25 Aug 2016 18:17 IST

Be your best self

Practical suggestions for Indian leaders to be great global citizens

We recently conducted a Worldwide Business Etiquette programme for a mega engineering process company in Hyderabad. There were a total of 10 participants in the seminar, of which five were senior managers — general manager (business development), head of exports, manager, exports (Africa and Europe), senior general manager (regulatory affairs), and so on.

No matter what the function in business, there are certain common behaviours crafted that should be followed to gel with the world. And that was what we practised hands-on in our session.

The questions that emerged during the class were so practical that I felt I should share some of them with aspiring young leaders like you, so as to help equip you as empowered global citizens.

What should I say in case I am fasting and have to go out for dinner with my overseas client?

Everyone in the world knows that some regions and religions follow customs that are unique to them. So first, don’t be shy to state your exact belief and practice upfront. Tell them of the holy month when you fast, and explain that you will be unable to eat before a certain time period.

State that you will be happy to accompany them and enjoy their company. However, if it makes them feel uncomfortable, suggest that you meet at a place other than an eatery after the client has dined, so you both can enjoy the conversation.

Offering two choices makes it easier on the overseas client and he won’t feel obliged to accept the only option. He will end up appreciating your resolve and practice, which can actually translate into building trust in a business relationship.

Do you remember when Prime Minister Modi went to the State dinner at the White House in 2015 and sipped warm water, while the rest of them enjoyed a 7-course dinner in his honour?

I am a teetotaller. How do I handle networking events where alcohol is served?

Actually, networking events are never the place to drink alcohol. They are only meant to be sipped on, or hold a drink to appear casual while you socialise. The goal is to be super alert to opportunities of forging new connections by striking intelligent conversations.

I usually hold a glass of soda water with a slice of lemon — it looks like an appealing cocktail the entire evening and I pretty much never finish it.

When we order a ‘drink’ at the bar, it is a perfect moment to start networking with someone next to you, saying “I‘m starting with a refreshing cold soda, such a great thirst quencher, isn’t it?” Follow that up by introducing yourself as an engineer from India, and before you know it, you, the teetotaler, will be whisking away the drinker to do business with him!

The main point, however, is to never be apologetic. Instead, be confident about who you are and what you have to offer to the world. One can have meaningful conversations with a glass in your left hand, leaving your right hand free to shake the hands of the new people you introduce yourself to, in order to build and widen your network.

Friday is Casual Dressing Day. Do I have to come formally attired in case I have a client coming to meet me?

Well, if we are in a client-facing role or in a company where a client might come in any day, then Friday can never be an exception, can it? Looking our best all days gets us to perform our best too.

Casual Day simply means being casually aware that we need to project the best image of our company and country to any client. This means men shave daily, and Friday is no exception. Women wear light make up to keep the professional look.

In our company, we had a Member of Parliament visit us one Friday and it was not easy for one of my top colleagues to stand up to him, literally, as he had worn jeans which were distressed below the knees! And so, he remained seated, hoping he could get away with the ‘casual’ attire. Since then, however, he takes care to be somewhat formally attired on all days. The idea is to play to your own advantage.

If these questions prompt you to ask some more, keep them coming, I’ll be happy to share my thoughts on them. You can leave your questions in the comments below.