Professional and Business Etiquette: Too Important to Ignore

Your basic professional and business etiquette can make a huge difference in determining a rising career path or a declining one. Do remember that if you do not consciously manage your own professional image, then others will do it for you! People do observe your conduct and form opinions about your integrity, competence, character and commitment.

You cannot, therefore, choose to be professional some of the time, para professional at other times and less than professional occasionally. Once you have achieved the exalted professional status and standing, you have to be professional all the time. You should, therefore, actively aim to manage your personal and career image by understanding the basic rules of professional and business etiquette.

Rationale for Professional & Business Etiquette

You are expected to understand the corporate culture of your work place. It is also a requirement that you project yourself as a credible ambassador of your company. If you wish to consider yourself an international class executive or manager, then it is also your duty to adhere to basic professional and business etiquette.

The core philosophy of professional and business etiquette is based on the ethics of respecting other individuals in your workplace. This form of respect, in turn, leads to displaying courteous conduct in business interactions…both verbal and written.

Conversational Etiquette

Listen attentively to others. Look into the eyes of the person. A good listener wins friends. Speak only when the other person has finished talking. Do not interrupt.

Speak in a clear and calm voice. Ensure that the tone is polite.

Keep your conversations brief. Do not introduce irrelevant topics. Nor should you touch on sensitive topics like race, religion, politics or beliefs. This is a business talk or meeting and not a discussion with family or friends.

Keep cool, calm and collected even if the other person speaks offensively or rudely. Do not make the mistake of descending to his/her level but maintain your professionalism.

Dressing Sense

Always wear neat and nicely pressed formal clothes to work. Check the dress code for out of office functions and parties i.e. is it formal, informal or smart casual.

Choose corporate colours and shades for the office.

Women should dress appropriately for the office. Make up should be sparing.

Men need to keep their hair, including facial hair, groomed and neatly trimmed.

Leather shoes should be maintained and polished regularly. It is unsightly and mars your professional image if the shoes are dull, dirty and scuffed! The shoes should also be rested in shoe trees when not in use.

Electronic Communication Etiquette

Keep official emails brief and precise. If the topic demands more details, provide them in an attachment.

Read all emails for general awareness first. Attend to the important ones next. But do not forget to acknowledge communication from the others even if it is to say that you will get back to them by the next day. It can be a brief message and there is no excuse for not even acknowledging an email.

Managing your daily flow of emails is a must. A minimum, twice daily review is advisable. I know of instances where individuals have been sacked because they were unable to effectively manage the daily flow of emails to them as well as from them. Ignoring the emails is not the way to go!

While speaking over the telephone, be aware of your tone and always do so in a polite manner. If you suspect that your tone of voice in certain situations will be perceived negatively, then get your secretary or a colleague with a naturally pleasant voice to speak on your behalf. It is better to be sensible in this situation rather than be sorry over something that you are unable to control!

Dining Etiquette

Some society ladies do go to finishing schools. There they are trained in proper dining etiquette. For others not so lucky, they have to make the effort to learn the finer points of dining etiquette. It is very embarrassing to hold a senior position in an established company and then inadvertently make a fool of yourself in a formal dining situation. If you do not prepare yourself well for this event, you have only yourself to blame. 

For starters, avoid opening your mouth and chewing food. Do take the trouble to initiate conversation while waiting for the food. Be aware of formal dining table arrangements and the placement of cutlery and glasses.

As a matter of courtesy, do allow your guests to select the menu and drinks.

Avoid talking when there is food in your mouth. Learn and practise basic table manners. If you are the guest, ensure that you are punctual and remember to thank the host for the meal.

General Etiquette

Always be punctual at your workplace. Do not carelessly and foolishly acquire a reputation for regularly being late. Some people may then start referring to you as the late Mr. Chan!

Switch off your mobile phones or put them on silent mode when attending a business meeting, conference or training session. I repeat this point because so many people are downright rude and insensitive about this matter, especially when they should know better.

Do use a handkerchief when coughing or sneezing in public.

When you are in a meeting room, show respect to your seniors when they arrive by standing up to greet them.

Keep a comfortable distance while conversing with others.

Do not smoke when you are in company. If you need to, excuse yourself.

Avoid excessive drinking when meeting with clients or with senior management. Know your limit. Hold the door for the person coming behind you. Likewise, wait for people to exit a lift before entering one. These rules seem basic enough but sometimes people do not seem to have common sense!

With care, diligence and practice, and over time, you will notice a steady improvement in your ability to master these basic rules of business and professional etiquette. Observing these rules of business and professional etiquette will give you even greater confidence to climb the corporate ladder. It will also reinforce in your employer that you have the necessary skills and competence to operate at the highest levels.


4 thoughts on “Professional and Business Etiquette: Too Important to Ignore

  1. Ben,

    Couldn’t agree more – especially with the pointers about use of email and cell phones.

    Nice to see you blogging!



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