Business Etiquette 101
By Chelse Benham
“Having good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we
converse. Whoever makes the fewest people uneasy is the best bred in the
room.” – Jonathan Swift, (1667-1745) Irish writer
The devil is in the details. The details of etiquette are being evaluated and
surveyed, judged and measured constantly in business interactions. Are you
etiquette savvy? If you want to get on the professional fast track, the subtle but
serious execution of business etiquette will get you there or hold you back when
violated. The basis of all business etiquette and good manners is common sense
“We offer a proper dining etiquette workshop and workplace professionalism
workshop to students,” said Velinda Reyes, assistant director at The University of
Texas-Pan American’s Career Placement Services Office. “These workshops
give helpful tips to students to assist them as they start their first job.”
Business etiquette is found in everything from e-mail, table manners,
professional dress to office parties. Lou Kennedy – Australia’s nationally known
author on business etiquette has compiled a list of 10 "no-no's" to avoid this
- Mistake No. 1: The blow-off - The biggest error is not going to an office
party that is a "must-attend" event.
- Mistake No. 2: Forgetting the boss is watching. Senior managers pay
attention to how people handle themselves at corporate events.
- Mistake No. 3: Inappropriate dress at an office party draws attention, but
the wrong kind. The goal is to display professional qualities, not show how
funky or daring you are. Skip the plunging neckline and heavy cologne.
- Mistake No. 4: The business-talking bore - Don’t talk business at social
- Mistake No. 5: Me, Me, Me. Self-centered young professionals will have
trouble working in teams with others and co-workers and bosses pick up on
- Mistake No. 6: Always introduce yourself to your boss or superiors at
- Mistake No. 7: Don’t talk about pay. An employee who raises pay or other
personal issues at a company party is marked as a person who does not
understand what is and is not appropriate at social events.
- Mistake No. 8: Absolutely no hanky-panky. No longer is an office party an
excuse for employees to become intimate. Now it means sexual harassment
charges and dismissal for one or both individuals.
- Mistake No. 9: It’s not a college bash. Office parties are extensions of the
workplace and not campus free-for-alls.
- Mistake No. 10: Don’t drink to excess. "Drinking to excess at a company
party will kill a career instantly,” said Kennedy "Don't have more than two
alcoholic beverages and better yet, don't drink at all."
At www.career.ucsb.edu the following rules called “the first 12…” as guides for
creating a positive business impression.
The first 12 words you speak should include some form of thanks if appropriate
when meeting with someone. Examples: “Thank you for scheduling this meeting.”
(or) “It is a pleasure meeting you.” (or) “I appreciate the time you have taken to
arrange for us to meet.” The rules of introductions are as follows: always stand
smiling and shake hands firmly while repeating the person’s full name.
The first 12 steps you take should be those of confidence. Whether you're
walking from the parking lot to an office building or down a hall corridor, walk with
a purpose. People who walk 10 percent faster than they normally do are
perceived as getting more done. So quicken your pace!
The first 12 inches from your head down should feature impeccable grooming.
Your hair, collar, tie/scarf and other accessories should be a reflection of the
quality person you are.
The last 12 inches from the floor to mid-calf should be very well-maintained.
That includes shoes that are polished and look like new, even if they're not As
George Frazier, columnist for The Boston Globe puts it, “Want to know if a
person is well-dressed? Look down.”
Perhaps, there is no area more scrutinized than the dining table where etiquette
minutiae are put to the test. Paula Gamonal, web developer and feature writer for
Ravenworks, a web-based business advice company, puts table etiquette
When sitting at a banquet table, you may begin eating when two people to your
left and right are served. If you haven't been served, but most of your table has,
encourage others to start. Reach only for items in front of you; ask that other
items be passed by a neighbor. Offer to the left; pass to the right, although once
things start being passed, go with the flow.
More dining details can be found at www.career.utk.edu, a few are listed here.
Napkin - When dining with others place your napkin on your lap after everyone
at your table has been seated. Do not open your napkin in mid-air. As you
remove your napkin from the table begin to open below the table level and place
on your lap. If you must leave a meal, do so between courses, and place your
napkin on your chair or to the left of your plate. When a meal is completed, place
your napkin to the right of your plate -- never on the plate.
Served - Wait for everyone at your table to be served before beginning to eat.
However, if an individual who has not been served encourages you to begin
eating, you may do so. Eat slowly while waiting for their food to be served.
Soup - When eating soup, think of making a circle: spoon away from you, bring
around to your mouth and back to the bowl. Soup is taken from the side of the
soup spoon -- it is not inserted into your mouth. Do not slurp or make noises
when eating soup.
Seasoning - Always taste your food first before using any seasonings. Do not
assume it needs to be seasoned.
Bread - Bread/rolls should never be eaten whole. Break into smaller, more
manageable pieces, buttering only a few bites at a time.
Finished - When finished with a course, leave your plates in the same position
that they were presented to you. In other words, do not push your plates away or
Guest - If you are someone's guest at a meal, ask the person what he/she
recommends. By doing this, you will learn price range guidelines and have an
idea of what to order. Usually order an item in the mid-price range. Also keep in
mind, the person who typically initiates the meal will pay. If you are paying, show
up early and prepay the bill to avoid the awkwardness over who is going to pay.
Even if you have impeccable social graces there may be a blunder at some point.
Hika Klinkenberg, director of Etiquette International, a business etiquette firm,
advices to apologize sincerely without gushing or being too effusive. State your
apology like you mean it and move on. Making too big an issue of your mistake
only magnifies the damage and makes the recipient more uncomfortable.
Nowadays no business is completely cut off from e-mail messaging. In this final
frontier of business transactions there are definite rules when sending and
replying to e-mail messages. At www.prosearch.com some of the tips for proper
e-mail etiquette are provided, a few are listed below.
1. Watch your words! You may think that what you say is easy to
understand, but sometimes words can be misconstrued. Be concise and
to the point.
2. No negative comments. If you use antagonistic words or critical comments
you can hurt people and cause awkward situations.
3. Remember, few people like "spam." When sending unsolicited
e-mails, make sure that there is value to the recipient.
4. Nothing is private. Never forget that there is no such thing as a private e-
5. Keep attachments to a minimum. The larger the attached document, the
longer it takes to download and the more memory space it fills on a
6. If your message doesn't need a response, let the recipient know. This can
save time -- theirs and yours -- and stop the cycle from continuing on in
7. Don't forget to include a short and relevant subject line. Many recipients
will use this line to determine which messages they read and delete.
8. Don't send e-mails that simply say "Thanks." Another are
e-mails that just say "OK." These one-word replies are no better than
Business etiquette is like the grease that keeps the machine of commerce
operating smoothly. Without it decorum would be lost and maneuvering through
business interactions would be anyone’s guess. Taking time now to learn proper
business etiquette could save years of repairing a bad impression.
“Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people’s bad
manners.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr., author