Martin-Colman demonstrates the correct way to eat salad. Photo by James Kellar


You’ve got to play by the rules to win in business, and that means observing proper etiquette at all times, says Michelle Martin-Colman, a certified protocol consultant.

The word “etiquette,” she explains, derives from the French word meaning “rules,” originally established to govern conduct in the king’s court. Such guidelines are no less important in modern society, she believes, but they may be harder to decipher—which is why her expertise is important.

“I do dress for success, image consulting, interpersonal communication,” she lists. The classes she teaches include “Dine Like a Diplomat,” “Business Interview Etiquette for Today,” and “Bedside Manner.”

With over 30 years in the field, her expertise has made her the go-to source for clients like the Kelley School of Business Junior Executive Institute, the IU Student Foundation, and a number of government agencies throughout the state. She also offers one-on-one training and corporate packages.

“Etiquette and civility are really habits, and my work is to help people assume positive habits that we know to be effective in creating smooth interactions with people and getting our goals met,” she says. Below, she offers a few tips on correcting common etiquette errors.

• Don’t touch the food and drink at networking events. You may think you’re being sociable by partaking of the bar and buffet table, but Martin-Colman advises against it. “If you’re there to find a job, it’s not about eating and drinking. I have never seen holding a drink be successful in a situation where you are trying to communicate about yourself and your abilities,” she says. Instead, she suggests eating beforehand and taking water breaks.

• Get enough rest. Don’t try to impress your boss with your long hours if it’s affecting your health. “Employers are looking for people who are healthy. It shows up in the tone of your voice, in your skin, in your level of enthusiasm,” she says. “So rest and exercise are huge parts of etiquette for well-being.”

• Women should put on a skirt. If you’re a woman in a position of professional authority, you can leave “wearing the pants” to someone else. Martin-Colman says research demonstrates that clients of female attorneys, accountants, and doctors prefer to put their trust in a woman who wears a skirt suit. “When a woman is in a position of making life-changing decisions for them, people want to see that woman in a skirt,” she says.