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Your parents probably said "Mind your manners" a dozen times a day, but don't be surprised if your boss starts saying the same thing.

Vicki Cummings Sorenson thinks Americans have become so lax about good manners that it is hurting careers and costing corporations a fortune.Something as simple as etiquette might not seem important, but Sorenson sees it as a major factor in career and business enhancement especially as Utah and the United States move toward a global economy.

"One of the things we like to say is that etiquette by itself won't get you anywhere, but it will give you the edge over someone else who's just as smart," she said. "Good manners are a necessity to get ahead in today's world."

Her contention is backed by business guru Peter Drucker who said in Business Month Magazine, "Be ready or be lost; if you don't think globally, you deserve to be unemployed and you will be."

Additionally, Sorenson quotes a Wall Street Journal article that said only 20 percent of American business people sent abroad can be expected to succeed, while 40 percent to 60 percent will fail in their negotiating efforts. "Training for employees prior to an overseas assignment can save companies tens of thousands of dollars, benefit the employee and increase the company's chances of being successful abroad," the article said.

Sorenson, who lives in St. George, has been certified by the Protocol School of Washington based in Washington, D.C. She also has completed a course of study at the International Etiquette School of America in Coral Gables, Fla.

She already has done some consulting work in this area, including helping with the Utah visit by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. After doing more research this year, she plans to launch a business in 1997 to help business men and women polish up on protocol.

Her interest in this began when running the National Institute of Fitness in St. George, which she and her husband founded.

"I hosted international guests for 13 years. Learning about other people and their customs and various cultures has always fascinated me," Sorenson said.

She also attended two gala events honoring ambassadors in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles - and discovered she felt a bit wary. "I remember thinking, `I'm pretty good at etiquette, but I'm feeling a little inadequate here.' I wanted to pursue this for my own benefit."

Proper etiquette is more than just knowing which fork to use.

Sorenson defines it as the knowing etiquette rules so you can be confident in any business or social setting - and be able to put others at ease.

Before she embarked on formal training, "I had no idea how lax many of us in the West have become. Americans tend to be noisy, in a hurry and a bit insensitive and unaware of what's happening in other cultures. Just being able to make proper introductions or handling oneself at a formal dinner are things a lot of people need to fine tune a bit."

Americans also have become cavalier about traditions that once were part of their own national scene. For example, with the exception of newlyweds, writing thank you notes is almost a dying art.

People also are lackadaisical about sending an RSVP to invitations, which is a real burden for a host or hostess who has to arrange for food. "I think it's terribly rude," Sorenson said.

As a business owner with a staff of 100, Sorenson also has been amazed at the sloppy clothes some people have worn when applying for jobs.

"If they don't take enough pride in themselves to get fixed up for an interview, how could I trust them on the job?" she asks. "A lot of times our attitude and overall job performance stems from how we feel about ourselves. If we're wearing flip flops and halter tops, I don't think we do justice to ourselves or present a good overall image."

Good manners are not just for the rich and famous (many of them can be boorish beyond belief), but are important in everyday business life.

"A lot of people think it's about being rich and stuffy - I'm not advocating snobbishness here," Sorenson said. "Good manners is not about being phony or stiff."

The business world has changed and even the best informed corporate executive might do well to brush up on etiquette. Among other things, the emerging and different roles for women have presented some new challenges.

There was a time when men stood for introductions and shook hands. Today, women should stand up to meet a new individual and be the first to extend a hand for a handshake. "I find women are still sitting there. That's a faux pas in today's world. Gender is irrelevant in the business arena."

Things have changed even in the last decade. "A lot of times in 1980s, it was enough to be technically brilliant, but now corporations are unwilling to send someone on the front lines unless they have a little polish," Sorenson said.

People from other countries often go to considerable lengths to adapt to U.S. customs. She said the Japanese, who are extremely protocol-conscious, spend an estimated $200 million each year preparing executives before they go overseas to conduct business.

Americans have overcome the Ugly American image to some degree, but still need improvement. Many Americans are seen as extraordinarily casual and even brash on the international scene, doing such things as asking a European how much money he makes or how many children she has - things that simply aren't done in other cultures.

"One of my goals is to make this a hot topic," Sorenson said. "I want to light the fire under teenagers to let them know how important it is for them to know these things. For them to get the best jobs or promotions, they have to be savvy about these things or they're going to be bypassed by those who are."