There’s something about the concepts of “etiquette” and “manners” that conjure images of elegant ladies of yesteryear with upswept hairdos and wearing dresses with mutton-legged sleeves graciously holding tea cups with their little finger extended.
But Michelle Tran argues that etiquette, and business etiquette in particular, has never been more relevant than it is today. It’s not just a matter of knowing the appropriateness of bowing or shaking hands or air-kissing cheeks when in lands and situations that might be new to you. It’s about knowing enough of the “niceties” to be comfortable in any situation and also come off as a polished professional.
Michelle Tran is the founder of Fleurite, a Toronto-based etiquette consultancy firm that equips individuals and small groups with the full range of behaviors, knowledge protocols they need to succeed in business – and life. She launched the business after intensive formal training and certification by a leading program, based in London, for international business etiquette and business protocols.
Michelle Tran helps people learn more than just which forks and spoons to use at state dinners. She helps students understand the cultural nuances that influence business etiquette at home and in different countries. She coaches them in effective networking strategies and communication styles for any occasion. She also offers guidance on style and wardrobe choices – knowing when trendy’s okay but classic will rule, along with the statements that color choices make.
It’s especially important for Millennials in business to get up to speed on these matters, particularly those who intend to make their mark as entrepreneurs, Tran says. She notes that this generation takes a lot of bashing, much of it along stereotypical lines, for its shortcomings in the “real” world.
While she tends to shy away from such characterizations, she still suggests: “The iconoclastic leanings of many Millennials may not help them build the kind of personal brand that goes hand-in-hand with business success without some sort of grounding in business etiquette. And that is really all about showing respect for others in your actions and dealings. This generation is certainly smart enough that Millenials who haven’t yet caught on to its importance soon enough will.”
Michelle Tran recently joined Young Upstarts for a conversation about Millennials and business etiquette, and her observations about its relevance to the entrepreneurs in this generation.
What would you consider the major challenges that this group faces in terms of business manners?
Michelle Tran: Well, probably the biggest one would be their reliance on technology. In fact, that’s wonderful in many respects because Millennials are leading the way on certain trends that are transforming how we work. Teleworking and remote communications are giving us entirely new levels of flexibility and ways to connect.
But, I find it alarming when I walk through the streets of downtown Toronto amidst crowds of people who only look down at the device in their hands and not at each other or the world around them. Good business manners require a level of empathy and the personal touch that face-to-face dealings encourage. It’s especially important for entrepreneurs who have so many stakeholders to sway. It’s hard to sell an investor if you haven’t established a more personal connection than text communications.
We do hear from many in the workplace that communications etiquette tends to escape this generation. How would you characterize this problem?
Michelle Tran: Well, as fun as it might be to pepper your texts with emoticons and use abbreviations like “k” for okay and “ur” for your, there’s a certain form that’s missing in this and Millennials need to recognize the effect it has on the recipient. Most businesses these days use emails for internal and external communications, and those are a lot more formal than texts. While a “k” format for their friends, using text-style writing in emails can come across as way too casual, if not discourteous or condescending. Thinking about the recipient’s communications norms before hitting the send button helps immensely.
What about the respect factor? You hear a lot about Millennials being more casual in their styles, and that trickles down to their direct interactions – which many, say the Baby Boomers, may consider disrespectful. What’s the etiquette here?
Michelle Tran: Well, this is as much about the Golden Rule as it is about good manners. What I love about this generation is its openness to others and tendency to want to treat everyone equally. In dealing with supervisors, this doesn’t mean the Millennial should be humble, mind you, but it does mean you don’t snap your chewing gum (or even have it in your mouth!) when talking with the CEO or tell inappropriate jokes. It’s the reciprocity thing, though, that’s so entwined with good manners, and that’s key for the Millennial entrepreneur to keep in mind. I don’t know that I’d recommend they follow the Steve Jobs style of management – combative, often rude and condescending. That certainly worked for him over the long term, but also got him fired, as well.
How will Millennial entrepreneurs benefit by putting a sharper focus on business etiquette?
Michelle Tran: I think the biggest benefit would be the way it equips people to deal with any situation and people of different generations and cultures with poise and style. There’s a lifetime worth of benefit right there.