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In today’s corporate environment, human resources are undeniably our most valuable asset. By valuing and training our employees, we are better able to meet the needs of our clients. More and more, companies are realizing the importance of corporate etiquette in the sales environment. Customers are looking for a manner conscious sales associate with attention to detail, and a desire to be his or her best. The proper use of manners can show a client immediately what you’re made of.
According to author Lou Kennedy, “acquiring a new customer cost five times as much as keeping a current one. Exceeding customers’ expectations with your own unique value added service encourages enthusiastic and profitable referrals.” It is important for employees in a company to know how to speak the language of customer service and how to project the image of professionalism through grooming and body language. Learning techniques for dealing with upset customers, resolving conflicts and complaints, building trust and winning back unhappy customers are all part of winning and keeping customers.
“In this era of take-out food and dress-down Fridays, etiquette is making a surprising comeback. There is a growing sense that bad manners are strong evidence of – or perhaps the first step toward – societal breakdown”(Avalanche-Journal).
Last year, a U.S. News & World Report/Bozell survey found that 78 percent of Americans feel that incivility has worsened in the last 10 years. Most of the people surveyed believed incivility has contributed to violence, divided national community and eroded values”(Avalanche-Journal). With these obvious implications, it is important to recognize the need for etiquette training in the workplace.
Bookstore shelves are filled with best sellers on modern problems such as multicultural faux pas, gay etiquette and e-mail manners, not to mention the classics, such as Emily Post. “Business has never been brisker for etiquette classes. Companies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for seminars and workshops with names such as ‘Business Basics for Professional Polish’ and ‘Customs and Protocol for Doing Business in the Global Marketplace’ “(Avalanche Journal).
Visual Charisma is important to everyone in the corporate environment. “Negative first impressions are difficult to overcome. ‘doing what comes naturally’ may not be in your best interest. Your manners and social skills are always under examination in your professional and personal life, and these skills create lasting impressions”(Kennedy, 2). In a customer service-driven market, people will continue to do business with individuals and companies who meet their needs and do not offend them. What do others decide when they meet you? Polish your professional image and performance by using etiquette anchors that are valued and used by people who look for standards of excellence.
? Discover the details that make a difference in professional dress and image.
“The professional image that a person projects begins with the exterior packaging, extending from one’s hair to his or her shoes. In the highly competitive job market, a well-groomed person has the immediate visual advantage. One assumes that anyone who can package himself in a manner appropriate to a job position can also handle meticulous details relating to the job. People who effectively project the professional image even command higher starting salaries than those who do not”(Kennedy, 9).
To assure that you create a positive first impression, make an entrance walking with purposeful steps, begin your conversation with words of praise or thanks and make sure that your grooming is beyond reproach. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression. It takes ten to fifteen seconds to make a first impression. If you create a negative impression, it could take as many as ten additional encounters to change that opinion! Ninety-three percent of the immersion you make on others is based on what they see. The clothes you wear and how you wear them are absolutely vital to your total appearance and to the attitude you project. Until another form of communication takes place, perception is reality. Therefore, it is in your best interest to know what your picture looks like. The key to successful and appropriate dressing begins with paying attention to what the successful people in your profession wear on a regular basis. The well-groomed businessperson pays attention to details. Although you may not be able to afford the finest quality in fabrics, you can copy the styling of the garments worn by those above you. It is important to remember to dress to suit the decision makers in the company who are in control of your career advancements” (Kennedy, 9).
u The businessman’s appearance
“When it comes to clothes, people tend to judge the wearer’s status, character and abilities based on what they see. Suits are the foundation of a business wardrobe. Fabrics, fit and fashion are important to consider when investing in this business outfit.
Invest in suits appropriate to your profession – suits that have long – lasting style and can be ‘dressed up or down’ with creative accessories. Fit is critical to a suit jacket and pants. The jacket should fit comfortably across the shoulders with no pulling or wrinkles. The sleeves should hang midway through the wrist bone to allow for a half-inch shirt cuff to show from under the coatsleeve. The jacket should be long enough to rest in your bent fingers when they are in a cupped position under the bottom of the jacket. It should also be long enough to cover the full seat of the pants.
Remember to button your jacket when standing and walking, and unbutton it when sitting. A double-breasted jacket looks best when it is worn closed.
Shirts do make a definite statement. A starched, white, long-sleeved, 100% cotton broadcloth shirt is the favorite in the business world. An off-white or ecru color is flattering to men with a sallow complexion. The fit of a shirt collar is important to the well-tailored look. You should be able to comfortably fit two fingers between the collar and your neck. The long- sleeved shirt should extend no more than half an inch beyond the sleeve of your jacket.
The tip of the tie should reach the center of the belt buckle, with the outer two tips at the top of the trouser waistband. The shirt buttons should not be seen. Socks should complement the trouser color by extending into the shoe. The sock should extend upward over the calf so that a man’s leg skin and hair are not visible when the trouser leg rides up. Traditional solid colors of black, brown, grey and navy have been joined by tailored patterned socks that lend a dash of ‘punch and flair’ to the sock”(Kennedy, 11-12).
u The businesswoman’s appearance
“Career women have moved away from the rigid dress codes of the ’80s. Women no longer feel the need to dress like men in pinstripe suits. The corporate woman knows that black, grey and navy are considered the best power colors. The matched, skirted suit is the universally accepted look. A beautifully constructed, fully lined suit in black is the anchor to an executive woman’s wardrobe. A silk blouse in white or ivory speaks for authority, while a colored, challis print will give a softer, but still professional, look.
When working in a suit in your office, the jacket may be removed. Put it on when your boss, and outside client, customer, or someone of importance from the outside enters your office. Suit jacket pockets are a convenient place to carry business cards.
Shoes of good quality leather are an important wardrobe investment. Closed heel and toe signifies a conservative look. Women in creative jobs have more flexibility in shoe color and design.
Purses and briefcases should be of good quality leather. Your purse wardrobe should include a small purse that fits into your briefcase and can hold a lipstick, comb, credit and business cards, and keys. Whenever possible, a urse needs to sit on your lap during a business lunch. It is best not to put it on the floor, on the back of your chair, in the chair next to you, or on the table”(Kennedy, 17).
? Create effective “small talk” with five key words.
Conversation is an important part of one’s business presence, and conversation enhances both the personal and the corporate image. Anyone in business who is at ease with conversation is an asset to the company, both inside and outside the office. “Utilizing the ‘Big Five W’s’ will make small talk easy. You probably know them already. WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY are the openers to sentences that will get you into a casual conversation with ease?HOW is another sentence opener that can be used effectively. Ask a question beginning with any one of these words. Be sure to make it an open ended question – one that can not be answered by ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The questions should be relevant to the function you are attending”(Kennedy, 22).
A good conversationalist is polite and cares about other people. “He is well-informed and can talk on a variety of subjects. He can move the conversation through topics to suit the person or group participation in the conversation. He includes others and does not monopolize the conversation. He knows the value of eye contact and uses it consistently as he gives you quality attention. He does not interrupt, nor does he correct another’s grammar or pronunciation in public. He knows how to accept and pay compliments gracefully”(Kennedy, 21).
? Demonstrate impeccable table manners and create a polished business-dining environment.
There are many rules to be learned when it comes to the art of dining. Some benefits of putting these rules into practice include:
u Having self-confidence at any place setting, from casual to formal.
u Being able to focus your attention on those dining with you, whether for business or social purposes.
u Passing the dining test at a job interview meal.
Etiquette expert Dorothea Johnson tells the story of the businessman who came to her for help after losing out on a plum assignment. “At a lunch meeting with a senior executive in the company, he sat down and immediately started eating the salad in front of him. He looked up to see his boss, who hadn’t picked up his fork yet, staring at him. ‘I knew right then they weren’t going to send me out,’ he said. If only he had taken a dining tutorial, he would have known to wait until his host started eating”(Avalanche Journal).
? Identify and honor cultural norms that make critical differences in business environments.
There are many challenges to United States companies and individuals when they move into the global marketplace. The degree of success achieved between companies and people from different countries conducti8ng business in the international business arena is improved when the diverse cultural beliefs, protocol and habits are studied and respected by all parties.
Rules of etiquette vary around the world. American travelers are often considered boorish in their behavior in other countries. Three principles should guide the American who is doing business internationally according to Lennie Copeland & Lewis Griggs, authors of Going International.
“1. People tend to like and prefer to interact with people they perceive as similar to themselves.
2. Respect for etiquette is deep seated, deeper than we imagine.
3. Show Respect.”
“Learn how to earn the trust of the people where you will be traveling and conducting business. Learn as much as you can about the country, the people and their customs. People worldwide respond to others who observe basic protocol and demonstrate respectful behavior.
Americans are too often guilty of rushing into a new environment without studying the culture. Americans have had the attitude that the United States is the ‘center of the universe.’ This attitude does not work in the global marketplace. The world does not revolve around international customs, culture, language, and timelines. It is imperative to stud our differences in order to handle ourselves appropriately in business and social situations”(Kennedy, 83).
? Use the 20-second thank you note to create a positive lasting impression.
“A hand written thank-you note is appropriate after you have been a guest for a meal. If your handwriting is illegible, type the letter. Send the note within forty-eight hours, so that you do not forget. When using a fold-over informal note, open the note and begin writing on the lower half of the page beneath the fold. The back of the note may be used for completing the message”(Kennedy, 48).
? Listening and communication are two of the most important skills a person can possess. Listening is more powerful than speaking. Active listening empowers you to hear what others are really saying, and allows business and personal relationships to thrive. By learning good listening skills, you will be able to avoid costly mistakes, wasted time, and strained relationships by improving the quality of your listening. Increase your personal charisma by using these specific communication techniques. “Communicate that you are listening. Facial expressions with good eye contact will let the speaker know whether you are interested, bored confused, sympathetic or in agreement. Attitudes communicated through body positions will show whether you are relaxed, stressed, insecure, nervous, suspicious or defensive. A person who concentrates as he listens is giving the gift of self to another person. This gift is appreciated and does not go unnoticed”(Kennedy, 28).
? Value listening as the most important tool in communication.
“Communicating is a two-part process which takes place when information is exchanged, understanding is promoted, and questions are answered. The process requires participation between a speaker/sender and listener/receiver. Each party must participate since true communication depends on it. You cannot avoid communicating. However, the quality of a person’s communication depends upon the level of his commitment to the process”(Kennedy, 20).
? Understand the importance of the connecting and bonding process for effective communication. Unwarranted actions and words can be very powerful tools. “Please” and “Thank you” are words worth using for actions large and small. Opening a door, helping to carry a heavy load, and paying a compliment when it is due or unexpected all help brighten someone’s busy day. “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
? Recognize that the quality of your relationship is defined by the effectiveness of your communication.
“Consider the benefits of listening with purpose:
u You acknowledge others and often increase their self-esteem.
u You acknowledge yourself and learn a considerable amount about how you think and feel when you listen to yourself.
u You create a space for the release of tension and stress through the constructive sharing of thoughts and ideas.
u You earn respect and loyalty from those who work with you.
u You increase your ability to negotiate”(Kennedy, 28).
? Be an effective listener so that you can translate the message and understand the messenger.
“You are called upon to listen to others any time that you are not alone. Large or small amounts of information are mentally stored when you are interested in the speaker’s words. You can also be extremely bored when you are not interested. The Chinese character for listening includes the symbols for the ears, the eyes and the heart”(Kennedy, 28).
By listening, you will move beyond hearing words as you learn to interpret silent messages. “When you gain insight into your listening style and increase you concentration, you will understand other people’s needs and earn their trust.”(Kennedy, 2)
Why now, as the 20th century winds down does it suddenly matter again to so many people that we don’ know the basics of proper etiquette? “No one is quite sure why manners are relevant again – or at least why etiquette experts are making a lot of money on classes, tutorials and books”(Avalanche-Journal). What is known, however, is that prospective clients are noticing manners, and are giving jobs to people who know how to use them.
Kennedy, Lou. Essential Business Etiquette, Palmetto Publishing, Corpus Christi, Texas, 1997.
Dupont, M. Kay. Business Etiquette and Professionalism.
“Pre-Departure Country Reports”, http://www.worldbiz.com/predeparture business.html, Worldwide Business Practices Report, 1998.
Kennedy, Lou. The Lou Kennedy Company, http://www.loukennedy.com/amustreadreport.html, 1998.
Hanson, Cynthia. “Do you Give Good Phone?”, Cosmopolitan Magazine, November, 1997.
LA Times-Washington Post. “Etiquette making comeback in modern society”, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, October, 22, 1998.
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