A Quick Refresher Course In Business Etiquette

By March 22, 2013Business News, Columns

By Deborah Bullock. Have you ever experienced a business situation or witnessed an event that left you thinking, “Really? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Have you ever experienced someone showing up 15 minutes late and they are running the meeting or said something terribly inappropriate in a business meeting? – I have. Maybe answered their cell phone to check in with their kids during a presentation? – I have.
I don’t think I am alone. We have all run into our fair share of bad business etiquette. Most people operate with an unspoken code of behavior and respect. While, this code may be a lost art form to some – it is deeply engrained in others.

This can be the difference between the rising star whose career is picking up speed and his counterpart who can’t seem to get off the ground. Often, the star has mastered the nuances of business etiquette — the subtle but critical behaviors that can make or break an important meeting, influence a first impression or impress a potential client.
According to Hilka Klinkenberg, director of Etiquette International, a business etiquette firm, the basics of professional etiquette are really quite simple.

• First, understand the difference between business etiquette and social etiquette. Business etiquette is genderless. For example, the traditional chivalrous etiquette of holding the door open for a woman is not necessary in the workplace and can even have the unintended effect of offending her. In the work environment, men and women are peers.

• Second, your guiding principle should always be to treat people with consideration and respect. Although this may seem obvious, Klinkenberg cites this basic decency is a frequent casualty in today’s workplace.

Here are a few of the specific dos and don’ts of business etiquette you are likely to encounter during your workday to help you successfully and confidently move forward without putting people off.

The proper way to make an introduction is to introduce a lower-ranking person to a higher-ranking person. For example, if your CEO is Mrs. Jones and you are introducing administrative assistant Jane Smith to her, the correct introduction would be “Mrs. Jones, I’d like you to meet Jane Smith.” If you forget a person’s name while making an introduction, don’t panic. Proceed with the introduction with a statement such as, “I’m sorry, your name has just slipped my mind.” Omitting an introduction is a bigger faux pas than salvaging a botched introduction.
Also the physical connection you make when shaking hands with someone can leave a powerful impression. A firm handshake made with direct eye contact sets the stage for a positive encounter. Women take note: To avoid any confusion during an introduction, always extend your hand when greeting someone. Remember, men and women are equals in the workplace.

business office 2Social Media
Don’t go around posting your sales pitch on a company’s or individuals Facebook wall. Social media is for connecting but after discovering a prospective client via social media, it is then time to approach them privately and personally, not publicly. Not only will approaching them personally increase you chance of success; it will prevent you from looking unrespectable to onlookers.

Appropriate emails have eluded many otherwise successful professionals. Emails should be kept short. Busy people don’t want to sift through fluffy information to find the point. It is both disrespectful of their time and you could lose their business. Short and factual is the way to go. Edit, edit, edit, your recipients will thank you.
As much as possible keep emails personal. Follow up with every person you speak with via phone or email. Never send mass email messages! If you have a general announcement, at least change the first paragraph a bit to connect on a more personal level to the recipient.
As a side note, email your grandma with emoticons after every sentence, but please forget these additions when you are at work.

Don’t try to sell yourself to someone from the first moment you meet them. Networking is about meeting potential connections, partners, and developing quality relationships – it is not about closing the deal at that moment.
Also when you meet someone and accept their business card, ask if it is okay to add them to your marketing list. It is proper etiquette to extend them the opportunity to decline so your relationship is not damaged.


In this hectic world it is often forgotten to say thanks to all those that help you along your journey. Always respect the time and generosity of those who help you along the way; even something as small as a ‘Thank You’ note or gift can go far in showing your gratitude.

Text messages are for personal connections not business communication. In today’s world, it’s so easy to fall back on our technology and never have a real conversation with someone. Pick up the phone, or go for coffee to keep in touch.

Vince Lombardi said it best, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, don’t bother showing up.” This may sound obvious but never, under any circumstances show up late. I am constantly surprised how people think being late is acceptable. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Tardiness is the quickest way to never get the deal done.

business office 3Attentive
Have you ever had a conversation with someone at an event and they are constantly looking behind you or around you? Clearly, they aren’t into you! How did that make you feel? I can’t believe how many people do that today. It makes people feel uneasy, and unimportant. Guess what the end result of that will be? They will NOT want to connect with you again.

If you say you’re going to do something – Do It! Your follow through will weigh heavy in your favor, even the smallest tasks. Nothing builds a business relationship stronger and faster than being reliable.

Maintaining proper communication is of high importance in the business world. The promptness in which you respond to phone calls and emails sends a message about how much you care. To show that your job and coworkers are important to you, you should reply to emails and phone calls as quickly as possible- typically within 24 hours. It is also important to keep emails appropriate. This means using proper spelling and grammar, avoiding any casual internet lingo, and maintaining a friendly and professional tone. You should also avoid using obscure fonts, bright colors, all caps, underlining, and italicizing whenever possible.
You should always use appropriate language in the workplace. Even if you are speaking to a friend on break, your coworkers or supervisors may overhear your conversation; so, it is always wise to keep your language and topic of discussion appropriate. Curse words should never be used in the work place, and all racial slurs should be avoided as well. It is also important to avoided using slang, as it may cause you to appear less intelligent and unprofessional.

Other Cultures
In our ever changing world of global integration or if your company does work internationally, always respect the other cultures. While you needn’t be fluent in every language you do business in, an attempt to learn at least a portion of a language can demonstrate a strong desire for cooperation and respect. Other cultural differences such as holidays and table manners should be studied before any international meeting.

Cell Phones
The mobile phone is one of our most important tools in business. So important, that we may forget that “anywhere and everywhere” is not our office.
If you must take a call when you are face-to-face with someone, first excuse yourself politely with a brief explanation as to why the call is especially urgent and can’t wait. Then, move to a location where you can respect the personal space of others. Some recommend that you move at least 10 feet away and be aware of the volume and tone of your voice. Ideally, though, you should avoid interrupting a face-to-face conversation to take a cell phone call. Interrupting the party you are with sends a message that he or she is less important than the caller.
Avoid checking that smartphone in meetings. This applies to visually checking for text messages, emails and missed calls, or listening to voicemails. At best it signals that you are distracted and not giving your full attention to the meeting. At worst it says you find the people in the meeting to be boring or unimportant. If you are expecting a call from the White House at any moment — then yes, I can accept you glancing at your phone. Short of rare circumstances like that, don’t even take your mobile phone out during meetings.

But Also Remember the Basics Too….
Above all else, remember the simplest manners you were taught as a child. “Please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” are some of the most basic spoken manners, and yet some of the most forgotten.

Always treat people as ends in themselves, never as means to an end.”
― Immanuel Kant


About Deborah Bullock: A lifetime resident of the Fraser Valley, Deborah has built a successful and storied career as a social planning engineer, media and marketing guru, professional fund raiser and convention and events architect.

Deborah Bullock & Associates
Event Architects

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