[As first published on Pulitzer.com]
Etiquette maven Dorothea Johnson is an expert at how manners affect business. The wife of a former Marine Corps Commandant, model Bebe Buell’s mother and actress Liv Tyler’s grandmother, Ms. Johnson travels in high circles. Ms. Johnson taught Protocol at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island. By the way, it is “Ms.”; Dorothea Johnson explains that the term “has been in use since the 17th century and is the only proper title for women to use in business.” It derives from the honorary “Mistress”. Another pointer for women executives is that there is no place for chivalry in the business world: whomever reaches the door first opens it and nobody should be pulling a chair out for a woman in a business setting.
Her newest book, “The Power of the Handshake for Peak Performance Worldwide”, includes examples of handshaking techniques from around the world and even differentiates between urban and rural handshakes.
Ms. Johnson’s Washington School of Protocol (www.wsop.com) has actually relocated to Portland, Maine. The change allows Ms. Johnson to spend more time in New England with her family and also provides a less frenetic environment for executives and dignitaries to study etiquette. The executives remain anonymous, though: the WSOP is renowned for its discretion.
Having lived all over the world, Ms. Johnson is sensitive to cultural differences. For example, she points out that she advises executives doing business in Japan not to stand too close and certainly not to touch their host. Backslapping is frowned upon. Also, she stresses that Americans going to Japan should not be impatient! Executives in Japan may take several hours to bring up the subject at hand or take several minutes to answer a question. But Americans aren’t the only awkward ones: learning American customs is an $800 million business in Japan!
Every culture is different, though: Ms. Johnson points out that in Saudi Arabia and Latin countries, the residents will stand closer and touch us much more than is part of our comfort zone. Ms. Johnson has had to remind herself of this fact each time she visits Italy when her granddaughter Liv Tyler is filming on location.
A relatively recent trend is the “Business Tea”. Instead of taking on the liability and risks of happy hours, many companies are encouraging their execs to instead “take tea”. Ms. Johnson’s book, “Tea and Etiquette”, clears up misperceptions many people have, such as when to pour the milk and how to hold the teacup. Ms. Johnson’s book also includes tasty recipes.
An interesting division of the Washington School of Protocol is the training of etiquette teachers. While not a franchise, the people who complete the course receive a certificate and are allowed to use the logo in their correspondence. It’s turning out to be a great second career for many people who are tired of the D.C., N.Y.C. and other rat races.