Business etiquette is still a vital consideration for 21st century brokers, and the way you conduct yourself at work can have a huge effect on how successful you are, argues Nikki Heald
Have you ever been in a business situation and witnessed an event that was so cringe-worthy it left you saying “Really?” If so, think about the impression that behaviour left on you and the negative connotation attached to it.
Perhaps you think that the way you conduct yourself at work doesn’t really matter too much. Well, think again! Understanding correct etiquette (or protocols) not only provides you with an edge over competitors but also influences whether or not you eventually make the sale. Your conduct can also mean the difference between whether you stand in line to receive a promotion or not. Savvy business people appreciate this and incorporate business etiquette into their daily interactions to ensure success.
While the word ‘etiquette’ may seem out of date or even old-fashioned, the simple fact is that common courtesies still prevail. Etiquette is about respect, good manners, and good behaviour. It is not just about one of these but a combination of all of them rolled into one. Clients and colleagues have an expectation that you will conduct yourself professionally, civilly and appropriately. Bad manners leave an unfavourable impression and this can often be difficult to shake.
MAKE TIME FOR MANNERS
Unfortunately, in today’s high-tech, fast-paced world, our belief may be that we are too busy or have more pressing things to do than practise correct protocol. Sending a simple ‘thank you’, replying on time, exchanging business cards correctly or returning a call appear to have gone by the wayside.
You might assume that manners are automatic or ingrained in us by the time we become adults, but that may not always be the case. Some do not place a high priority on implementing common courtesies. Of course, we all know to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; however, people in the business world need to appreciate that there’s more to business protocol than that.
During the first few seconds of meeting someone, perceptions are formed, and first impressions can be long lasting. Presentation, body language, and behaviour are critical as there’s only a small window of opportunity in which to impress. Do you have confidence and integrity? Are you friendly and self-assured? Are you capable and knowledgeable? Do you appear trustworthy and ethical? These are just some of the assumptions clients and colleagues will form about you.
Indeed, Sir Richard Branson in his book Losing My Virginity says: “I tend to make up my mind about people within thirty seconds of meeting them”. Interestingly, a lot of research has been conducted that supports Sir Richard’s proposition.
Etiquette is also essential at work functions. From a management perspective, employees are professionally on display when they are networking, attending client meetings and conferences. Senior managers often observe the way staff conduct themselves at these gatherings, as behaviour may reveal true character.
In this day and age, many business functions are surrounded in social occasion; however, they are not social events. For those seeking career progression, be mindful that work functions are strictly business and not the time to gain a reputation as the office stripper or party animal.
FROM WORKPLACE ETIQUETTE TO ‘NETIQUETTE’
What about workplace etiquette? Perhaps you have a team member who likes to shout across partitions, talk loudly on the phone or constantly interrupt others. Alternatively, you might know of the serial CC’er – the team member who likes to copy all staff into their emails? Thankfully, such behaviours can be fine-tuned and refined.
Professional conduct is by no means limited to face-to-face transactions but also extends to your online behaviour or ‘netiquette’. The use of social media in business is ever-increasing, so knowing the correct rules in this arena is just as crucial. Websites, Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn are an extension of your brand, and again, any content or comments must be appropriate.
Unfortunately, most behaviour that is perceived as disrespectful is actually unintentional, and the person who practised it didn’t quite understand the rules for that situation. I really believe that most people don’t purposely set out to embarrass themselves or others.
Implementing the correct rules for networking, client entertainment, meet and greet, handshaking and distributing business cards may seem a little daunting if you’re not sure what to do. However, the great news is that business protocol can be learned and, with practice, will become second nature.
Good manners costs you nothing; however, the value is that you will gain in credibility, confidence, and ultimately your bottom line.
Business etiquette tips
Let others speak, and don’t monopolise conversations. No one appreciates a whinger, whiner or bragger.
Stick to appropriate eye contact. Flirtatious and intimate glances may lead to trouble!
Avoid getting intoxicated at business functions – it can be career limiting!
No one likes a bone-crusher or wet fish. A firm, professional handshake will do!
Avoid brandishing cutlery when speaking during a meal. Your companions may become scared of where it might end up!
Nikki Heald’s top 10 tips for correct business protocol:
Deliver a well-executed, firm handshake
Ensure you introduce yourself and others
Be well groomed, and dress suitably for your role
Learn the art of conversation and small talk
Carry sufficient, clean-looking business cards
Be mindful of your table manners
In business, if you invite, you pay
Switch off mobile phones and put away during meetings
Keep emails short and to the point
Avoid the hard-sell or being too pushy
Nikki Heald is a corporate trainer, presenter, businesswoman, founder of Corptraining, and co-author of “Views on the Way to the Top”. Head to corptraining.com.au for more information.