February 26, 2009

Power Lunches in a Poor Economy: Part 1: To Personally Pony-up or Not?

Remember Tim, the trader who signified he was paying for a round of happy hour shots for the entire bar by open the front door and walking inside? Well, Timmy lost his job. Yes, a whole host of folks who used to do others the services of proudly picking up the bill are now picking up the scarps you left on your plate. It’s time we talked about it.

There is literally no such thing as a free lunch anymore. If someone is treating you to anything – just like the nuns warned you in school – they’re expecting something!

In these rude economic times the dynamic of the power lunch can be awkward. You want to make a good impression, geeze you’re fighting for your job, but your boss has specifically forbidden lavish lunches on the old corporate card. So here’s your dilemma: Do you personally suck up the cost of the lunch with Constance-the-potential-client in hopes of showing her your business isn’t hurting, your still treating clients in that old-school, pre-11 months ago, pampered style they’re so accustomed to? Or do you take the let’s face it we’re all feeling it approach?

I call this a dilemma because you have to know your audience and make a difficult choice.

If your job is on the line and this client could be the breaking point that differentiates you from Sally in the next cube than you should probably pay. It’s a cutthroat market out there. If your job is to bring in new clients, you better get working on getting new clients. You can think of it as a personal investment in your financial future. It will make an impression if you pay. Since not many folks are offering, those that do certainly stand out. Now, that said I would NOT tell them you are personally paying. That would drastically change the gesture and the client would undoubtedly feel really uncomfortable. Your intension is so make them feel comfortable and secure doing business with you. Not to feel personally indebted to you. VERY DIFFERENT AND IMPORTANT TO DISTIGUISH. You’re going for smooth and confident, not tacky and awkward.

That said if you’re out there dining at Aujoir’dui everyday you’re an idiot. You shouldn’t be personally spending more than you can afford on a meal for a perspective client. Imagine you find your fate to be that of Tim the trader next week; you’re forced to seriously look at your savings account and realize you were spending $100s of dollars a week on meals for clients that aren’t even yours anymore.

Your job is on the line and all these cutbacks have you feeling financially freaked, your ok paying for yourself -- hell you barely have an appetite anymore anyway – but there’s no way midday martini Mike is going to creep into your wallet. So the bill comes, he’s two drinks into his lobster salad with a side of filet mignon and you have no idea how to tell him that this one’s on him. My first comment is Mike kind of deserves a slap in the face. It’s straight up obnoxious to order such opulent items during a business lunch you’re assuming you won’t be paying for. That said, Mike is a caricature and hopefully he doesn’t actually exist. But, for the sake of emphasis let’s say there’s a Mike-like man in your world. I would recommend prevent this awkward moment by explaining before the meet-up that you are no longer allowed to charge lunches on your Ms. Manners credit card. Offer to meet for coffee or something more creative like cupcakes – cheap, but fun – instead. This sets the stage and will prevent any awkwardness later. Later when you meet up you can make a joke or point out the obvious– see a theme with this blog? I think joking and being straightforward in most situations are the best ways to get out of sticky situations.

You know how you learned as a teenager that if your parents did something embarrassing you could prevent the cruel arrow of shame being shot by friends by shooting it at yourself first.

Your mom wrote: “I love you” on your brown lunch bag. Before any of your guys friends had time to comment, you announce “Ughhh, my mom is so embarrassing look what she did. What’s her problem?” to which your buddies will laugh and say “yeah, dude my mom used to do that.” Or “dude your mom is weird, sorry.” Whatever their reaction, it will be better than if they all start teasing and you’re left on the outside.

Same rules apply – my how things have change from high school ☺ -- so if during lunch or in the middle of you cupcake you simply say. “Man do I miss the old days when we would drink martinis and eat our Wagyu with that special sauce, ummm…” let the client chime in. Then continue: “But honestly, in this economy I have to say any business that’s still entertaining at that level is hiding something. It’s almost like they’re trying so hard to show they’re not affected that you have to think they’d spend their last dollar to create a false image. That kind of behavior doesn’t sit well with me. Your clients should be confident in the service you’re providing them, not the meals you pay for. While we both would agree having both the service and the meals is ideal, what you’re paying for is the service.” This kind of dialogue can become a bonding moment that shows you’re honest, forthright and have your priorities straight, three of the most important qualities a perspective client looks for.

Pay if you please, but it might not make a difference in terms of nailing the client if you have the right attitude about this rude economy.

February 03, 2009

Guests Guide to a Catholic Wedding Mass

Attending a religious ceremony can be awkward if you're not of that religion or you think the whole big man in the sky thing doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So i'm going to attempt to walk you thorough a variety of religious weddings with the goal of helping you feel more comfortable. today we'll tackle the Catholics!

First things first, the Catholics are ONLY married in churches. You won't be attending a Catholic ceremony on the beach in Maui. CatholicBrides.com claims that this rule is not there to "cramp your style" And the site claims "Marketing is a powerful medium and few of us escape its influence." (i find it really interesting that they picked the word "medium" here ... trying to remind us of something? trying to get us back in line? in any case, OBVIOUSLY the Catholic Church knows the power of marketing, sheeesh). They go on to explain:

"When you choose to be married in a Catholic wedding ceremony you are choosing so much more than a venue for your wedding. You're choosing a way of life..."

So bottom line if you find out your friend is getting hitched at a church, do some research and figure out if the below is what you're in for.

Sign Language:
Catholics make the sign of the cross as they enter their pew. this is a reminder of how Jesus died. We've all seen it done, so don't be surprised when you see people stopping before they enter their row to make this gesture. Once they've taken a seat many Catholics will perform a short prayer, kind of like "Hey JC i'm in your house, what's up, how's it going? any idea how long this whole thing is going to take?" they're connecting with their savior.

Skip the gym that morning:
Catholic ceremonies have you up and down from your pew the whole time. No one will get a blood clot during a Catholic wedding because the whole church is up .. and down again, only for a second before... rise again. yes, it's a bit like that old trainer you had who loved the squats and lunges. so be prepared. almost always the priest will instruct you when to move, so you shouldn't worry that you're going to be left standing while everyone else knows it's time to have a seat. This is also a good time to make a point: If any of this stuff really bothers you, goes against what you believe, etc. you can abstain (had to use it, sorry) from any activity that feels uncomfortable. hopefully no one in the crowd is a religious nut and will point you out as the non-believer. no, no that would be wildly inappropriate and we'd be sure to send him a manners citation if it happened.

Be A Believer in Yourself First -
if you don't feel comfortable standing, sit. if you don't want the priest to bless you, stay in your seat. if you don't feel like drinking christ’s blood, don't. while often in etiquette training we encourage you to make an extra effort, to conform just a bit to make everyone feel more comfortable, this is NOT one of those situations. if you go up and have a priest bless you and all you can think about is "Crap if my mom saw me right now she'd have a heart attach!" or "Oh gross, all i want to do is shower now that this weird man is telling me one thing, but i think he's really thinking he's saving my soul." DON'T DO IT. You'll be thinking about this encounter way longer than he will. so just stay seated.

To Eat or Not to Eat that is our Question
An in touch with the world priest will explain this part and the rules around it before he offers the Communion Rite, that said i've been to weddings where it was very unclear who should participate and who should not. So here's what the Church thinks of this tradition, you can make up your own mind.

There is a general belief that all material things in this world also have a spiritual component. So when the wafer and wine are put into the mouth of a true believer they turn to the blood and body of Christ. This is one of the most sacred forms of worship in this religion. In fact, Catholics who have committed sins they haven't repented for aren't supposed to take the sacrament, even those who haven't fasted for an hour prior to the mass aren't meant to eat it.

But as with all beliefs some of these customs vary within the faith. one common practice is for the priest to offer a blessing to non-Catholics who come up to the front of the church with everyone else, but they cross their arms over their chest to show him they're not Catholics. I'm not a fan of this, it feels icky to be kneeled in front of a man who is offering you a blessing -- if you don't actually believe in the religion. from my perspective it would be just as symbolic to have the girl sitting next to me offer me a blessing. but again you have to do what you're comfortable with, you might find going up with everyone and crossing your arms is more appealing than feeling like the only person who doesn't go up.

If you decide to go up and take communion because you're curious, or you give into the pressure, no one will know and they certainly won't turn you away.

If you decide to remain seated, be quiet. For many Catholics this is the most important part of the ceremony and even though you've decided not to participate doesn't mean you should be an ass and take away from something special to someone else. No bathroom breaks, cell phone usage, chitchat with your Jewish pew mate, just sit still and be quiet.

Peace Sign
The priest will at some point ask you to give a sign of peace to your neighbor. this can be as simple as a hand shake, a hug or just saying "peace be with you" to the person next to you.

A Catholic Blessing aka with Strings Attached:
There is also often a blessing of the couple. After they've said their vows most priests will ask the church to bless the couple with a unified wave of their hands, bowing of their heads or some other signifier. Sometimes he'll ask the members of the audience to help keep the couple together, by reminding them of what they witnessed that day.

Get the Party Started:
After the ceremony you can chat up a storm. If the weather is nice people will often gather outside and wait to see the newly weds off.

If the bride and groom were thinking straight when they planned the programs most of this information -- without all the color -- will be listed in the program so you know what's happening when.