While it is tempting to believe that etiquette isn’t important in the business world, this is obviously not true. Just as in any other area of life, good manners smooth your way and bad manners alienate other people. Those who understand and apply proper etiquette in the business world have a distinct advantage over those who don’t.
Here are seven essential rules of business etiquette.
- Be punctual. You should always be on time for meetings. Leave yourself extra time so that any delay – a traffic jam or a slow ride on public transit – won’t result in lateness. If you are the meeting host, you should be sitting in the meeting room at least five minutes before the appointed time, so you are prepared to welcome the other attendees. If you are a guest, you should arrive at least a couple of minutes before the scheduled time, so that you have enough time to sit down and get organized before the meeting begins.
- Return calls and e-mails. With the exception of spam e-mail and unwanted phone calls, you should return all messages. Messages should generally be answered within 24 hours, but responding the same day is even better. If you can’t give a substantive answer, you should at least let the caller know that you received their message and will be in touch when you are able to provide the requested information.
- Don’t use your cell phone during meetings. It is generally frowned upon to spend time during a meeting looking at your cell phone. In fact, it’s disrespectful to be texting or reading e-mails while someone is making a presentation. Of course, when there is a break during a meeting it’s perfectly okay to take out and use your cell phone.
- Treat everyone with respect. When you walk into the offices of a company, you should treat everyone you encounter – from the receptionist to the CEO – with courtesy and respect. This will impress those you meet. And when the receptionist moves up within the company, he or she will remember your courtesy!
- Dress more formally than expected. Standards of business attire have evolved in recent decades. However, the way you dress still matters. Your clothes make an impression – positive or negative – before you open your mouth and say a word. If you dress slightly more formally than the minimum level in every situation, your high standards will be noticed. For instance, in offices where the gentlemen are expected to wear a dress shirt and dress pants, wearing a blazer over the shirt will set you apart in a good way.
- Get names and titles right. People are offended if their names are forgotten, misspelled, or mispronounced. They are also annoyed if their title is rendered incorrectly. So, take the time to get names and titles right. It’s a small thing that means a lot to those you encounter.
- Express gratitude appropriately. While it may seem like an empty formality, expressions of gratitude are appreciated by those who receive them. If a prospect agrees to meet with you to hear your sales pitch, thank them the next day. If someone comes into your office to make a presentation to your staff, thank them. The choice of communication options – a phone call, e-mail, or written note – depends on local and industry practices.
It doesn’t take much extra time or energy to deploy proper etiquette. It does require self-discipline and commitment. Whatever personal resources you devote to practicing good manners are well spent, because proper etiquette impresses everyone you encounter in the business world.