Practicing good business etiquette can give you a genuine competitive edge, and it doesn’t cost you anything! These behaviors are mostly common sense, but unfortunately, these days common sense seems to be in short supply.
What is business etiquette?
There are two main definitions:
Expected behaviors and expectations for individual actions within the place of business
Practical and professional social skill that plays an important part in business professional success
Business etiquette is essential to how our behaviors affect others and their opinions of us. In my earlier days, someone once asked me, “Joe, do you care what people think about you?” Back then, I didn’t! My personality was brusque and overpowering, with the classic high D mentality of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” He told me, “If you’re going to succeed in business, you better start caring.” Eventually, I learned the truth of his words and began considering those around me and how I affected them.
Proper business etiquette is critical because first impressions are lasting, and a second chance may not be possible. Dawn once used a great object lesson to illustrate this: at a large convention with thousands of people in the audience, she opened a tube of toothpaste and squirted its contents onto the stage. “Words are like toothpaste,” she explained. “Once they’re out of your mouth, you can’t get them back. Just like it’s impossible to put this toothpaste back in the tube.”
As a businessman who works all over the country, I have seen many violations of business etiquette. So I’ve created a list of my top etiquette rules. These are easy to follow, but just within the past week, I’ve experienced all of them being broken at least once.
Eighteen business etiquette principles
1. Use a firm handshake.
Make full contact with the other person’s hand while maintaining direct eye contact. Be aware of the fine line between a comfortable, brief clasp and an intense vice grip: this looks like a power play. Also avoid the limp, dead fish type handshake, and never go with a high five or fist bump.
2. Say “Please” and “Thank you”.
Chick-fil-A, the second-largest quick-service chain in the country, is known for outstanding customer service. President and COO Dan Cathy makes it a priority to train his employees in this simple yet powerful social convention. It takes no effort at all, but yields enormous dividends in maintaining great relationships with both clients and co-workers.
3. Do not interrupt.
In the last ten days, in business settings from here to San Diego, I have observed people interrupting each other and their clients over and over again. Not only is this rude, but it also keeps people from truly hearing each other. An important part of business etiquette is learning to close your mouth and actively listen until the other person is finished speaking.
4. Profanity and offensive language are taboo.
About nine years ago, I had the opportunity to put a colleague at the table with one of the largest construction companies in the world. At stake was a couple million dollars’ worth of business. Before the meeting, I told the person, “These are Southern gentlemen. Please don’t use Northeastern slang or any profanity.” But within half an hour, profanity came out of that person’s mouth, crushing the deal. Those four letter words were spoken at a high cost. Some people are so accustomed to profanity that they can’t seem to communicate without it, but powerful speakers and business people can get their point across in much more effective ways.
5. Emails are for data, not communication.
If you have something to discuss, use the phone. It is all too easy for emails or text messages to be misconstrued without the context of facial cues and tone of voice. The first year I learned to use email, I unintentionally offended people everywhere! Nobody told me that typing in all caps meant that you’re yelling. Finally someone mentioned it and asked, “Why are you yelling at me?” Especially when it comes to conflict resolution or detailed communication, just pick up the phone.
6. Check for misspelled words and grammar errors.
Some people have eagle eyes for these mistakes, and when they spot them, the originator automatically loses credibility in their eyes. Even though it’s a tiny detail, small errors can be costly when your proposal is rejected for such a simple thing as a typo.
7. Do not walk into someone’s office without permission.
This sounds so basic, and it is! But it’s astounding how many people will just waltz into an office unannounced. Follow common courtesy protocols and knock before entering. If you want to separate yourself from the pack, have manners!
8. No gossip allowed.
As a young man, Benjamin Franklin made a vow to never speak ill of people, but rather to speak the best he could of others. When you hear gossip, be the one to stand up and stop it. Gossip never results in anything good, and it usually gets back to the person it’s about.
9. No religion, no sex, no politics.
In our boot camps, we teach this principle emphatically. There’s no place for these topics in business. When they come up, there is at least a 50% chance of disagreement over something that is irrelevant to your business, anyway. Last week, a colleague and I met a wonderful new client in Seattle. He took us out to a great seafood restaurant and within a few minutes, he was talking politics. I just ate my salad and didn’t say a word, because politics are divisive. It’s not worth the potential conflict when my focus is on maintaining good relationships.
10. Turn off your phone during meetings.
I am continually amazed by the number of people I see glued to their phone, even during meetings or at lunch with someone. The person you’re sitting with is more important than that text you want to send. Set it aside and deal with it later. If the phone rings and you’re in a meeting, that’s what voicemail is for. Either put your phone on silent mode or turn it face down so it doesn’t keep lighting up and distracting you.
11. Avoid using call waiting.
When you’re on a call with someone and another call comes in, do not take it. That tells the first caller they are less important. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the line with a Super Bowl champion or a local businessperson you met at a networking event, treat every person the same: as valued members of your world. They are all important and it’s vital that you respect them. If a call comes in during another conversation, you can return it.
12. Return every phone call.
You need no special training for this, it is simple to do, and your reliability will win you clients. In our world of digital everything, just returning phone calls will make you stand out from your competitors.
13. Learn how to introduce people.
With any introduction, there are simple but important protocols involved. Know who the senior person in rank or age is, and follow these steps…
14. Turn off the sound on all gadgets.
These days, everything beeps and chimes, creating distractions. Turn off the sound on your phone, iPad, computer, and any other potential noisemakers, so you can focus on the people around you.
15. Be on time for everything.
Promptness costs you nothing and makes a great first impression. As a coach, I taught my players this concept of timeliness: “Early is on time, and on time is late.” After running a few sprints for arriving exactly on time, they got the message!
16. Be well groomed.
Keep your game face on at all times. This doesn’t mean you have to live in business suits, and I’m not talking about how you dress for Saturday errands or when you’re out jogging. But no matter where you are or what you’re doing, maintain basic grooming standards. Keep your hair well-cut and styled, wear clean, unwrinkled clothing that is appropriate for your day, maintain your nails, brush and floss your teeth. Don’t allow bad breath or body odor to negatively impact others’ impression of you.
17. Wear proper attire.
Know the dress code for what you do. When I lead a training, I wear a company logo golf shirt with a sport coat. On the big stage, I wear a good suit. Know your market and what is expected. Here in Florida, it still shocks me to see people doing business in sandals, or even flip flops.
18. Don’t bring guests to your meeting.
It’s hard enough to manage your own behavior. The last thing you need is wild card coming into the room with you. The person you’re meeting with may not appreciate an unannounced addition, and it can throw off the whole tone of what you’re trying to achieve.
Go back through the list and evaluate yourself on your business etiquette. Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten, with one being “uh-oh” and ten being “I got this.” Consider carefully how your application of business etiquette might be affecting how others perceive you. As you move forward, bear in mind these simple tips. Though they cost you nothing and are easy to apply, you can reap tremendous benefit!
Joe Pici is a business strategist and tactical sale trainer who has been ranked in the TOP 30 by Global Gurus for sales.