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The other day I picked up a management that featured a quiz on business "protocol power.”

A glance told me that the test was mostly about etiquette. Since I had learned which fork to use back in the sixth grade, I wasn’t too worried. I gave the magazine to a friend.

“Are you trying to give me a nervous breakdown?” asked Dallas stockbroker John Curtis a few days later. “Was that magazine quiz a hint or something?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. I thought he might enjoy the magazine’s story on vintage cars. And why was he so worried about manners? He had good manners.

But Mr. Curtis said he wasn’t so sure about his business manners. The test was an eye-opener, he said. He’d missed a lot of the answers.

“For instance,” he explained, “that part about what a junior executive who is traveling with a senior executive should do.” The choices were: (1) help make travel arrangements, such as checking in and out of the hotel and tipping; (2) use the time between meetings to get to know the senior executive; (3) allow the senior executive to enter a car, limousine or airplane first and wait to be told where to sit.


Mr. Curtis read the question to men in his office. None of them were sure of the answers, either.

The correct answer, according to the magazine, was that most companies expect junior executives to help with the travel plans. It shows initiative and self-confidence. Otherwise, the senior executive should initiate small talk. He or she should enter a car, limousine, or airplane first.

Mr. Curtis said many of his friends, all seasoned businessmen and businesswomen, also felt intimated by some of the questions and answers.

There were 12 questions. All left lingering doubts about entertaining know-how.

“Putting your napkin on the table signifies to the waitperson or host that you are through eating and ready to leave,” according to the quiz. “When leaving the table temporarily place the napkin in your chair or on the arm. If you forget, a good waitperson will cover your error.”

“Great,” said Mr. Curtis. “There’s another thing to worry about.”

I thought it was silly to fret over such a thing, but just to make sure, I called Valerie Sokolosky, a Dallas power protocol consultant. The magazine quiz was taken from her book, Corporate Protocol, a Brief Case for Business Etiquette.

She didn’t think Mr. Curtis’ concerns were at all silly.

“If business protocol wasn’t important,” she said, “I wouldn’t make a living by going all over the country and teaching it.”

Not so common

She said that in these days of the fast, fast track, some lessons are overlooked. Executives have to make a good showing everywhere – not just in the boardroom.

“And they don’t know how to do it,” she said. Through her business, she teaches executives common courtesy.

“The host is responsible for setting the example for what is appropriate in dining etiquette,” she stressed. “Knowing how to observe the host and take his cue will alleviate any awkward situations. It’s important because every little competitive edge in business counts. People make quick business decisions on people they’re hiring or people they want to make a deal with. Finding them awkward socially can make a big difference.”

Ms. Sokolosky teaches everything from the etiquette of seating people (guest of honor to the right of the host) to the etiquette of meetings (never assume anything; bring all materials).

The consultant said dressing for success is still important. One employee, she remembered, had complained about dressing for success. She said she wanted to dress “cutesy.”

The woman was one of the lowest-ranking people in the company.

“Would you wear a bathing suit if you were on a softball team?” Ms. Sokolosky asker her.

The woman said no.

“I told her, ‘Don’t dress for what you are,’” said Ms. Sokolosky. “’dress for where you want to be.’”

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