Business Etiquette

Etiquette means "conventional rules of polite behavior". Wherever you work there will be other people inside and outside your organization who deal with and it is crucial to communicate with them well. A key part of this is to show your respect in the appropriate way, and conform to the largely unwritten guidelines on behavior. The more you understand the rules, the more comfortable you will be in any business situation. Etiquette is not only restricted to one’s social life but also very much a part of one’s behavior at the office. People having proper etiquette and conversation skills find it much easier to climb up the success ladder than those who lack these skills. A well mannered executive is an asset to the company and generates tremendous goodwill.

Business etiquette covers a very wide range of things:

  • How you behave as an individual
  • How you make use of the communication tools available
  • How you act in the team and company that you work in
  • How you deal with external business contacts.

There are some general commandments of good manners that we all understand. For instance, there are very few workplaces where swearing or poor personal hygiene are approved of. Using the office telephone to set up a private dating agency or taking your pet tarantula into work for exercise is likely to be frowned upon. Stretching out on the sofa in reception and having a nap will raise a few eyebrows.

Every company has slightly different conventions about appropriate conduct. Remember that when you start a job it's a bit like joining a new club. Some of the rules might be written down but everyone else knows the other members and how to act with them. You have to learn it all if you are going to enjoy being there.

Some companies have very formal practices and others are more casual. A large government department is likely to have more rules written down than a small design company. A checklist of things you should find out would include:

  • Is there a company style for memos and letters?
  • Is there a company dress code?
  • What happens about coffee and lunch breaks?
  • How are manager addressed – by title or first name?
  • How do I request holidays or time off?

When you attend an interview, or start a new job, the best advice is to conduct yourself with more formal or 'proper' behaviour. You can always relax into casual dress or speech if you can see that this is normal.

Why do you need to know about business etiquette?

How you look, act, speak and write gives people around you an impression. Think about sitting on a train and looking at the other people in the carriage. You have immediately written a story in your head about what they are like, and whether you would get on with them. The loud mouth sounding off to his friends about his latest conquest, or the individual holding a very personal conversation on her mobile phone might be interesting for a moment – but not something you would like to see or listen to every day.

Imagine going to a business meeting where everyone behaved as if they were on a train. In business that first impression is significantly more important. Unlike the train, we can't move to the next carriage or get off at the next stop. The people you work with will see and speak to you frequently. Customers will except helpfulness and civility when you meet them. Bosses will expect you to be courteous.

In the last 15 years workplaces have become much more informal – most people are called by their first names, for instance, and dress codes are much less rigid in many industries. There has been a removal of hierarchy and a move to flatter organisations with fewer behaviour towards others is sanctioned, it's just that the rules aren't so obvious.

What matters most is that your behaviour, dress, speech and other communications with your colleagues and customers are appropriate for your job and the company you work for. The office of a small, family-run taxi firm might be a lot more relaxed than London-based limousine company, but the principles remain the same.

Business people often talk about 'networking', which is about building up ongoing relationships with contacts who may be useful in the future. Understanding good business etiquette is essential in setting up your own network and keeping it going.

Knowing how to behave, with politeness and courtesy, is a very important part of business life. Using business etiquette to create the right impression will determine not only how you enjoy each working day, but also your chances of promotion and success in your career.

Courtesies towards Clients and Superiors: Some Do's

  • DO be prompt in correspondence. Any letter, however seemingly unimportant, must be immediately replied and not postponed.
  • DO return an official call as soon as possible. If somebody returns your call, before stating the purpose of the call, thank the person for doing so.
  • DO stand up and greet visitors calling at your office and sit after they have seated themselves.
  • DO give priority to a person who comes in with a prior appointment even if one is friendly with that person.
  • DO wait for seniors, at a business meeting or conference, to be seated before taking a seat. When not familiar with the seating arrangement, wait to be told so that one does not occupy a colleague’s chair by mistake.
  • DO freshen and tidy up before attending a meeting or business lunch.
  • DO acknowledge a favor done by way of business with a thank - you note. This will please the recipient.freshen and tidy up before attending a meeting or business lunch.
  • DO maintain a dignified and respectful distance from superiors.
  • DO shun boastfulness. Promotions and recognition should be treated in a quite manner as it can arouse jealousy among your colleagues.

Behavior and Courtesies Towards Subordinates

  • A well known management dictum is: "trust and respect by the employer beget trust and respect in the employees."
  • A considerate person recognizes the worth of the people who help in the smooth running of the department or organization and accordingly treats them respect.
  • Being considerate should not be mistaken for tolerating negligence and indiscipline in the organization. The values and culture of the organization will depend to a large extent on the example, which the top boss sets for everyone.
  • The true measure of a great man is how he treats a little man.
  • Never criticize or scold someone in front of others. The considerate boss should do so in private, never degrading the employee.
  • Clearly specify your employees’ scope of duties to them for example – secretary should be clearly instructed on how to answer the phone when the boss is busy or how to treat visitors in his absence.
  • When making a subordinate do a personal task, recognize it as a favor asked.
  • Be completely impartial with respect to all your employees and maintain a respectable distance.
  • DO maintain a dignified and respectful distance from superiors.
  • DO shun boastfulness. Promotions and recognition should be treated in a quite manner as it can arouse jealousy among your colleagues.


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