How did you become an etiquette expert?
I never expected to become an etiquette expert, much less own my own business. I went to college in hopes of becoming a news anchor. Unfortunately, my dreams were shattered when a college professor told me that I would never get a job in the industry unless I lost my southern accent. As a result, I pursued other interests and I’ve had an extremely colorful career. Prior to starting my etiquette company, I was a special events director for a Walt Disney World Hotel, a flight attendant, an entertainer, and an assistant director of public relations for an exclusive hotel in Palm Beach.
What sparked your interest in this field from the beginning?
I attended a week-long business etiquette course when I worked at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. I liked it so much that I decided to take a more extensive course and teach etiquette to the hotel employees in my spare time. In 1998, I got laid off from my job and decided to open my own etiquette company. I guess you can say I turned lemons into lemonade.
How do you define “beauty”?
Beauty radiates from within. A person is beautiful if he or she has a kind heart. A beautiful person is someone who thinks of others first and who freely gives of himself or herself without any expectations in return.
What are some of your greatest achievements?
My marriage is a huge achievement. I’ve been with my husband for nearly 21 years. We put a lot of effort into making our marriage work each and every day. He is my best friend and biggest supporter. My second greatest achievement is my business. It’s sometimes difficult being an entrepreneur. It takes patience, passion and perseverance to make a business work, especially with so much competition. I am happy that I get paid to do what I love. My third greatest achievement is publishing my two books. It takes a lot of discipline to sit down every day and write. I’m grateful that I get to help so many people by sharing my personal stories and advice.
What are the most important qualities in a person?
The most important qualities in a man or woman are honesty, integrity, dependability, authenticity, empathy and sincerity. I also admire people who are self-motivated.
What are some of your top job interview tips?
The most valuable tip I can give is to be prepared. Learn as much as you can about a company before the job interview. Find out what you can about those who will be interviewing you. Arrive on time, dress your best, and follow up with an email and handwritten thank-you note stating why you want the job.
What should younger workers know today?
Young workers grew up using technology and this can be both a blessing and a curse. They are usually technically brilliant, yet socially inept. I work with companies who want their young executives to be more polished in social situations. This includes dress, networking skills, dining skills, online and interpersonal communication skills. I teach them how to be more comfortable and courteous in a variety of business and social situations.
What type of etiquette guidelines should employees follow?
This is a broad topic so I work with companies to pinpoint their areas of concern. Etiquette is about treating others the way they would like to be treated. This means being mindful of how your behavior impacts your personal brand and the company’s brand. People can no longer thrive on their technical skills alone. We’ve got to fine-tune our relationship skills and our emotional intelligence. That’s what I help employees achieve.
How can one keep a conversation pleasant and professional?
It’s important to make others feel important in any situation. That means you must listen and ask engaging questions. Try to find out what a person is passionate about. People love to talk about their hobbies and interests. If you only talk about yourself, others will become bored and uninterested. A good conversation is like a tennis match. It’s takes two to keep the game going.
How can one politely decline an invitation?
If you have to decline an invitation, do it as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the last minute. Simply thank the host for inviting you and say that you have a previously scheduled engagement.
How has business etiquette changed in recent years?
Etiquette is situational. In other words, one person may choose to handle a situation completely different from the way his co-worker handles it, and they can both be correct. There are few hard and fast rules when it comes to dealing with others these days. Business etiquette is based on kindness, courtesy and common sense and can be a powerful business tool.
Do you think people outside of the US lack business etiquette?
Etiquette is lacking all over the world, not just in the U.S. Wherever you go, you’re going to find well-mannered people and inconsiderate people. It’s important to try to keep an open mind and look for the good in everyone, regardless of race, gender or culture.
What are your top five dining etiquette tips?
- Don’t chew with your mouth full of food.
- Don’t talk about controversial subjects at the table.
- Never refuse hospitality when it is offered.
- Try a little bit of everything unless you are allergic to something or if you follow a restricted diet.
- Always write a thank-you note to the host within 24-48 hours.
A portion of this interview with etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore appeared in 7 Ayam Egyptian magazine.