Why Good Manners Mean Good Business Too

<i> Kathy Bold is a regular contributor to Orange County View</i>

Like a veteran politician, Diane Diehl knows how to press the flesh.

“You all have a web between your thumb and index finger,” she says, standing before members of Newport Beach Legal Secretaries Assn. and holding up her outspread palm to show them the loose fold of skin.

“When you shake hands, your web should touch their web.”

Her audience titters.

To demonstrate, Diehl walks down the front row firmly locking hands with the secretaries, taking care to look squarely into each person’s eyes.


“That says, ‘I like you,’ ” she explains.

Diehl, a certified protocol and etiquette consultant in Irvine, serves as a kind of Miss Manners for executives. She gives lessons on business etiquette at community colleges and private enterprises such as the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach. High-level executives call on her for private manners consultations.

“Good manners mean good business,” she says. “Many business deals have failed because of people being insulted.”

Diehl recently gave local legal secretaries an introduction to her manners training course at a weeklong series of fashion shows and seminars for career women called “Profiles: Women at Work,” at Saks Fifth Avenue in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

“The most important lesson is how to introduce people properly,” she tells the group. “What you say and do will be important in a client’s eyes.”

To make a proper introduction, she suggests one quickly single out the most important person among the gathered parties.

“The first name out of your mouth must be that person. You would say, ‘President Smith, may I present Mrs. . . .’ ”

In social settings, a woman is introduced first. In business situations, the rules of protocol are blind to gender.

“There’s a difference between social and business etiquette,” Diehl explains. Regardless of the sex, the person highest up the corporate ladder or the client with the most clout is identified first.

“Every situation is treated according to the pecking order.”

Once introduced to a stranger, a simple “How do you do?” should accompany the obligatory handshake, she says. What transpires during the next 15 seconds can make or break a business deal.

“The first 12 words out of your mouth are very important. If the first impression is a negative one, it could take you the rest of your life to change it.”

She advises tongue-tied executives to work a “thank you” somewhere into the first sentence. One good icebreaker: “Thank you for arranging this business meeting.”

Many people have trouble making small talk, but the art of conversation can be critical to a career. Diehl says the key is to quit worrying about what you’re going to say next.

“Stop thinking so much about yourself and really concentrate on the other person. Really show an interest in what he’s saying.”

In her more extensive daylong training courses, Diehl covers the finer points of business protocol.

For instance, when attending a business meeting that calls for one to wear a name tag, always place the tag on the right shoulder, she says.

“It’s easier to spot when you shake hands.”

Business cards, the currency of the corporate world, should not be given out too freely. Aggressive executives often make the mistake of foisting their business cards onto higher-ups.

“Cards shouldn’t come out unless they’re asked for,” she says. “Cards are really valuable--it isn’t a card game.”

After attending a networking group, she typically ends up with a small stack of cards that have been pushed into her hand and end up sitting in a pile.

“If someone is reluctant to give a card, I’ll be more interested in that person.”

To hear Diehl tell it, even a trip to the water cooler can hinder a career if one isn’t careful.

“Walk straight. That shows positive self-confidence. You may not realize it, but you are being watched.”

For that reason, one’s appearance can also affect a deal.

“The first 12 inches from head to shoulders are very important. Your jewelry, makeup and hair must be impeccable.”

For women, hair should be short and well groomed--no messy “shaggy dog look” in the boardroom.

“Hair should not be flying around. Having hair hang in your face takes away from professionalism,” she says. Diehl wears her long hair in a neat ponytail, with tastefully small gold earrings.

Jewelry must never be too heavy. No dangling earrings, no loud necklaces or layers of Mr. T-style gold chains. Makeup should be light and look natural. For men, the face must be clean shaven, even if it means shaving off a 5 o’clock shadow for a late afternoon appointment.

“If you have facial hair it must be impeccably groomed.”

Diehl recommends that clothing for men and women be conservative. However, women need not copy men’s corporate uniforms and don the pinstriped suits and floppy bow ties they wore in the ‘80s.

“Women don’t need to look like men. They can wear pretty dresses and softer blouses,” she says.

Still, they must pay close attention to what’s appropriate to wear in an office.

“Miniskirts are out of the question.”

As for women wearing pants, “never,” Diehl says, sounding horrified at the thought.

“They’re really a mistake. Reserve them for going out socially.”

As the daughter of a charm school instructor, Diehl has seen etiquette go in and out of style. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, people rebelled against tradition, and that included manners, she says.

“Today we realize if we’re going to compete on an international level, we’d better know etiquette.”

She gives lessons on international protocol because rules vary from country to country. In Pacific Asian cultures, for example, making direct eye contact is rude.

“Without etiquette,” Diehl says, “you can’t get to the negotiation table.”