HTM Grad Advises Students, Business Professionals Not to Neglect "Soft Skills"
November 16, 2016
“People cringe when they hear the word etiquette,” observed professional trainer and Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) grad Susan Callender ’86 during a recent visit to Isenberg. “Given some of its traditional cultural connotations, that’s understandable. I use the term only so that people can find me,” noted the founder and owner of Boston-based Oh My Gauche! Susan and her business empower organizations and their employees with “soft” skills, notably in communication and interpersonal skills development.
“Business professionals at all levels, including Isenberg graduates, focus on being good at their tasks,” Susan continued. Many of them, though, neglect the soft skills. Whether you’re in finance, marketing, or engineering, practice and commitment to those skills can bring enhanced confidence, clarity and finesse in communication, and prowess in influencing coworkers, employers, and clients.
HTM students, Susan added, can improve their soft skills too, even though, she said, they have a head start in that domain. “In my experience, HTM students are typically more polite, gracious, and empathetic. They readily understand the feelings of others,” remarked Callender, who during her day-long visit to Isenberg shared advice in HTM classes, including a “business etiquette” dinner.
Her Back Pages
During her own student days, Susan began at UMass Amherst as a zoology major, but after meeting legendary HTM (then HRTA) department chair Stevenson Fletcher—she promptly switched to hospitality. “That meeting changed my life; HTM was where I belonged; everything clicked,” she remarked. During her first job after graduation—at a four star hotel in Boston where she helped host formal events—she took umbrage over guests who failed to RSVP or invitees who showed up in polo shirts and other gauche get-ups.
In 1989, Susan founded Boston Unique Events, a special events and private dining management enterprise that earned Best of Boston honors. After twenty years of best practices and close observation of human behavior, she founded Oh My Gauche! In 2009.
While Susan can talk persuasively about big picture concerns like critical strategic investments in human capital, her emphasis is frequently on the nitty gritty of interpersonal success. Attention to eye contact and body language, using peoples’ names, and cultivating genuine empathy can all make all make a difference. But ultimately, she emphasized, we have to overcome our reluctance and risk aversion that accompany rank, culture, age, and other differences. “Take a co-worker to lunch,” she advised. “Your relationship might well improve.”