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Staying Sharp Beyond Business Hours

By Candice Livingston, Sharpman.Com – 06/11/2003 – 12:00am

Work is often associated with sitting behind a desk or in long meetings, yet more and more time is actually being spent out of the office. Whether it’s for a business lunch, cocktails or a social “business” function, stay sharp and on your best behavior when business takes you out of the office, especially after hours.

Good Impressions

Making a good impression isn’t just about what a client thinks of you. Your impression also affects what a client thinks of your company, so make it great.

Always remember to shake hands with a firm grip while making direct eye contact. And when making introductions, introduce a lower-ranking person to a higher-ranking person, but say the higher-ranking person’s name first — “CEO John Doe, this is executive assistant Tom Smith.” Gender is not a factor and the client is always the higher-ranking or more important person, even if you are joined by your company president.

Why is gender not a factor in business introductions? Because — ideally — gender is not a factor in business etiquette today. And just as with introductions, doors should be held for superiors and clients. Similarly, who ever is closest to the elevator door, man or woman, should exit first.

When Food is Involved

There are many factors to take into consideration when business is conducted over a meal. If you meet over breakfast, make sure it is to discuss something that just couldn’t wait, like a presentation or meeting later in the day. It should be a shorter meal, and conversation should focus on the purpose of the meeting rather than small talk.

Lunch is the business meal of choice because it doesn’t interfere with personal time in the evening. It’s a great time to entertain clients and get them out of the office environment and is also a great time to establish new business contacts. Start with social subjects, then try to get the conversation moving in the business direction after the appetizer.

Business dinners are most often associated with out-of-town clients or at the request of a client or associate. In most industries, dinnertime is traditionally family time so try to limit its use for business. Because alcohol may be involved during a business dinner, try to turn the conversation to business as early in the meal as possible.

Going Out for Cocktails

Despite the opinion of novices and recent graduates, “drinks” is not a free ticket to consume all you can while the company or your associate’s company foots the bill. Nor is it the time to drink more than you can handle. You’d be amazed how quickly a business deal or association can go bad when too much alcohol is involved. Whether you end up hitting on your boss, who happens to be married, or letting your tongue get a little too loose around a client or someone with whom you want to establish a business relationship, the results can be harmful and often irreparable.

If you aren’t the best at judging when it is time to switch to soda water, you may want to opt for a meeting over coffee. This option is becoming more popular; it not only keeps alcohol out of the picture, but it can also be a quicker way to get together in the middle or end of the day.

Picking up the Tab

The arrival of the bill should not be the start of an argument. The general rule is that whomever benefits from the meeting should pay. Again, gender is not an issue. One option to avoid argument is to quietly hand the server your credit card before s/he brings the bill or arrive at the restaurant a little early to run your credit card through before you sit down.

Get a Clue

Cell phones are usually a necessary business tool, but should be turned off when entertaining or discussing business with clients or coworkers. A ringing phone — or, worse, an answered phone — makes the client feel that you are not focused on his or her business.

Be on time. Obviously, you should never stand someone up or ignore a “must-attend” event. Promptness is also important. Make sure you are always on time. If you initiated the meeting, you should be at least 10 minutes early. If you are the guest, arrive a few minutes early or on time but not after the appointed time.

Dress up, not down. If you are not sure what attire a meeting or event calls for, guess up and dress up. To play it safe, never wear jeans to a work meeting or function and if you suspect some people may wear a suit, then you should also don a suit.

The bottom line is always do the safe, polite thing. If you are still in doubt and think you need a little more help, check out Business Etiquette for Dummies by Sue Fox.

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