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Defensive etiquette for the business jungle

SHOULD the businessman greet female clients with a kiss? Are old school ties de rigueur in the egalitarian offices of Major's classless Britain? Is it too dangerous to seduce one's secretary? Can one fax a client important letters to save on courier fees? writes James Bethell.

Here are some of the answers, according to Debrett's Guide to Business Etiquette. Never make the crass error of sending a typed reply to a hand-written invitation. Or leave a client waiting at a restaurant instead of having his secretary phone ahead.

Smoking in the office is out, as is office romance. Nothing is as dangerous as committing a sexual indiscretion.

In these days of increasing job insecurity, Debrett's gives advice for those facing the dismal task of giving someone the sack. The bullet is the bullet, it says, and no amount of honeyed words will change that. A black plastic bag and an escorted march to the exit are considered counter-productive. If whoever is sacked starts to cry, they should be given the opportunity to do so, in the privacy of the washroom if necessary.

Finally, doing business abroad is another source of embarrassment for British business people. Jolly, amateur ways go down like a lead balloon in America, where lack of preparation is considered downright rude, the guide warns.

And, whatever happens, never make the awful mistake of trying to conduct business in Kentucky during the deer-shooting season, whenever that is.

Debrett's tells the story of an executive who, staring at the curves of a colleague's alluring silk blouse, made a compliment about her beautiful suit. In no time he was facing disciplinary proceedings and dismissal just for uttering those fateful words: 'Nice suit.'