As the world of work is changing, so are the social norms and etiquettes that come with it. Business etiquette is not a new concept but is very much something that has developed over the past years. But if you haven’t been surrounded by a business family or the business world it can be hard to know the rules and known etiquette when it comes to business.
What is business etiquette?
Business etiquette is the set of rules that govern the way that business people interact with each other. Building relationships and networking is key to being a successful entrepreneur and even as an employee it’s important to learn these skills. Although a good and solid business idea is important, good business is about people and speaking to the right person in the right way. The way that you interact can be very telling as to how you are perceived. Having good business etiquette could very much be the difference between influencing someone and failing.
You can’t beat the first impression
Introductions are primary to business etiquette. Knowing who you want to connect with and introducing people whenever you get the chance gives you the opportunity to make someone feel valued. It doesn’t take a lot to do your research on someone. With tools like social media, we can find out small details about the people we network with and introduce (it is important to keep these details professional and not too personal) and show that we’ve made that extra bit of effort.
When it comes to the protocol in the business of introducing people, there is a bit of an art to it. When introducing in a group setting there is an understanding shown of respect and those who perhaps may be senior in ranking or expertise. First, state the name of the person being introduced, this would typically be the higher-ranking person or more well-known person and follow with ‘please meet’ or ‘I would like to introduce you to’. This would then be followed by the person’s name. This is a great time to offer some information to the parties about one another, this would typically be a point of interest or commonality to both of them. This is not the time to elaborate on all the intricate details of people’s lives, but an opportunity to allow the parties to connect and conversate with each other.
Basic manners still exist in business
Basic manners run parallel to business etiquette and basic courtesy is still imperative and important. Sending a ‘thank-you’ note or email will be just as well-received as if you were thanking someone for a gift. By implementing simple manners can allow someone to consider you a pleasure to work within the business world. By simply saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, you can establish a basic form of courtesy. Whether this is in an email or in person, going out of your way to establish a mannered and make someone feel appreciated will work wonders for your network and people will remember you in a fond way. Manners never go amiss when it comes to business etiquette.
Basic manners include being thoughtful and mindful of those around you, being assertive but not argumentative and, of course, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. This may seem like an extremely basic request, but you would be surprised at how many people forget that the basics can be key and are of course vital when it comes to manners and business etiquette.
A handshake goes a long way
A handshake is a simple gesture and can go a long way. A Fortune 500 CEO expressed that if he had to choose between two similarly qualified candidates, he would choose the one with the better handshake. A handshake can symbolise being confident and approachable. It can also be just what you need to set the tone of an encounter or a conversation, it establishes a sense of professionalism and is still very much a valid gesture in the world of business and business etiquette.
Do not interrupt
As the way of communication has changed, the way that people talk about themselves has also changed. There is a tendency to speak about yourself and you can easily fall down the rabbit hole of taking over the conversation because you want to share your opinion. Sharing your opinion is absolutely fine, but at the expense of others is absolutely not. Interrupting others in a conversation is an absolute no when it comes to business etiquette. It can be the case that you don’t even realise that you are doing this, but this may be something that you look out for next time you are in a conversation because the power of really listening in the business world can actually help make you seem more assertive than your realise.
Interrupting can often run parallel with putting people down, and although business is a competitive industry, there is still room for everyone.
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Check and then double-check again
Being vigilant in the world of business is something that will absolutely streamline your business etiquette. When sending emails or even creating a networking event, check and then double-check and then double-check again. When it comes to making small mistakes, like spelling someone’s name wrong in an email can make you look sloppy, unprofessional and like you rush things. None of these traits is what you really want to be associated with in the world of business.
Generally, adopting the habit of double-checking things and being vigilant is an excellent trait to have as someone who has entered the business world or is looking to cement their business etiquette. It can be what sets you apart in the industry and is known to be vigilant, in the business world, is not a bad thing.
Being Foul-Mouthed is a no-no
The world of business and entrepreneurship is by no means an easy one and at times, will probably make you want to swear, but it’s important to remain a level of formality in both your emails and verbal interactions. It may seem obvious, but even when you establish a more casual relationship with someone in business, using swearing or expletive language is not ok in any instance. It removes the line of professionalism and won’t ever be appropriate in a business and working environment. So, to protect yourself and how others may receive your profanity, it’s always better to keep the swearing to a minimum.
Anything that is derogatory and rude has no room in the business world and where it might be commonplace for you to speak with lots of expletives outside of a professional environment, it is best to keep it there.
Calling is a courtesy
Entrepreneurs and people in the business world are busy and often have packed schedules, so calling on them unannounced is generally considered a bad manner. Ensuring that you have the courtesy to call ahead and schedule a meeting time (this could include video calls, phone calls and in-person meetings) means that people will feel considered in a plan.
By scheduling a time and allotted hour to discuss a certain topic means that you are highlighting that you value the time of the person you are speaking to and in turn, will be reciprocated. Courtesy calling ahead of time is a good habit to establish in terms of business etiquette because you are able to run parallel with being organised.
Turning up to someone’s office or place of work unannounced in the hope you’ll get a meeting with them is a no when it comes to business etiquette. Even in the case of an emergency, call on your way there and even this should be done with extreme caution as people in business often have a lot on their plate and a lot to deal with. It is disrespectful to assume that you have the right to interrupt someone’s work. If you do find yourself in a position where you end up at someone’s office door, then knock and ask if it is a good time to talk, but sticking to scheduled times is a good practice to implement.
It’s not all about you
There is the tendency in business to speak about how you’re progressing and everything you’re doing to your business but it can come across as egocentric. There is indeed a fine line between being confident and arrogant, so ensuring that you’re actually listening to other people and allowing them to speak about what they are doing is very much appreciated and noted in business etiquette. Even in a position of seniority, still showing basic manners and courtesy of other people is crucial to business etiquette.
Acknowledging others, even if you pass them in the hallway is always a respectful way to show that it’s not all about you. Even if you are a senior at a firm, treating people who are junior to you with the same respect that you would treat your own senior is important. Of course, it is understandable that you won’t have the time to speak to everyone and have a full-blown conversation with them, but acknowledging that they are there means that you have a sound understanding that not everything is about you. Business is not an excuse to treat people poorly or to have a superiority complex.
Sometimes it can be that you’re so excited about wanting to talk shout your next venture or the things that you are getting involved in that you don’t actually realise that you might be taking over the conversation. Now that you know this isn’t good form when it comes to business etiquette, see how you are in a conversation, are you letting people speak, are you acknowledging those around you? By simply being mindful about this, you can be to change it and habitually become more aware of the people with who you interact on a daily basis.
Gossip isn’t as harmless as you may think
Just as in a world outside of business, business etiquette indicates that gossip simply will not do. It can be difficult if you hear something about someone or have an opinion on how someone conducts themselves and want to share that, but what you deem as harmless more often than not never is. First of all, gossip is often based on hearsay and has a very much he said she said undertone to it, so by sharing this and giving in to gossip you are only reflecting poorly on yourself. It is natural to be curious and ask questions, but when the person themselves are present. Speaking about someone behind their back is disrespectful and you never know if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person could backfire on you and your character.
Gossip is often reflective of fabrication and dramatisation, so you indulging in gossip might mean that you lose the trust of the people you are sharing it with. You don’t want to become the person that people have to be wary of when they’re talking. Depending on the subject of the gossip, you could very much be damaging somebody’s reputation and alienate a community of people because you have established a gossiping nature. Be mindful of what you are saying and you feel the need to share something and you have to think twice before saying it, that is gossip so make sure you don’t get trapped in that.
The topics to typically steer clear of
In business etiquette, keeping things professional is always in your best interest. Although it’s great to allow people to get an insight into who they are working with and to shine a light on what type of person you are, there are typically two topics that are safer to avoid and not delve into. This is religion and politics. Firing up a conversation about religion and political standing is generally a red zone when it comes to business etiquette. Keeping the areas professional and personal is important so by delving into these topics there is a danger of blurring the two. The topics of religion and politics can drastically change a business atmosphere and unfortunately take it to a space that is highly triggering and uncomfortable.
A primary reason that both religion and politics are off limits is becasue they delve into the beliefs of someone and whether rightly or wrongly may actually affect how you view someone in the world of business. Political and religious-based conversations can often lead to debate and argument, and no one would really appreciate having their belief systems taken apart and analysed by someone with who they’re meant to be working. It’s better to steer clear of this and keep a business atmosphere as neutral as possible, which, in turn, will uphold the professionalism that you had once established.
Being on time
Being on time might seem like the simplest thing to execute, but it is something that people notice. For better business etiquette, you must always be punctual and show people that you value their time. Aside from valuing people’s time, you are honouring the importance of your own schedule. Being organised in business is key and being on time and carving out time for yourself, to do certain things, is vital. If you value and are motivated by your own schedule and calendar, then you will be more likely to value the time of others and be known to be punctual. When setting a meeting time, date or slot ensuring that you are using your time to its maximum potential is important. Outlining what points and details are going to be covered in a meeting, is an excellent way of making sure you target the most out of your time and are known for being concise and timely.
Establishing a set routine for yourself is crucial when it comes to upholding this part of business etiquette. From creating a set morning routine to ensuring that you have a set calendar in a place where all your meetings are scheduled. Being on time doesn’t just have to be for meetings, but goes further than that, it leaks into your finances and deadlines too.
Making sure that you pay everything on time will mean that your time management skills will be worked on as well as saving you money in the long run. There is great value in being punctual and organised with your time. Setting up financial payment plans, and ensuring that all your bills and payments are paid on time is important. This will cement your reliability and ensure that you have taken great care in ensuring that punctuality is present across different parts and elements of your life.
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Put the phone away
When it comes to your phone, your whole world might be on there, but when it comes to meetings and in-person meetings, putting it away is just common courtesy. Showing someone that you have their undivided attention is key for business etiquette and will mean that you are present in the tie that you have craved out to actually speak to people.
Carve out time in your day that is dedicated to you answering emails, making the phone calls you need to make and organising any admin work you may have. This way you will feel less scattered when you are in actual meetings. Unless you are expecting a life-changing phone call or text message, keeping your phone away or silent whilst in a meeting will not only be less annoying but will ensure that you are aware of everything happening in the meeting.
Be mindful of when promoting your business
Although networking and speaking to the right people is key to helping your business, you don’t want to become known as a business card pusher. Unless you’re on a sales team, it is important to be mindful of who is handing you a business card – to and when. You want to maintain a certain mindset about your business and bear in mind if the person you are giving your card to will benefit from your business. Making sure that you hand out your business card is as organic as you can make it, is all part of business etiquette. At the very least, you should always offer to exchange business cards with the person you are speaking to in order to show mutual respect and interest. Or pair handing out your business card with a reason of how you think you could help someone. Make sure to ask someone if they want your business card before having it armed and ready to give out, as this will give your conversation personalisation rather than being completely business-focused. Ensuring you have heard the other person and have listened to what they have to say before going in all guns blazing about your business, will typically work in your favour and establish an organic platform for you to give your business card out.
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Mind your own business
Just as gossiping can backfire and not be good for anyone, so can eavesdropping and wedging yourself into private conversations. In the world of business, everyone is entitled to their privacy and this includes emails and messages, too. If something is not addressed to you then it isn’t for you. Make sure that you are not stepping on any toes and be mindful of when people are accessing confidential information in front of you. No one likes it when people are standing over your shoulder whilst you’re trying to read your correspondence.
When it comes to business etiquette, make sure that you are listening to your network and being mindful of things around you. By implementing business etiquette into your business practice, you can ensure that everyone you meet and network with is left with a good impression and have an understanding that you are a professional and take pride in the way you conduct yourself.