Interview with Callista Gould, Etiquette Expert, Founder of Culture and Manners Institute

Callista-Gould_190-3201. Callista, what essentially is etiquette and why does it matter?

The biggest misconception is that etiquette is a bunch of stuffy rules, designed to confine. Etiquette is really about being aware of the people around us and attentive to their needs. I always tell college students, “If you use that as your guide, all the rules about table manners will make sense.”

2. How can learning proper etiquette improve our lives?

Basic human kindness makes our lives easier. For example, when our computer breaks down at work and we want to throw it into the fake lake on the corporate campus, it gets fixed a lot faster when we treat the IT people with patience, kindness and gratitude, rather than taking out our anger and frustration on them. When trouble comes…pour a little sugar on it.

People want so badly to correct other people’s behavior. The morning one of my etiquette columns ran in the local newspaper, I received a call from a gentleman who said, “My wife and I are sitting at McDonald’s having breakfast and this guy at the next table is clipping his fingernails. Can I say something to him?” It’s never polite to correct anyone else’s etiquette in public… unless they call you, “Mom” or “Dad.” I suggested they move to another table.

3. What attracted you to this line of work? Do you have any mentors or role models?

The Miss American Pageant answer is, “I wanted to promote world peace.” Before becoming an etiquette instructor, I spent many years in the trenches for both large and small companies, where I saw how a few people behaving badly can really negatively impact a company’s bottom line. I wanted to help improve communications and understanding in the workplace for people in business, plus give college students the training I wish I had had. With my business background, and my MBA, I felt like I could make a difference.

When I worked for Sony Music (Columbia and Epic Recording labels) marketing and planning events for artists from Celine Dion to Luther Vandross to Ozzy Osborne, I was able to see how a lot of artists treated people behind the scenes and how that affected their career. There are some very talented artists, whose names you’ll never know, because they treated people badly and no one wanted to promote them.

Mentors or role models:

Frank Murray, my CEO at both Amana Appliances and InterTech Media, was such an exciting person to work for because of his strategic vision – I learned so much about running a business from him. And certainly, Maria Everding of the Etiquette Institute in St. Louis, who is my etiquette mentor.

4. How does someone know they may need etiquette coaching?

Most people don’t know. They usually need to be told by a supervisor or a spouse.

5. What are some of the most common business or social blunders you see people make?

That depends on the generation. I think people glued to their cell phones are the worst offenders. But I was giving a talk to a group of Kiwianis – about 80 men over age 80 – and their biggest etiquette pet peeve was young men who walk into a restaurant or bar and don’t remove their ball caps.

6. What advice/tips can you give to those of us who may be etiquette challenged?

The most important rule of etiquette is to break any rule of etiquette to make the people around us more comfortable.

7. Where did you learn your craft? How does one pursue this as a career?

I went through an etiquette certification program in St. Louis with Maria Everding. I liked Maria, because she had experience in both Business and Social Etiquette. She also had good advice about how to get started and what kind of clients to pursue. I would recommend her program to anyone.

8. What has been the most challenging aspect of your work?

I am naturally clumsy. One time I was giving a dining tutorial to a group of engineers at a country club and there was a lighted candle on my demo table. I was holding notes in one hand and accidentally set them on fire. My flaming notes set the tablecloth on fire. It’s hard to talk about grace and poise while pounding out a fire with a dinner fork.

The most rewarding?

I once had an elderly woman come up to me after a talk and say, “That was really entertaining – I saw you in that suit and thought you were going to be a real stiff.” I said, “Thank you… I think.”

images Cg 19. Can you talk about the most impacting use of etiquette you have seen displayed?

The exceptional manager hand writes personal notes to his or her staff. One of my bosses used to write great hand written thank you notes on memos and in fold-over notes. I used to keep them in a folder in my desk. It was a great motivator.

10. In my work, I coach some City College of Chicago students on soft skills. What areas of focus do you think are most important for them?

They should know an interview does not begin when we meet the interviewer, it begins at the front door with the security guards, the receptionist or executive assistant – we should be kind, attentive and upbeat to everyone we meet on the way in and out. Eye contact and a firm handshake are important.

A friend of mine in Human Resources says the handshake is the most important part of the interview and the thing people mess up the most. Good conversation skills are essential. I was on an airplane recently, where I sat next a gentleman in commercial real who said he looks for conversation skills in college interns and new hires, because they must be able to talk to clients.

11. What advice can you give our readers that would add significant velocity to their personal or business success?

Write thank you notes. Too many think an email thank you will suffice. But a hand-written or typed-written thank you sticks around longer and has greater impact.

12. Please tell us something about you we have not covered, that our Soft Skills Magazine followers would appreciate knowing?

I have a free Etiquette Tip of the Week that goes out every Tuesday – people can find out more about that on my website: and I’m also on Twitter @MannersThatMove

Callista Gould is a Certified Etiquette Instructor and Founder of the Culture and Manners Institute. Her experience includes serving as Director of Marketing for InterTech Media, a pioneer in web video; leading the public relations department for Amana Appliances; and marketing and event planning for Sony Music in Chicago for artists such as Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Ozzy Osborne and Korn. She has an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago and a Bachelors in English from the University of Iowa. Her Etiquette Tip of the Week blog can be found on and sometimes…she Tweets.

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