The word “etiquette” gets a bad rap. For one thing, it sounds stodgy and pretentious but courtesy and manners are still essential in business and are a key to business success. Where one acquires knowledge of business etiquette is a challenge because it’s rarely included in a college course called Business Etiquette 101. So if your parents didn’t instill these tips along the way, one is left to pick them up from a business mentor or associate.
Here are a few tips that I have learned and still find useful:
Thank You Notes
Did your mother make you send them? I am shocked at how little they are used today. Thank you notes are important and used from people interviewing for a job to sending to someone who took you to lunch.
If you want to separate yourself and reflect well on your company, a nice personal thank note makes all the difference. You can never go wrong sending a thank you note. A motivational speaker once gave me a great tip: she travels with some blank note cards in her briefcase. She can jot off a note while on a plane and mail them when she’s landed. Handwritten notes are much more impressive than emails.
Know People By Name
Get to know the people in your company, regardless of their roles, and acknowledge what they do. Knowing all the integral people who work hard to make your company run is invaluable. Someone’s assistant today could be the boss tomorrow. It’s a good practice to remember.
Learn how to introduce people to others because there are many business-social situations when an introduction is required. A good opener is, “I’d like you to meet” or “I’d like to introduce…”. It’s good to use first and last names and there’s a sequence of who is introduced to whom. A rule of thumb is to speak to the person you want to honor first. For example, if you are introducing a customer to your boss, you would say, Mrs. Jones, I’d like you to meet Mr. Smith, my boss”. The customer is always first.
Elevator and Restroom Conversation
It’s a good reminder to not discuss business in the elevator or in a restroom. Even if you are alone with a colleague, it’s better to wait until you are out of public areas to discuss business, a meeting or the company.
Focus on Faces Not Screens
It is tempting to check emails when we all have smart phones and devices to keep us connected. The message one sends by checking their emails is that they are bored and disinterested. We may think we are being efficient and productive, yet the message one conveys is negative. When you are attending a meeting, gathering or whatever, it’s important to remember to turn off a phone, don’t check emails, pay attention and give your full attention to where you are. I call it being in the moment. Even if everyone else is checking their phones, you’ll stand out as someone who is confident and aware if you don’t succumb. Hold off when you are in an elevator too. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge someone.
Many offices have open-plans and cubicles and while it may seem that everyone is available for interruption, it’s good to have boundaries and respect these boundaries. Don’t barge into someone’s space. It’s a good practice to say, “Excuse me” and pause before entering. You may want to call or email to see if they are free or see if they can drop by.
Have respect for people and not judge someone. You may disagree but remember everyone is trying their best and is entitled to their opinion. In a meeting, you may think what someone said is the dumbest thing you’ve heard but keep it to yourself.
Before you create a hashtag or post on your Facebook or Twitter page, remember people may read what you write. Ask yourself if you really want people to know this information and how does it reflect on the company where you work. Think twice about writing about your colleagues and respect their privacy. Your Facebook page could be read by prospective employers so post with care and caution.
The office kitchen is a great place to practice business etiquette. Do your colleagues steal food from the office fridge? You’d be surprised at how many employees complain about food pilferage. You will really shine if you help keep the refrigerator clean but it shouldn’t be your job alone. You may want to consider a clean-fridge policy so no one will have any excuse. Label storage drawers to help eliminate confusion. Keep a marking pen close by to label containers with names and expiration dates. The office kitchen isn’t your home. Dishes don’t find their way to the dishwasher on their own and there’s no mom to take care of this. Do your part and help out.
We all like to personalize our office space especially since we’re there more time than anywhere else. It’s important to balance a personal and professional image. Answer these questions before you accessorize. Who will see it? What does it say about you? Is it distracting and does it go overboard? Also, you may be the clutter king or queen at home but your office should be kept neat and make a nice impression. The impression your offices makes should be the guiding question before you leave in the evening.