Social skills – the secret of networking?

- October 29, 2005 2 MIN READ

When so much of today’s business networking is done (or at least discussed) in a social setting, perhaps we all need a little etiquette upskilling.

Being at ease at cocktail parties and business lunches and behaving in the most appropriate manner doesn’t always come easily to everyone. It pays to perfect some of these social skills if you’re looking to get ahead in your career.

The way we present ourselves especially in social situations says a lot about us. We may come across as insecure or lacking in confidence if we bumble through introductions at a networking event. Our lack of table manners could raise the eyebrows of the all-important client you’re trying to do business with. Perhaps having a few too many drinks at a networking function is not a good idea especially if you end up telling the client what you really think about him or her.

It definitely pays to be aware of appropriate business etiquette. Most of us learned basic table manners around the dining room table as we were growing up but with our modern take-away, fast food lifestyle, some of our earlier learning may have gone out the window. So let’s look at a few do’s and don’ts for acceptable behaviour at a business lunch.

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  • If you’re taking a client to lunch you pay – the one who is likely to benefit the most from the business should pay. Leave your credit card with the cashier beforehand or politely excuse yourself before the end of the meal and settle the bill.
  • Shaking hands is the accepted greeting. If it’s a male/female lunch avoid the kiss on the cheek unless you know each other very well. It’s best to keep the relationship business-like.
  • Recommend the restaurant and if possible book a table in a good position – away from the kitchen or restrooms. Have the client in the best seat facing into the restaurant or toward the view.
  • Recommend food choices you may have had previously and perhaps something that is expensive on the menu so they feel comfortable with that choice. Be guided by their choices. For example don’t order dessert if they are not having it and expect them to wait while you finish off a piece of chocolate cake.
  • Don’t get drunk or drink too much. Also don’t smoke if your client doesn’t.
  • Don’t wave your knife and fork around like a conductor – or use the wrong utensils. Your bread & butter plate will be on the left while your wineglass will be on the right near the tip of your knife. Observe basic good manners – such as not talking with your mouth full!
  • Start the lunch off with some small talk first. Although you are there to discuss business, bring it up after eating the entree.

The idea of a business lunch is to build rapport and a relationship with your client. It’s not so much about the food or wine but more about making them feel happy and comfortable with the time they’ve spent with you.