See, Learn, Follow

There is only so much that can be written as guidelines regarding the dos and don’ts of protocol and etiquette. It is the ‘feel’ in a particular situation, in a strange environment, which will be the final test of what works for or what works against. For the rest, it is see, observe and follow. Although the part ‘and follow’ is not always true. Here is an example.

My colleague Sam and I had gone on an assignment to the UK. When we were there, John, the Marketing Director of the UK Company, invited us to a presentation of the new campaign for Product Zee, at the office of the advertising agency. Sam and I accompanied John to London. We were met at the reception of the ad agency by Margaret, the Accounts Director who welcomed us warmly. John had known her for a long time and he shook hands and kissed her on the cheek. He then introduced Sam. Sam shook hands and went on to kiss Margaret, just as John had done. Margaret took a step back. She did not want to be kissed by a total stranger. Sam shuffled forward a bit, but Margaret stepped back a bit more, until Sam got the hint and gave up. It was a brief moment of embarrassment for all. However, all four of us, studiously ignored the incident and moved on to the conference room where the presentation was to be made.

The presentation went off well. And this brief initial faux pas did not affect the flow of the rest of the proceedings. On the way back, I mentioned to Sam that perhaps he could have stopped the greeting with the handshake. He reminded me that I had asked him to observe what others do and follow. He did what John did. That was true. I had forgotten to tell him that there are exceptions. It was a lesson that he and I would not forget in a hurry and perhaps neither would Margaret!

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