want. You'll become known as a gossip yourself, someone not to be trusted.

When You Have Moved from a Large to a Small Company

An employee who changes from a large corporation to a small company may have difficulty adjusting and in making friends with a new set of peers. In a large corporation, an executive has set, defined responsibilities; in a small company, he or she may have to pinch-hit for anyone and everyone as necessity dictates. The newcomer who complains, acts uppity, or keeps talking about "how it was back at the other company" is in for trouble. If you keep making comparisons to your former company, others probably will find them pretty odious and superior sounding. As a newcomer, you should make a determined effort to "hang loose" — and to step in to help as needed. The opportunity to grow with a small company — to nurture it and enjoy the camaraderie as it prospers — is worth an exercise in humility on your part any time.

Being at Ease in Meeting and Greeting in the Business World

The art of meeting and greeting people with charm and efficiency is one of the most effective tools with which anyone in business or the professions can be armed. Meeting someone requires making an effort, putting oneself out, stepping forward, saying and doing something. A manager (or potential manager) can show himself to be a smooth, secure, knowing executive by that first gesture — the way he acts when introduced, introduces himself, or introduces someone else. For example, Tony Cordier sees an old colleague approaching from the other end of the airport terminal. He jumps up from his seat near his flight gate, reaches out warmly to shake the hand of the newly arrived passenger, and says, "Gregg! Tony Cordier, great to see you again!" (He gives his own name, in case Gregg has forgotten it.)

What's in a Name?

Everything. It means everything to the person you are properly introducing to someone else in your business life. It means everything to the person to whom you are introducing the newcomer, who will want to learn the other person's name correctly so that she won't be embarrassed later by having to ask for it again.

We're a nation of name-mumblers when we introduce ourselves or other people. All we need do is slow down and pronounce our names slowly, clearly, and distinctly; we may feel as though we are exaggerating our names, but it eases the problem of communication. We also don't pay much attention to people's last names anymore. Perhaps the reason why we've become so first-name oriented, and casual and sloppy about names in general, is that we just don't want to make the effort. In business it is well worth the effort to conscientiously learn the names of everyone with whom you interact, in and out of the office. When a manager remembers his contacts' full names (not just their given ones), they are flattered, their egos are enhanced, and relationships become more cordial as a result.

The Art of Introducing People

(See also Chapter 12, "Business Protocol")

The protocol of making proper introductions is very logical: You properly introduce a lesser to a more important or senior person. For example, you would introduce:

* A younger person to an older person

* A peer in your company to a peer in another company

* A junior executive to a senior executive

* A fellow executive to a customer or client

* An unofficial person to an official person

* A fellow U.S. citizen to a peer from another country

Introductions can be hazardous. Here are some ways to sail through them:

* Explain who people are when you introduce them:

"Mr. Cogswell, I want my daughter, Cynthia Warren, to meet you. Cynthia, this is Mr. Gregory Cogswell, the president of this company."

"Jane, I'd like to introduce Harry Newman, my nephew. Harry, this is Dr. Jane Arrowsmith, head of our hospital's Pain Clinic."

"Georgio, I wanted June Treacher and Anthony Reynolds to meet you. They're college interns from Stanford spending the summer with our company. June and Anthony, this is Dottor Georgio Rizzoli of the Montecatini Corporation in Milano."

"Ambassador Ketchum, I'd like to present Liza Rawson, the Comptroller of our corporation. Liza, Ambassador Ketchum was formerly head of our embassy in Paris and is now a partner in Hockland and Crighton."

When you're introducing a younger person to an older one, for example, touch the arm of the older person and say his name first, then symbolically, in your mind, bring up to the person whose arm you are touching the junior person. This is the way you'll remember how to introduce people to people of rank and status.

Of course, if you are just introducing peers and friends to one another, a simple, "Bill, this is Andy Miller — Andy, meet Bill Laidlaw" will do it. And if you forget who is senior to whom and get all clutched up as to who to introduce to whom, take a deep breath and do the best you can. Even if you have forgotten names, just come up with the parts of the names you know, and no one will know the difference. Many is the time I've bluffed my way through introductions, because I remember either the first or the last name, but not both. "Mr. Parker, I'd like to introduce my old friend Steve from American Express. Steve, this illustrious gentleman is the head of the Jenkins Beer ad account." The fact that I could not remember Mr. Parker's first name nor Steve's last name simply didn't matter, because no one noticed it. They were too busy shaking hands and saying hello to one another.

* Give information when you introduce someone. Don't just call a person "Ambassador" without naming the country to which he or she is — or was — accredited. Don't just introduce people by name at a business party without giving their firm or profession or some piece of information that can serve as a jumping off point for conversation in that group.

* Remember to use titles when introducing people. You may know that woman well as "Jennifer Garrett." But when you are introducing her, it's important to give her title. Introduce her as "Dr. Jennifer Garrett." Your brother may be your brother, but when introducing him, if he is a judge, he should be referred to as "my brother, Judge William Doakes." A man you're introducing may have been your college roommate, but if he is of high political or appointive office, the people to whom you're presenting him should know it. Therefore, introduce him as "Steve Creighton, Congressman from California," instead of just "Steve Creighton." People want to know to whom they're speaking, so they can make appropriate comments.

* Some titles accompany their owners to their graves. Once an Ambassador, always an Ambassador. When a general retires, his family name is still preceded with his rank; when a high-ranking official no longer holds his post, he's introduced as "Governor," "Senator," or "Judge," all his life (see also "Proper Forms of Address," Chapter 12).

* If you forget someone's entire name when you know that person well, don't worry if you have a total lapse of memory. It happens to us all. Just laugh and make a joke of it. "Sometimes I can't even remember my own mother's name..." Confess on the spot. You will be forgiven, because every single person in this world forgets names. It's a very human failing. You will always be forgiven — unless you do it to your future mother-in-law, who is against the marriage.

* Be a sport: Always give your own name. Since there is a possibility — maybe even a probability — that the person you know, who is standing with some people you do not know, has forgotten your name and therefore cannot introduce you, help him out. Stick out your hand and give him your name ("Hello, Jim Schubert, good to see you"), to which he will reply, "Jim, did you think I had forgotten your name?" Of course, he has, but everyone is smiling, being introduced all around, everyone is happy, and you have saved the day by simply coming out with your name right away.

* If your last name is different from your spouse's (which, of course, occurs when a woman keeps her own name after marriage), it is important to communicate this fact when you are at social events together. I am a case in point, since I'm Letitia Baldrige during the day, but in the evening I'm Letitia Hollensteiner. If there is one thing my husband does not appreciate, it is to be introduced as Robert Baldrige, instead of Robert Hollensteiner. This lays the onus on me to introduce him properly whenever we're around people who know me but not him, and who always call me by my professional, maiden name of Baldrige. In these situations, I say very clearly, slowly, and distinctly, "This is my husband, Bob Hollensteiner," and if anyone starts to call him Mr. Baldrige, I jump right in and correct them (politely, of course). It's a question of communication. Men and women should be sensitive to their spouses' egos when they are in a business setting that is familiar to one but not the other.

When People Mis-Introduce You, Do You Correct Them?

If someone repeatedly mis-introduces you — giving you either the wrong name, title, or company name — don't make a dramatic episode out of it. Put a big smile on your face and whisper in the person's ear, "Just thought you'd like to know that my name is Jane Merson, not Mason"..."It's nothing at all serious, but I'm a lawyer with Simpson Thacher, not Covington & Burling"..."Just a small correction — I'm Colonel Morris, not Major Morris."

I am famous for introduction mistakes, because of always being in a hurry and not concentrating enough. I have been known to introduce husbands to wives, brothers to sisters, and divorced couples as though they were still married (the latter is particularly grim if one or both have remarried).

Remembering Names Takes Practice

The ability to remember names is an outstanding asset. Concentration is the key to remembering a large number of them — at least for a short space of time, such as during a party or a weekend meeting.

When you meet a person, concentrate on his name as it is given to you. Repeat it mentally while you say it aloud. "Glad to meet you, Mr. McChesney," you might say as your mind repeats the name silently two or three times and you also search for an identifying word association. He may have one wisp of hair standing up straight on his head" ("McChesney, wisp on top of head"). He may have unusual colored eyes ("McChesney, green cat's eyes"), very broad shoulders ("McChesney, wrestler's shoulders"), or an unusual pattern in his suit ("McChesney, tic-tac-toe suit"). If the name can be used in a word association with the person himself, concentrate on that. For example: "Mr. Burns, red hair," "Mr. Long, very tall," "Mrs. McIntosh, wearing a raincoat," etc. Remember one salient detail and it will fasten to that person's name like Velcro, at least for a while.

If you don't understand a name when it's given to you (and many introducers are hopelessly inept at articulating names when making introductions), don't be shy about asking for the name again: "I'm sorry, I didn't understand your name, and I want to know it." The other person should be flattered that you care enough to want to know.

If the other person repeats it but you still do not understand, ask for a repetition, even more apologetically this time: "I'm sorry, I just can't seem to catch the name."

This time the person should pronounce his name slowly so that you are able to understand it. If you repeat it aloud, his name will now stick in your mind. If his name is very complicated (like Dobyczescowitz, for example), ask him for his business card; if he doesn't have one, ask him to write his name on your notepad. (When I am out on business, I always carry a thin notepad with me, as do many business people.) By now he will either be very irritated or immensely pleased by your interest.

If you see someone you've met before but can't remember the name, say something like, "I remember meeting you at that American Express lunch at the Hilton last spring. I'm Agnes Catwell." The other person will be flattered to have been remembered, even if you didn't recall his or her name.

If you are entrusted with the responsibility of introducing people to each other at a corporate function, you will have to go through a lot of hard work in order to remember people's names and in order to pronounce them properly. When you do a good job of it, you cast a fine reflection on your company and on your own talents. People like to have their names and titles remembered and stated correctly. It's one of the emoluments in life to which one feels entitled.

Using Nicknames in the Workplace

An unflattering, ugly-sounding, or just plain comical nickname has no place in a conservative business situation. This kind of informality is fine in an art director's office, but not in the office of the vice-president for corporate finance. Besides, a nickname is often a put-down of the person.

Some people have the misfortune to grow up with their childhood nicknames firmly attached — "Chuckles," "Bubba," "Pepper," "Pooch," "Pits," "Spritz," etc. Friends who insist upon calling an executive by this kind of nickname should be kindly reminded by the executive: "Look, I'm not called that anymore. I'd appreciate your calling me Bill."

Everyone has the right to be addressed by a dignified name in the office, one that is neither silly nor deprecating. If your nickname is a pleasing shortened version of your name (such as "Charlie," "Bob," "Dick," etc.), there is no problem. But if Charlie wants to be called "Charles" in the workplace, all he has to do is keep reminding people to call him that. Once his proper name is fixed in other people's minds, he will become "Charles" to them forever.

The head of an insurance company recently circulated a memo to his company executives decreeing that "names, not nicknames will be used in this office." He added, "I happen to love dogs, but dogs, not their owners, are known by nicknames."

What's in a Handshake?

Everything. It's your first physical contact with someone, flesh to flesh. Your handshake is important from the point of view of:

* How you do it

* When you do it

* How it feels to someone else


Firm, strong, representative of a person who makes decisions, takes risks, and above all, takes charge

Warm and enthusiastic, as if you are really glad to meet that person

Dry, pleasant to the touch


Hesitant, apologetic, almost as if you were saying, "I don't really want to shake your hand, nor am I a decision maker."

Weak, slippery, lifeless, like a handful of dead fish. Just as negative is the bone crusher handshake, which makes the other person feel in need of having his hand X-rayed.

Wet and clammy, or cold, as though you have been holding an iced drink all day

When Do You Shake Hands?

All the time. For instance:

* When you run into someone you know

* When you say goodbye to the same person

* When someone comes in from the outside to see you in your office, and when he leaves, too

* When someone enters your home, or when you enter someone else's home (or when you take leave of one another)

* When you meet someone you know in a restaurant

* When you're introduced to people in any business or social situation, and when you take leave of them

* When you are congratulating someone — after a speech, after an award presentation

* When you are consoling someone (in this case you might hold the handshake for several seconds, then put your other hand on top of the two shaking hands — a gesture of transmitting sympathy through the two pairs of clasped hands

* When you greet someone with very arthritic hands or a prosthesis, rather than taking his hand, put your right hand on his forearm or upper arm as a sign of a salute while saying hello.

When Do You Not Shake Hands?

* When the other person has his or her hands full

* When the person you want to greet is someone much higher ranked than you and to whom you really have nothing to say. In this case, it would look pushy for you to rush up to shake his hand and introduce yourself.

* When the other person is eating a messy hors d'oeuvre in one hand and holding a drink in the other and doesn't have a hand free to indulge in this pleasantry. You should give him a half-salute in greeting that symbolizes "l know you can't shake hands now, but hello."

Points of Protocol in Handshaking

If you enter a group, shake hands first with your host, and then with the other most senior people in the room. If everyone is clustered together — people of all ranks — don't worry about whose hand you shake next, as long as you have shaken the hand of the host of this particular gathering.

Protocol decrees that you shake hands with your host when you leave. Sometimes this is not possible, as when the host of your gathering is surrounded by people and it would be rude for you to interrupt. Use your common sense. If you can easily get to the host to thank him for the meeting, social event, or whatever, fine, shake his hand in goodbye. If you can't easily get to him, leave and telephone your thanks or write him a note the next day.

If someone doesn't see your hand extended and doesn't offer his or her hand to you, just draw back your hand and smile. That person is not rejecting you on purpose; he or she simply doesn't see your extended hand. It's an embarrassing two or three seconds for you, but it happens to every person who shakes hands often.

When You Have Clammy Hands

* If you have a tendency to have cold hands, stick your right hand in your jacket pocket to warm it up as you approach a situation in which you'll be shaking hands. (You can also sit on your hand for a minute to warm it up!)

* Don't hold iced drinks in your right hand. Hold them in your left, so that your shaking hand is nice and dry.

* If you have perennially clammy hands, before you shake someone else's hand, give a quick swipe of your right hand on your skirt or trousers, so that when you present it, it's dry. You can do it so quickly and gracefully, no one will be aware that you made the gesture.

Hugging and Kissing in Greeting

Usually, we greet one another in our business environment with smiles, handshakes, and spoken greetings. Occasionally a bear-hug is in order between two close friends of either gender, when there is good news to celebrate ("I got my promotion," or, "We're going to be married"), or when there is a reunion after a long trip.

A warm hug is not grounds for a sexual harassment suit; it is a nice expression of friendship and affection by a warm, nice person. There is nothing sexual about it. It merely implies a closeness of interest and friendship between the two people.

A person in the office who kisses another on the mouth has stepped out of bounds (unless they are married to one another, and even then, that kiss is better given in private).

A person who air-kisses when greeting another person engages, in my opinion, in the worst kind of artificial behavior there is. An "air kiss" means a person puts a cheek alongside the other person's, while making a kissing sound into the air. It is phony. Two people air-kissing with cries of delight when they had seen one another only a week ago is silly, vacuous behavior, and it looks particularly poor as a form of greeting when someone comes into the office from the outside.

An American man who kisses a woman's hand is also setting himself up as the joke of the month. First of all, by cultural definition, an American man is not supposed to kiss a woman's hand; second, men from other countries know that only a married woman's hand is meant to be kissed. Third, American men don't know the art of hand-kissing anyway. Once I saw a young manager (just back from a three-day trip to Paris and feeling very continental) kiss the hand of the prettiest single woman in the company. Her reaction was marvelous. "First of all, I'm not a married woman, and second, you'll have to spend thirty years in Paris, not three days, if you're going to try that again." To this day he still doesn't know what she meant, only that she was displeased.


Your good or bad manners are always with you, and when you move from one place to another, they become even more conspicuous. Whether you are moving through a living room, a darkened movie theater, a church pew, the corporate auditorium, or the narrow aisle of a Concorde jet on its way to Paris, the way you move tells a great deal about you.

Some people always move suddenly, jerkily, noisily. The right way to move is quietly and effortlessly, so no one is even aware of your movements.

People who speak loudly and laugh raucously as they move through an area upset the train of thought of others around them who may be trying to concentrate. (The noisy movers generally are people of low self-esteem, who are seeking to be noticed.)

Many parents today, I have observed, never have taught their children to "take the least comfortable chair in the room when visitors come." Instead they grow up plopping into the most comfortable one or on the best part of the sofa, sprawling all over with arms and legs in every direction. This is the child who later grows up to be the man or woman who takes up two seats, instead of one, on the bus; grows up to be the one who grabs the comfortable chair in the room and leaves the spindly legged, creaky one for someone else. My father always used to whisper sternly at his children when we went to visit people, "Heads up!" meaning look about you, think, and then you'll do the right thing. When children today move through the aisle of a theater, wielding soda cans and popcorn containers like weapons, it's plain to see that no one ever told them, "Heads up." Young managers need to be told what children used to be told in the days when parents taught their offspring manners:

* Keep your eyes open when you move among people in public. Look around you; be aware of others.

* When you enter a room or have people entering your office, give the best seat to your client or customer — or senior manager.

* When you must move quickly among people, perhaps carrying something that may hit them (like suitcases, backpacks, tote bags, briefcases, umbrellas, etc.), look where you're going, apologize left and right with sincerity, and smile at the people you are whacking. In most cases, their anger levels will be lowered by your apologetic behavior.

Going Through Doors

In the old days, ladies always preceded gentlemen in going through doors, and in addition, a door was always rather ceremoniously held open for her to sail through in a queenly fashion. It was an understood, accepted politesse. Little boys held doors for old ladies. Even frail old men on crutches always tended to the door of the ladies behind them. Today, chivalry counts for little. What you have to think about is not getting hit in the face by a door swung shut by the person ahead of you. In spite of the fact that no one will ever thank you or even notice your kindnesses, take a vow: Be a door holder for others. It doesn't matter if you are male or female, holding a door for the person coming behind is a common courtesy. It doesn't matter if it's the CEO or the bicycle messenger in his Spandex shorts, just do it. It brings so much pleasure — after the shock registers — to people, and it makes people remember and like you.

Always hold the elevator door for the people coming toward you in the hallway. It's enough to make people want to resign from the human race when they tear down an office building corridor carrying bags, red-faced and huffing, to catch the one elevator with its doors open — only to reach the spot just in time to see the door close on a car full of people who are standing there, eyes upward, pretending not to notice them. All one person on that car had to do was press the "Open" button.

Going Through Swinging Doors

* Regardless of your gender, let your guests — and anyone on staff who ranks considerably higher than you — precede you through the swinging door. Don't make a big thing of it.

* When a group of five or more comes to your offices, precede them, so you can show your guests where to go.

* If you know that a door is very heavy and difficult, precede any guest you may have with you by saying, "This is a heavy door; I'll go first and give it a shove."

* If someone, even a stranger, on crutches or in a wheel chair or with a cast on his arm, or just plain frail-looking and slow-moving, is approaching a swinging door, go first, tell him what you're doing, and hold the door so that it opens slowly. (Every year disabled people are knocked down and suffer head, leg, and arm injuries because of some thoughtless person racing through the door while the disabled person attempts to go through slowly.)

* In the evening, if a man and woman are away from the business world and he wishes to be gallant, he should let her go through first, and give the door a firm shove from behind. I have a little advice for an over-reactive woman's advocate who wishes to challenge my viewpoint on a man's desire to hold doors for his wife or girlfriend: Live a little longer, get more experience in working relationships, and lighten up!

* During the normal daytime movement of people, in office buildings or other kinds of buildings, whoever arrives first at the door should enter and go through it. It's as simple as that.


Unless you have practiced recovering your composure after making some serious gaffes, you will probably continue to suffer far too much. (By the time I was thirty, I had made enough serious ones to last a normal person's lifetime.) Young executives, when they discover something they've done wrong, are generally over-mortified. And the more mortified they are, the more uncomfortable everyone else is around them.

Step back from a gaffe, ask yourself some questions and seek some answers:

How serious was it? Your embarrassment may be more than that of the other people around you. Don't blow the episode out of proportion, because as soon as you recover your own dignity, the others will recover theirs.

Did anyone get hurt (other than you) and did your company lose face or suffer harm because of your actions? If so, take instant remedial action, which could be anything from making a simple apology to mounting a compensatory campaign.

Was there any humor to highlight in your faux pas situation? If there wasn't any, can you inject some, even at a later date, perhaps inserted into your letter of explanation or apology?

Many of my celebrated gaffes committed in high, important places (which I often have included in my writing and lectures) have given comfort to the people who have heard them, because they know they could never do anything that stupid and still remain employed. For example:

* At a White House State dinner the French ambassador concluded I had improperly seated him, according to protocol (which was not the case), so he walked out of the dining room in the middle of the first course, leaving everyone (including President and Mrs. Kennedy) in an astonished silence. All eyes were on me as I fluttered like a nervous chicken between the Kennedys and the ambassador, trying to keep the ambassador from leaving in a huff. I had carded out the Secretary of State's wishes in this diplomatic matter, but I couldn't exactly yell that out in the middle of the service of the Filets de sole Marguery, could I? I could feel the disapproval of my professionalism floating in the air of the State Dining Room that night.

* At a reception at the American Embassy in Rome, at a moment when India and Pakistan were at war over their borders, I introduced the new ambassador from Pakistan as the new ambassador from India to the entire diplomatic corps. The guest of honor, the Pakistani ambassador, fled the residence and returned to his own embassy to recover from the humiliation.

* I introduced a top Democratic contributor to President Kennedy at a White House reception, then I introduced his wife, using his mistress' first name instead of his wife's.

* I inadvertantly produced an all-white menu for a very important diplomatic dinner in Rome given by Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce and her husband, Henry Luce. It was white from the cream of celery soup through to the creme brulee dessert. Even the toast points around the white fish with its sauce were made of white bread. It caused Henry Luce to ask if I was perhaps color blind.

* I mixed up two of my typed letters in their envelopes and sent a letter chiding a friend (who had not done a job for a charity which he had promised to do) to the CEO of a company whose PR account I was trying to land. The friend, of course, received the PR proposal that was meant for the CEO. The real problem was that my friend's PR firm was also trying to land the same account that I was.

* I made three mistakes in introducing an illustrious guest speaker at an evening's banquet: I got his name, title, and state wrong!

* A letter with my facsimile signature on it went out to several hundred people in a Burlington Industries interior design award program that I ran. The recipients of this form letter were told they were winners in the prestigious Burlington annual competition, when in fact, they were the losers. The two lists had been switched. The real winners received form letters signed by me that consoled them for having lost. It was my fault as manager of the project for not having been at the mailing house to see that this disaster didn't happen.

I survived every single one of these faux pas, errors, gaucheries, gaffes, mistakes — whatever you wish to call them. For example:

• I crawled back into the French ambassador's good graces in the Kennedy Administration by begging his forgiveness in an impassioned letter, even though I was right and he was wrong.

* I followed the Pakistani ambassador back to his embassy, pleading for his mercy. When that didn't work, I sent roses and a letter of apology, which did work (very few people can resist the latter combination).

* I apologized profusely to the Democratic contributor whose wife I had misintroduced with his mistress' name, but President Kennedy took over, mentioned the stunned wife's real name, and saved the day for us all by making a big fuss over the married couple in the receiving line.

* I assured Henry Luce I was not color blind, and for a while after this incident, the food platters in the ambassador's residence in Rome were as colorful as a Mondrian painting. In fact, it was color over-kill, tutti frutti, Mr. Luce assured me.

* My friend never divulged the contents of my public relations plan to his own firm. Instead of being upset, the CEO was vastly amused by my chiding letter to my friend about his lack of charity, and both men, after my frantic telephone calls of passionate apology, laughed and thought the whole thing was funny. (I also won the CEO's PR account.)

* Although I had made such a complete shambles of introducing the senator, everyone in the ballroom had consumed enough wine and joviality to think I had done it on purpose. There was uproarious laughter, and by the time I realized the mistakes I had made, I was already receiving congratulations for "being so funny and clever." The audience was completely fooled, and even the senator congratulated me "for the only real laughs of the evening."

* After the design award winners had been notified in my letter that they were losers, and vice versa, I realized the people who had been falsely notified they were winners deserved our attention first. I hired several friends who can act with dramatic flair, in a Sarah Bernhardtian fashion, if required to. I brought "the apology squad" into my office, and together with my staff, we used a battery of telephones and called every number long distance until we reached each of the people who had received my letter. Day and night, we explained how the "ghastly" mistake (or should I say "my ghastly mistake?") had occurred. Our telephone voices transmitted our dismay, even our horror at having misled them with the wrong letters. (Computers and faxes do not convey emotions like voices do.) We sounded so upset and contrite, all of the people we called — with the exception of one (a troublemaker who threatened to sue) — were kind and understanding about the mailing house's — excuse me — my mistake.

A serious gaffe requires apologies — verbal and written (see also "Letter of Apology," Chapter 7). But for the occasional misstep, laugh about your own mistake, because everyone around you is miserable for you.

For example, when you are seriously late for an appointment with a client or customer: "You know, Dave, we have a competition going on back at the office where we list the most irritating and infuriating kinds of behavior in the business world. I think my keeping you waiting has probably won."

If you make a joke about yourself, the others present will quickly feel at ease themselves, and everyone can get on with their lives. Humor, of course, should always follow, not lead, the obligatory apology. Your timing must be right, or your joke could fall terribly flat. Humor can never replace an apology; it merely augments the effectiveness of it and lightens it at the same time. And the humor is always more effective when turned toward yourself, rather than someone else.

It's human to err. Remind the person you have inopportuned that to forgive is divine. I can tell you from years of experience that if it's your boss whom your gaffe has put on the spot, and if he or she doesn't fire you but instead tells you to "forget it," you are blessed and perhaps home free, not to mention fortunate to be working for such a secure person.

Copyright © 1985, 1993 by Letitia Baldrige

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