Business etiquette: 10 golden rules

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Have you ever been in a business situation and witnessed an event that was so cringe-worthy, it left you saying "really?"

Nikki Heald, managing director of Corptraining, explains how that sort of behaviour can drastically affect your business:

Perhaps you think the way you conduct yourself at work doesn’t matter too much. Well, think again! Understanding correct etiquette (or protocols) not only provides you with an edge over competitors, but 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 businesspeople appreciate this and ensure they 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While the word ‘etiquette’ may seem out of date or even old-fashioned, the simple fact is that common courtesies still prevail.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.

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.

Professional conduct is by no means limited to face-to-face transactions, but also extends to your on-line 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 practiced 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.

Here are my top 10 tips for correct business protocol:

  1. Deliver a well-executed, firm handshake
  2. Ensure you introduce yourself and others
  3. Be well groomed and dress suitably for your role
  4. Learn the art of conversation and small talk
  5. Carry sufficient, clean-looking business cards
  6. Be mindful of your table manners
  7. In business, if you invite, you pay
  8. Switch off mobile phones and put away during meetings
  9. Keep emails short and to the point
  10. Avoid the hard-sell or being too pushy