Business Etiquette/Spouse at a Business Dinner

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Question
Dear Vicky,

I'm writing to you from UK desperately seeking advice.

I have been asked by my significant other if I would accompany him to an evening business dinner with a Russian associate who's spouse will also be present. I have accepted but now I'm slightly panicked.

My partner is a business development manager in the oil and gas industry (something I know little about but quite willing to research). My background is in recruitment and whilst I have been to business lunches before for my own work I have never been to a business dinner in the evening and nor I have I been to a meal where spouses have been in attendance.

I have no idea what the correct protocol is! What is my role for the night? Appropriate attire? Conversation topics?

Naturally I will seek guidance from my partner but I would like to get some back up advice so I handle the situation with poise and help make it a successful event for him.

Many Thanks.

Answer
Dear Pam.

Thank you for writing to ask this question. First off, there is no need to panic. With a bit of preparation and homework, you will handle the evening with poise and confidence and have a wonderful evening.

You mention that your partner is in the oil and gas industry and that you don't know much about it. I suspect that you won't be expected to, but to be completely covered, perhaps ask your partner to "coach" you on the top two or three issues in the field. That way, if you are asked anything about the industry you will be in agreement with your partner.

Your role for the evening is to be the perfect corporate partner. In terms of clothing, it means matching whatever your partner wears with its female equivalent. If he wears a suit and tie, then you should wear a suit, or a jacket and dress. If attire is a bit more casual, then relax your outfit to fit his. For example, if he wears a jacket and tie, then you should wear a jacket and skirt.

Conversation should be free and natural. It's a good idea to brush up on general current events. For this, I suggest picking up two newspapers a day for the next several: the first, a business-oriented newspaper and the second, an entertainment-oriented newspaper. Read every article on the front page of the business-oriented newspaper; skim the entertainment-oriented newspaper, cover to cover. The idea is to be well versed in a current movie or two; a sporting event or two; and a current event or two. Now you're covered.

As a final bit of preparation, ask your partner if the associate has any passions or hobbies. Let's suppose he collects art. Ask your partner if he knows what kind of art it is. Which painter does he like best? Then Google that painter or type of art and pull up three articles about it. You can never go wrong asking about people's hobbies.

The general protocol with social dinner conversation is to spend 50% of your time talking with one dinner partner and 50% of your time with the other dinner partner. In a dinner of four, this means, 50% of your time with the associate and 50% with his spouse. If the four of you spend all night in one conversation, don't worry about it. Just think of the 50%-50% as a general guideline; you don't want to ignore someone at the table. If your partner is busy talking to the associate, then be sure to talk with his spouse. If your partner is chatting with his spouse, then talk to the associate.

The fact that you wrote to ask these questions bodes extremely well for the evening. Good luck, and above all, have fun!

Best,

Vicky Oliver

Business Etiquette

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Vicky Oliver

Expertise

I am an expert on traditional American business etiquette, including dining rules and regulations for the 21st century, making a good first impression (and how to fix a bad one), meeting etiquette, conversational tips, and dressing for success. I also have written about new media etiquette--how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to enhance your professional reputation. I am not an expert on wedding etiquette or international business etiquette.

Experience

I am the author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse, 2010) and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005). I have received over 301 media mentions on topics pertaining to business etiquette, job interviewing, and style on a budget.

Organizations
Brown University Club in New York; Trinity Alumni & Alumnae Association

Publications
The Investment Professional Magazine; Crain's New York Business.com; The Charlotte Weekly; SimplyBudgeted.com; SavingsAdvice.com; The Review Mom; Personal Finance Advice.com.

Education/Credentials
Brown University, B.A., English Honors; double major in Political Science

Awards and Honors
How-To Winner, Paris Book Festival; How-To Runner-Up, London Book Festival; Eric Hoffer Award First Runner-Up in Business;"Best Business: Career Book of 2010" in the National Best Books Awards.

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