An oft-ignored area when it comes to career success is the area of business etiquettes and manners. Everyone takes the time to up their resume, increase the size of his or her skill set, or spread out their network as far as possible. Few professionals, however, focus on learning about the behaviors and mannerisms that mold one into a civil and dignified personality, capable of inspiring everyone’s respect and (easily) climbing up the success ladder.
If you have made the same mistake at some point, take heart for all is not lost. Implementing a few new behaviors and principles will work wonders at your workplace. Then you will stand out, yes, but for the right reasons and as someone who is ‘most likely to succeed’.
The Essential Etiquette Guide
The guide has been broken down into three sections.
The first deals with communication-related etiquettes that you need to be aware of whether you are talking to someone in person, over the phone, or over email. Your word is your identity. This also includes non-verbal communication like body language and the way you dress. When trying to make first impressions, they become all the more important.
The second deals with etiquettes at the office. Your behavior is a huge determiner of how your co-workers respond to you and see you. How courteous are you with them? How open and approachable are you? Can you listen well?
Finally, we move on to etiquettes while eating. Whether the occasion is entirely professional, semi-professional, or not at all professional, how you eat and behave with your co-workers at the table does matter and either adds to or subtracts from your image in the long-term.
The basic principle to consider here is: which is the best way to communicate for the message I want to convey? Figure out the nature of your message and then choose the appropriate medium.
For messages where you would want a written record and the thoughtful use of words, email would be more appropriate.
For a quick check-in, a text message or even a phone call would be good.
For something extremely urgent, you pick up the phone and make a call again.
Over the phone
- When the phone rings, pick it up on the second or third ring. Greet the person at the other end with a ‘hello’ or a good morning/ afternoon/ evening as is appropriate for that time of the day.
- Put in a little smile on your face so that it reflects in your voice and gives off a welcoming and warm vibe.
- After the greeting, say your name followed by the organization’s name.
- Throughout the conversation, maintain a pleasant tone of voice, giving the caller ample time to say what they want without any interruptions.
- Your voice should be neither loud nor low. The words are spoken clearly in a calm, unhurried tone so that the caller doesn’t miss out on crucial information.
- If a return call has been promised, make it a point to keep the promise and return the call in said amount of amount.
- In case of transferring a call, first, inform the caller that you are going to check whether the required person is available for a call or not. If he/ she is, inform them about the caller who wishes to speak to them and for what purpose. As quick as possible, get back to the caller with an answer.
- If you are the caller who has called to speak with a specific someone, introduce yourself before asking for that person.
- If you are calling about a technical or operative glitch in the product or service of the company, maintain a courteous tone. It can be hard to keep the frustration out of your voice when no matter what you have done, the washing machine won’t spin properly, but be patient and realize you are speaking to a human at the other end of the line.
- Use your full name when introducing yourself. You never know when they might want to look you up on LinkedIn or track you down later for collaboration. If you have a common name, using your full name becomes even more important.
- Alternately, when meeting someone, pay attention to their names. If you didn’t catch it in the first go or have trouble pronouncing it, ask them; they won’t mind. This would be a lot better than calling them by some name which isn’t theirs.
- Then use their name at appropriate places in a conversation. This will help you to remember the name and also warm the other person to you.
- Greet, make conversation, and be pleasant. The simple looking man could be the CEO of a major finance corporation. When you greet someone and endeavor to talk to them, it makes you appear pleasant and approachable in the eyes of others.
- However, be attuned to your surroundings and the person at all times. If someone seems to be in a rush, don’t hold them up to talk about how great the party is. Be present and gauge whether the opportunity to converse is ripe or not.
- Don’t interrupt. Do not become the person who cannot listen to others because you always want to put forward your opinion or tell your story. Be respectful and listen when the other person is speaking. Nod, smile, and put your phone away to denote that you are present with the other person.
- If you have a friend or colleague with you whom the other person doesn’t know, then introduce your friend/ colleague to them. Tell them what role they play at your company and how they are related to you. This will put the entire group at ease.
- Smile. A smile can immediately lighten up your mood as well as those of others. It makes you appear friendly, attractive, trustworthy and puts the other person at ease. Prefer a smiling face over a straight one when meeting colleagues and professionals. Don’t overdo it, though, as very happy individuals are often considered to be more naive than moderately happy ones. (Doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. Just keep the expression of it to generous levels).
- Sit up straight. This one has a profound effect on your mood, your confidence, and the aura you give off. To use a single word: it’s all positive. Keep your feet flat on the floor when you sit and ground through your heels when you stand. You’ll experience a sense of subtle power whether you sit or stand.
- Handshakes are in the business world what a ‘namaste’ is in households- a tradition. As you introduce yourself, shake hands and look the person in the eye. This counts for a confident handshake which sends a positive message about you. No bone-crushers or dead-handshakes, please.
- Use consistent eye contact for an engaging conversation. This denotes that you are paying attention to the person and makes them feel more connected with you. However, do not overdo it (a.k.a staring) otherwise you might come off as creepy or a weirdo. Use more eye contact when you are listening than when you are talking.
- Be mindful of the volume of your voice. Make sure you aren’t too loud or too low. Both can be inconvenient when sharing space with others.
- Don’t stand too close. Respect people’s personal space and keep a respectful distance.
- Be extra careful when writing emails and avoid humor (can be mistaken for acidic sarcasm). Also, never send an email when you are angry or pissed off.
- Use a professional email id. ‘email@example.com’ is not acceptable. Preferably, use the company domain name for sending emails as it adds tonnes of credibility.
- Write the most direct subject line ever. Time is precious in the business world. Your manager or colleague shouldn’t have to scroll to the end of the email to know what you are emailing about. ‘Urgent meeting at 3 pm’ is totally welcome.
- Use professional greetings even if the relationship is friendly. ‘Hello’ is neutral and works equally well for everyone.
- Proofread all emails always. Typos are common and you accidentally don’t want to write ‘sued’ instead of ‘used’ or ‘tot he’ instead of ‘to the’ because of your fast typing speed.
- NO CAPS. (Yes, this rule is so important that it had to be put it in caps itself). It’s akin to shouting and is considered rude in business settings.
- Double check the email address. Even a small mistake can send your email off to an account that exists but isn’t used and delay the closing of a deal.
- Acknowledge emails in a timely fashion. This is one of the most effective ways to appear professional.
- Know when to use emails. For topics that require a lengthy discussion or have too many nitty-gritty details, avoid emails and make a phone call. Emails should only be used for clarifications, cancellations, informing a large group etc.
In case of disagreement
- Choose the right place and time. Starting a fight with a colleague over something he/ she did at an office party is not the way to do it. Address the issue during after-office hours or bring in your manager for a peaceful resolution.
- Modulate your voice. It is easy to scale up to a high tone when you feel you have been wronged in some way. Do your best to use a calm and rational voice to avoid premature or unnecessary hostility.
- Agree to disagree. No two persons can agree on everything under the sun. accept this fact and move on.
- Empathize. When someone- a disappointed manager, an ignored coworker, a snubbed junior- is telling you how they feel, listen to them and try to see the situation from their POV. Say you are sorry for the way they feel and endeavor to make amends wherever possible.
- As much as possible, steer clear of volatile situations. Pick your battles wisely and know when to speak and when not to.
When dealing with those from a different culture
Take some time to learn what people consider disrespectful or disrespectful in other cultures.
For example, in China, you shake hands as a common form of greeting but you start with the oldest or most senior person first.
Likewise in Japan, senior people tend to lead the conversations and you sit across from those who have the same experience level as yours.
In Italy, everyone shakes hands but kissing on the cheek by simply pressing the cheeks against each other is also acceptable once a relationship has formed.
Germans have a direct communication style which might be mistaken for rudeness but isn’t.
Small talk seldom happens and when it does, it is still impersonal and focuses on topics like sports.
- Be punctual. Tardiness is seldom tolerated d at the workplace and casts a negative light on your professionalism. If you are going to be late, inform as soon as you can. Still, always set out early taking into account traffic and other unforeseeable factors. Arriving 5 to 10 minutes early is acceptable.
- Dress appropriately. Putting in the effort to appear smart and professional, will speak volumes about your attitude towards your job. Even if it is acceptable to work in your flip-flops, avoid wearing them. When you dress professionally, the same comes out in the way you talk and behave, too.
- Keep your workspace tidy. If you are a manager or a team leader, not keeping a tidy space around you will definitely raise eyebrows and annoy a few people. If you can’t keep your workspace clean and manage the post-it notes, notepads, and pens in 3 different colors, how will you manage a team? Make sure that this question never crosses the minds of people by tidying up your workspace on the regular- perhaps every Friday evening before the weekend.
- Practice good hygiene at your workplace. No matter how much a person claims to be a slacker when it comes to cleanliness, secretly, everyone is turned off by it. This is even more so at the workplace. You sure don’t want to be known as ‘David with the Dirty Fingernails’ or ‘Sophia with the Smelly Socks’ whom people would rather not sit with. There are much better things to be known by. Make sure they are your good hygienic habits.
- Be extra careful when using shared space or items. If there are utensils that are used for making tea for everyone, make sure to clean them after using them. If there is a shared printer, make sure to restock the A4 sheets for the next person. If everyone sits at one table for lunch, clean up your area of the table before leaving. This shows that you are a responsible individual who can be trusted.
- Know how much to share. Your wild weekend getaways where you and all of your friends crashed a wedding and then came back to your house to drink and smoke would be great for retellings among friends but not at the workplace. Even if you are comfortable relating to all of your adventurous exploits, everyone might not be comfortable listening to them. Gauge which topics are appropriate and to what extent and follow along.
- Do not keep to yourself only. Offices are great places for working towards achieving something and being in the presence of varied individuals. Interact as much as possible, but keep in mind whom you are talking to. That colleague who bad-mouths everyone to the boss is not the ideal partner for sharing how you are struggling with a particular project. Know what to say and to whom.
- Keep phone usage to a minimum. You are the office to work so don’t slack off by scrolling through Instagram. It conveys to your co-workers and especially to your boss, that you aren’t particularly serious. Use it for a while during lunch breaks or when you get up to stretch your legs in-between tasks.
- Be considerate of how others work. Some like to work while listening to music. Others like to work retreat style, all by themselves, for a solid hour or two. Yet others prefer to work in blocks and then chat with their neighbors. No matter the working style, be sure to be mindful of how everyone works. Use earphones, only put on music on speakers when everyone has agreed to it, and do not interrupt someone when they are sitting in the corner on a bean bag and typing away furiously.
- Put away your phone. When you know you are out with colleagues (or even your friends and family), keep the phone off the table unless it is a very urgent call that you need to take. This sets the scene for everyone to engage with each other completely and enjoy the meal. A no-phone meal always has a way of turning memorable.
- If you invited people, you pay. No questions about this. If you invited others to go for coffee with you, you pay the bill. Do not even look at the other person to see whether they are thinking about paying or not.
- Wash your hands before you start to eat. If you do not, people take notice and wonder about your hygiene.
- No shouting at the waiter. Make eye contact and use silent, respectful hand gestures or nods.
- Do not start until everyone is seated and served. If you have been invited, do not begin until the host has begun.
- Avoid placing elbows on the table while eating. It’s alright to bring them up when you are talking, though.
- Converse. Do not simply sit and be the grumpy, silent eater.
- Pass salt shakers and the likes. Do not get up and stretch to take them yourselves.
- Fork in left, knife in right. The handles are in the palm of your hand, forefinger on top, and thumb underneath.
- Don’t talk or laugh with your mouth open or full of food. Wait till you have swallowed it entirely and then speak. No one likes to see spit or food particles flying out of anyone’s mouth.
- No licking absolutely. Either the plate or your fingers. No picking your teeth either.
- After you are done, place the spoon, knife, and fork on the plate.
- Thank the host before you leave.
Summing up …
The above pointers are seemingly simple and intuitive, but it is surprising how many people fail to put them into practice. If you have the ambition and laser sharp skills, don’t let an ignorance of business etiquettes stand in the way of your professional success. Turbocharge your way to the top. You got this now!