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Dealing with People Face to Face

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The most important demonstration of your command of good business manners is when you deal with people face to face. They are able to assess the whole person − your dress, your posture, your facial expression and your speech − in a way that is impossible when speaking on the telephone or dealing with you in writing.

If you are always at your ease, knowing exactly how to conduct yourself, your partner’s confidence and regard for you will be immeasurably increased.

Find out what you can about the person you are meeting, in particular about any strong views or interests he has. Knowing which subjects are likely to prove acceptable (and unacceptable) in conversation is an invaluable aid to an effective meeting. This need for preparation extends, of course, to the subject of your meeting and any relevant background. It is bad manners to arrive at a prearranged meeting ill prepared. It not only wastes the time of the person you are meeting but also gives a very poor impression of you and your company. If they have a web site, make sure you've visited it and are familiar with its contents.

Arrive in good time for your appointment. Be polite to the receptionist (always smile and say 'Good morning') and be patient if he or she is busy when you arrive. Give your name and the name of the person you are visiting and make it clear that you have an appointment. If you are more than ten minutes early for you meeting, suggest to the receptionist that he or she doesn't immediately announce your arrival. (Some people find it embarrassing to keep visitors waiting in reception areas for more than a few minutes and your early arrival may be inconvenient for them.)

The receptionist should offer you refreshment if you have to wait but don't take your cup in with you when shown to your host's office (if for no other reason than it's difficult to shake hands with a briefcase in one hand and a coffee cup in the other!). A visit to the toilet before your meeting will also give you an opportunity to make sure that your hair is well brushed, tie neatly knotted and so on.

While waiting in reception it is acceptable to make calls on your mobile phone so long as you do this in as discreet a way as possible. You must, however, switch off the mobile when you are called into the meeting and not switch it on again until you leave the building. If you have to take an incoming call, you should always ask your host's permission to receive it and, preferably, have it routed via his switchboard and secretary.

It is courteous for your host (whether male or female) to rise to greet you. Other male colleagues in the room should also rise although female colleagues commonly remain seated. A handshake is the universally recognized form of greeting (delivered firmly but not bone-crushingly, with a smile and full eye contact) and should be simultaneously offered by your host and you. You should greet every other person in the room in the same way, in turn, as the host introduces them to you.

Don't sit down until your host invites you to − if he fails to offer you a seat, ask politely if it is in order for you to sit down. Some male hosts assist female visitors to be seated but the practice is rapidly dying out (other than at dinner parties) since many females find it (quite understandably) rather patronizing.

It is the duty of the host to introduce to you any colleagues he has with him giving not only theirnames but also their job titlesand any other relevant information. It is his taskto make you feel at ease and it is good manners to offer you refreshment at the beginning of the meeting irrespective of the time of day. It is usual to accept the offer but there is nothing wrong in declining politely.

If the two organizations that you both represent are well known to each other offering your card is probably best left to the end of the meeting discussed. If your host is unfamiliar with your company or you wish to establish your personal credentials offering your card at the beginning of the meeting is good practice.

You should always start by adopting a formal style of address such as 'Mr Jones' (or 'Sir' if you feel the other person's seniority requires it − but remember that some people find being addressed in that way irritatingly obsequious) and wait to be invited to use first names.

Never address your remarks solely to one person if several are involved, but make sure that you establish full eye contact with each person from time to time (it is through this type of contact that people subconsciously assess truthfulness and integrity).

Don't remove your jacket or loosen your tie unless your host has already done so or invites you to do so. If you would feel more comfortable in shirtsleeves, politely ask your host's permission, making sure that your jacket isn't half way off when you do so (making it embarrassing for him to say 'No').

It is both good business and good manners to control your emotions during face-to-face meetings, avoiding extremes of anger, disappointment or frustration. Keeping cool whatever the provocation is an admirable virtue and you should never forget your business manners even if the meeting proves to be a disaster from start to finish.

At most first meetings the two parties want to size up what sort of person the other is before getting down to business. This is best done by using some neutral topic introduced by you or your host when you first meet. Don't attempt to be humorous unless you are sure that your host will respond to your jokes.

If your host prefers to get down to business right away, you should do likewise. Don't offer personal anecdotes or snaps of the family unless invited to. Remember that your host probably has many other calls on his time. If you are the host, it is cour­teous to indicate to your visitor at the beginning of a meeting the time of your next commitment.

This ensures that you don't end up with an embarrassing phase of clock-watching as you overrun or have to cram three-quarters of the subject matter into the last five minutes.

Smoking is almost universally regarded nowadays as antisocial behaviour in offices and should only be practised at the explicit invitation of your host. Even if your host is a smoker, it is polite not to smoke if other non-smokers are present.

At the end of the meeting it is important to repeat the courtesies that introduced it. The handshake, smile and eye contact should all cement a relationship that has developed during your discussion. If your host remembers you by the consideration you showed for him and his needs and the easy and pleasant way that you conducted yourself, you should be assured of his future good opinion. If you thought too much of yourself and ignored his conventions, you can expect a less flattering result.


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