Have you ever been in a business situation and witnessed an event that was so cringe-worthy, it left you saying “Really?” If so, think about the impression that behavior left on you and the negative connotation attached to it.
While the word ‘etiquette’ may seem out of date or even old-fashioned, the simple fact is that common courtesies still prevail. Etiquette is about respect, good manners, and good behavior. It is not just about one of these but is a combination of all of them rolled into one. Clients and colleagues have an expectation that you will conduct yourself professionally, civilly and appropriately. Bad manners leave an unfavorable impression, and this can often be difficult to shake.
Make time for manners
Unfortunately, in today’s high-tech, fast-paced world, our belief may be that we are too busy or have more pressing things to do than practice correct protocol. Sending a simple ‘thank you’, replying on time, exchanging business cards correctly, and returning a call appear to have gone by the wayside.
During the first few seconds of meeting someone, perceptions are formed, and first impressions can be long lasting. Presentation, body language, and behavior are critical as there’s only a small window of opportunity in which to impress. Do you have confidence and integrity? Are you friendly and self-assured? Are you capable and knowledgeable? Do you appear trustworthy and ethical? These are just some of the assumptions clients and colleagues will form about you.
Indeed, Sir Richard Branson in his book Losing My Virginity says “I tend to make up my mind about people within 30 seconds of meeting them”. Interestingly, a lot of research has been conducted that supports Sir Richard’s proposition.
Etiquette is also essential at work functions. From a management perspective, employees are professionally on display when they are networking, and attending client meetings and conferences.
Senior managers often observe the way staff conduct themselves at these gatherings as behavior may reveal their true character. In this day and age, many business functions are surrounded in social occasion; however, they are not a social event. For those seeking career progression, be mindful that work functions are strictly business and not the time to gain reputation as the office stripper or party animal.
From workplace etiquette to ‘netiquette’
What about workplace etiquette? Perhaps you have a team member who likes to shout across partitions, talk loudly on the phone, or constantly interrupt others. Alternatively, you might know of the serial CC’er – the team member who likes to copy all staff into their emails. Thankfully, such behaviors can be fine-tuned and refined.
Professional conduct is by no means limited to face-to-face transactions but also extends to your online behavior or ‘netiquette’. The use of social media in business is ever-increasing, so knowing the correct rules in this arena is just as crucial. Websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and LinkedIn are an extension of your brand, and again any content or comments must be appropriate.
Unfortunately, most behavior that is perceived as disrespectful is actually unintentional, and the person who practiced it didn’t quite understand the rules for that situation. I really believe that most people don’t purposely set out to embarrass themselves or others.
Here are my top 10 tips for correct business protocol:
1. Deliver a well-executed, firm handshake
2. Ensure you introduce yourself and others
3. Be well groomed and dress suitably for your role
4. Learn the art of conversation and small talk
5. Carry sufficient, clean-looking business cards
6. Be mindful of your table manners
7. In business, if you invite, you pay
8. Switch off mobile phones and put away during meetings
9. Keep emails short and to the point
10. Avoid the hard-sell or being too pushy
Implementing the correct rules for networking, client entertainment, meet and greet, handshaking and distributing business cards may seem a little daunting if you’re not sure what to do. However, the great news is that business protocol can be learned and, with practice, will become second nature. Good manners costs you nothing; however, the value is that you will gain in credibility, confidence, and ultimately your bottom line.
This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Nikki Heald, a founder of Corptraining and co-author of Views on the Way to the Top. It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.