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Most of us probably remember our mothers reminding us to say please and thank you, to send thank you notes and to remember all various other niceties that constitute good manners. Or perhaps we weren’t taught simple etiquette at all.

Either way, a lot of us didn’t get the message, for some local firms are finding companies increasingly receptive to training programs teaching old fashioned etiquette to their employees.

Business etiquette – also called corporate protocol – is seen as a way to give companies a competitive edge in winning and retaining clients, said Valerie Sokolosky, president of Dallas-based Valerie and Co.

Sokolosky, author of “Corporate Protocol: A Case for Business Etiquette,” has been beating drum for several years about the importance of exhibiting good manners when dealing with other business people. Using her book as a springboard she built a client roster that includes such companies as Microsoft, Verizon, Neiman Marcus, Shell Oil, Dell Computers, and American Airlines Corp. Companies are starting to hear her message, she said.

While some seminars teach people how to avoid looking like a slob while eating, Sokolosky's seminars teach executives and other personnel how to use the finer points of good manners to build long-term relationships with both clients and colleagues. She goes beyond the simple basics of which fork to use for the shrimp cocktail and focuses more on how to manage the interaction between individuals.

She said a surprising number of upper level executives don’t feel comfortable in social settings or do not know how to act in certain situations. And the growth in oversees business has increased the demand for lessons in how to act when dealing with foreign business people, she said.

Claiming people skills account for about 85 percent of what will make a person consistently successful, while technical skills account for only 15 percent, Sokolosky said, social skills are increasingly important in today business environment.

“All things being equal in terms of skills and abilities, the person who leaves a good, positive impression will come out on top,” said Sokolosky, who was previously an image consultant.

“It’s okay to have someone technically well trained, but you have to go beyond that,” said Robert Rasberry, professor of organizational behavior at Southern Methodist University’s Edwin L. Cox School of Business. “Sometimes little things like chit-chat at dinner can open up the doors to other area of business.”

Citing a University of California – Los Angeles showing 93 percent of any message comes from non-verbal forms of communication, Rasberry said making the right impression with proper etiquette reinforces any spoken words.

But Sokolosky’s training program goes beyond an image remake and makes a case for corporate protocol as a part of a company’s marketing strategy. Companies in highly competitive industries, such as computers and retailing, have been very receptive to that idea, she said.

For fees of anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500 Sokolosky teaches half-day and full-day programs on how to listen to others – one of the biggest problems for people, she said – how to make introductions and how to make small talk in a group setting, among other topics.

Having the proper attitude is one of the keys to making etiquette work for you, she said. “It has to be natural and sincere or it won’t work.”

"The goal is to realize that class is earned and learned. Civility starts with caring."

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