Mariam Filali Meknasi, from Tangiers, after a long career in the business world, decided to create her own institution dedicated to the world of protocol and etiquette. From the master classes she teaches at Business Etiquette et Protocole, to direct and personal protocol and image consultancy, Filali wants good manners and respect for social rules to make diplomacy and business much more fruitful. In an interview with Atalayar, Filali explains how the diplomacy of gestures and image works.
To what extent do relations between Spain and Morocco need good protocol, which is respected and complied with? How do you see protocol in relations between countries?
Protocol is everyone's business, especially businessmen. There are ministries that come to congresses, companies and many visits from both countries. I think there are universal rules that we must respect. And that is so that each of us, Moroccans or Spaniards, can give a professional and common image to promote good business. There are mistakes, because people do not give importance to details, but nowadays details are very important. Flags, presences... Things are different in different countries and you have to take great care of those details.
Beyond a strict question, is it a question of respect?
Exactly, and of business too. When someone from one culture knows other cultures, it is easier to respect each other and communication flows better. We should not judge the people in front of us. We should work to make our partners feel as good as possible.
Tell us what your company does.
In my company we do training. Especially in etiquette and cultural diversity. For the diplomatic and business sectors. We also work a lot on tableware. We Moroccans have the habit of eating with our hands, but if there is a congress, we need to know how to use cutlery in a universal way. Another way is communication through image. Everyone has their own style of dress, but a special style can be found to make the branding of a businessman or diplomat unique.
What the Anglo-Saxons call "casual" is often interpreted as a lack of politeness in dress. This is a mistake.
People don't know it's important. This is my goal with Business Etiquette and Protocole. When I talk to people they tell me it's not so important, but first impressions are essential. Rigour, professionalism, that's what every business person or manager needs to convey. From the clothes to the colours. There is a whole colour code in ties. A red tie is for leaders, a little higher than a blue tie. These are details you have to know. When you control these details, you know yourself and your branding better.
It gives you confidence. You mentioned this in your speech at the Spain-Morocco forum held by Atalayar in Seville. A person who respects protocol and abides by the rules transmits confidence to the interlocutor.
This is the way of doing business, I think. When you want to do business with someone, you have to establish trust and this trust can be seen in your posture, in the way you greet, in your charisma, in your dress code. We have to work on our image in order to have credibility.
There is also something very important and that is the preparation before a meeting. Before meeting someone, you should always prepare for the meeting. We cannot meet someone without that preparation. The world of etiquette and protocol is a world of very fine intelligence. It is intention and preparation. Some people think it's best to be spontaneous. I say no.
You don't believe in Mediterranean improvisation?
Well, if you control your image and you know your personality and you have your limits, that's fine. But there are a lot of mistakes and this is what can cause a lack of respect for the other.
When you go to a meeting you have to know which people are going and what is the purpose of the meeting. That is why preparation is necessary. I don't go to see people. You have to prepare everything.
And although the internet is very interesting, physical contact is essential.
Exactly. And I'll also tell you that there is such a thing as web-etiquette. Comments, words, reactions on networks. All this counts too. In French the term is "recadrage". When someone tells you that everything is going badly, you have to turn it around and transform the messages into positive ones. This is also image. Communicate positively.
Often, as Valdano said, "football is a state of mind", but in business and human relations, if you don't transmit positivity, you don't move forward and you fail.
Yes, everyone has problems. The business world is not easy so we must have a good mentality. You work on all this. Well-being is very important. From the etiquette of networking we have to recommend someone else, and when we recommend someone else we give an image of courtesy, a philosophy of sharing.
Are we too old-fashioned? Isn't modernity about lack of education or lack of grooming?
Now many young people say that etiquette is old-fashioned. I think digitalisation has meant that many rules of being have been lost over time, but I think that today gratitude and respect are slowly coming back when I talk to people and explain why we have to go back to this. It is also a form of peace message.
When we are with different cultures and we do things that don't frustrate each other and we don't judge, that's the beginning. But I try to go one step further. To get to know their culture, to be interested, to get to know their way of life. I believe that this harmony is conducive to peace.
Today I believe that we have to give this message of peace with our image.
In this respect for rules and protocol, where does Morocco stand? Sometimes the image of a Morocco that doesn't care much about manners resurfaces, but we often see young people who do respect the rules.
Yes, in 2016, many people thought it was a joke what I did, but I was very convinced that this was very important for companies, institutions, ambassadors... Today, people know me as "Miss etiquette". So well, etiquette is here, so it is important, I can say that many people follow me on Linkedin and privately assure me that everything we do from my company is very important and that it is not easy at all.
I always reply that just doing it once is not enough. You have to repeat it every day so that it becomes a habit, a habit.
What would you tell any Spaniard to do if he comes to Morocco?
They should observe. They should observe how we Moroccans act and not judge us. Then they should adapt, with Moroccans and with local people, to know how we speak, how we greet each other. It would be good to have a guide with the rules of social etiquette, so that people know how we Moroccans do all this. I think that way we can create a harmony so that when we meet each other the negotiation will be much easier.
Fleeing from clichés and observing.
And getting experience on the ground. If you want to know something, you have to go to the place.
Yes, and talk. Here in Tangiers, for example, most people speak Spanish, so there is an ease of communication to understand how we live and how we think. We are different.
But we can understand each other and live together.
Would you dare to say that our interests are complementary despite our differences?
Yes, of course. No doubt about it. Everybody, even the Asians who have a very different way of living, but we have to understand them as well. I think that if we learn this and make an effort to enter into each other's world, then negotiations will be better.