True Story: a new associate was chastised for attending to her BlackBerry while in a client meeting. When asked why she didn’t wait until after the meeting, she replied, “I didn’t know it was inappropriate to answer the call. How would I have known?”
From Boston to San Francisco, and all points in between, young professionals (along with many veterans) don’t know the rules of engagement when it comes to good manners and protocol in the office, client meetings or business dining. Those who cavalierly take the “I’ll wing it” approach are often sorry. I’m thinking of the associate who went to lunch with a partner at a fancy French restaurant and ordered the Niçoise salad, which he pronounced “ni-cozy,” and proceeded to eat much of it with his hands. You know, cold green beans, boiled eggs, olives … all finger foods, right?
Others new to a professional environment will often cringe at the thought of being on display when it comes to client meetings, especially when real food in a real restaurant might be involved. Brought up on Chicken McNuggets, Hot Pockets and pizza (and eaten in front of a screen of some kind, rather than around a table), many Millennials find fine dining an intimidating experience.
One law firm that shall go unnamed recently asked me to help them get their class of 30 new associates geared up for a major black-tie event. Here are a few of the questions that took me by surprise:
- Do I have to wear a tie?
- Why should it matter what I’m wearing?
- What’s with all the forks and glasses?
One defining characteristic of many Millennials is their desire to know the rules. Think of video games—they are chock full of rules, guidelines and strategy. Young people truly want to know what’s expected of them and why. Especially the why, and the answer isn’t, “because I said so.” Business etiquette is important because it levels the playing field and gets everyone on the same page.
When we know the rules and what’s expected of us, we can relax and be more ourselves. It’s doubt and uncertainty that make people uncomfortable in social and business situations.
One does not answer hand-held gadgets when a client is paying top dollar for one’s attention. One does not eat with one’s hands at a restaurant because in Western society, it is considered rude and unsanitary. At a black-tie function, one shows respect for the host, guests and oneself by dressing appropriately.
My advice to those struggling with getting new professionals to adhere to standards set by the firm in terms of dress, language, and overall conduct, is to be direct and explicit.
Spell out the what: no spandex, no yoga clothing, shoes must be worn in the office (note: socks are not considered shoes), email isn’t the place for IM abbreviations, etc.
And, spell out the why: as a professional firm, we have certain standards we expect all involved to adhere to so that our clients, customers, and co-workers enjoy a level of behavior and appearance consistent with the firm’s image. Additionally, clients not only want to know you’re worth the rates they are paying; they want you to look like you’re worth it as well.
By communicating and enforcing clear guidelines on acceptable and desired behavior in the workplace—and the world—you will help your staff achieve a level of comfort, polish and sophistication that will benefit them not only professionally, but socially as well.
We provide soft skills training and consulting to professional services firms covering all areas of business communication.
Neels & Company – Strategic Business Communication
P. O. Box 623, Boston, MA 02117
800-975-7031 ext. 701
general inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org