Appearance will get you through the door, but it is the right people skills that show you belong.

William Thourlby,
Author Passport to Power

It was once enough to be technically brilliant. Now, some say people skills are becoming a lost art because we depend so much on technology and social media as our preferred communication models. People skills are critical to any real estate professional’s success. You cannot avoid people. However, there is a lot of confusion as to how to use these skills effectively. Most misunderstandings are due to a lack of knowing how to interact with people who come from different walks of life.

Why should agents care? Because different generations and cultures have been brought up with different expectations and acceptable behaviors. Adaptability and sensitivity are key! Plus, you don’t want to unintentionally offend someone. The best and most lasting impressions are made when you apply the correct or more appropriate behavior based on an awareness of gender, age, and cultural expectations. Additionally, agents with a more relaxed attitude to rules do not necessarily work well with international or high-profile clients for whom time-honored rituals or protocols still play a very important role in doing business and strengthening relationships.

We simply do not live in a society whereby everyone follows the same rules of behavior and assumes that everyone else follows the same value system. Nor, can we assume that “everyone knows” what’s appropriate. To understand and adapt to a variety of people and their expectations, it’s important to understand our country’s past as well as how generation or cultural-related influences relate to today’s real estate environment. Early patriots, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, started recording rules of etiquette and decent

behavior to express equality, individual freedom, social mobility, and to encourage dignity. Still good things because they serve as an essential foundation for healthy relationships overall.

History teaches us lessons that help us better prepare for today and tomorrow. Etiquette books for the American society were being recorded in the early 1800s and were inspired by George Washington’s “Rules of Civility.” (Did you know that George Washington started recording his “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” when he was 15!) His foresight served as an inspiration for every etiquette/protocol book ever written and gave the United States of America its behavioral foundation during our society’s evolution.

The original rules and those that followed (up to the 1970s) are considered our “traditional rules” of etiquette. They are important to know because most are still honored in other countries and appreciated by our senior generation (and some regions of the U.S.). During the 1970s, a new approach evolved (in business settings) creating what is known as “modern rules” of etiquette.

What is the difference? Gender! Traditional etiquette is gender-based. For example, the man opens the door for the woman. Modern etiquette is non-gender-based. Whoever opens the door for whom is based on hierarchy, not gender. For example, lower rank opens the door for higher rank. Socially, this can seem like a double standard because some women expect to have their door opened for them in social situations. It is almost as if there is a before 5:00 etiquette (the woman opens her own door) and an after 5:00 etiquette (the woman expects the gentleman to open the door). Bottom line: good manners dictate that if a gendered-courtesy is offered, politely accept. Realize that using the traditional (gendered) or modern (non-gendered) rule in the right situation gains respect!

Why Bother with Rules? Rules provide the launching pad for successful interactions and removes a potentially awkward moment. Following the rules of etiquette is not about following rigid rules. It is about using common sense and adjusting behavior to fit the situation. This can be an art within itself! It’s all about matching the right behavior or action with the situation or moment. In this sense, etiquette and protocol serve as your communication foundation.

What is Etiquette? The ability to put others at ease with you! Etiquette is also about being considerate and kind. Rules of etiquette tend to change with the times and society and can vary from culture to culture. Etiquette and manners go hand-in-hand.

For example: Traditional etiquette dictates that a man should always allow a woman to pass through the door first. In modern etiquette, we defer to rank and allow the higher-ranking individual (or guest) to pass through the door first. Good manners allow someone to pass through the door first as an act of courtesy, especially if someone is carrying packages or are having difficulty walking. Other instances include initiating a greeting, using one’s name and title correctly, showing appreciation and gratitude, focusing the conversation on the client and not your technology (i.e., cellphone}, eating in a non-distracting way, etc.

What is the Protocol? Order! Protocol is the order in which things are done and rarely changes. The purpose is to remove distractions, gets things done in an organized and timely manner, and demonstrate respect. It’s all about who does what when?

For example: When someone of rank or importance enters an office, both men and women stand to show respect (modern etiquette). You will experience men standing (or slightly rising) when a woman is seated at a meal or gets up to leave the table. This is traditional etiquette and demonstrates “good form.” However, it is not a practiced or expected gesture in today’s business environment. You rise for rank; not gender. If you are at a table and a male guest does slightly rise when a female colleague or guest arrives at the table or leaves the table (traditional etiquette), it would show good form for other gentlemen at the table to also extend the gesture. Women graciously accept. This puts the gentleman, extending this time-honored gesture, at ease, and demonstrates good manners. Other instances include making introductions based on rank and title, who initiates the handshake to whom, who is served their meal first when entertaining guests/clients, etc.

By learning what has changed, what has remained the same, and when to show deference, you will be better equipped to create successful interactions and make a lasting professional impression. Furthermore, you will be able to navigate and thrive when intermingling with diverse real estate clients.