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September 19, 2014

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The Innovator:

Etiquette goes corporate

Sitting with perfect posture and neatly coiffed, Keynote Academy founder Paula Lawrence is ready to talk manners—proper ones, of course.

“From 30,000 feet, everybody is my potential client,” Lawrence says, of her two-year-old consulting business, which focuses on etiquette classes. While many of her patrons are people looking for jobs, businesses are also key clients.

The front desk of your, say, casino, is really a résumé, she says. The first impression, be it with a person or with the visual presentation of your offices, is what makes customers want to come to you. If they’re turned off, she says, they won’t return, and that could cost you big bucks.

Simple faux pas that drive Lawrence crazy are doctor’s offices that don’t have tissues in their waiting areas, or Realtors whose signs say “take one,” and don’t bother to refill the boxes when they’re empty.

Then, there’s rudeness, which is just intolerable.

“Businesses always have a plan to train employees on their procedures and protocols,” she says. “But they don’t always give people the social training they need to interact with customers. An employer is lucky to know that they can send you out on assignment and trust your social skills. People without college degrees get jobs, but if you display poor manners, you won’t get hired.”

But there’s good news, too. While someone’s IQ is difficult to increase, social IQ—being able to pick up on cues and interact with others effectively—can always improve. Manners, more than anything, are the sensitive awareness of others’ feelings. Not complicated, she says, but also not common these days, particularly in Las Vegas.

“You get good at what you practice,” Lawrence says. “People practice behaviors they can get away with.”

Out of college, Lawrence worked for UPS in management, finance and accounting, where she quickly learned that customer service and manners, above mere delivery, were vitally important to business development. When she later worked for a security company in Las Vegas, she would almost always hire people based on personality.

That’s why so many people have turned to her during the recession, she says. With large numbers out of work for the first time, many realize their etiquette skills have gotten rusty.

“Business is great,” she says of her company. “I think I have ultimate job security.”

Some simple ways to immediately improve your, and your employees’, manners? “A smile is universal, eye contact is always important and sitting up straight—good posture—changes everything,” she says.

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