For today’s business men and women, conquering the mystery of proper business etiquette can be a challenge. Do you write a thank you note and when do you write it? Who pays when you invite a colleague to a business breakfast, lunch or dinner? These are very legitimate questions. Although the answers may not be so simple, this article covers a few basic etiquette questions and clears up some of the mystery. But remember, mystery or not, business etiquette is important.
The rationale for business etiquette is the same as it is for personal etiquette – it is a way to put your best foot forward as part of courteous and respectful behavior. However, in today’s world, there is often a lack of common courtesy let alone proper business etiquette. According to a study found in the online magazine, Etiquette Guide, a November 14, 2010 article stated that “lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a serious national problem.”
In fact, etiquette is taken so seriously in some business settings that CEO’s send their executives to etiquette training. They realize how important it is for their top executives to be on their best behavior. After all, they are a reflection of the company.
For example, there should be no mystery about whether you thank someone for a kindness, such as granting you a job interview or providing a particularly favorable referral. Today, everyone turns to emails for correspondence, but unless time is an issue, take the time to stand out. Using your best stationary, mail your handwritten thank you note. A handwritten note automatically says you went above and beyond. However, if time is a factor, by all means, send a well written email. The key is a timely thank you.
The handshake is another part of etiquette that often causes consternation. Should you stand when a new person enters the room and then, offer the hand shake? The simple answer is that whether you are man or woman, stand.
Who extends his or her hand first for the handshake? In the past, etiquette dictated that a woman extend her hand first. (But then women also wore gloves as part of their business attire.) Gender is no longer as important in the handshake when you are in a business setting. If you are female, please, extend your hand. The point is, shaking hands is part of the customary greeting in most Western cultures. Stand up, extend your hand with thumb up, give a firm (not limp nor gorilla tight) grasp, and shake for 2 – 3 seconds. And please, if you’re not introduced, say your full name. If you are introduced, repeat the name of the person you are meeting.
With the proliferation of technology, a whole new set of etiquette practices should be observed. Checking your email or text messages during a business meeting is bad form. So is actually answering a call. That is just rude! And do not call, text or email others while in a meeting. That is also rude and shows a lack of respect for others in the room. Resist temptation – turn off the phone.
If you are taking notes on a laptop or tablet during a meeting, silence the clicks of the keyboard, if you can. You may not be particularly aware of those little tap-taps, but others may find the sound distracting, annoying and rude. Instead, use the record button on your tablet or smartphone.
Another breach of etiquette is communicating with a coworker or colleague at all hours of the night. Texting gives the feeling that communication should take place at any time. That is far from true and it is only right (not to mention, healthy) that boundaries are established between work life and home life. The exception might be work on a special project that is keeping all those involved up and working.
Another mystery? Who picks up the tab at breakfast, lunch or dinner? The general rule is that if you did the inviting, reach for the check – mystery solved. Better yet, arrange to pay the tab even before your colleague arrives to avoid any ambiguity.
Speaking of dinner, brush up on the rules of proper etiquette during a meal. Keep in mind that there aren’t separate rules for business meals versus meals in any other setting, at any other time. Etiquette at the table is etiquette at the table. For instance, it is proper to wait for everyone at the table to be served before you start eating. Also, learn to use the right fork or know which is your bread plate and which is your neighbor’s. There are classes to teach you that. Knowing what and how to conduct yourself is a big confidence booster.
If you are doing business globally, it goes without saying that you should become familiar with the etiquette of the country you are visiting. Committing a faux pas during the course of business could cost you business.
Although these are quite common questions, the rules don’t stop with these few. Stepping into any situations using proper etiquette is always a good idea. Even if no one else practices them, your good manners and taste could mean the difference between getting that promotion or getting the contract. In other words, business etiquette does not have to be a mystery. If necessary, take a class, but please use proper etiquette. Believe it or not, it is a business solution that could give you an edge over your competition.
Let us be the speaker at your next event!