Getting Ahead Means Minding Your Manners

You’re at a business dinner and bite into a piece of meat that’s tough and difficult to chew.

Do you pretend to wipe your mouth and place the meat into your napkin? Use your fork or two fingers to remove it and place it on the edge of your plate or underneath a piece of parsley? Or, just swallow it and hope you don’t choke?

About two dozen students at Desert Rose Adult High School debate the point, with the first option — the wipe/napkin thing — the clear consensus choice, despite one student’s adamant stand that No. 2 is the way to go.

Florozeen Gray, president of the Protocol Etiquette School of Nevada-Las Vegas breaks the deadlock by telling the class that, indeed, the second option is correct.

"See?" the lone holdout exults. "I told you all!"

Of course, whether it’s polite to gloat is another etiquette question for another day. But, for now, Gray has imparted at least a measure of business etiquette to students taking the school’s Road to Success class, which aims to give students the skills they need to find, keep and advance in their jobs.

Two business etiquette sessions conducted by Gray are part of the course’s curriculum. During their first two-hour session, students learned the basics of business etiquette, from the proper way to shake hands to forms of introduction. Then, a week later, during their second session, students learned and practiced business dining skills in the school’s dining hall.

Sandra Ransel, principal of Desert Rose Adult High School, said Road to Success is a pilot program, funded in part by a $20,208 state grant the school received to "help students graduate and get ready for the workforce."

Ransel hopes funding can be found to make the course — which includes, in addition to the two etiquette sessions, such components as instruction in resume writing and goal setting, community service, a field trip to the Clark County Government Center and visits to area union halls — a permanent part of the school’s roster of electives.

Gray, who also teaches more comprehensive etiquette classes at other valley schools, designed the abbreviated business etiquette session for the course. The goal, she said, was to teach students that success in the business world hinges upon a set of interpersonal skills different from those used when dealing with friends or family.

Take the simple handshake. Gray tells students that the classic handshake — hand sideways and vertical, thumb pointing up, determinedly firm but not crushing or limp — still is the gold standard in the business world.

That means no double-handed handshakes or, even, the handshake and left hand on the shoulder shake. Yet, a few of the students protest, saying they always greet friends differently.

And that, Gray explains, is the point.

When she meets one of her own friends, Gray tells the class, "I don’t say, ‘Hello, Mary. How are you today?’ I go, ‘Hi girl, what’s happening?’ because that’s my friend."

"So the thing about it is knowing when to do it," Gray says, a subtle but important distinction that arises several times during the session.

Etiquette is less a set of do’s and don’ts than a set of skills used in treating others with respect, Gray explains. She notes that the classes she teaches are often the first time students have been exposed to that concept.

"It’s just proper, good behavior from one person to another. If you step on somebody’s foot accidentally, you say, ‘Excuse me.’ A lot of kids aren’t taught that. You step on their foot and they’re ready to fight."

But, adds Gray, whose company’s bread and butter is teaching corporate clients, "it’s the same way with adults.

"I have had people who tell me, ‘Oh, well, that’s that little girly thing. I know about etiquette.’ I say, ‘That’s not what I teach. Let’s drop the word ‘etiquette,’ let’s drop the word ‘protocol.’ "

Once students and corporate clients understand that etiquette means behaving respectfully when interacting with others, "they open up to it," Gray says.

Senior Richard Stone, 18, finds the business etiquette class interesting, because it "builds your manners."

That’s important, he adds, because "nowadays, people my age can’t get a job. It’s pretty hard. So it’s a lot of help."

The most surprising thing Stone learned? "Probably handshakes," he answers, laughing. "It’s, like, complicated. You’ve gotta be stern with it, you know?"

Yet, Gray says later, "you’d be surprised how many CEOs that I teach the class to take a while to get that."

In contrast to students, adults "come in kicking and screaming because they think they know everything," Gray says. "But once I get them through maybe 30 or 40 minutes, they realize they don’t know everything."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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