Bob Pacanovsky: Proper etiquette can mean the difference between a contract renewal or rejection

By Robert J. (Bob) Pacanovsky

Etiquette — the sound of the word alone makes people roll their eyes and think of old-school rules. But the reality is simple: how we present ourselves in today’s business world is vitally important, whether it’s in a restaurant, gala or boardroom.

In professional culture, people won’t tell you when you display poor behavior or etiquette. Instead, they’ll show you by not renewing their contract or not offering you that job promotion. They’ll tell you they found a stronger, quicker or cheaper alternative, and never reveal that you were really the problem. 

Modern etiquette has expanded

Today, etiquette is so much more than knowing what fork to use with each course or which glass to pick up (although this knowledge is still important). With social media and other technology, we are observed almost constantly. Our behavior not only brands ourselves, it also brands the company for which we work.

Speaking of technology, it’s a wonderful tool, but sometimes the smartphone is the crutch that can make or break you. By keeping it on the table during dinner (or during a meeting) and answering it, you create a perception that whatever is happening on your phone is more important than your in-person conversation. It may be, but do not let your guests perceive that!

Then there’s social media. Do you want your employees’ or your own poor behavior and lack of etiquette skills highlighted on a client or colleague’s social media page? We didn’t think so. Make sure your online persona represents you and your business.

So what can you do to avoid generating these poor perceptions?

The good news is that with some coaching, there are simple ways to help you or your employees build confidence and maintain a professional presence. 

Pretend to meet the president

Most of today’s proper etiquette practices are common sense, but they are not common practice. At Robert J., we tell our trainees to treat every event where prospective clients are present like a state dinner at the White House. You’d certainly be on your best behavior, right? You’d research and practice the necessary “soft skills” for the event to avoid embarrassing yourself or your company.

It could be as simple as knowing the difference between eating and dining. All of us know how to eat, but do you know how to dine? Ordering food that is messy or difficult to eat, having poor table manners and conversation, treating the staff and guests rudely — all these add up to a poor dining experience for both you and those around you.

Observe your employees at the next meeting or business dinner. You may find out that they don’t know the company policies on entertaining clients or even how to act appropriately at a meeting or dinner. Or they may think they can ignore policies or common sense etiquette because, “No matter what, this client will still do business with me.”

Can you afford to take those chances on your important client relationships?

No slacking allowed

You work hard to impress a new client — being on your best behavior, returning phone calls and emails promptly, and delivering a solid proposal. Now, you have also made sure your dining and business etiquette skills are perfect.

But what happens after that client commitment is still vitally important to the relationship. If we lose focus on our soft skills, we lose focus on customer service. Whether you’re in sales, marketing, real estate, finance, law or another industry, no one can afford to lose focus on customer service.

The bottom line is that etiquette enhances reputation — and that’s something no one can ignore.

Robert J. (Bob) Pacanovsky is the owner/founder of Robert J. — Events & Catering and now Robert J. — Training & Design. His organization offers insightful public speaking at conferences and events designed to help students, executives and organizations enhance their “soft skills” and avoid reputation-ruining situations. For seminar topics and scheduling, visit or call (330) 724-2211.