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Feeling clueless about modern business etiquette? To be successful in the workplace (both virtual and in person), these are the rules everyone should know.
The working world looks a little different than years past—virtual meetings, business casual dress codes and flexible work-from-home arrangements. One thing, however, has remained the same, and that’s the expectation that employees practice business etiquette, the set of manners, conduct and expectations accepted in professional settings.
There are certainly modern etiquette rules that are newer to business settings, such email etiquette and digital etiquette. But many old-school business guidelines are still just as vital to success in the workplace as ever before, such as good listening and conversational skills, punctuality and appropriate dress. “The game may have changed, but the players remain the same,” says etiquette expert Lisa Grotts. “Good manners don’t cost a dime, but bad ones can be very costly.”
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What is business etiquette?
According to expert Diane Gottsman, business etiquette is a code of standards between employers, employees and clients. “Relationships, both in person and virtual, are supported by a set of standards that emphasize respect,” she says. And even though many of those standards have loosened over time, it’s no less important to practice good business etiquette today.
Think of practicing good business etiquette as practicing your soft skills, which are just as important as the hard skills needed for any particular job (things like good written and verbal communication, collaboration and creativity). “Etiquette is the sharpest soft skill that we can use not only in social situations but quite often in our business endeavors,” notes etiquette expert Maryann Parker. “We refer to good manners as good business and place a lot of importance on soft skills as a management tool. Honing soft skills is a crucial element of achieving professional success.”
So, what are the business etiquette rules you should be aware of today? Our experts gave us their most important work etiquette pointers that will help you stand out from the crowd.
Practice respectful communication
“Use courteous language, avoid anything inflammatory and offensive and be a good listener,” Grotts says. It’s also important to be aware of your body language. Making good eye contact, keeping your arms unfolded and maintaining a relaxed posture signals to another person that you are open and approachable. Follow that with appropriate language, vocabulary, tone of voice and a positive attitude, and you’ll be golden.
Listening skills are underrated these days, especially in a world dominated by virtual meetings, where it’s easy to not be fully present and engaged in the conversation at hand. Practice listening well and allowing others to complete their thoughts without cutting in. “Interrupting people while they are talking, finishing their sentences impatiently and correcting them in a superior manner shows bad business etiquette,” says Parker. “Give opportunity to people to present themselves, and learn about their viewpoint.”
Never, ever be late. Period. If that takes perfecting your time-management skills, then do so. “When you’re tardy, it says that your time is more important than everyone else’s. It’s not,” says Grotts. Show up on time, every time.
Appropriate dress guidelines have fluctuated and loosened, especially in the wake of more flexible work arrangements. That being said, there are still some rules to abide by, including not showing up to a Zoom meeting in your bathrobe or pajamas. What’s a good rule of thumb? Always look put together. “Dress codes should not be taken for granted,” says Gottsman. “When you take pride in the way you look, and how others perceive you, it strengthens your own confidence and self-esteem.”
Use good table manners
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Depending on your industry, it’s possible that formal business lunches and dinners are a thing of the past. But whether you’re taking a client to a restaurant or grabbing lunch with colleagues during the workweek, having good table manners, knowing the proper tipping etiquette and understanding basic place settings is important. “Dining skills are not to show someone you are better than they are, but to make others comfortable to be around you,” says Gottsman. “You can spend your time and attention on the conversation rather than worrying about what glass is yours.”
Go on camera during virtual meetings
It can be so easy to toggle the “camera off” option during a virtual meeting—maybe you’re having a bad-hair day or you haven’t taken the time to throw on a polished WFH top. But if you’re going to take regular virtual meetings, it’s important to act as if you’re in person.
Follow video conference etiquette
Video conferences introduce certain limitations that you wouldn’t get in an office conference room, such as lag time, internet speed, mute buttons and side chat boxes. So Zoom etiquette rules look a little different. Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking, notify others when you’d like to speak (if you’re not leading a meeting) and ensure what you’re saying is as clear as possible.
“Always introduce yourself,” says Parker. “Speak clearly and loud enough for everyone to be able to hear you. Don’t interrupt with questions, don’t speak over other people and wait for your turn. If you are taking notes, inform others, because sometimes while taking notes, it looks as if we are doing something not related to the call. And don’t eat or drink.” You’ll also want to make sure your background looks professional, which means no messy beds.
Use appropriate digital communication
Email, phone call and texting etiquette are vital. “Always be mindful of your tone, wording, length, volume and use,” says Grotts. “All of these things can be interpreted in a negative way because there is no face-to-face contact.”
Avoid gossip and office drama
Even if you’re not in a physical office, avoid gossiping with your colleagues. This means steering clear of rumors, false information, poking fun at colleagues or discussing someone else’s confidential or personal information, all signs of a toxic workplace. Setting clear personal and professional boundaries, ignoring gossip and remaining neutral with your colleagues is good business etiquette.
Send thank-you notes
Sending thank-you notes never goes out of style. And while you can certainly send thank-you’s via snail mail, it’s also acceptable to send them via email today. “The written word is still an important part of a business tool kit,” says Gottsman. “Thank-you notes and notes of congratulations go a long way toward building strong relationships.”
Treat everyone with respect
At its core, business etiquette is about being respectful of the people you’re working with. “Building relationships is crucial to any business,” says Grotts. “Being polite and respectful is vital for successful collaborations and trust.”
About the experts
- Lisa Grotts is a certified etiquette expert with 23 years of experience helping clients deal with business, social and political situations. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and a past member of the International Society of Protocol and Etiquette Professionals.
- Diane Gottsman is an etiquette expert, author, speaker and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in professional etiquette training. She has spent 20 years training business professionals, university students and individuals on how to navigate social and professional situations with confidence and ease.
- Maryann Parker is the founder and executive director of Manor of Manners, a company that specializes in international business, social, luxury and youth etiquette. She has almost a decade of experience in helping the interests of luxury brands, businesses and individuals. She is also the author of two books, The Sharpest Soft Skill and Posh Overnight.