Protocol Plus Primes Execs, Employees on Manners
by Emilie Haulenbeek

Emily Post she's not. She's not demanding or dictatorial, exacting or elitist. She doesn't remind you to remove your elbows from the table or to use the salad fork, not the dinner fork. But in a crowd of people, you could probably pick out Gloria Auth as the owner of Protocol Plus, a firm that teaches etiquette to business people. She's gracious, she's classy, and above all, she's the one with impeccable manners.

Having good manners is not what most people think, Auth insists. "It's not a business of snobbery or pretentiousness," she said. "It's something you carry with you everyday. It's the art of not being a snob. It's being sincere and respecting the people around you."

For the last two years, Auth has been teaching business people around Oklahoma City how to improve customer service, how to dine comfortably, how to properly exchange business cards, and even how to shake hands. ("There's only one correct handshake," she says. "Not limpy - universally unpopular, the limp fish.")

She says she learned her skills partly from life experience; she was "raised on rules" before being an Air Force officer's wife for 30 years. She's also the former director of the Master of Business Administration program at the University of Central Oklahoma and has won the Advanced Toastmaster Silver Award for public speaking.

When UCO began looking for an etiquette consultant to assist students, Auth started a search. Realizing there was a need for these professionals and looking to head in another direction after her retirement from the university, Auth decided to attend The Protocol School of Washington.

The school "gave me lots of information as to how much need there really is in this field," she remarked. "Because everything I touch has etiquette. Everything. There's etiquette on the golf course, there's etiquette in the gym, there's etiquette at the board table, and there's etiquette in dining."

The proof of her success is in the proverbial pudding: she has an extensive client list that includes companies from Royal Caribbean to State Farm Insurance and the University of Central Oklahoma. Each of these clients, she said, seeks her out for different reasons.

One common need is when an employee is moving up within a company and has technical skills, but lacks the social skills to match. "They're okay behind the cubbyhole," she said, but their social skills have been "swept under the mousepad," at some point. To prevent this, some schools are offering students training before they enter the job market. The Accounting Club at the University of Central Oklahoma invited Auth to teach etiquette to its members as preparation for job interviews.

"Our students have to go on a lot of interviews," said Katherene Terrell, a professor of accounting at UCO. "Frequently, their interview process involves one or two meals. They're watched pretty carefully during those events. That's part of the interview." Terrell added that the training can have an impact on the job selection process.

"For our students, it may mean the difference between getting a job they really want and settling for one that's second or third on their list," she noted. "It shows polish. It shows care about details."

Since Auth's clients range from those sitting at the front desk to those sitting at the boardroom table, her seminars are flexible. She said she focuses on the problems each company wants her to solve: greeting customers in a more friendly manner or teaching a new executive to use Continental-style dining when entertaining foreign clients.

The common thread for all, she said, is a lack of confidence. "I saw people sabotaging their own best interests. People did not have confidence that they were doing things correctly."

That lack of confidence is a red flag that generally makes manners worse, not better. When people become preoccupied with their own behavior, they not only neglect the people - presumably clients - they're with, but they also forget why they're there, even if it's to close an important business transaction.

The most common etiquette mistake?

"People focus too much on themselves. When they're talking to people, when they're not listening, they're so afraid of themselves making a mistake, because they don't have this knowledge, that they're worrying about themselves. They think everybody is looking at them."

Terrell believes the training could be used at all levels, not just by students. "Just because you're in the business world doesn't mean you're a member of ultra-polite society," she remarked. "I think all of us have been somewhere where someone has done something where you're wondering, what do I do now? It helps to have a little bit more training about how to be graceful in certain circumstances."

As technology has become prevalent in business, Auth said, people often forget that it, too, requires an element of good manners. When sending e-mail, employees often write quickly and hit send before re-reading what they've written - sending messages that can be misconstrued, intercepted by the wrong party, or contain incorrect information.

"Think before you send," she said. "Don't put sensitive issues in e-mail, or reprimands. Stop and think before sending it over."

Currently, Auth hosts seminars on a variety of subjects. Her "Outclass the Competition," a one-day seminar she'll be offering at the Waterford next month, includes training in wining, dining and protocol for deal making, is geared toward executives.

She also teaches seminars on customer service and succeeding in the international arena.

Auth doesn't have a staff yet although she says she's quickly getting to the point where that will become a requirement. She's looking to large companies for future expansion.

Major corporations have training for almost everything else, she said - from learning software programs to professional development - but most aren't teaching their employees the basic skills of etiquette that they may have never learned. In five years, she hopes Protocol Plus will be actively serving more large companies.

In the meanwhile, she continues to teach protocol lessons to a wide variety of Oklahoma City professionals. "They come to me from every level. From top level execs that just feel like they have an employee that needs a little bit of polish, to small offices where they have a staff of people who meet and greet their customers," she said, smiling. "It's very simple. People have forgotten the value of a smile or eye contact."

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