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Etiquette & Protocol Training

by Alan J Simpson

Washington, DC, April 10th, 2007 --- Washington, DC, April 10th, 2007 --- We have a problem, an image and cultural understanding problem. The United States is being ridiculed around the world, and both the business representatives and Diplomats labeled as "Ugly Americans". Yet there are dozens of Protocol and Etiquette trainers, consultants, officers and guru's advising the State Department and the major corporations. What went wrong?

Even Donald Trump complained that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just couldn't "Close the Deal" and was at best an expensive decoration. And here lies the problem. Today's etiquette needs more than just a course from someone living in the 1950's on how to fold a Napkin. They need to be effective communicators, both social and business, be it the business of corporations or governments.

The obvious "Intelligence Failure" jumps out of the web pages and brochures of the Protocol Schools and academic groups that claim expertise in this area. Most seminar leaders haven't ever closed a deal in their lives. They are mainly social planners from the military, living in a cotton wool world of a gracious age long gone outside the Officers Mess. Today American business and political leaders need much more than what passed muster during the days of President Kennedy.

Sorry to be so blunt, but this antique training is costing the US tens of billions of dollars in lost opportunities, which translates into tens of thousands of jobs.

Once etiquette was the domain of the "Colonels Wife", who with elbow length silk gloves spent her hours planning parties, and ensuring the servants folded the napkins correctly, and laid out the flatware exactly. The junior wives had to pay due homage to her and observe all the correct protocols, addresses, and nuances that were the rage in the Victorian era. The "Stepford Wives" were alive and well on military bases!

Unfortunately in the real world we have not taken Corporate Diplomacy and Etiquette seriously enough, and have not kept pace with political, cultural and ethnical changes in our etiquette and protocol training.

Traveling the world, which few of these protocol experts have, you find many progressive business and political leaders quietly object to being treated as the ignorant American believe they should. They see the new diplomat, or executive talking to them as if they were their Grandfathers, ignorant foreigners who liked bowing and scraping with exaggerated gestures. The world is changing and the person you are meeting with may have graduated from MIT, Harvard Business School, and know more about American culture and traditions than you do. Especially if you have spent the last ten years living on a military base.

One aspect I believe is sadly lacking in the Protocol and Etiquette training is the image portrayed on television. Knowing how to fold and where to place a Napkin is all well and good, but if the dinner is televised you have a whole new series of critical issues, that override much of what has been taught. Today the high profile executive, and diplomatic representative must consider the larger picture, through the lens of the news crew. Any international representative is constantly being watched at public events, and when asked to speak, stand up and take recognition, or be the subject of comments from the podium the media image trumps the 1950's Etiquette.

The choice of entertaining venue significantly modifies etiquette in today's negotiations. I can't count the numbers of Japanese and Saudi business leaders who have requested visiting Gentlemen's Clubs with the best Whisky in London, in preference to genteel surroundings. Here the only rule is Silence and a bad memory if asked.

I had the fortunate experience of watching several hundred diplomats in action around the world, and how they were often taken for a ride by better trained negotiators, who had studied the culture, attended colleges in the USA, and had up to date intelligence. Sadly most US Diplomats learned negotiating techniques and protocol that was out of date at the beginning of the Cold War. Today with the US plummeting in the popularity charts around the world, and with a Comic Relief President and a Secretary of State who hasn't the first clue of how to act in the Middle East, or the Far East, the situation is so much harder. Television destroyed the traditional protocol training.

I do believe we need a return to civility and obtaining diplomatic skills, especially in a digital media universe. Today's competitive intelligence environment, backed by digital databases, the Internet, and vast libraries of news materials means a negotiator should know everything about their host or adversary long before they meet. The Protocol Officer needs to research and brief instead of worrying about how to address a Bishop. We need to enter a new age of etiquette, digital etiquette if you want, where conventions and values that benefit the customs and culture of this century are taught as opposed to those of a hundred years ago. The value of that person is worthy of their salary, and way beyond the "Colonels Wife" who planned social events for the Stepford Wives on a military base.

There are those who believe that the United States will regain it's prominence in the world, "Sometime in the next 50 years." They believe that the decline will continue as long as Bush is in the White House, then take up to 10 years to arrest, and turn round. We do not have that luxury! The converging debt lines of Bush's Folly in Iraq, Medicare and Social Security, and the 79,000,000 retiring Baby Boomers make Business as Usual an option that we can't afford. The lay-offs and bad debts are beginning to rise again, and as the taxable Middle Class lose their well paying jobs, their mortgaged homes, and their leased SUV's we need to start Closing the Deal on projects and contracts around the world.

We need a new image, and Corporate Diplomacy instead of living in the past. Let the Grande Dames of Genteel Etiquette retire gracefully. They represent a finer, gentler time before Globalization, Outsourcing and Global Terrorism. We need to Close the Deal not impress the Colonels Wife!

 

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