There has always been an unwritten code of socially acceptable norms and standards throughout the history of human civilization. There are just some things you do and other things you don’t do; some things that are appropriate and others that are not. But these unwritten laws don’t just apply to hospitality or fine dining. They are just as valid in the world of trade and commerce.
Unlike other industries however, in the business world, poor business etiquette can have unpleasant and even financially unviable consequences. For example, failing to be sensitive to certain codes of conduct can rub a client the wrong way and jeopardize a vital transaction or contract, resulting in financial loss and damage to credibility. Appropriate professional etiquette is vital to the healthy functioning of companies, not only with other companies but also within the numerous departments and levels of one company. In this article we will look at the importance of business etiquette and identify five key aspects:
- The ‘Hello’ Handshake: The handshake is still the ‘platinum’ non-verbal standard for greetings, acknowledgement and gratitude. It is almost universally accepted as a normal gesture of introducing or meeting someone and also for purposes of concurrence or thankfulness. It is considered professional regardless of the situation, race or gender of the person being interacted with.
- The ‘Politeness’ Policy: We are taught to say “please” and “thank you” as children and those manners really never go away. These coupled with a sincere smile and eye contact form the foundations, of not only corporate etiquette but also social etiquette.
- The ‘Meeting’ Mandate: Meetings are the ‘pit-stops’ of the corporate world. The way one conducts oneself in a meeting is of primal importance to projecting the right image and setting the right impression to everybody involved. Arriving on time is considered courteous and respectful to the schedules of everybody involved. During the course of the meeting, it is professional to not interrupt someone who is speaking, even if you strongly disagree with his or her view. The temptation is to jump in to voice our opinion but one must control this urge to give everyone a fair and uninterrupted chance to express his or hers.
- The ‘Written’ Wisdom: Written communication is probably the least likely medium to contain breaches of etiquette but it is still possible. In a world of text messages, tweets and emoticons, a new kind of ‘short-hand’ has evolved consisting of ‘intentional typos’, abbreviations and smiley faces. This is not professionally acceptable in official written correspondence. Letters and emails must be checked for spelling, grammar and typos before sending to the recipient.
- The ‘Taboo’ Topics: Certain issues are considered private and thereby exempt from being discussed at a professional working environment. While some of these may simply be personal, others can be contentious matters and are better left out of the workplace. These may vary slightly between cultures or countries, but generally religion, politics and sexual orientation are topics best left unopened.