Tuesday, 23rd January 2018

Business Etiquette

Posted on 01. May, 2012 by in ENVIRONMENT, LIFESTYLE

We’ve all been a victim of poor business etiquette at some point in our careers. Years ago, when smoking was permitted in the office, I sat across from a gal that smoked. I am highly allergic to smoke and I have asthma.

At the time, there was no precedent or place for having a smoker go elsewhere to smoke. Finally, they bought her a “smoke eater” machine, which partially solved the problem. In today’s office environment, businesses have to take each employee’s needs into consideration by setting clear and firm standards of comportment, whether it be a dress code, a code of conduct or designated areas for eating and smoking. They must communicate these standards through many channels, many times, and they must stand by them, with repercussions for offenders.

Codes of conduct and proper etiquette go hand in hand. I specialize in helping companies address multicultural workforce issues, and as you might expect, there are many do’s and don’ts of business etiquette that are dependent upon the culture you are in (See my last article here Doing Business in Brazil, Modern DC Business, February, 2012).

Fortunately, most rules of etiquette transcend all cultures. Business etiquette, like all etiquette, is about making others feel comfortable. The golden rule applies in the office, just as it does in personal settings. We often forget to do unto others in business because when we’re at work, we’re conditioned to put ourselves first, for professional advancement. But I truly believe that individuals, as well as businesses, can be extraordinarily successful if they put other’s needs before their own. So here are some ways how:

Give personal space/privacy – Whether it’s tight quarters in your office environment or not, give your coworkers the space and privacy they need to complete their work. Th at means minimizing drop-ins, scheduling your time with them and not commenting or listening in on phone calls if, due to a cubicle setting, they are in earshot.

Voice volume speaks volumes – People think a booming voice commands respect, but oft en times it just instills fear. If you are too loud, you can be interpreted as angry, arrogant or overbearing. Moreover, a loud talker invites commentary and eavesdropping in a cubicle environment, and worse, it distracts your coworkers. On the other hand, a soft talker can be perceived as too timid. Find the medium level that gets you heard without causing your audience to wince or strain.

Dress for your coworkers – So many people of all ages get this wrong. The office is not the place to express your personality through fashion. Your clothes and appearance should not distract others from seeing your work, or doing theirs. It’s as simple as that. No heavy perfumes. No loud, clanky jewelry and make sure your hair is neatly groomed. No matter if you are a business formal or Friday casual environment, it’s appropriate to look neat and clean. Leaders should model the dress they want from their staff . Employees should take cues from the leadership on what’s appropriate.


Show Sympathy – It is not only okay, it is important – and proper etiquette – to show sympathy to a coworker who is going through a personal challenge. It assures them they are in a safe, caring environment. I once knew of a coworker who had returned to work aft er losing her mother to cancer and her boss never said a word. His lack of acknowledgment made her feel that she didn’t matter to him as a person. She left the job because she ultimately felt uncomfortable working for him. So, you must say something, but make it brief and don’t overdo it. All you have to do is say, “I am sorry to hear of .” Leave it at that, unless you have a personal relationship. Be concise – Whether you are speaking on email, in voice mail or in person, your message is taking up others’ time, so plan what you have to say beforehand and say it as concisely as you can. Emails should be quick – a couple of sentences at most. An email that requires scrolling is likely better suited for a face-to-face conversation. Your voicemails should take about 10 seconds. Leave your name and phone number and the question you have. Speak slowly and enunciate so the listener can write your number down. When in person, get to the point. People will appreciate your brevity.

Respect grammar – Casual communication through texting and email has lulled everyone into thinking that grammar doesn’t matter, but it does. When you misspell words or use sloppy or lax grammar, you not only give the impression you don’t care about the recipient, you appear inept. Plus, you may cause unnecessary confusion. So have a copy of Strunk and White at your desk and set up your Microsoft Word and email to auto spellcheck. Th en proofread it all yourself before sending.

Choose words carefully – This is often something we overlook. In our efforts to project authenticity, we have gotten a little, shall we say, too colorful with our word choices in the office. Profanity is not appropriate in the office. It comes across as hostile. Relaxed language is good for building rapport, but use of slang or overly casual phrases will make you appear immature. A good rule of thumb is to use the sort of language you would use with your friend’s grandmother. You might be casual with your own grandmother, so use the formality and respect you’d use with your friend’s grandmother.

Control your TMI
– Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have made us all more comfortable sharing personal information with coworkers. This can be a good thing, in that it fosters relationships and builds trust. But there is a line. Again, the leadership must model the behavior and set the boundaries. Topics that are still inappropriate and “too much information” or TMI for most office environments include politics, religion, bedroom and bathroom. Even if you have a personal relationship with someone in the office, it’s best to keep your office conversations professional, lest a coworker hears you and is off ended by your comments.

Think of cell phones as crosswords Cell phone use poses arguably the biggest breach of good etiquette. If you are unclear of when it’s appropriate to use your cell phone – for anything – use the crossword puzzle rule. Cell phone use is appropriate whenever doing a crossword puzzle is. So driving, no. Meetings, no. Dinner table, no. Waiting on the mechanic, sure. Just remember that if you cannot put the phone away while in the presence of someone else, then you should reschedule or decline the meeting to a time when you can. It’s so important that leadership model this behavior. When a high-ranking authority figure whips out a phone and starts texting in a meeting, she/he is saying (a) this is okay to do and (b) none of what’s happening here is as important as what I am doing on my phone. It’s rude to all other attendees and should not be done.

As a business owner, it’s your duty to publish and communicate the standards of behavior you expect in your office. You must lead by example, and also react swiftly with follow–through to violators of your standards. Likewise, employees need to be mindful of their own behavior and treat others as they’d like to be treated. These are rules that apply no matter what business you are in or who is in your workforce.

Post By Brigitta S. Toruño (3 Posts)

Brigitta S. Toruño:

Briggita’s love of her native language, Spanish, drove her desire to work with languages and launch UNO Translations and Communications, LLC (UNO). She founded UNO in 1998 after more than a decade of work in the corporate world.


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