Geek of the Week

Why Manners Matter

Deanna Tryon ’93, the Silicon Valley chief of protocol, explains.

What makes you a geek?
I read and collect etiquette books. I started at the age of 9.

Is protocol the same thing as etiquette?
Protocol is a type of etiquette — the etiquette that governs official international meetings, ceremonies, and visits.

So local executives and elected officials hire you to help them mind their manners?
Yes. I help greet nearly every prime minister or president who visits Silicon Valley. I try to do for Silicon Valley what Charlotte Shultz does for San Francisco: make sure that the rules of diplomacy are followed so that no opportunities are lost.

Could you give an example of an opportunity lost?
Flag etiquette can be extremely important. I’ve heard of local business being lost because another nation’s flag was too small.

You studied government at USF and then earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. What did you learn about protocol at USF?
USF was the perfect institution for interacting with students from all over the world. And the core curriculum, especially classes about comparative religious study, taught me to stay open to different points of view.

OK, but isn’t protocol a relic from an era of debutante balls, lobster forks, and imperialism?
No. Protocol is not about classism or oppression. Protocol is courtesy and respect. When people feel respected and welcome — and know where to sit — positive experiences follow. When respect is not shown, offense will be taken and walls will go up.

What’s your top etiquette advice to someone whose cultural awareness might be a bit shaky?
Listen. Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Wait for a handshake from a person of higher rank. Shake hands with just your right hand, not both hands. Be aware of varying notions of personal space. Dress “one level up” to show respect. After a ceremony or meal or job interview, send a thank-you note. 

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