Thinking of the word etiquette, most people would think of rules they should follow during a fancy dinner or a high-class social gathering, but it is much more than that.
In this interview, we learn more about this term and its place in the business world from Anne Debard, the founder of Etiquette à la Française and of AD Excellence, who is also the chair of the International Circle of Experts in French Etiquette.
Anne Debard offers many trainings focusing on "service excellence", "luxury codes", "etiquette, soft skills, and savoir-vivre", "fine dining" and "international clientele knowledge", in addition to "intergenerational interaction".
1- When people hear the word Etiquette, they often associate it with luxury knowledge relevant only to high-class or prestigious social settings. What do you think of this? Is it still the case or is etiquette relevant to everyone?
The word “etiquette” is defined as “the codes of good manners”. Etiquette rules define behavior and attitudes in a social context in order to establish respectful and smooth relationships between people. A person who knows these rules besides having human values, such as respect, empathy, and tolerance is someone who has “savoir-vivre”; having “savoir-vivre” is a compliment in our French culture.
We should also not forget that etiquette rules have even been defined in the 16th century for children through Erasmus book “civilitas morum puerilium”. The etiquette rules of his book - including hygiene rules to avoid diseases - are still useful today.
It is true that nowadays the notion of “etiquette” is very much linked to luxury and high class or prestigious settings. It comes from the fact that the luxury sector has increased with the growth of an international (U)HNWI consumer clientele.
The professionals of the luxury sectors have become ambassadors of brands and high-end services who have to offer an adequate service attitude and the appropriate welcome and follow-up to their international clients. There must be coherence between the offered service to clients by the staff and the high-end quality of a product or service. We can then speak about “excellence in service”.
It is just not possible to offer high-class service without knowing and applying etiquette rules. The application of these codes with the right attitude linked to human values is the only guarantee of perfect quality in service.
Let me just take as an example our French hospitality sector with our wonderful palace hotels. Their staff has to apply etiquette rules and has to have the proper friendly behavior and appearance to represent a worldwide recognized luxury universe, where clients pay a lot to be satisfied, even if the clients themselves don’t behave properly and lack of “savoir-vivre”.
But we should also keep in mind that “etiquette” rules were initially defined as social rules. In this sense, etiquette rules are necessary for society as a form of mutual respect and social convenience rules.
History has proven that every time society rejects those rules, society becomes more and more aggressive and disrespectful.
Personally, I have been a trainer for over 10 years in various sectors to these rules and the feedback of our clientele is always positive and constructive as it contributes to personal development in social, professional life and to the expectations of the professional world.
2- One of your specialties besides providing consultancy to individuals working in the luxury sector is to conduct training in educational institutions. How are these programs different?
As well as for the professional sector, we do also offer educational training for institutions in etiquette and protocol. It concerns mainly international Bachelor, MBA, and university students who want to dedicate their future professional career to the sector of high-end hospitality, luxury retail, or any other service linked to a demanding VIP and (U)HNWI clientele.
Educational institutions need therefore to include training in etiquette in their program. It is compulsory to help students to feel at ease and to be prepared for a very demanding professional sector
Some schools for children have also understood the importance of integrating etiquette classes in their programs. It gives to all children without any social distinction the possibility to acquire those rules as a basis for a respectful social life and for the integration of certain studies and professional careers.
3- What is meant by business etiquette?
As said before, “etiquette” rules are the “codes of good manners”. Whether you apply them in a social or professional context, it does not make any difference as it concerns human relations.
What makes the difference is that our society has evolved and changed towards a different lifestyle where business is more and more included in our daily life through the digitalization of our world and the simplification of working conditions.
Also, the social rules are less rigid as they used to be and in business life, these rules are also more “relaxed”. But it does not mean that they are not valid and useful anymore.
Etiquette rules in business are needed to show professionalism and respect towards your collaborators, partners, and clients. They are also a tool of integration in professional life. In so far, business etiquette is the transfer of social etiquette applied in a professional context.
4- In your opinion, how do business etiquette rules change by sector?
Each professional sector requires professional staff to offer the best service to their clients.
Some sectors are of course more exposed to the need of having well-trained and polite employees, having integrated the business etiquette rules to optimize the relationship with their demanding high-end clientele.
In the high-end hospitality, the private household staff world and the luxury retail, the demand of employing well-trained collaborators is based on two aspects: the technical and professional knowledge, called “savoir-faire” and also the social and emotional intelligence of an employee composed of elegance and etiquette knowledge in order to give the best professional image and service to the clients.
The more the professional sector tends to be towards luxury services or products, the more the consideration of business etiquette by the staff is expected.
What makes the difference in the luxury universe is: having recruited the most professional staff with smiles, kindness, intercultural understanding, foreign language knowledge, and perfect application of politeness and etiquette rules.
All the recruitment agencies in the world seek this type of profile!
5- What are the five main rules in business etiquette that you’d like everyone to know and master?
There are indeed many codes and rules to be respected in the business, but let me just sum up some essential ones, as for example, the respect of punctuality, independently on cultural time notion differences.
Let’s also mention the respect of appearance by choosing the appropriate dress code following the character and importance of the business event.
Furthermore let’s add the importance of behavior at the table when it comes to business lunches or dinners, as well as the right knowledge of presentation rules between people.
As the last point, I’d also like to give the example of the respect of the written etiquette rules, where prompt replies to emails or received invitations are expected.
There are of course many more, but I’m sure you’ll all have experienced at least one of the given examples.
6- Do you think that business etiquette rules changed during the COVID19 pandemic?
Business etiquette rules have not changed during covid, but it is the covid period which has limited social relations, meetings and in so far also the need of applying these rules in the community.
The etiquette rules during covid have partly slipped into business etiquette rules linked to our digital working conditions.
The worldwide fear of this pandemic has influenced our general behavior.
Etiquette rules could mainly only be applied virtually through communication platforms online. It did not mean that those etiquette rules were abandoned. It is just even more difficult to respect them behind a screen. But maintaining these rules in any situation proves the capacity of being professional nevertheless what happens. Having “savoir-vivre” is also having the capacity of still pursuing with the right behavior codes, nether the less the situation.
Let me just take the example of many conferences hold online where some people did not consider the image given to their clients.
Continuing to apply the etiquette rules is a strength in any situation and a proof of respect and self-control.
7- Are business etiquette rules affected by cultural norms and differences? I mean, would it be the same in Paris, Dubai, Cairo, or Tokyo? Can you give us a few examples from the Arab context, please?
Of course, each culture has its own etiquette rules as a result of history, traditions, religion, education, and intercultural values.
It does not mean that there are no parallels between the different etiquette rules in the world.
In business, we all have the same objective, which is to make our business succeed and advance. Therefore, everyone has to make the necessary efforts to reach this goal.
In an international world, it is not possible to leave out intercultural aspects. If we don’t consider them in business, we do judge very wrongly our international business partners.
Some etiquette rules of a culture are exactly the opposite ones in others.
It is therefore of main importance to have a cultural and linguistical open-minded vision and knowledge of the world.
Whether you go to Paris, Dubai, Cairo, Tokyo, or any other part of the world you’ll find a more and more harmonized business world through franchising systems and international awareness, but still, differences in etiquette do exist and have to be respected by foreigners in these countries.
Let’s mention as some examples of the Arabic context the fact that the business meetings will always start with some talk about family life before starting to talk about business whereas in occidental countries business is more straight to the point. Family aspects and private aspects are more left out.
In the Arabic world, family and social relations are of main importance and do influence business behavior and decisions.
Another example is the “notion of time”.
Contextual aspects are more important than planification in the Arabic world where “time” is based on a cyclical time notion compared to Europe which is based on a more linear time notion and on planification.
Let’s mention as the last example also the importance of respect given to the elder, representing wisdom. Their knowledge and life experience are very much considered in the Arabic world and will influence business decisions.
If occidental, Asian, American, Russian, or any other culture in the world does not have the cultural understanding of the Arabic world, it will be difficult to succeed in business.
It is also “savoir-vivre” to have this intercultural understanding by not judging and by simply enjoying the discovery of different etiquette rules, as well as having mutual respect.
8- Finally, what is one main piece of advice would you like to give to young professionals in terms of business etiquette?
As the main advice to young professionals in terms of etiquette, I would say that there is a real need of becoming aware of the importance of these etiquette codes to succeed in a professional career. It concerns all the professional sectors where you deal with customers and collaborators.
Knowing the etiquette codes and applying them in the right context will give to all young people more self-confidence and the appropriate professional behavior which will also influence business success. It contributes further on also to personal development skills.
There is no quality in service, no service excellence, no high-end product or service if behind all this we wouldn’t find human beings with “savoir-vivre”, education, respect, and the proper application of etiquette rules in the right circumstances.
We have trained thousands of students and professionals who have appreciated and discovered the importance of all these codes in a professional high-end context in business, hospitality, health sector, finance, diplomacy, etc.
To finalize, I would say that being AWARE of the importance of business etiquette codes is the first step to become a recognized professional businessman and businesswoman. These soft skills are also known under “emotional and social intelligence”.
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