It's Not Your Grandmother's Etiquette
“Well, honey, my grandmama always told me that a lady only offers the tips of her fang-gahs to shake hands with a gentleman.” The woman gently lifted her manicured fingers and held them mid-air to demonstrate her point to me. This Southern Belle sat smugly during a workshop I was leading, determined that the South shall rise again, starting with her diminutive hand demonstrating a lady’s proper handshake.
I prayed the look on my face did not betray my sarcastic thought which was, “Listen, Scarlett. That advice may have gotten you through your cotillion, but in today’s business world, no one would take you or your handshake seriously. Who would want to do business with a woman who only offers the “tips of her fang-gahs?”
Business has become the great equalizer for women as it relates to etiquette. Over time, I’ve come to knffective handshakes help people make a positive first impression. As with fainting couches and parasols, gone are the days when a gentleman had to wait for a lady to offer her hand for a handshake. Women are now expected to offer their hand (whether sitting down or standing up) to demonstrate confidence and equality. Whoever offers the hand first for a handshake holds the power. By power, I mean control of the encounter. Women can use techniques to start and maintain power in various business greeting scenarios.
In America there are two kinds of greeters: Hand shakers and huggers. In social situations, a woman has more power to pick and choose when she wants to give or receive hugs. Business situations are awkward when she becomes the target of unwanted hugs.
Here are two tips to avoid a dreaded hug:
1. When a known hugger is approaching, a woman should plant her foot about 12 inches in front of her body, extend her arm as if she has a steel rod inserted from her wrist to her shoulder, and force the hugger to shake hands and stay off of her body.
2. The second tip is to position her body so that instead of being swept up in a hug, she maintains control by moving her right shoulder into the hugger’s right shoulder. She can gently pat the hugger on the back if she chooses. These two actions may take some practice, but are well-worth it because of the importance of maintaining power.
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on point of view) some etiquette protocols taught to us by our parents have been altered because of the equalization of men and women in business. At a social meal, for example, a gentleman is expected to rise from his chair when a lady approaches or leaves the table. That rule still prevails, but only in a social situation. At a business meal, however, the gentleman is not expected to acknowledge the lady’s presence by rising. Nor should the gentleman hold the chair for the lady as she takes her seat. A woman should not feel “put out” because Grandma taught her to expect such proper behavior. Times have changed.
I always hear women ask this question. “What do you do when facing a man during a conversation, and he constantly stares at your breasts regardless of whether you are wearing a low cut blouse or not?”
Once again, this is about power. The woman has to subtly gain control. My answer? Cross your arms across your breasts and keep them there. That action breaks the line of vision, puts up a protective barrier and let’s the gentleman know in a quiet way that his staring is unacceptable. Bear in mind that such a stare could be considered a form of sexual harassment. The second a woman feels uncomfortable, she must take control immediately.
Another solution is to move to the man’s side and face the direction he is facing. Continue the conversation as if your move is totally natural. Keep control.
Etiquette is a differentiator between insecurity and poise. These few examples show how a business woman need not concern herself with feeling victimized because of the uncomfortable actions of others. Knowing proper etiquette lets a woman focus on business and not feeling left in the lurch about do’s and don’ts.
Let Miss Scarlett offer the tips of her fing-gahs. Today’s business person learns and applies etiquette to maintain the power.