Business etiquette refers to using good manners and specifically relates to the requirements and expectations for business behavior. These expectations are mostly unwritten, yet are currently and commonly prescribed by social convention as related to behaving in a professional manner. This conduct makes others comfortable and willing to work with us. Good etiquette is a key to entrepreneurial success.
Abiding by the existing code of ethical behavior among professionals, basically boils down to having and demonstrating good manners; behaving as such, makes you more pleasant to be around and also positively impacts your level of success. Utilizing good manners literally affects your ability to build lasting business relationships and sell your product.
In business, proper etiquette promotes goodwill, and demonstrates respect.
Is displaying proper etiquette necessary?
In some instances good etiquette is simply appreciated or desired, and in others it is required. This article shares what is customary and typical in America, but do know other societies have their own, which may be more lax or severe. Know before you go. In the business world, poor business etiquette may end the relationship before it begins.
Understand this clearly: Business is not home.
Even if you work from home, business behavior comes with rules that tie to rules of conduct.
At home, be lax or uncaring, or even behave disrespectfully if you so choose and if that’s considered acceptable by those who live with you.
You may be unpleasant, but if they accept it or choose to display the same behavior, it is what it is. Many reality shows are built around bad behavior and the pain of others. So do whatever.
However, in a business environment, manners count, and the lack thereof hits your wallet.
For business owners, especially young entrepreneurs who are just starting out, every dollar is critical.
Our goal in offering good business etiquette tips is to:
- Get people to work with you
- Help you develop long-term relationships
- Increase your sense of self-worth
- Create a higher level of self-respect
More about these rules:
Good etiquette relates to both your appearance and your behavior. It involves how you communicate, your tone, and your table manners. It is saying “please” and “thank you.” It’s preparedness and showing up 5 minutes early. It’s showing courtesy and respect for others, including holding the door for the person behind you. Proper business etiquette matters.
Argue if you want. Feel however you feel. I’m not interested in what you agree with or feel like doing.
My goal is to help you put dollars in your pocket.
How good etiquette relates to you.
Create good first impressions and lasting impressions.
- Your product or service may or may not sell due to your personal representation. Most of the time the business relationship is part of the package. You may think you are all that and they’ll buy anyway. Maybe.
- Create good impressions. Create and improve relationships so people want to work with you – or want to work for you or buy from you.
- It’s especially important for your business partners to feel comfortable when they recommend or refer because they know you’ll behave and that you’ll look professional.
In these instances, maintaining basic etiquette standards goes a long way!
Ace the interview.
- Two smart, apparent equals show up at an interview where one is well-dressed, hair is combed, and appears polished and polite. He is also openly engaging, while the other is not. Offering a firm handshake, taking notes, extending common courtesy, and knowing how to follow business etiquette creates the best possible impression, and makes a difference in determining professionalism and the potential cultural fit.
- Unless there’s some fabulous connection that comes out during the interview with the other guy, the one who appears to have more respect for himself and the situation will receive the offer.
Receive referrals and invitations to connect.
- Though we have lessened our expectations in many cases, in the past if you and your children didn’t display good manners, you weren’t invited back. It was considered embarrassing. Now some consider no manners as freedom of choice. If they are around like-minded people, great. If not, you are still not being invited back and you may have no idea why.
- Similarly, if you attend a business dinner with a client or coworker, and you over-indulge and display bad behavior, you become a joke. Instantly. Your behavior is not forgotten, but you are.
- You are a reflection of your team, so be the person they proudly recommend to their best client or networking partner.
Garner respect during an in-person or virtual meeting.
- You can surely see how people lose patience when watching a movie in a darkened theater while others are talking or using their bright phone screen – or worse yet – when playing a show or game with sound. It’s just not okay. It’s blatant disregard for others. This relatable personal example is no different than the reaction of others toward and about you if you behave like this during an in-person meeting or even on a Zoom video meeting. If you want to be taken seriously, show respect.
- Use your emotional intelligence, active listening skills and follow some basic rules of etiquette as a way to build your relationships, and members of an organization will recognize you as a partner.
Behave respectfully during any interactive communication.
- In the office, at meetings, or while attending off-site functions, pay attention.
- Ever talk to someone who is typing on the other end? Or they are driving, and you are on speaker while there are others talking in the car, or the person is yelling at other drivers in traffic? You wonder what they are retaining, and you do not feel respected.
- Consider virtual etiquette, and the Zoom meeting with a person who is obviously not paying attention or who is showing a picture and always asking you to repeat the question. Do not be that person.
Handle disrespect professionally.
- With regard to interactive communications, if someone is now disrespectful to you (as described above), it is perfectly acceptable to mute them or ask them to disconnect from the group. Even if it is a potential client, entrepreneurship is not another word for desperate.
- If their interaction is required, politely call the meeting short and offer to reschedule at a time when they can be fully present. Get your point across and elevate yourself at the same time. You want their genuine interest.
Their time is valuable. So is yours.
To close this section, just clearly know there are consequences to your actions. If you choose to be sloppy, forgo the soap or deodorant, display lousy table manners, or have apparent ability or desire show basic respect, they can simply refer your competition or work somewhere else instead.
GOOD MANNERS MATTER.
Even in a more relaxed, modern culture there are still expectations.
You can dress down and still be put together, polite, and use a napkin.
Business Etiquette Categories
- Your presence and professionalism – at all times
- Basics of business etiquette at the workplace – onsite or virtual
- Communication etiquette tips – written, verbal, & virtual
- Business etiquette while dining – onsite or while attending a business event
Your presence and professionalism
~ at all times
* Personal Hygiene
- Comb your hair.
- Brush your teeth.
- Clean your fingernails.
- Dress appropriately. You can dress casually and not be a mess.
- Wear clean shoes.
- Wash your hands after using the bathroom.
* Say please.
* Say thank you.
* Answer with yes and no, not yeah, yep, and nope.
* Hold the door for the next person.
* In person and virtually, be fully present and polite.
- Stand tall. Sit tall. Shoulders back. Chin up.
- Pay attention to nonverbal cues.
- Eye contact and paying attention matters. Smile, nod, and use appropriate eye contact. (if you need to Google that, please do.)
- Introduce yourself.
- In person, give a firm, 2 second handshake when meeting someone. Right hand to right hand. The strongest person doesn’t win anything. Don’t break their hand.
Basics of business etiquette at the Workplace
~ onsite or virtual
* Punctuality – arrive early or on time. Do not arrive late.
- Arrive and be set up and ready to go on time. Arriving at the exact minute then needing 15 more minutes to put away a coat or get coffee makes you late and makes you a distraction. That 15 minutes multiplied by everyone you distracted = hours of lost time. If it’s your own business and you are trying to follow an 8:8:8 schedule, take your 15 minutes away from the 8 hours that is not assigned as work.
- Do not waste your own time.
- Do not allow your lateness to interrupt others.
- Make others feel respected.
* Mind the dress code.
- Follow your office dress code or what is appropriate for the place you are visiting. It’s not about being old fashioned, as much as it’s just sometimes more appropriate or the right thing to do. Attire selections can even boost your confidence.
- Do not argue it. If it doesn’t meet your personal or safety needs, move on. Likewise, if there are no formal standards and you wear sweats but aren’t seen as leadership material, use that knowledge to dress to impress or move on to a place where comfort is more defined and meets your expectation.
- There are trends and self-expression, and then there is inappropriate. If you don’t know the rules, ask. Sometimes people feel weird asking about unwritten rules. Don’t. Ask for clarity.
* Office space and Mindfulness
- Maintain a clean, tidy desk space.
- If you are an organized mess, ensure your mess does not bleed into someone else’s area.
- If you are unorganized in your home office, realize that work documents remaining out and in your face don’t allow you to disconnect.
- If your office is also your kitchen, that’s totally fine, but institute a clean desk policy and put it away when you are off the clock.
- Be fully present for work, and treat the business meeting as a business meeting. Then close out your business day and allow yourself to be fully present so you can relax and eventually sleep.
* Shared spaces
- Be courteous and leave a shared space equal or better than it was.
- If it’s a breakroom, meeting room or other area with a shared table, do not leave trash and crumbs.
- Do not eat someone else’s lunch or take their drinks.
- Wipe the bathroom counter if you drip soap or water.
* Smells – no candle, no room sprays, no heavy perfumes, or cologne.
- You may not be able to smell it, but it may create a complete distraction – a possibly very unpleasant distraction – for others.
- Some people are allergic to scent, others have physical reactions, plus frankly, not everyone likes pine or the candle that smells like cigars.
* Smoking or vaping anything
- If you smoke anything, know your workplace laws, and do not come to work smelling like it. You may enjoy it. Others don’t.
- Don’t be the person who is so laid back and high all the time. Legal in your state does not mean legal on the road and in the workplace. Unless there is an approved medical need, when they need someone to take seriously, it will not be you.
- “My boss does it,” great. Again. Let him, but you be known for something that benefits the workplace.
- Choose to be known for your enthusiasm, responsiveness, and professionalism.
* Food: be considerate of smells and noise.
- Do not crunch all day.
- Do not cook fish where the smell will linger.
- Be aware of allergies and the needs of others.
- For shared items such as staplers or the water cooler: Use them. Refill them. Put them back.
- If you need music and are permitted, use headphones, knowing headphone use is not an excuse to be disengaged.
- If the office has music and you need silence, arrange to be fully present but use noise cancelling headphones with the same rules of engagement.
- Take your personal calls on personal time, and do not create a distraction for those working around you.
The rules have relaxed, but no one needs profanity, your political views, or to see your butt or know too much of anything.
You aren’t there visiting or to play. You aren’t there to date. You are there to work.
If it’s your own business, you’ll gain some sales and lose others. There’s self-expression and there’s a time to grow up.
Make the best of each day. Smile through every test.
Communication etiquette tips
~ written, verbal, & virtual
- Say hello, smile or nod when entering a room or passing others.
- Be mindful, and acknowledge everyone.
- When someone is speaking to you, look at them.
- Use your voice in a normal, pleasant, respectful tone. Do not yell. If someone does ask you to speak up, do, but do not yell and do not speak up with an attitude.
- Do not interrupt others. Do not be a distraction. Do not create a distraction.
- Your written communication should be professional. It is okay to abbreviate of course, and write conversationally as long as you don’t write a quick email or important message using text-accepted abbreviations.
- Do not continually curse either verbally or in written communications. Do not say it’s normal, people are used to it, everybody does it. NO. They do not.
- Use a filter. Even if your bosses boss overuses profanity in speech and written text, you do not.
- Do not complain unless you are also offering a viable solution.
- You do not discuss politics, religion, or race. Your vote is your business. No one needs your opinion.
- Vaccinated or unvaccinated, no one needs a debate. Unless it’s required sharing, it’s your business. If you need a vaccination card to attend a business event, you may decline and ask HR if necessary for the words to say.
- Do not engage in a disagreeable conversation. Do not escalate an uncomfortable situation, whether it is virtual, onsite at your business, or elsewhere with a client.
- Control your emotions at all time.
And here’s another one for you…
- If someone refers to you as sir or ma’am, do not immediately be offended. It’s not necessarily a political view or comment on your age or inferring a bias. In parts of the USA, it’s considered respectful and mannerly. You can simply, nicely, and quietly correct them if necessary, but otherwise, just say thank you and smile.
- Every conversation is not a battle. Most people never mean to offend you.
It’s good practice to relax and be human – while allowing others to be human too.
In a workplace as a leader, employee, or a visitor, if someone has an issue, HR can help resolve it. If you are the owner, think before you speak and choose your words carefully to deescalate the situation. You take the high road at all times.
Whatever “side” you are on, remember that the polite person who disagrees without verbalizing it may be your next hiring manager or the next corporate leader who creates your budget. Show the occasional picture of your dog or a pretty view and otherwise, do not engage in controversial topics. But…. But nothing. Shut up. Do not let that issue affect your wallet.
And in case you’re cocky, no matter how highly you think of yourself…
Brilliant and rude is not well-received.
Business etiquette while dining
~ during business hours or event
- Use good table manners at a restaurant, business event of any sort, in the employee dining room, and if your desk is in full view of others.
- Using hand sanitizer is fine.
- Elbows off the table.
- Place your napkin in your lap.
- Silence your phone.
- Keep personal items such as phones, wallets and purses off of the table
- Don’t trade putting the phone away for looking at your watch.
- Order appropriately. No ordering the most expensive thing on the menu or laughing because it’s someone else’s dime.
- Follow your host’s lead.
- Do not eat until everyone is served. The host may direct you otherwise, and you may, but it is still more appropriate to wait.
- Do not order alcohol unless it’s appropriate, and then one is plenty.
- Use utensils when appropriate. (do not make me spell this out.)
- Use a napkin.
- Do not blow your nose at the table.
- Do not use your sleeve or collar as a napkin.
- If you must burp, turn away, make it as quiet as possible and excuse yourself.
- Watch your tone and don’t raise your voice.
- Don’t chew with an open mouth.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full.
- Do not rush. It’s not a race.
- If you are an extra slow eater though, enjoy a portion, and take the rest home.
- Whoever invited you pays the bill in full unless you have agreed otherwise. Do not argue.
Good etiquette seems like a lost art, but it still owns a place in society. Even employers with a most laid back environment appreciate good manners. Displaying good manners does not make you frigid or stoic, and saying “please” and “thank you” does not indicate you have conformed and are less free or creative. These actions simply make you more pleasant to be around.
Be cavalier if you want. Demonstrate how manners do not matter to you, and others will demonstrate how they do.
A lack of couth and thinking good etiquette is old fashioned and unnecessary may literally result in lost business.
Raise your personal bar and respect yourself and others, while promoting positivity in society. If none of that resonates with you, okay, then maybe it will matter when your disrespect hits your wallet in the form of difficulty maintaining strong, lasting relationships and lost sales. Do the right thing. Society thanks you.