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Business Etiquette – Introduction
No matter where you go, people expect you to behave in a certain way in society. There could be slight variations of customs and traditions that you have to respect. However, majority of these expectations will be common. For example, smiling is a universally recognized signal of an amiable person. On the other hand, frowning and being rude while interacting is considered impolite.
In “Business Etiquette” we will discuss what etiquettes, the business / corporate world expects from their employees and what you should do to meet their expectations. It helps in building a good, positive network of business people.
We will also discuss business etiquette with respect to the established conventions of business-dealing and the various cultural expectations.
In some parts of the world, starting the meeting with a straightforward discussion on business is considered rude, and there are certain places where discussing business while dining is considered inappropriate. Thanks to globalization, we cannot afford to be ignorant of the different cultures we live with.
Defining Business Etiquette
Business Etiquette is a set of social, professional and cultural sensibilities that a person is expected to possess in order to be considered a well-informed business-person with proper business acumen. Business Etiquette focuses primarily on being polite in your interactions with people and paying them respect while dealing with them, the way you would expect them to.
This politeness and respect is not limited to meetings held in person only. In fact, these levels of mutual respect and the polite way of addressing people and dealing with them is extended to business emails, telephonic conversations and business letters too.
Business Etiquette serves as an important tool to bridge gaps and develop a fast network of business-people who have a positive impression of your inter-personal skills and cultural sensitivity.
However, it should be kept in mind that Business Etiquette varies from place to place. A set of etiquettes that may be held in high regard in one country might not necessarily be observed closely in another country, and in fact, could be viewed as strange or rude at times.
Business Etiquette – Significance
Most people mistake Business Etiquette as only a study of cultural differences and the ways in which inter-cultural barriers can be broken. However, the truth of the matter is that multiple cultures and their studies are only a part of Business Etiquette.
Corporate culture has a distinct culture. It may not be necessarily an intercultural working place, and yet, there are many unwritten rules and codes of appropriateness that exist and are skillfully followed.
These norms are practiced and followed both, between and within companies. For example, employees drawing appreciation from their clients for choosing to dress up in formal wear at a meeting, even if there is no strict dress code.
An interesting thing to note is that someone’s understanding of Business Etiquette could also be influenced and sometimes even limited by many factors that are prevalent at his working place.
Things like a company’s mission statement, product lines, image, perception, brand value, reach, business partners, investors, clients and customers can all influence the idea and importance of etiquette in the minds of the company’s employees.
Importance of First Impression
We create an impression about a person within few seconds of meeting him. This sense of judging a person without knowing anything about him is an in-built quality.
This ability to form an impression of a person, quickly, so that we could categorize him in the “friend” category helps us to prepare ourselves for self-defense. It activates “fight-or-flight” defense mechanism, which we act accordingly. In modern terms, this intuition has been given the term “first impression”.
We always tend to respect our gut feeling and listen to our inner voice more than any rational explanation and this forms a foundational quality in all human beings. That’s the reason, experts suggest that when you meet someone for the first time, we should strive to achieve the perfect look and present the perfect image.
Knowing etiquettes will not only enable us to understand the other person’s sensibilities but will also help us present an impression of a gentleman or a woman. It will assist in putting your best foot forward so that the focus of the ensuing discussion will be more on the business topics rather than you looking out of place.
Qualities That Form Etiquettes
Business Etiquettes do not necessarily address dressing sensibilities, interpersonal skills and good public speaking abilities. Although these qualities are needed, there are other qualities too that are equally important.
Here is a list of such important qualities −
A person on time is a dependable person. This is a general impression punctual people manage to effectively leave on the minds of many people. Someone who appreciates the value of his time will not appreciate waiting for others and others waiting for him.
A person should always be well informed and prepared to furnish information, in detail, on any topic related to his job and responsibility at any given time. This creates an impression of being a resourceful person.
You need to be courteous to all the people you are interacting with, instead of limiting the courtesy to only those who you think deserve it. When you are working in an organization that has many talented and creative people in it, there is always a chance that ideas will clash with one another. In that case, you need to tackle the opposing thought and not the person.
Proper Representation of Thoughts
There are times when your thought would be very clear on a particular topic but the choice of your words could send a mixed signal to the listeners. Many people end up being misquoted and misunderstood, due to lack of connection with the people listening to you. You should prepare your presentation thoroughly, beforehand and have a clear understanding of each word and the different ways it can be interpreted. Step in to clear any misconceptions people might have on a point.
Companies, expect a lot from you. These expectations could be in the form of specific targets, which the company sets for you. In such times, it is very easy to turn your back to a discussion that does not concern you and say − “that’s not my problem”. However, that problem could well be your problem in the near future. So, try to participate in the problem-solving process.
The way you look when you meet someone for the first time goes a long way in establishing a perception of you in that person’s mind. That does not mean that you should splurge on the clothes you are supposed to wear. Your clothes should not draw too much attention towards themselves. Dress conservatively but professionally.
Business dress code is often a question of common sense prevailing while deciding what to wear to the work place. However, cases of dressing disasters continue to occur, especially during the summers when you might find a colleague dressed up to work with a “day at the beach” hangover.
The reason these eyebrow-raising errors in dress codes occur is that many companies, especially start-ups and small to medium-scale businesses, have relaxed norms to almost no norms on dress code. Even if there are dress code rules, at times, they are vague and ambiguous. In such situations, it is always advisable to err on the part of “too formal” attire, as opposed to arriving dressed up informally enough to raise a few eyebrows.
A few common errors people make in business dressing are −
- Ill-Fitting Clothes − Clothes too big give you a bloated look and too tight fitting clothes accentuates the body in a non-formal way. In a meeting, you would not want the attention to shift from you and your presentation towards your clothes.
- Wearing Short Skirts/Sleeves − Short skirts and sleeves draw attention to your legs and hands when you sit down. That diverts the attention of the listeners and appears unprofessional.
- Wearing Short Socks − Short socks, or drooping socks expose skin and that distracts attention while crossing legs or sitting down. Always go for socks that cover 3/4th the distance from the ankle to the knee. Avoid wearing white socks as they immediately draw notice towards themselves.
- Low-Cut or Plunging Tops − Just as with short skirts, this distracts an interviewer and looks very out of place in a professional environment that requires a conservative dress code.
- Improper Color Choices − Colors, like green, yellow, red, etc., do not go down well in corporate circles. They not only draw attention towards themselves but also look unprofessional.
- Clothes with Quotes, Pictures or Designs − This lends a very informal and non-serious look to the interviewee. There is always a risk of people associating the slogans and mottos on the t-shirts to be your personal points of view.
- Poorly-Maintained Shoes − Shoes are a very important part of your business attire. Shoes, in a way, announce your arrival even before you interact with someone, so naturally, it draws a lot of attention. It is for this reason that your shoes should be always clean and polished.
- Not Dressing Formally For Business Social Events − Even dinners at the boss’ house are formal business occasions. So, dress accordingly. The general rule about informal business dressing is that it should be treated as formal clothing.
- Improper Grooming − Unclipped nails, odorous breath and unkempt hair are all red-checks. If you are one of those who perspire profusely, use anti-sweat deodorants. However, keep in mind that the meetings will be mostly in air-conditioned rooms with very less chance of fresh air entering the room. So, wear a perfume or deodorant of a mild fragrance.
In addition to the tips discussed here, there are a few areas that need to be taken care of before you finally enter the premises and knock on that door. Let us discuss these −
Final Tips for Grooming
- Avoid noisy and squeaky shoes as they will disturb and distract everyone.
- Trousers’ side-pockets should not bulge with mobile phones, wallets etc., as it gives a bulky look to your legs.
- All noticeable body-piercing, tattoos should be concealed, as tattoos are since long, associated with rebellious behavior.
- Do not smoke or eat odorous food before interviews. Use breath fresheners.
- Clean your nails and teeth properly
Business Dining Etiquettes
When we are invited to our boss’ birthday party at his place, we can’t be dressed up the way we would had it been our best friend’s birthday party. There needs to be a change in not only our dressing but also the manner in which we conduct ourselves.
In other words, we need to treat an invitee for any social gathering that involves meeting your co-workers just as you would treat a day at the office, the only difference being that, here you have a liberty to discuss family life and other topics that you generally won’t get time to talk about in your professional life.
Two situations that arise, invoke the need to understand the need for dining etiquette and learn it – one, if you are the host of a get-together and the second one, if you are the guest.
When You are the Host
Choose a restaurant that is conducive to holding sizeable meetings and provides good service. Make sure that you have made all the adequate bookings and seating arrangements. Clarify the billed amount and availability of desired menu before the meeting itself.
- Arrive fifteen minutes early on the day of the meeting and introduce people to one another if some of them have not been introduced to each other earlier. Offer the seat with the best view to your most important guest.
- While ordering food, try to recommend, what is the best of all the dishes there are on the menu if someone is undecided on what to choose. If that is too direct an approach, then you could help him out in a different way by letting him know what you are ordering, so that he takes the hint.
- Always be done with the ordering, before you start to discuss business with someone. Or else there will be many disturbances with the waiter asking you repeatedly for your order. In addition, the guests will be caught in two minds as to order or to listen to your business discussion.
- If the meeting is to celebrate an achievement or to dedicate it to someone, or is a congratulatory party thrown in honor of someone, it is always nice to speak something about it and make a small toast. It is perfectly all right to toast while sitting. Just hold your glass up and when others follow suit, you can say something to the point and end it.
- Be attentive to the needs of everyone around the table and keep an eye out on their preferences, which will help you to decide upon the right place for any future meetings. You might see that your chief guest has a taste for seafood so you might set up your next meeting at a place where the seafood is good.
- Always try to engage everybody in a conversation and be the facilitator in leading people to participate in the discussion, bring their points of view and experience into play too. This will help people to come out of their initial inhibitions of meeting someone for the first time and will encourage them to be themselves.
When You are the Guest
Always, promptly reply to an invitation. Your answering will help the host in organizing and coordinating the meeting so try to answer as early as possible.
- Always arrive before time and always inform before time, if you are going to be more than five minutes late. Always take the opportunity to ask your host to recommend you on what you should order to break the ice.
- Many times, you will come across a generous host who will ask you to order what you please. Although you have been given a free rein on your choice of dishes, be considerate while ordering and do not take up this opportunity to order something extravagantly expensive. You are more likely to lose ground with the host that way.
- Always order something in the mid-budget range that would not draw attention towards itself and be easy to eat. Do not order runny, messy food as that might soil your clothes. Try to order food that can be easily eaten with cutlery, as opposed to those dishes where you have to use hands to eat.
- The reason is that there could be a chance that someone arrives late at the table, seats himself beside you, and offers you his hand to greet you. In a situation like this, it would be unsightly to see your hands smeared with food.
- Business dining follows almost the same template of etiquette as business dressing in the sense that, you are not supposed to draw attention towards yourself due to your choice of food while dining, just like you were not supposed to draw attention towards yourself with your clothes in a meeting.
- Always remember that a business dinner or lunch is basically, a professional, formal meeting in a restaurant, instead of a room. Carry the same body language that you would carry when you would sit in for a business discussion with someone. Have a smile on your face but be on your guard.
- As a rule of thumb, the host is the one who steers the conversation from small talk to business discussion, so wait until he hints before discussing business. When invited to someone’s home, it’s considered improper to turn up empty-handed. You are not expected to gift something expensive- just a jar, or even desserts would be great.
If there comes a scenario where you have arrived at the table and you see many unknown faces, and the host is not around to introduce you to others, take up the initiative and introduce yourself to others, instead of sitting quietly in a corner and pretending others do not exist.
Business Etiquette – Rules of Writing
Writing is similar to starting an assignment. You need to be well-planned, prepared, focused, committed, and most importantly, passionate towards what you are doing. If you implement all the following points mentioned, the odds of writing well-appreciated text will be in your favor.
First of all, let’s accept the fact that very few people, almost none can write a document the way they wanted to put it on paper, in the very first attempt. Ideas and memories often come when least expected, and these new ideas keep on changing your document with each subsequent input. Once you have put your ideas on paper, the next step would be to present it in a simple, logical, connected and clear manner. This needs planning and preparation, for which there are definite steps you can follow.
Appropriate language Use of bullet points Plain English (free of jargon) Conciseness Simple sentences Constant improvement Relevant content Feedback
Researching on any topic is a very critical step before writing. Your sources need to be reliable and widely accepted. Before you identify and develop your topic, you should find the context and background information on your topic.
This can be done by referring to books, articles, journals, news sources, and magazines. People nowadays use video and sound recordings too. The following steps will help you to −
- Note the important and relevant details.
- Evaluate each point against the topic and purpose of your document.
- Record the details of resource and reference (i.e. author, title and publishing).
- Arrange content in a logical order under appropriate headings and sub-headings.
Knowing the audience pulse before you are writing the document will give a lot of support in deciding on the content and approach. In case you are not aware of the audience, you can write keeping in mind the demographic, i.e. the target group for your write-up, as online article writers or bloggers do. Before you begin to write, try to understand always what your reason of writing is. It could be anyone of the following −
Providing information Sending reports Applying persuasion Recommendations Presenting your opinion A desired action Proposing Ideas Reaching an accomplishment
For example, if your intention is to sell a product or get someone to subscribe to a service you are providing, or are promoting a cause; ask yourself questions like – who are my potential readers? What is the background of my prospective target readership? Where do they live and how old are they? What are their interests and priorities? These questions will set the purpose for your writing.
Business Etiquette – Writing the Documents
Once you have identified the audience for your writing, try to anticipate the information that your reader might think necessary and include it in your document as you write. It can be done by asking yourself the “WH-questions”.
- Answer the WH questions − Answering “Who? What? Why? Where? When? Whom? How?” will give you a headstart on the content of the writing.
- Determine the Start and Finish − After collecting all possible ideas that you have on the topic, you could go through them and reject a few that won’t make sense in this write-up. After that, find out the idea that will leave the maximum impact on reading it, and put that at the start of the article. The end should have the idea that summarizes all the ideas in a clear and crisp manner.
- Get a Second-Person Opinion − always get your written text checked by somebody before submitting it. This lends an objective, second-person perspective to the review and stops your emotions and indulgence from getting in the way. Do not do this if the content is confidential and not to be shared.
- Discuss Suggestions and Include Improvements − Once your friends have suggested some changes, implement the ones you think are relevant.
Many people have very interesting ideas and even manage to put them on paper. Unfortunately, their readership does not extend beyond a particular stage. This is because, though their writing is good and the thoughts were properly mentioned, there may not have been a proper selection of words, or maybe a proverb like − “nipping it in the bud” was used, which readers may not understand.
Let us discuss 15 things to remember while proof-reading and revising your writing −
- Your writing must be understood at the first reading. Avoid technical jargon, unfamiliar words or formal language.
Formal Vs. Modern
- Payment has been duly noted vs. we received your check.
- Attached hereto vs. please find Attached
- Words with double meaning or sentences that confuse readers should be avoided
- Having eaten the fish, Kiran talked to Karan. (Who had the fish?)
- In a nutshell vs. in short
- In this day and age vs. today, presently
Avoid using many Words
- Prior to the event vs. before
- At this point in time vs. now
Avoid unnecessary Repetition
- Absolutely essential
- Combine together
Include only relevant information
- Omit unnecessary background information.
- Keep sentences short and simple – 17 words or less.
Check that all the information the reader will need is included −
- Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Check accuracy of grammar and spelling of names of people and places.
- He done it vs. he did it.
- It’s color has faded vs. its color has faded.
Don’t Rely on Spell Check
- Typing ‘no/on’, ‘then/than’, ‘quite/quiet’, ‘lose/loose’ will not show errors.
Give specific details.
- Your investment plan will earn high interest.
- Your investment plan will earn 8% interest.
Use language that is believable. Avoid exaggeration and superlatives.
- Always vs. Usually
- Never vs. Rarely
Display good manners in your writing. Use passive voice when communicating bad news to avoid negative overtones. For example,
- We cannot agree to the terms and conditions outlined in the contract.
- Some discussions regarding the terms and conditions need to be done.
Write with the reader in mind
- Sexist – Chairman, businessman
- Condescension – ‘Of course’, ‘Obviously’
Using Bullet Points
- Communicates your message in an easy and clear manner.
- Highlights the most important information.