Do know when to make chit-chat or talk business and how to select the right fork at dinner.
Sound like advice from Mom? Nope. It’s part of the curriculum for MBA 637, a mini-course on business etiquette for students pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Louisville.
The one-credit class is designed to help students sharpen the social skills they need to get ahead, said teacher Suzanne Bergmeister, a venture capital entrepreneur who joined UofL’s College of Business as an executive-in-residence in 2005.
“Everyone thinks of business school as a place where you study hard-core finance and hard-core marketing,” she said. “But learning good social skills is just as important. How well you relate to others can literally make or break your career.”
The first part of the class, a three-hour lecture, is filled with pointers on how to behave in a wide range of situations from answering the phone to passing the salt and pepper. Students also are taught how to avoid common gaffes such as dressing inappropriately, criticizing someone in public or forgetting to make introductions.
Afterward, the students go home, change into dressy clothing and return for a formal dinner to practice the skills they’ve just learned.
“We ask them to watch for social blunders at the meal,” Bergmeister said. “For example, someone might take a cell phone call without first saying ‘excuse me’ and walking away from the table.”
Each student then has to write a paper documenting any blunders occurring at the dinner and describing which classroom etiquette lessons they found most and least helpful. Students who get an “F” on the paper don’t graduate.
Bergmeister, whose previous jobs with Metacyte Business Lab and Chrysalis Ventures in Louisville brought her into contact with hundreds of clients, said she drew from her own career experiences when preparing the syllabus for her etiquette class. She also cites formal research showing that people skills account for 85 percent of career success while technical knowledge accounts for only 15 percent.
“To get ahead, you need to practice good manners. You need to treat others with consideration, respect and honesty. You need to show up on time and pronounce names correctly. All of these things make a difference.”
MBA students at UofL also are required to take mini-courses in team building, communication, ethics and negotiation before earning their degrees, she said.
“Knowing how to handle yourself in these areas is essential to succeeding in the business world, even if they’re not always considered standard classroom topics.”