Business etiquette is a complex subject that combines both simple concepts along with more nuanced “rules” per say. According to businessculture. org, business etiquette is “about providing basic social comfort and creating an environment where others feel comfortable and secure. . . possible through better communication. I really think that this definition really captures the essence of business etiquette because it stays focused on the bigger picture at hand and that is to create a viable work environment that harbors creativity and productivity.
The first part of business etiquette that I’d like to delve into is that of clothing. There are many terms out there that can be confusing to someone that is just entering the business world. Terms such as: business casual, business professional, corporate casual, and more. I’d say that the most important ones for us to know are business casual and business professional. Business professional is the most obvious and upscale of outfits and requires the most work but yields the most intelligent and clean look that any businessman/businesswoman can pull off. Business professional is used for most work days and definitely for interviews. Business professional gives off an aura of intellect and a dedication to work hard considering the person went through the process of dressing up for the occasion. Business professional for men consists of a solid color and conservative suit and tie with dark socks and professional shoes. The man’s hair should be clean and facial hair should be avoided.
Business professional for women consists of a solid color and conservative suit with moderate shoes and limited jewelry. The woman’s hair should be neat and professional with light makeup. As for business casual, it is a loose phrase that has multiple interpretations and is often left up to the employer as to what is business casual. In general business casual is used on various days where there may be an event or gathering that doesn’t require the most professional of clothing. Business casual for men consists of dress slacks or chinos and a button down shirt (typically without a tie but a tie wouldn’t hurt). It can be combined with a sweater as well and like I mentioned earlier it is up to circumstance what is the best possible combination. Business casual for women consists of khaki or cotton pants/skirts with a sweater or knit shirts and it’s best to keep in mind that solid colors are more appropriate than bright patterns. As you can see there is a lot to clothing and it’s important to remember that when truly in doubt it is best to overdress than anything. T-shirts and jeans are most certainly not appropriate in most situations and should be avoided unless explicitly stated that it is okay. There are many different combinations and a helpful tip to keep track is to keep an eye out for what most people are wearing when you do show up to an event, it never hurts to just ask what is appropriate and what isn’t.
The next part of business etiquette that I’d like to talk about is punctuality. A relatively simple idea but something that should be taken very seriously. I find myself to be a punctual person as I’m always rushing just to get to places early and feeling guilty if I’m even remotely late. As a punctual person I absolutely detest when people are inconsiderate of set times and either show up late without good reason or no reason at all. My mother is in fact one of these people that for any social event always finds herself running all over the place and is guaranteed to be late by a minimum of 10-15 minutes. A common stereotypical joke for Indian people is that we run on IST (Indian standard time) meaning that when we say we’re coming at 5 PM it’s actually going to be at least 5:15 PM before anyone shows up. I am not on IST however and I’m always on my mom’s case about being late to events because I find it disrespectful to a host to be late to an event. There is no doubt that I am not the only one that feels this way so whenever you’re invited to an event it is safe to assume that it would NOT be okay to show up late whether it’s 2 minutes, 15 minutes, or 1 hour. It’s a good habit to plan accordingly to schedule and especially in the business world people will appreciate others that are punctual and considerate of set schedules. The business world is a fast moving and well-oiled machine that requires every minute of every day to function and time is so valuable that being punctual is critical. It sets a good impression and is a small habit that can make or break a businessperson’s career.
The next topic of business etiquette is body language. Body language is a huge part of communication and is critical in the business world. There are many components of body language that require practice for some people who may not be as adept at social interactions and it’s important to remember that how you look and carry yourself has a grand impact on how you are received by others in the business world. Eye contact is a huge part of body language that requires you to be engaged in conversation and showing respect for the people that are speaking to you. Eye contact sends a message to the other person that you are engaged and interested in what is being discussed and this leads to better and more helpful conversations. It also gives off confidence that is needed to get what you want in the business world. It can be difficult to maintain eye contact as some people are not used to the intimate level of communication that it entails. It is a good habit to have and should be used throughout everyday life and especially for proper business etiquette.
Another component of body language that relates to business etiquette is facial expression. Your face tells a lot about how you truly feel about what is being talked about and some people are extremely good at reading expressions. It’s important to maintain a welcoming and friendly expression that is accompanied by a smile so that people are more willing to talk to you and are keen on meeting you. Having a comfortable facial expression makes you and people around you comfortable which is important to build valuable relationships and connections. Another component of body language that is absolutely crucial as it pertains to business etiquette is the handshake. It seems like a simple action that might not mean much but a handshake can make the difference between a successful interaction and a failed interaction. Handshakes are almost always appropriate and are a polite gesture that should be used often. Handshakes should not be too weak but also not too strong. Make sure you’re confident and remember that it’s an opportunity to get a connection started on the right note. Another part of body language is posture. Posture is important because it tells a lot about how much you care about the event that you are attending and/or your confidence and interest. Slouching makes it look like you are lazy and uninterested in the meeting and could make people think twice when in need of help or offering an opportunity.
You should stand straight and keep your head up to maintain the confident look that shows you are ready to listen, create, and work hard. Lastly about body language, there are gestures that tell people various things about how you feel about what is going on. Fidgeting and other restless motions are perceived as nervous and should be avoided while hand gestures while talking is perceived as being engaged and intellectual. All in all, when it comes to body language, you can communicate a lot to other people without even saying a single word and in the business world that can make all the difference. It’s important to be conscious of how your body language is perceived and to try to fix small habits that may give people the wrong impression.
Another topic of business etiquette is basic manners. Basic manners entails things like saying “please” and “thank you” which can definitely go a long way. There are plenty of people that don’t practice good manners so it is always nice to come across people that not only say polite things but also do small polite things like holding the door for someone or even pressing the button in an elevator for someone else. Little things can make a big difference and having good manners and being polite is a super easy way to take a step in the right direction when creating valuable connections in the business world. It is crucial to also say “excuse me” in order to avoid expressing disrespect to others. An example would be moving through a crowd or ending a conversation due to an important phone call. It is vital to attempt to keep in mind that there are plenty of opportunities to express politeness and they should be taken advantage of as much as possible.
Business etiquette is not limited to body language, it can also include verbal language. When speaking to professionals, it is appropriate and necessary to speak in a formal manner. For example, one must avoid using curse words or slang language. Using that kind of language is disrespectful and shows carelessness. Another example is addressing professionals with their appropriate honorifics like Mister or Manager.
Business etiquette also extends into the virtual world. In a time where a vast number of people consume information and interact with one another on the Internet, it is important to remember that business etiquette should be maintained but slightly adjusted when using a phone or computer. Always keep in mind that it is hard to convey tone and meaning over email and text. Messages can be easily misinterpreted without the face-to-face interaction because of the lack of body language. Always remember to be clear and concise when communicating virtually and that it shouldn’t be confusing what you’re trying to get across. Avoid using shorthand language and abbreviations as it can be unprofessional and typically looked down upon. For example, instead of using a slang term such as “bet”, try using more professional language such as “I understand” or “I agree with what you’re saying”. It is important to remember that just because you may be sitting at home in your pajamas does not mean you can interact with a laidback mindset when you send an email or text to a professional.
Another big part of business etiquette that I’ve seen emphasized by many is to never interrupt others during business conversations or presentations. It is very disrespectful and gives off a “bully” persona that is obviously overall not well liked. The person who interrupts the speaker shows that he or she is not interested in what the speaker is talking about. It can also express distraction from other people or even one’s phone. This can make the speaker feel self-conscious about what he or she is presenting on. People when they are speaking are trying to convey their ideas and thoughts and if interrupted it can be not only irritating but also problematic and a waste of time. It’s part of basic manners to be respectful and being a good listener is an easy way to accomplish just that. Also, being a good listener is an extremely valuable skill because it allows the person to consume all the information which is necessary to continue working and to innovate.
An aspect of business etiquette that is often undervalued is that people shouldn’t be afraid to be personal. Networking is a humongous part of being successful in the business world because connections always have opportunities for people to advance their career. There are many key elements that are required to be good at networking but arguably the most important one is that people should be personal and show care for the people they talk to. Going out of your way to be personal goes a long way because it tells the other person that you value them specifically and that they are not just another customer or seller or colleague to you. Examples of being personal with the people you meet while working include sending thank you notes, small meetings just to converse, sending a gift. All of these actions make it clear that you think the other person is worth keeping around and obviously that’s a nice feeling that people will appreciate. Networking is about creating valuable relationships that yield social and work benefits.
This aspect of business etiquette is more of a personal recommendation and it’s that instead of apologizing when making a mistake use more positive language. An example is instead of saying “Sorry for being late”, you should say “Thank you for waiting for me”. It seems like a simple change that won’t have an effect but in reality I feel that it makes a big difference. It’s an easy way to stay positive in the workplace and it also gets you into the habit of appreciating people for accommodating. People will respond better to gratitude compared to forgiveness.
Now that the more general rules have been covered there are plenty of small business etiquette rules that are nice to practice and make habit. An example is that whenever talking to people put your device and work away and make sure you engage with attention and care for what the other person has to discuss. This’ll help build connections and to be more productive at work instead of consuming whatever it may be on the Internet. It’s something that all of our parents have probably told us to do at some point and it is true that many people are staring at their phone at almost all times. Instead of being part of the many, stand out by engaging people and interacting in a meaningful fashion. Not only will this make making connections that much easier but it’ll make it better because the other person knows that you value the time spent together as opposed to appearing closed off and not wanting to be disturbed. Another example is making sure you maintain an appropriate, clean, and well-groomed appearance. In the professional workplace, one should always be neat because it expresses how much he or she cares about his or her position. This includes but is not limited to having polished shoes, clean teeth, clean fingernails, and well-kept hair. If it helps, you can even have a handkerchief or tissue in your pocket if you tend to perspire a lot. It is important to keep your hands dry and maintain a firm handshake with whomever you are meeting. When attending an interview or meeting with a potential client, it is key to make sure you are not wearing anything to pungent or distracting, such as strong cologne, visible piercings and tattoos. You want to make sure the other person has your full attention and that you are maintaining eye contact to help keep them engaged and interested in what you are speaking about. Another big part of business etiquette relates to dining events.
As part of networking, businesspeople often find themselves dining with colleagues and employees of other companies for the purpose of negotiating and other activities. There are a lot of components that go into business meals so it can be a really confusing sometimes to know how to act. Business meals are more complicated than regular social meals that you might have with a friend or family member. Just to go over a couple rules, first off don’t sit alone. Make sure that if you’re invited to a restaurant wait for the entire party to arrive before everyone settles in. When ordering food make sure you understand what other people are ordering and follow suit. Pay attention to the host and follow, if they order just an appetizer it would be appropriate to do just the same because after all the host is the one that is paying for the meal. And to end a meal definitely leave a good tip if it’s here in the United States. It sends a positive message that you’re sympathetic and generous which are typically attributed to be good qualities. A niche part of business etiquette that not everyone has to take into account is that of international business etiquette. It’s important to remember that in this age of technology many businesses and companies are international, spreading employees and offices throughout the entire world. It is very possible that you may find yourself on a business trip to another country and from there so much changes because of changing social norms in a completely new country. I took an International Business and Culture class in high school and we learned so much about how different business culture is in different countries.
The way you should act when in the Middle East versus China is vastly different and it is very easy to make cultural faux pas (an embarrassing act or remark in a social situation). For example, in China it’s important to stand when others enter the room. Here in the United States that isn’t an explicit rule that is practiced all the time but in other countries such as China that could make or break a candidate because it is a sign of respect. Another example is in Japan when eating food, you should be careful when using chopsticks because there is certain etiquette that is required like you should never point with your chopsticks. Clearly there are a lot of different customs that need to be taken into account because they are hosting you in their home country so their social norms are what is used. It’s critical that before any type of business trip you do plenty of research into what to remember and what to do and especially what not to do. Remember that many people were in your position and they’d be willing to help people going to another country for the first time. Everyone knows visiting another country is an extremely difficult process that can go wrong easily so there is some slack but to be a top notch businessperson in this international system it would be a valuable skill to network internationally and be liked in as many countries as possible. In conclusion, it’s clear that business etiquette really encompasses a LOT of subjects. Just in this essay I’ve talked about business clothing, dining tips, international rules, and more.
There is no doubt that there are even more but this is definitely a good start. It’s important to be adaptive and learn as you go. It’s impossible to know everything about business etiquette but it’s good to make an effort to know as much as possible because every time you demonstrate good etiquette it contributes to how people perceive you which is critical in the business world. To conclude, know that there are 4 types of business etiquette: workplace etiquette, meal etiquette, professionalism, and communication etiquette. Keep track of everything and keep an eye on the reputable people that have business etiquette down. Good luck with everything that you do in your career and make sure at the end of the day it’s all about being genuine and kind.