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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette advice: When inviting someone to discuss business, be welcoming and sensitive of their time

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing.

Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q: Karen, I was recently asked to meet a young man at a coffee shop so he could tell me about his new business. He had just started a new job with a financial institution and wanted to try and entice me into switching my accounts over to his new company. When I arrived at the coffee shop, he was already there, enjoying a muffin and a coffee. As I sat down, I was taken aback that he didn't stand to greet me or even offer to buy me a cup of coffee. I think his behavior was rude and unprofessional and, based on his lack of social skills, I wouldn't consider working with him. It was a total waste of my time. Do you agree that he was rude?

A: Yes, I would agree that it was rude that he did not stand to greet you or buy you, at least, a cup of coffee. He was taking up your time and imposing on your day, and you were doing him a big favor. I would guess he was unconscious, or just ignorant, as to how things work when you are asking someone for a favor. However, that ignorance will cost him business down the road. You don't get a pass just because you don't know what you don't know.

So here is how it works:

Get over any sense of entitlement that people owe you their business. You have to earn their business, especially in the financial field. People are pretty protective of their money, and they want to make sure their financial advisers know their business and will be working on their behalf and staying around for awhile.

The person doing the inviting pays the bill, regardless of gender. The business world is gender neutral. He should have been up and ready to order you a cup of coffee and a muffin the moment you arrived. It's rude to eat in front of others without offering them some of what you are eating.

Make your pitch short and sweet. It is important to be sensitive of other people's time.

Don't be pushy. Share the information and allow people the time to process what you have told them. Check back after a reasonable period of time, ... a week or two and then let it go.

Send a handwritten thank you note after the meeting thanking the individual for his or her time.

Give back. If you are asking people for their business, make sure you are giving them yours in return.

If you are starting a new business or looking for a job, make sure you attend networking events regularly. It is a great place to meet new people and get reacquainted with others.

But remember, networking is about building relationships. It is not the place to do high-pressure selling.

Be as interested in other people as you'd like them to be in you. You want them to remember you for how you made them feel, not for always asking for something.

Word of mouth is very powerful. If you start out right, do a good job and show appreciation for people's business, they will share your name with others.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email features@news-sentinel.com, and we'll forward it to her.