Striking opportunities for client relationship-building are hiding in plain sight when good business etiquette reigns — whether in first-time prospect meetings or greeting longtime clients (no fist-bumps, hugging or kissing, generally speaking). So says Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of etiquette icon Emily Post, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
Indeed, the art of good etiquette (the French word means “prescribed behavior”) goes deeper than good manners, which typically evolve over time. Good etiquette is an expression of caring about others, which of course is helpful to gaining client trust, maintains Post Senning, 41, who, in the interview, discusses three scenarios in which good etiquette generates opportunities.
On behalf of the Emily Post Institute, based in Burlington, Vermont, Post Senning conducts business etiquette seminars for companies such as Barclays, Geico and UBS; teaches the train-the-trainer course; and hosts the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast with cousin Lizzie Post. Previously, he partnered with Bank of America as a spokesman promoting BofA’s new technology.
In the interview, the behavior expert cites the worst etiquette faux pas that can be made in business and explains why etiquette is critical to professional success. “Personal skills can make or break relationships,” the Institute stresses.
Emily Post, from a well-to-do Gilded Age family, founded the family business in 1946 after becoming the ultimate authority on manners with her smash 1922 bestselling book. It was sweepingly titled “Etiquette: In Society, In Business, In Politics and At Home.” Post died in 1960. Today, two generations and seven direct descendants and their immediate families carry on the Institute’s work.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Post Senning — Emily Post great-granddaughter Cindy Post is his mother — speaking by phone from Vermont. He is author of “Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online (Open Road 2013) and a co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success,” 3rd edition (William Morrow 2014).
The Gen Xer explored, among several other topics, cell phone elevator etiquette and when texting can be a “seductive trap.”
Here are excerpts from our conversation:
THINKADVISOR: What’s the biggest etiquette faux pas one can make in business?
DANIEL POST SENNING: The worst mistake is to get caught in a lie. The easiest way to avoid that is to not tell lies. Is that etiquette advice? I think it is. The lie that’s most likely to catch someone is an exaggeration or a “white lie.” You can recover from most mistakes or accidents, but it’s harder to recover from the difficult situation in which you haven’t told the truth.
Do you think the rough-and-tumble Donald Trump administration has exacerbated a deterioration of manners in America?
No one in the audiences I speak to has pointed to that as their model for courtesy. When I ask, “Who is the voice you look to about how to behave in social situations?” the Kardashians, oddly, come up almost every time. I’m also hearing the royals and now, with her book out, Michelle Obama’s name again.
What role does etiquette play in the financial advisor’s goal to build client trust?
Etiquette isn’t only about manners, which change over time, but showing people that you care about them and value them. We focus on expressions of core values: consideration, respect and honesty.
How can respect and honesty be reflected in an advisor’s behavior the first time they meet a prospect?
The first meeting communicates how you approach building relationships. It’s a critical moment and an opportunity. The look on your face, the attention in your eyes, the smile on your face, your posture all start to create an impression about you. And then, how you greet someone — shaking hands and the way you begin conversations are part of a good self-introduction.
In greeting, is it OK for an advisor to hug or kiss a client with whom they’ve had a longstanding relationship?
The standard North American greeting in business is the handshake. That’s the format for touching that’s most accepted. If you’re going to deviate from that, you’ve first got to know it’s okay with the other person. Never just assume it.
How about a fist bump?
Slightly too informal for my taste.
The stock market has been extremely volatile of late; and worried clients are calling their advisors, many of whom keep them at arm’s length. Is that constructive?
It’s easy to be gracious and at your best when everything is going smoothly. One of the real challenges to our courtesy is when we’re dealing with difficult situations or when we don’t know exactly what’s expected of us. But taking those moments on and rising to the occasion is where the art of good etiquette can really serve you.
If you can talk to that client and be honest and forthright, and give them information that, even if it doesn’t make them feel better, makes them better informed, it might be an opportunity to solidify or grow the relationship and build some trust. Let them have as much information from you as possible. That includes [what you convey with] the tone of your voice, the inflection that you speak with and your pacing.
In that scenario, is it okay for the advisor to alternatively respond to the client via email or text?
Using communication technology that introduces a little more distance, like texting or brief emails, to avoid having a conversation in these difficult situations is a seductive trap.
What do you mean by “more distance”?
The written word [itself] creates a bit more distance. Texting presents its own problems. It can feel very abbreviated, intrusive or inconclusive. There are limitations to communicating by texting that are greater than with emailing because it’s even less formal.
What does it say about an advisor — or anyone — who routinely fails to return clients’ phone calls or emails?
It says that the relationship isn’t important to them. Communication is fundamentally important to good relationships, and every communication is an opportunity. You want to reply to a client — and timeliness is an imprint part of the message that you send. For email, don’t wait more than a day. If you don’t let them linger and try to answer them the same day, it’s often appreciated.
Here’s something irritating: People who talk loudly on their phones in an elevator. Is this considered bad etiquette?
The generally acknowledged courtesy around cell phones is that you don’t subject a captive audience to your call. So it’s on you to show some courtesy and control yourself.
What should an advisor keep in mind with regard to their internet presence?
Oftentimes, people meet you before you even walk through the door because they’ll Google your name. How you appear in that online space has a real impact on how you do business. So know what your first page Google search result looks like. This isn’t an exercise in vanity — it’s like looking in the mirror before you go to an important client meeting.
What’s the etiquette for social media, where many people are rude and argumentative?
If you participate in those media, what you do there is part of your reputation, personal brand and image. The traditional rules for conversation are useful for regulating what you do on social media: Talk about your interests and hobbies, for example. Avoid the more controversial topics. Don’t share intimate details about your finances, personal health or family business.
This is basic — but, in general, how important is it to say, “Thank you”?
It’s one of the most important things we can do. Genuine thanks and showing appreciation makes people feel good and tells them where we place value. Expressing gratitude is also important to [the thanker’s] happiness because social science research shows that appreciation for good things is connected to our sense of [well-being]. So saying thank you raises the self-esteem that someone holds for you — and it also makes you feel better. That’s the pleasant surprise.
What’s the best response when someone thanks you?
One of the biggest small mistakes people make today is to minimize or deny someone’s thanks by saying, “Oh, it was no problem.” Or “It was no trouble.” Or “No, no! Thank you!”
What should you say instead?
I want to bring back “You’re welcome.”
What’s the most significant thing you learned from teaching the children’s etiquette program with your mother Cindy Post for three years?
It’s that the fundamental message we teach kids — use “magic words” [please, thank you, etc.], be honest, treat [others] with respect — is oftentimes the clearest, most useful message that I deliver to a business audience.