Dressed to the nines in a navy pinstriped suit, complete with a small white boutonniere in the lapel and a linen handkerchief in the pocket, Dick Blake bemoans the modern state of dress and behavior in offices.
"The biggest mistake corporate America has ever made was they invented the casual society," Blake tells a captivated group of young Eaton Corp. executives at a business etiquette seminar. "As we dress down and down, our behavior goes down and down, and hygiene goes down and down. Top corporate people wear their uniform and their uniform is business dress."
Blake's business etiquette seminars, which he's been teaching for 25 years, are not just about clothes. Phone etiquette, office interpersonal relations, table manners, even basic courtesy, have all fallen victim to the "casual society." One of Blake's top pet peeves is the way most businesspeople -- from the CEO to the receptionist -- finish phone calls with the infantile "bye-bye."
"You know where 'bye-bye' comes from? You were sitting in your high chair, and that's what you were told to say when your grandmother was leaving," Blake says. "So what does a person do? Twenty years later, they get a call from a corporation -- a billion dollar company -- and a client calls up and he says, 'Yes, he's busy right now, we'll talk to you later. Bye-bye!'"
It's not just the loathsome "bye-byes," either. Business conversations are rife with "How ya doin'," "Uh-huh," "Yeah," "Huh?" and don't get Blake started on how co-workers unload their personal problems to fellow employees and gossip with them.
"Keep your problems to yourself, people have problems of their own," Blake instructs.
Whether you want to believe it or not, deterioration of proper speech, behavior and dress in the workplace has an effect on the bottom line.
"Every company is known by the employees they have. Each employee is a walking advertisement for the company. Now, is it good or is it bad?" says Blake, whose client list includes The Cleveland Clinic, Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the U.S. Air Force. "You can buy a full-page ad in the newspaper, but if your employees look bad and act bad and do you so much harm, sooner or later, you're going to lose more customers than you can get."
In every seminar, Blake includes his five steps to greeting a client, which he guarantees will not only help a you keep customers for life, but turn you into the center of attention at every party and make you the person everyone wants to meet.
He calls them the Magic Five Steps to Popularity.
A smile lets the client know you're happy to see them right away, before you say a word. Blake says you should develop the habit of smiling constantly.
"A smile is the most important thing because it shows that we're human beings."
Obviously, a compliment makes a person feel good. We all like to receive compliments, so why don't we give out more of them?
"Based on how many compliments you give out to your fellow employees, your customers, anyone that you meet, is just how much you're liked," Blake says. "Because if you're not giving out, I can assure you you're not liked."
Ask a question
Try to avoid business-related questions out of the gate. Ask about the family, the recent vacation, the new house, anything you might know about the client's life.
"Until you have asked a person a question about their life, you haven't shown one bit that you even care about them," Blake says.
After you ask that question, listen to the response. The most telling sign that you don't care about who you're with is if you don't listen while the person is talking, Blake says.
"Listen your way to success. Look at the person and give them your attention. The attention span is very difficult to work on, but it must be developed. To sit down for an hour with a client or with a date and give them your attention and get them to feel good being around you, that's the objective in life."
After clients speaks, praise them for their idea, thought or deed. It's a strong finishing note that they won't likely forget.
"When you praise their idea,they become 10 feet tall, walking into the sunset," Blake says. "You purchased yourself a lifetime client because you were the one to give of yourself, to walk on over, make this person feel better, boost their self-esteem and then you sold yourself.
"The secret to business and social skills is to sell the other person on themselves and then you've sold yourself." How to reach: Dick Blake, (216) 831-5463
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN.