Neely Young: Clothes And Manners

It’s been a long time since I thought of the old “Dress for Success” trend that was so popular in the 1970s. But I have enjoyed reading several recent books on this subject, one given to me by my newfound friend and great clothier Naresh Khanna.

Khanna says: “While we need to feel comfortable in our clothes, our clothes and manners are an expression of courtesy for others. Sometimes we have to put our preferences as secondary. It’s just an extension of good manners.”

The books that deal with this subject are Business Class by the Tom James Company and A Gentleman Gets Dressed Up from Brooks Brothers.

There is nothing wrong with casual Friday, but many today have extended this idea to the rest of the week. Have you been in your local bank lately?

These books say that you should wear a good business suit every day. Navy blue is best, but dark gray is a confidence color. Both are good for interviews or client meetings. Brown and olive are warm, friendly colors great for rapport-building and non-confrontational meetings, like getting together with your pastor.

In business, the tie or scarf should be the focal point with an off-white shirt as the background. Blues, burgundies, yellow or red are effective in drawing the eye to a man’s or woman’s outfit. Regimental striped ties or the so-called power ties lend a real presence. Offbeat colors like orange or bright green or cute ties with pictures of horses or dogs are best left to an informal time. Make sure your tie hits just below the belt buckle.

While how you look is important for first impressions, how a man or woman acts presents an opportunity for distinction. Manners are the art of making everyone else feel comfortable. The Tom James book says: “Chivalry is dead only if you want your career to be, too.”

In meeting with people, punctuality is most important. When I was president of my Rotary Club, an old hand told me to always be at the podium 30 minutes ahead of the meeting. That way you get to see if the mike works or if the program is changed. The same goes for any business meeting. Making people wait is rude. If you have to be late, at least call ahead, and on arrival offer a brief sincere apology.

When meeting with new people, it is still important to shake someone’s hand with a firm but not overpowering grip, stating your own name. Unless it is a good friend, never assume others know your name, regardless of how important you think you are. Then say, “Nice to meet you, John or Mary.” People like to hear their name mentioned, and it will help you remember the name. When parting, say, “It was great meeting with you.”

Being a good conversationalist has little to do with talking and everything to do with listening. Body language and good humor can prompt a customer to feel comfortable. People want to hear about you or your product, but they want to tell you what you can do for them.

In conversation, it’s best to avoid subjects that are divisive or controversial. If the subject is politics or religion, it’s best to remain neutral. Don’t complain, because a good attitude is everything. I once interviewed someone who started out by telling me that his last four bosses were crazy. It’s best never to denigrate past bosses. Using profanity is highly inappropriate.

Nothing distinguishes an individual like good follow-up. People rarely remember what is said at a meeting. Email is fine, but a hand-written note thanking your customer for the meeting and summarizing the items discussed will make a strong impression.

The most basic BlackBerry rule is to turn it off and leave it in the car when meeting with others. Refrain from talking on a cell phone in public; others can hear everything you say, and no one wants to.

Treat everyone with respect – those who are in a position to help you and those who aren’t. The late Joe Bradwell of The Valdosta Daily Times always said “Yes, Sir” or “No, Ma’am” to anyone he dealt with, no matter their age or station.

Having a good, positive attitude is most important, and it’s best to surround yourself with people of the same mold.

It’s good to know that the words of advice from our parents still hold true in this all too modern, fast-paced world.

Categories: Neely Young