Ins and Outs of Business Etiquette – How well do you behave?

“Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.” (Thomas Sowell, Creators Syndicate)

An important business meeting with potential customers, right in its hottest phase and one of the participants sneezes. What do you do? The most intentional and for most people also the most appropriate response is a “Blessu” and things move on.

Business Etiquette in times of globalizationchopstick_keyboard

But in today’s world, especially with different cultures clashing, it is not that easy anymore or maybe it never really was?

Of course, depending on the country of your visit or your clients, rules and etiquette may vary, sometimes even in completely opposite directions.  Whereas it is regarded as bad manners in most Western Cultures to do so, in Japan, slurping your soup is regarded well mannered. Therefore, preparing oneself beforehand is of the essence! In Germany, for example there is a famous book, named “Knigge”, standing for appropriate behavior at any given time.

Did you for example know that during phone calls, you should use the other person´s name at least three times?
David Keenan, a successful Global Business Development Specialist, discusses these issues in his recent article Globalization – Business Cultures, Etiquette & Localization
As David Keenan already mentioned, business etiquette is not only essential in offices, but also during breaks when gathering for a common meal. An article concentrating mainly on table etiquette may be helpful when attending a business lunch or dinner:

Hofstede’s and Trompenaar’s – basics of international etiquette and behavior

A brief summary of the most basic elements of etiquette is given bz Eliya Browning in her article on Business Etiquette, where she claims

“Business Etiquette: The word may sound stodgy. But courtesy and manners are still essential–particularly in business.”

However, there is a whole lot more to etiquette than this. When dealing with foreign cultures, one first step could be to take a look into Hofstede’s or Trompenaar’s  Theory, both of which are attempting to summarize cultural dimensions on scales and fitting them into a raster, which allows a quick overview of cultures. Of course, a culture is as complex and individual as the human being itself and cannot be described with scores or even with words. Even within countries or cultures there are always sub cultures or people behaving differently. So this is only supposed to give a general idea, however it is only a model trying to simplify this complex issue.

A list of some general rules of business etiquette and appropriate behavior is given here

Business Etiquette in times of smart phones, tablets and facebook

But not only in an international context, also at your workplace where you think you know what is appropriate and acceptable in your environment, during the last couple of years, etiquette has changed quite a bit. This is especially due to new technology. As Danella Yujuico Yaptinchy claims in her recent post, “Technology is no reason to be rude”.

So even when sending E-Mails, one should not forget to keep a certain level of politeness and formality, although it might take a couple of seconds more, it will come around eventually.
Elene Zimmer argues in the New York Times that „Smartphones Should Know Their Place at Work” and answers some basic and yet important questions on how to handle technology in a business with proper etiquette.

Business Etiquette – dos and don’ts

Here are a few tips for communicating via E-Mail on how to save time and yet meet all requirements when it comes to business etiquette:

  1. In your E-Mail account, use a formal signature which is appropriate, for example:

With kind regards,

Mister XY

  1. Answer all E-Mails within 24 hours; if you need more time, let your contact know you are working on the problem.
  2. Include subjects when sending E-Mails which tell the receiver the content and matter of your message.
  3. Make use of the “BCC” (Blind Carbon Copy) field when contacting several people who are not related to each other
  4. Do not use emoticons or other shortcuts, it´s unprofessional
  5. Keep it short and simple. Most people will delay reading longer E-Mails and do not have the time to read long E-Mails.

Remember, Etiquette is not only a form of expressing how well you can behave, but in many situations proper Etiquette may influence your relationships with potential clients and partners. So stick to the most essential manners and rules and do not let bad etiquette get in the way of your business!

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot. “ (Clarence Thomas)

If you are further interested in proper communication with today’s technology, be sure to read my post on Computer Mediated Communication.