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"Protocol Training - Is it Sexist, Racist & Antiquated"

by Alan J Simpson

Washington, DC, April 13th, 2007 -- My thoughts on Etiquette and Protocol Training earlier in the week brought some interesting commentary from the audience. Many see the advice of self styled Protocol Officers or whatever they want to be called as Sexist, Racist and Antiquated, and my reference to the "Colonel's Wife'" really resonated. For the record my focus is not so much towards a load of bored Officers Wives playing social games on a military base, my interest is on the effectiveness of diplomacy, especially Corporate Diplomacy around the world. If you know how to address a Bishop, fold a Napkin or sip Sherry it isn't worth a Hill of Beans if you can't Close the Deal!

The problem with Protocol and Etiquette Training is that it seeks to maintain a Status Quo of the 1950's era, where the serving staff were black, the women were gracious wives of white diplomats, military officers or business leaders. The concept is to maintain the order and determine who and where a person fits in the perceived "Pecking Order" to maintain social class.

One of my first exposures to Protocol Training was in 1968 when in a class on military protocol I was horrified to hear in a environment of promoting more equality in Europe, that the correct way to refer to social gatherings of mixed military ranks was "Officers and their Ladies, NCO's and their Wives, and Other Ranks and their Women". This Protocol Officer, or to be more exact a self appointed party planner who was married to a senior officer, believed that her carefully tied scarf's gave her that air of superiority that made her an authority on social networking.

Today the Art of Social Networking is being lost, drowned out by Email, Text Messaging and online contact to the extent that face to face social skills are being lost. The business world, and the diplomatic world are turning to the many self appointed experts, with their carefully tied Hermes Scarves to advise them. The total failure of US Diplomats and the growing failure of US Corporations in global negotiations can be directly traced back to their advice. As Donald Trump pointed out the politicians and State Department Officers just can't Close the Deal! Excuse me harping on about the ability to obtain results, but that's what drives the Capitalist Society, not tying scarves or knowing how to use a Fish Fork.

Speaking in Washington, DC to one product of this Protocol Training I was appalled that the attitude was still straight out of the 1950's. That even if The Very Reverend Smith had recently been indicted on Pedophile charges, he ranked above the businessman who had left High School and built a business empire that had created thousands of jobs. That a MIT trained Chinese Engineer was addressed as if he was a laborer brought over to build the Railroads. But worse still the advice was rigid, and ill advised in a rapidly changing world run on intelligence, and not antique protocols from a bye gone age. The religious and ethnic divides, the political philosophies of the group, and the emotive personal philosophies of the individuals need to be researched and considered in the social or entertaining environment. Not knowing that two politicians would kill each other given half a chance, or as at a recent "Near Miss" when two politicians were to be introduced, without knowing one has murdered the family and followers of the other, was far more essential to social harmony at the gathering than how they should be addressed by their host.

The Bush Administration is probably the worst group for diplomacy since Joe Stalin's Soviet Union. They dictate, threaten, ridicule and abuse whenever possible. Then there are Condeleezza Rice and Karen Hughes. I was taken to task by a retired men-hating Department of State employee for criticizing Ms Rice, or as I was told to always refer to here as The Secretary of State, Doctor Rice. I was informed that this "Strong, Powerful Woman" had made a statement to the male dominated regimes in the Middle East by striding down those steps from the aircraft, wearing trousers, and with her head uncovered, to show these men that she was the real leader not them. She came away empty handed!

That display of single female dominance may have impressed the Dupont Circle Coffee Crowd, but didn't do much for the taxpayer, whom she represents. Another glaring example of not Closing the Deal! The image and presence of the Secretary of State is so, so important. George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Colin Powell all had presence. Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, Condeleezza Rice did not. Margaret Thatcher had presence, so did Princess Diane.

They were all highly qualified in the educational sense, but they were not the right person to send out into the diplomatic marketplace, and try to sell the United States. For unless a politician, diplomat or executive can sell, they are only expensive, time consuming ornaments.

This same men-hating party planner who waxed lyrical about Ms Rice was appalled that I suggested developing profiles, and background dossiers on the individuals across the negotiating table. How dare I suggest looking into the upbringing, politics and thinking of an adversary. It wasn't correct protocol to snoop into a person's past.

This brings into clear focus the difference in approach of Corporate Diplomacy and Protocol and Etiquette Training. One is to achieve results, the other is to appear to be socially cultured in established conventions, to be seen as capable of climbing the social ladder, especially that of bored military and diplomatic wives. We don't need to train the factory workers seen in An Officer and Gentlemen not to embarrass themselves at a formal dinner, we need to train the executive to successfully sell the multi-million dollar aircraft seen in the movie, to the military around the world.

We need to develop the skills of understanding Competitive Intelligence, and incorporating the changing culture of that region of the world into advising politicians, diplomats and corporate executives. We need a detailed analysis of where and how we entertain prospects, and how they differ from the traditional establishment profile of them. The world is rapidly changing, and electronic images are changing traditional entertainment, lifestyle and entertainment. Practicing etiquette to take into account the divisions in culture, once the hallmark of etiquette, may be a negative. For instance an Indian software leader who was educated and trained in the UK and USA, was irritated at being greeted as a traditional Hindu. He was Christian and had lived his entire life in the USA and Europe. His comment was that the party planner should have Googled his background.

That same party planner had placed the husband of a very powerful, and accomplished female executive next to the honored guest. He worked as a tradesman and his main interest was NASCAR and the local football team. His wife, the real power, wanted to "Break the Ice" before a massive multi million dollar business pitch. She was relegated to the "Major's Wife" and expected to make small talk about flower arranging to the boring social butterfly next to her. A huge lost opportunity.

We can either prolong and emphasize social, racial and historical stereotypes, or we can develop Corporate Diplomacy and Close the Deal!


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