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A WorkLife4You Guide

Business Etiquette
Business etiquette is a practical and profit- • Working in close proximity
able social skill that plays an important role • A lack of understanding of/sensitivity to
in career success, building better relationships diversity in the workplace (e.g., age, gen-
and increasing professionalism. With work- der, culture, work styles, perspectives)
place civility, employees thrive in a positive
environment where all are treated with cour- • Depersonalization of the communica-
tesy and respect and are, thus, able to focus tion process through the extensive use
of e-mail
on their work. In addition, the ability to suc-
cessfully relate to, and engage with, managers, • Emotional contagion. Studies indicate
co-workers and clients is a key interpersonal that emotions are contagious, and nega-
skill that employers value highly. Employees tive emotions lead to a greater emotional
who arm themselves with the principles of contagion than positive emotions.
business etiquette distinguish themselves in These factors decrease both business produc-
the workplace and display a confident profes- tivity and employee job satisfaction.
sional persona.
Why Etiquette Matters Mindfulness is vital to success in the busi-
A lack of respect and value for one another in ness world. It is essential to be conscious of
the workplace has a cost. Employees who are how your behavior affects others. People may
upset about the way they are treated in the be unaware of their behavior and its con-
workplace are less productive. In addition, sequences. In many cases, behavior that is
employees may respond to disrespect or dis- perceived as disrespectful or discourteous is
courtesy by decreasing contact with, or efforts unintentional and could be avoided by mind-
on behalf of, an offending individual. If the fulness and the consistent application of the
situation continues unresolved, people may principles of business etiquette. In a business
seek another position. environment, first impressions are lasting;
Contributing factors for unprofessional, rude a second chance may not be possible. The
behaviors include: knowledge and practice of etiquette offers a
valuable advantage in creating and maintain-
• Increased stress levels at work ing a positive impression.
• Longer hours in the office
• Heavy workloads Fostering Positive Work Relationships
• Pressures to do more in less time Building and maintaining positive work rela-
tionships is an important facet of workplace
• Customer demands success. These positive relationships can play
• Struggles with work/life balance a key role when it comes time for manage-
• External triggers (e.g., personal issues, ment to assign coveted projects and award
commute hassles, etc.) promotions, raises and bonuses.
Principles of Business Etiquette • Aim for face-to-face communications as
Your behavior is the foundation upon which opposed to voice-mail or e-mail.
positive relationships are created. The fol- • Be diplomatic.
lowing principles of business etiquette should
• Emphasize the use of courtesy and
define all of your business relationships: respect in all communications.
• Respect
Conflict Resolution:
• Courtesy
• Approach conflict as situation-related as
• Collaboration opposed to person-related. Focus on the
• Non-aggression problem not the person.
Most people understand that they need to • Be positive and goal oriented. Offer
solutions and suggestions for fixing the
treat superiors and clients with respect. They problem.
may not, however, be as mindful of their
relationships with peers and subordinates. • Be clear and specific. Don’t say, “John,
Keep in mind that work environments can I can’t do anything with this report. It’s
and do change rapidly. You never know who all wrong. Fix it!” Instead say, “John,
you may be called upon to work with in the the Q1 data was used but we need Q2
data, can you make that change to the
future. The best practice is to establish and report today?”
maintain good working relationships with all
you come into contact with. By being mind- • Be proactive instead of reactive.
ful and consistently applying the principles Respond with solutions rather than
of business etiquette you build positive work complaints.
relationships, increase your opportunities • Be slow to anger, particularly regarding
for success and make your workplace a more insignificant issues. Being perceived as
pleasant place. cool-headed and rational adds weight to
your responses.
Workplace Relationship Skills • Keep an open mind. Listen to the other
The following skills are essential for building person’s point of view without inter-
positive work relationships: rupting or arguing and strive for a win-
win solution.
• Accept feedback—whether positive
• Be a good listener. Use verbal and non- or negative—with poise and without
verbal cues to demonstrate you are becoming defensive. It speaks volumes
focused on what the other person has to about your professionalism.
• Never criticize a co-worker or employee
• Think before you speak. Consider what in front of others.
you want to communicate and choose
your words carefully. Be mindful of • If you find yourself in a disagreement
how you speak—don’t raise your voice, with someone, don’t air your differences
use harsh tones or use profanity. Speak in public. Find a private location to
like a professional and you will be per- discuss the issue.
ceived as one. Support and Appreciation:
• Don’t interrupt. • On group projects be sure to credit and
• Avoid miscommunication—clarify by compliment everyone who contributed.
summarizing and repeating back what • Speak well of your co-workers and
you heard. Ask questions if you don’t acknowledge their accomplishments.
• Never take credit for someone else Common/Shared Areas
efforts. Workplace common areas, such as kitchens
• Acknowledge co-workers’ birthdays, and lunchrooms, can be the biggest source of
promotions, engagements, weddings, co-worker tension. Help maintain supplies,
new children or the death of a loved wash and return items to their proper places,
one. Such thoughtfulness leaves a lasting clean spills and wipe countertops and tables
impression. as needed. When leaving food items in a
Magic Words: shared refrigerator, mark all items with your
name and date and remove all items at the
These expressions are too often forgotten in end of your work week.
business but what a difference they can make.
Use them! Restrooms run a close second as potential
sources of conflict. After use, wipe the coun-
• Please tertop and sink of any spilled water or soap.
• Thank you Be sure the toilet area is clean for the next
user. Notify the proper attendant if supplies
• Good Job! are low or out and if there are any mainte-
• Great Idea nance issues.
• Pardon Me When eating at your desk or in shared areas
• I’m Sorry avoid eating food with a strong odor that
may permeate the office.
Common Etiquette Challenges in the Keep shared office equipment in working
Workplace condition. Refill paper and fix or notify the
proper person if office equipment is not work-
Here are some etiquette challenges that are
ing properly. Return equipment to the original
typically faced in the workplace:
settings if you have to change them—such
Distracting Behaviors
as when printing multiple copies, using legal
size paper or making two-sided copies.
Recent studies have shown that behaviors
that interfere with work performance rated Personal Consideration
highest among employees’ “pet peeves.” An • Don’t borrow items from a co-worker’s
office loud talker is one of the biggest irri- desk without permission and return
tants, followed closely by loud or annoying borrowed items in working condition.
cell phone ring tones.
• Keep your personal workplace clean and
Consider the following suggestions: neat. Generally, less is better when it
• Be aware of how loudly you are speak- comes to office and cubicle decor. Use
ing. Don’t shout over cubicle walls. discretion when displaying personal items
such as family photos and mementos so
• Set your cell phone to silent or vibrate. as not overdo or clutter your work area.
• Be mindful of where you conduct work- • Be on time. If you encounter an
related conversations to ensure they unavoidable delay, make every attempt
don’t disturb the work of others. to contact any person or group who
• Keep personal conversations outside may be waiting for you. Always allow
workspaces (or better still outside the extra time if you have to travel
office). Keep personal telephone calls— • Sharing professional information is a
and e-mails—brief and to a minimum. wonderful thing. Gossiping and sharing
• If you play music in your workspace, be overly personal information is not.
sure only you can hear it.
Maintaining a Professional Appearance with someone, try not to slouch, fidget,
and Presence crowd the other person, look around the
room or play with your hair or jewelry. Use
Wardrobe your posture and eye contact to indicate that
The way you dress sets a tone and sends a you are focused on the other person and
message. For both men and women, simple, what they are saying.
well-cut clothes that flatter your shape/figure
are the typically the best choice. Be sure to Personal Space
always look in the mirror—front and back. Be aware of, and respect, personal space and
Keep in mind the adage, “dress for the posi- conversational comfort zones. Don’t stand
tion you want, not the position you have.” too close or too far from someone when hav-
Be aware of and follow your company’s dress ing a conversation.
code. If there is no a formal dress code, fol- The standard North American comfort zone
low the lead of those around you. In most for communication is three feet. Remember
companies, the following are not considered that the communication comfort zones differ
appropriate: tight fitting, low cut clothing; in other cultures, so do your research if you
ripped or torn clothing; extremely short are conducting international business.
skirts or shorts; fitness attire such as sweat-
pants, bicycle shorts, and running tights. Meeting and Greeting
Meeting and introducing people (including
Personal Hygiene and Grooming
introducing yourself to someone you haven’t
Your physical appearance, including groom- met before) can be just as nerve-wracking as
ing, dress and body language makes up 50 public speaking. Here are a few tips:
percent of your first impression. Practice
good bodily and dental hygiene. Hair, • When greeting someone, rise if you are
including facial hair, should be clean, styled seated, smile, extend your hand and
and neat. Personal grooming, such as filing, make eye contact.
cleaning or clipping your nails, applying • Use a firm handshake—lasting three to
makeup or combing your hair should not four seconds or two to three pumps—
be done in public. Use perfume or cologne and let go.
• If you are making an introduction
Body Language and Non-Verbal Messages
and you forget someone’s name, don’t
panic. Look the person directly in the
The vast majority of communication—93 eye and with a sincere smile, say “I’m
percent—is non-verbal; words only account sorry, but your name just slipped my
for seven percent of a person’s communica- mind. Could you remind me?” Then
tion. Your body language—including your continue as if nothing happened.
facial expression, posture, position and
movement of your hands, arms, legs and • When you encounter someone whose
feet—conveys a lot of messages. You can name you’ve forgotten you can also try
appear engaged, interested, concerned, sym- using the classic greeting of extending
pathetic, disgusted, bored, nervous or anx- your hand and stating your name. The
ious without uttering a word. majority of people will respond to this
prompting by shaking your hand and
Body language can be difficult to control. saying his or her own name.
Make sure that your body language reflects
your words and intentions. When speaking
Workplace Communication Tools E-mail
E-mail is an effective and important com-
munication tool but it should not be used
Business over the telephone incorporates a as the exclusive means of communicating.
wide range of encounters with co-workers Composing an e-mail, waiting for a response,
and clients—for example, placing an order, replying and so-on may not be the most
setting up an appointment, getting help with efficient way to discuss an issue that could be
a problem or discussing an important issue. more quickly resolved by a conversation in
A well-handled phone call can make all the real time.
difference in successfully navigating these
encounters. E-mail also depersonalizes communication.
Freed of direct contact, people may say things
Here are some basic rules of thumb to keep that they wouldn’t if they were speaking in-
in mind when doing business over the phone: person. In addition, without non-verbal cues,
• Speak clearly. communications are easily misconstrued.
• Ask permission before using a speaker- Use e-mail wisely by being thoughtful and
phone. Many people are uncomfortable practicing good etiquette:
conversing this way. • Be thoughtful about the kind of infor-
• Identify yourself when making a call mation you send via e-mail. A good rule
and when answering the phone. Don’t to follow is to never put anything in an
assume the other person will recog- e-mail that you wouldn’t say in public.
nize your voice. Many companies have Remember: e-mail messages don’t go
policies on how they want employees to away. Old messages can come back to
answer the phone. If your company has haunt you.
such policies, learn and follow them. • Make the subject line specific to the
• Return calls promptly. If you don’t yet content of your message.
have an answer to the caller’s question, • Keep your messages concise and to the
explain what actions you are taking to point.
get the requested information or direct
them to the appropriate place to get it. • Double-check names and e-mail
addresses in the subject line to ensure
• Avoid putting callers on hold. If you they are correct.
think you’ll need to put a caller on hold
for more than a few seconds, ask per- • Abbreviations and emoticons are inap-
mission first and offer to end the con- propriate in business writing, including
versation and call back later. e-mails. The recipient may not be aware
of their meaning and they make your
• Leave clear, concise and detailed voice- communication seem unprofessional.
mail messages giving only the critical
information. • When forwarding messages, delete
information that is irrelevant or extrane-
• Never eat, chew gum, or drink while ous to the subject of the message.
using the telephone.
• When replying to messages, do not
• Become familiar with your phone’s fea- delete relevant information.
tures—such as answering another line,
transferring calls or making a conference • Avoid typing in all caps—it’s like
call—before you actually use them. SHOUTING!
• Don’t use voice mail as a way to screen • Be thoughtful when you forward mes-
calls. sages. Consider asking the sender for
permission before you forward their
• Stick to business. Work e-mail is not for
personal messages.
• Don’t circulate jokes, chain letters, sug-
gestive or offensive material. Be mind-
ful that your co-workers may not share
your sensibilities and may find this
material inappropriate or offensive.
• Avoid using HTML stationary. It can
be distracting and may cause errors in
some e-mail systems.
• Proof-read and spell check your
• Maintain a professional tone and follow
standard writing guidelines by including
a salutation, complete sentences, appro-
priate capitalization, punctuation and a
• Don’t use e-mail to avoid talking to
• Many companies have written policies
and guidelines governing appropriate
use of telephone and e-mail systems. If
your company has such policies, become
familiar with them and follow them.
This publication is for general informational purposes only and is not intended
to provide any reader with specific authority, advice or recommendations.

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