Many people believe that etiquette, in the personal and professional world, is outdated. Nothing could be more wrong! Good manners and courtesy are a fundamental aspect that positively distinguishes every person and every professional by facilitating all kinds of relationships. Knowing the most appropriate rules and codes of conduct to adopt in any public and social circumstance is a tool to feel more confident and relaxed in any context, without committing gaffes.
In the world of Beauty, etiquette and courtesy are an integral part of the service and product, and the lack of style of many can undermine a company’s reputation with serious loss of customers and damage to its image.
Good manners and style should not be exclusive to an elite group, we must return to teaching good manners, courtesy and kindness in families and schools.
I speak about this subject in this interview with Dr Edda Abbagliati, Etiquette Trainer, author of the book Business & Etiquette and founder of the Edda Accademia di Stile, an exclusive programme of courses dedicated to Etiquette and Protocol in private and professional life.
GA: Edda, you have founded an Academy of Style with programmes dedicated to teaching etiquette in normal life and in business. Why do you think the knowledge of the general rules of etiquette to be adopted on every occasion is so important in life and in business?
EA: Knowledge of the rules of etiquette (written and unwritten) help us to better navigate our social and professional lives. We hardly have an active social life that is not partly related to our working environment.
Making ‘basic’ mistakes in social and professional life does not help our image and can be an obstacle to our professional growth.
We can say that the lack of knowledge of these rules can complicate the rise in our professional career, whatever it may be.
Dealing with the public, conducting negotiations, maintaining good relations within the company, all see greater success if we respect good manners.
GA: You have a great deal of experience and a very high level of training in travel management and in international contexts. I travel a lot for work, and I often find myself observing superficial attitudes in my dealings with clients that reveal a total lack of professional ethics and, at times, of education. I often wonder why, in these cases, you choose to undertake an activity that involves direct contact with the customer, if you do not know the basics of good manners and hospitality. How do you think a company should choose its employees and train them in this regard? In your book Business & Etiquette you also talk about Cross Culture. What exactly do you mean by this?
EA: I fully agree with your opinion. I ask myself this same question more regularly than I would like. It is indeed a generalised and global phenomenon, which has grown excessively in the last decades. After years of experience, I believe that fundamentally there is NO real concept of service. Now they call it “EXPERIENCE” (trying to give it a positive connotation), but in the end it could be tremendously NEGATIVE.
A good product, if NOT accompanied by the right FORM, risks becoming a negative experience.
In my opinion, the problem for companies lies mainly in two areas: General Management and Human Resources.
It is likely that when hiring new staff, there is a tendency to focus on classic technical skills, without considering ‘soft skills‘.
Human resources do not know this subject and do not know how to detect this type of deficiency. In my opinion, the beauty sector is the one that should be trained first. If HR can understand the “nuances” and the importance of “form”, then they are in a better position to hire the right people.
By Cross Cultural Etiquette I mean those rules that help us to interact and have relationships with cultures different of our own. Each culture has its own history, religion, language, traditions, customs, and traditions that vary from our own.
Knowing the rules of behaviour that characterise cultures other than our own helps us to open contacts more easily and to do business properly. However, believing that everyone reacts, acts and negotiates in the same way as we do is always a big mistake.
GA: I have been working with students at professional beauty schools for many years. Working in the beauty sector involves contact, touch. Therefore, I believe that a training module dedicated to rules of behaviour should be integrated into professional schools. In your opinion, how can such an important subject as good manners be learned if no one teaches it? By dedicating oneself to it personally or only by referring to the education given by families?
EA: The basic problem lies within the family, which has been totally “absent” for many years. I have also found this phenomenon in my Academy, where many of the members are professionals (doctors, scientists, lawyers, etc.) who, once they have reached a certain level in their professional career, realise that they have shortcomings. All of them – without exception – confide in me that they attribute these shortcomings largely to the education they received at home.
On the other hand, schools and higher education have never taken these ‘transversal competences’ into account, believing that with technical training alone one can succeed in life. The truth is that this is not the case!
My idea has always been to help all categories: from professionals to companies to training centres, which reflect very different environments. And I realised that at some point in life, we all need this kind of training. But it is a subject that is not officially recognised.
In my Academy, from the very beginning, we have offered and implemented very different courses: Masters, Advanced Courses, Universities, etc. This is the only form of dissemination we have. All our courses are in fact ‘tailor-made’ and are adapted to the specific needs of our clients.
We can also add that, as the years go by, some companies and training providers are getting closer and closer to these soft skills. I personally believe that this pandemic will change many things. The main one is “putting the person at the centre”. Whether it is a customer, an employee, or a supplier, it makes little difference! The ‘form’ and the ‘manner’ will make the difference.
GA: Etiquette covers all the rules that should be respected in social and professional life and that reflect every action we take. There are so many questions that I would like to ask you, but if you were to draw up a decalogue to offer young people to guide them towards the first steps of good manners in social and professional life, what instructions would you give?
EA: I maintain that the first steps must be the essential ones. After that you grow slowly. In any case, this decalogue should not be lacking:
1) Attention to one’s image. Our image does not mean ‘designer clothes’, quite the contrary! It means proper care of ourselves, with proper hygiene. It may seem trivial, but I assure you that it should not be taken for granted. I have seen these problems up close, and on a few occasions, we have been asked to intervene on this very issue. When I remember these customers, I feel like SOS TATA! (The Italian TV programme, like SOS Nanny!) -laughs-.
In short, it is a complex issue. Especially in companies, neither managers nor human resources ‘dare’ to deal with it because it involves a certain sensitivity.
2) The control and elimination of bad habits. Among these bad habits are language (not only poor, but often accompanied by constant swearing), bad postures, tics that no one has ever corrected.
3) A calm tone of voice, no excessive gestures. These points are never pleasant.
4) Knowing how to greet and introduce other people is of fundamental importance. Not knowing the rules of greetings and introductions can lead to serious gaffes.
5) Be constantly well informed. A person who is informed about what is happening around him and in the world is more likely to open his doors in the professional sphere. A constant question I get asked is: “What do I talk about if I am invited to a business dinner and I don’t know the rest of the participants?” In such cases, there are precise rules at national and international level to avoid embarrassment.
6) Netiquette: in the world of social networks in which we live, it is of fundamental importance to control the language we use, the level of aggressiveness, sarcasm, the images we use and the control of fake news.
Everything we post can go for or against us, depending on what we have posted and what we have left behind. Companies and recruiters now control the social channels of candidates.
7) Courtesy and politeness as sales tools. In the world we live in today, our product can be replaced by another. Our attitude cannot!
We tend to build relationships before buying, contracting, starting a business, etc. If the relationship is courteous, kind, and fair, that customer or contact will never be lost.
8) Learning to do without a mobile phone at certain times. Although mobile phones help us in our daily personal and professional lives, we must recognise that they are NOT always our ally. We must learn to distinguish (without being asked) when this technology should be put aside. Let us not be afraid to keep our mobile phones switched off.
9) Always use expressions:
PLEASE and THANK YOU
Knowing how to ask with kindness and how to say thank you is AN ART. This art is learned by applying it every day, and it always pays off!
10) Learn the minimum standards of table etiquette.
Good table behaviour is something we should practise throughout our lives, both in our social and work spheres, because mistakes at the table are among the most noticeable.
GA: Due to the pandemic, the paradigms of social and professional relations have completely changed in the last year. Distance and fear of meeting others have intervened. Contact has almost become a danger and an offence. What do you think are the rules to which we should appeal to recreate a new sociality that respects health and humanity?
To continue socialising in this period of ‘pandemic’, for now, I think we should use good manners (all-round), a natural smile (if we do not have a mask), our eyes and kindness. Let us remember that even if the smile is covered, the eyes can speak and communicate respect and empathy to others.
Personally, I think that with time, we will gradually return to normal. It will take time, but cultures like Latinas cannot live without physical contact.
GA: As an entrepreneur with a passion for business and etiquette, I would like to ask you to help me resolve a doubt about corporate dress code. I am convinced that within a company there needs to be a common code of identity, and therefore, a dress code that unites all the participants in the company team. However, this is often perceived as a duty to wear a uniform, and therefore, as a kind of homologation. What is the right choice? What advice would you give me? Promote the idea of a dress code or leave it to chance?
EA: This is an “all-Italian” argument, which does not happen in other cultures and which always leads to discussions. The truth is that if you analyse the impression that an Italian has of a person in uniform, such as a pilot, a hostess, a railway worker, staff on ships or in hotels, etc., in general he finds the image very positive. If, on the other hand, it must be applied to the private company where they work, it becomes a ‘problem’.
In any case, I consider myself a dress code person for the following reasons:
- A uniform helps to eliminate some social distances. It is an elegant way to avoid differences within companies.
- It helps personal economy, as the only commitment one must make in this respect is to keep one’s uniform tidy, always clean and ready for use. In this way I save on the compulsive buying of my work wardrobe.
- It creates a sense of belonging.
In my opinion, randomness creates many more problems than the choice of a uniform. Randomness can also lead to extreme situations, which over time can become uncomfortable. For example: if the company establishes casual Friday and it is left to the discretion of the person without specifying the rules, we will find staff wearing Bermuda shorts and flip-flops (I have personally experienced this).
We help advise our clients in the creation and/or revision of the Corporate Label Manual, within which we jointly study the DRESS CODE. A good involvement of DRESS CODE with the heads of the sector generally leads to good results. The company’s image also improves considerably, as does the sense of belonging.
I do not deny that I identify with this personally, because for many years of my life I wore a uniform. I did all my studies, from nursery school to high school in English schools, wearing a uniform, and that always made me feel very good. I am not traumatised at all! During my university studies in Spain, we had a uniform for special visits to hotels, tourist centres, business trips, presence at fairs, etc., and I never felt homologated. Each of us had our own personality and followed our studies according to our abilities. The uniform only represented the correct image during the study period.
My opinion: promoting a DRESS CODE is always a good thing!
GA: Today, in a world where gender fluidity has become a new normality, is there still a place for gallantry, or is there a real risk of being misinterpreted? In practice, is it possible to combine the desire for female emancipation and independence with the instinct to protect the female universe that some men, including myself, still like to express?
EA: In my opinion, gallantry should always be used. So, the answer is: yes! Certainly! With a bit of caution and good taste. In this case I can say that there are cultures with which gallantry, as we understand it, can be counterproductive. This would be a typical case of Cross Cultural Etiquette. But more on that next time…