Business Etiquette Tips
Here are some helpful etiquette tips for you!
The Buffet Delay
There's a lot of buffet dining in business. With buffets, comes food in slices, either in layered rows or fanned out, sometimes displayed prettily, but more often utilitarian.
No matter what it is - deli meat, provolone, pancakes, egg foo young - take the slice at the front of the row. Don't go sifting through the pile looking for the slice with the most pleasing shape or the portion that seems a fraction of a millimeter thicker. It's a buffet - it's all pretty much the same. Your food play is everyone else's delay.
This is also true when you are dining banquet style where shared platters of food are passed around the table. Take the piece closest to you and keep the platter moving to the right, counterclockwise, around the table. Do not keep everyone else waiting while you play with their food.
When dining buffet style, you may begin eating as soon as you are seated. But it's polite to wait until a few people join you. You never want to appear ravenously hungry in business.
What happens in an interview when you don't know the answer to a question?
This is a lot like the rule when you can't remember someone's name. Don't try to finesse, just confess.
"I don't know the answer to that, but I am willing to learn."
If you are dealing with a client, "I don't have the answer, but I will find out for you."
Don't let "I don't know" be the end of the show. Use it as an opportunity to highlight your problem solving skills.
What You Know Will Help You Grow
One of the hardest things to take, especially when we first enter the professional world, is how to accept "constructive criticism." How we advance in our professional lives depends on our ability to accept and incorporate feedback. We need to take guff in order to give guff.
It's not easy. None of us likes to be reminded by others that we are not perfect. Even when you call it "constructive" to sound nice, the word "criticism" still sticks. The worst part? Sometimes it comes from people we don't like. Or at least we don't like them after we get their feedback.
Don't take it personally or begrudge the person who gave it. Hear the person out, without interrupting with excuses or self-defense. Work on your flaws. Aim higher by breaking bad habits and raising your standards. If the criticism is warranted and you did work to overcome it, thank the person who brought it to your attention.
If you are serious about advancement, ask for feedback. "How was my presentation received? Do you have any suggestions for improvement in my content or delivery?" "I am interested in a management position. What things do I need to work on to get there?"
What you know will help you grow.
Interviewing the Interviewer
I love interview stories. One of my favorite is from a gentleman who told me his interviewer invited him to lunch in a nice restaurant. At the end of the meal, the interviewer paid the bill, but refused to leave a tip. The interviewee, said, "Would you like me to leave a tip?" But the interviewer said, "Nah! They make enough money."
The interviewee was horribly embarrassed, but didn't dare correct the interviewer. He was offered the job... and he turned it down. Not tipping the wait staff was a red flag for him.
Two take-aways: First, heed the red flags in an interview. Remember, you are interviewing the interviewer as much as he or she is interviewing you. You want to make sure the job is a good fit.
Second, the standard tip these days is 15-20 percent. If you are assisted by a wine steward, tip the wine steward 15-20 percent the cost of the wine and itemize the food service and wine service tips on the bill.
It's Wise to Personalize
Etiquette is about being attentive to the people around us. Whether writing a follow up thank you letter for an interview or a client meeting, personalize it. Include details of what you talked about in the meeting.
It's a mistake to write a generic thank you that looks like it could have been cut and pasted with different names and companies:
"Thank you for telling me more about the position at (fill in the organization). I feel like my skills would make me a valuable member of your team."
Make the person feel like you are talking to him/her and not just anyone:
"I was inspired by your story about how you started out in manufacturing..."
"You are interested in a greater online presence for your athletic clothing line, and I have proven experience in growing several student organizations through social media."
"Attached is the online advertising information we talked about. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me."
"I enjoyed meeting you and Manny Products, your Vice President of Consumer Research."
"I will follow up with you on the week of June 8th. Congratulations on your first grandchild and enjoy your time off."
The most valuable part of personalizing a business letter? It says to the person, "I was listening."
Interview Meal Quick Hits
Some people think, "I'll never have an interview meal. Interview meals are for finance or accounting majors and law students."
No matter what business you are in, you are always eating with others. There are meetings that run long, where sandwiches are ordered in; dining with clients or vendors; lunches and dinners with trade groups or at conventions; charitable fundraisers; company events with food; and if you have a cafeteria on site, you might lunch with many different people.
So what are some of the Interview Meal Quick Hits that apply to other business dining situations, too?
- Keep pace with your dining partners - don't finish too far ahead or too far behind.
- Don't order the most expensive items on the menu. Don't order the largest items on the menu.
- Avoid messy items like spaghetti, a French Dip sandwich, or finger food like ribs.
- Taste your food before seasoning it. Seasoning first makes you look like one who doesn't think before you leap.
- Take small bites, so you can answer questions or discuss business.
- Don't order things on the side. It makes you look high maintenance.
- Don't try to cool hot soup or hot coffee with ice from your water glass. Waiting for things to cool shows patience.
- Leave your plates where they are at the end of the meal. Don't stack them or push them away.
- Turn off the cell phone or PDA and be attentive to the people around you.
- Don't order a doggie bag in business. Your dog never has to know.
- No grooming at the table - lipsticks, combs, nail files are to be used in the restroom, not at the table.
- Kill the wait staff with kindness. How you treat them is a reflection of how you will treat co-workers, reports and clients.
When we evaluate our friendships, there are certain measures we look for in a friend. Can I count on you? Will you be there for me in good times and in bad? Will you be interested in what I have to say? Will you put aside your cell phone and not text or check messages when you spend time with me? Will you care about my well being? Will you be honest with me? Will you be loyal?
This is exactly what employers are looking for in an employee or an intern.
So be a friend to your employer.
Be on time, don't cut out early.
Be prepared for meetings and be attentive.
Learn the software.
Don't say, "It's not my job," when help is needed.
When the going gets tough, don't sneak out the back exit.
In interviews, your preparation, company research, clothing choices and attitude, should all say, "You can count on me."
I often hear employers complain about the lack of "professionalism," but what does that mean?
Professionalism is about practicing etiquette -- behaving in a way that is respectful of others and reflects well on your business. The purpose of etiquette is to make the people around us feel comfortable. But people often mistakenly think being more casual will make others comfortable. Not so. Sometimes being casual creates discomfort. In business, err on the side of formality. Here are a few examples:
When writing emails, use a Salutation (Dear, To...) and a Closing (Sincerely, All the best, Regards, Gratefully...). Proofread to eliminate careless grammatical errors and upgrade texting language to full sentences.
Stand up to greet people or when introduced to someone else.
Use honorifics (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.) until one gives you permission to call one by one's first name. In general, if someone seems old enough to be your parent, use the honorific. In college, practice professionalism by calling PhD professors, "Dr." and any non-PhD staff "Mr./Ms."
Professional dress from an etiquette perspective means dressing out of respect for others. Whether you work in a casual environment or a traditional suit environment, modest is hottest. Plunging necklines, high hemlines and boxer shorts hanging out create discomfort and distractions.
Speak well of others. Don't be lured into office gossip. Discuss, don't argue.
Professionalism doesn't happen overnight. It's a life-long practice, with many happy returns.
First Bite Contrite...
After the first bite, I could see the uneasy queasy look on his face. And he still had a piece the size of Normandy left. He took a few more small bites, swallowing fast and hard, his face distorting to suppress a grimace, only made worse by the people who had urged him on exclaiming, "Isn't this delicious? It's so rich!" It was worse after someone told him what he was eating.
By ordering something and not eating it, the intern appeared to be throwing money out the door. It also showed he was not a good decision maker.
In any business dining situation, especially interviews (and when you are intern, you are still interviewing), if you have not tried something before, do not order it. The proper response to, "You simply must try it!" is to smile and say, "No thank you."
How to End a Conversation When Networking
The Etiquette Tip of the Week often covers networking, how to start a conversation and how to keep a conversation going. Someone asked the logical follow-up: "How do you end a conversation?"
When your conversation has run its course, you have exchanged business cards or decided (not out loud) it is not worth exchanging business cards, how do you move on to the next person? Reach out your hand to give a parting handshake and say one of these or a combination of these:
"It was a pleasure to meet you."
"I enjoyed speaking with you."
"Thank you for taking the time to speak with me."
"Thank you for your time."
"You have an impressive background and I enjoyed hearing about it."
"Enjoy the rest of your evening." or
"Enjoy the rest of the convention (or event name)."
"Thank you for your business card...may I follow up with you next week?"
"Good luck to you."
"I wish you the best."
I have said this before -- many articles on networking advice are written by people who never leave their homes. They will say, "Scan the room for the power players." I can tell you from experience, if you limit yourself in this way, you may be passing up fruitful opportunities. Never underestimate anyone at a networking event.
Beware the Stair at the Career Fair...
A young woman told me she was late for a Career Fair at her university. Weighted down with a backpack, heavy with textbooks, she went running down a long flight of stairs in her pant suit and heels. You know how slippery those marble steps can be, right? Her heel slipped, she stumbled forward. The backpack flipped over her head and the weight of it rolled her like a snowball down the steps, end over end.
No bones were broken, but she did end up with some scrapes and blood stains on the knees of her dress pants. She decided to muscle through. The blood stained knees even became a topic of conversation with many of the recruiters.
If you are off to a Career Fair, or know someone who is, here are some quick tips:
- Shake hands coming and going: Reach out and give a firm handshake when you approach a recruiter. Say, "Hello, (First name, last name.)" Shake the recruiter's hand again when you leave.
- Ask questions to initiate a conversation, instead of giving a 30-second elevator speech: "I am interested in learning more about the opportunities for Liberal Arts majors at your company." "What skills are you looking for in your Chemical Engineering interns?" (If you have skills that match, mention them.) "How long have you been with the company?" "What do you like best about working for this company?" Or any questions that came up in your research of the companies. (You did research some of the companies, didn't you?)
- Close with an expression of enthusiasm: "Thank you for your time. I am very interested in joining your company." "I appreciate your time. If it is alright with you, I will follow up by phone next week."
- Follow up: Get a business card or name from recruiter. Send an email and a typed-written thank you note with another copy of your resume.
- Dress appropriately: Don't wear jeans and a sweatshirt to the Career Fair. Dress like you would for an interview.
- Leave your support staff at home: Don't bring a date, a friend or your mother to the Career Fair. A recruiter might hire your mother instead of you.
Be on time and most importantly... watch your step.
Perfecting Your Passing Game
You are walking down the hallway of your workplace, across your campus at school or just down the street in your neighborhood. Someone is coming from the other direction. Just as they are about to pass, you:
1) Look off in another direction
2) Look down at your cell phone which is glued to your hand at all times.
3) Make eye contact, smile and say, "Hello" or "Good morning" (or afternoon or evening.)
Ding, ding, ding ... the correct answer is 3).
Maybe they say, "Hello" back. Maybe they haven't had their coffee and just grunt, "-Lo" or "Mornin-" (That's okay - take it and run.)
What if they say nothing? Maybe they are stuck up. But try not to assume the worst of others. They might be painfully shy, preoccupied, have cultural reasons for avoiding eye contact, be completely focused on getting from point A to point B, have earbuds on under their hair, or not be used to anyone ever acknowledging them or saying, "Hello."
A simple act of making eye contact and greeting someone in passing is validation for that person. Validate early and often.
Someone said to me recently, "I saw this man licking his fingers as he ate — you would have been horrified."
The truth is, I would not have been horrified. The purpose of etiquette is to make the people around us feel comfortable. That means not recoiling or even seeming to notice when others are behaving badly. It also means we may not correct the etiquette of strangers or colleagues in a public way.
Does knowing the rules of etiquette give us an edge in business and in our social life? Undoubtedly. But if we miss that etiquette is about being kind to others and making the people around us more comfortable, then we are not practicing proper etiquette at all.
Pondering the permanent image...
Summer is wedding season and while this etiquette instructor's expertise is business and not wedding etiquette, she does have advice for those in business attending weddings. When the photographer comes around, put your beverage down. Being photographed with beverage in hand is poor form.
Also, please ponder what any of your actions might look like immortalized on a cell phone video that goes viral on the web or cable news. Rethink the strategy of shoving everyone out of the way and putting your heels through the backs of the fallen in your conquest for the bridal bouquet or showing too much enthusiasm during the removal of the garter ceremony (which, if I did do wedding etiquette, I would tell people not to do, because it's crass.)
It's not just weddings. When you are attending a business seminar and the zany, pumped up keynote speaker is urging you on stage to take part in some embarrassing skit or don some wacky costume or shake your booty like you have never shaken it before — which we all know is an important strategy for team building or strategic planning — consider, "Is this a side of me I need the world to see?"
For better and for worse, cameras on phones and digital devices have changed everything.
My first job out of college was working as a publications assistant in the Public Relations department at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It was in the middle of Hopkins' Sesquicentennial Celebration, so everyone was very busy.
I was asked to copy a few documents in a room down the hall — this, back in the day when the copy machine filled a room. I lifted the lid, put the paper on top to copy, but couldn't find the button to start the machine. I looked over and around, I was feeling under the edges for some hidden button. There was a big, unlabeled button on a machine that appeared to be connected, so I pressed that.
It turned out to be the main server.
That flick of a button shut down every computer in the office of about 50 people. Did I mention this was in the days before "Automatic save?" Some people lost five and six hours of work, because they hadn't saved what they were doing. I thought they were going to tie me up, light me on fire and throw me into the Baltimore Harbor.
This week's Etiquette Tip is two-fold:
Question authority. Not in a rebellious sense. I mean, if you really don't know what you are doing, ask someone. Sometimes, new hires, especially those just out of college, worry that others will be judging them and thinking, "Don't you know anything?" You don't. So ask.
If you are working with new hires, check in with them. Do you have any questions? Do you know how to work the copy machine? Do you know how to make a new pot of coffee after you take the last cup? Do you know where to go when the tornado siren goes off? (Okay, maybe that's a Midwest thing.)
Every workplace is a learning environment where new hires learn the business and the hiring learn how to manage people. Ask questions, be forgiving of mistakes and learn from each other.
College students (and sales people for some reason) frequently ask the question: "Can I have seconds?"
When eating in someone's home, wait until seconds are offered. Your host/hostess may have other plans for the leftovers that don't include you.
In a business situation, avoid seconds. If there is one bun left in the bread basket, never ever say to your interviewer, "You gonna eat that?" Leave it. Never eye your client's french fries and say, "Are you going to finish those?" Or you're done.
Same goes for the appetizers at any business event — don't pile them on. If you want to be a pro, eat before you go.
If you are interviewed by a group, should you write one thank you note to the most senior person and cc or email the rest? Or should you send an individual thank you note to each interviewer?
How badly do you want the job?
Write individual notes and vary what you write to each one, because they may send copies around to each other. Send thank yous to each by email, too — in case they are making a quick decision.
This demonstrates to the employer that you put effort into what you do and it showcases your writing skills. Lack of writing skills is a huge issue in hiring these days. The thank you notes also help you establish a connection with each person — a valuable jump start if you do get the job.
The same goes for a sales or marketing pitch. Send a follow up note to each member of the team you meet with.
You don't have to make the extra effort, but know there's a good chance you will lose the job or the sale to someone who did.
"I don't want to bug the person." "The online application said not to call."
It's kind of you to think that way, because etiquette is about consideration for the other person. But unless you are applying for a position where you are expected to sit around waiting for the phone to ring, you should make the call.
How we behave in the interview (or sales) process is an indication of how we will behave in the job. So make the call. Show them you are a self-starter with initiative -- not someone they will have to light a fire under. Same goes for sales or account representatives -- will you be the person who checks in with the client to see how the product or service is working? Or will you disappear?
Person you are calling is not available? Gently coax information, "Is there a better time to reach him/her?" Be kind to the gatekeepers. They can make sure your call gets through... or not.
Have you ever been on the phone with someone and you could hear a soft tap, tap, tap ... of their computer keyboard?
When we are tapping away computer keyboard, clicking a mouse, or chewing food, others can hear it over the phone. If someone is checking messages, surfing the web or watching TV, we can feel the distraction in how that person responds.
The purpose of etiquette is to be attentive to the people around us.
Set aside digital distractions. Put down the turkey sandwich (or your New Year's Resolution snack of carrots and yogurt.) If you must cough, cough away from the receiver. And unless you are the football coach, do not chew gum.
Take an interest in the person who is calling. Give them your full attention. Do not make them feel like they are interrupting your work.
Holiday Tip #2 - Now What?
Holiday Tip #1 below is about networking for a job at holiday parties by asking those you meet about their job and company. What next?
Don't pounce on people with desperate pitches. Instead, look for inroads. Here are some examples:
- Do you have any advice for someone like me who is just getting started in your field?
- I have enjoyed speaking with you and I am trying to build more contacts in your line of work. Do you mind if I call and make an appointment to speak to you further?
- My background is in marketing research. I know that is not your area, but can you recommend a good person at your company I could speak to?
If you are really a star, you will send a note to a few of these people at their office that says, "I enjoyed meeting you at the Smith's party..." etc.
Don't be discouraged that many companies are not hiring in December. They still may recruit and do initial interviews in December for hiring in January or February
Holiday Tip #1 - Networking at Parties
If you will be in the market for a new job soon or are currently unemployed, Holiday Party Season is your season.
Networking does not mean you become a walking/talking resume. Think of networking as research. As said in previous Etiquette Tips, the best way to start and continue a conversation is to ask questions:
- What do you do for a living?
- How long have you been with that company?
- How did you first become interested in that company?
- What do you like best about your company (or job)?
- How did you get started in that field?
This is not just job research, it's company research, because you learn which company has happy and satisfied employees and which ones don't. (One person badmouthing their company might just be a malcontent. Three is a pattern.)
Here is the best part. When you ask questions of another person, you show you are taking interest in that person and that makes people feel good about themselves. This is what etiquette is all about.
Some people who are out of work avoid holiday parties. Never fear to admit you are out of work. Everyone has been there. Networking skills honed in holiday season are valuable assets when you do find employment. Now get out there and party.
When to Break the Rules
"How am I supposed to remember all these RULES?" asked the frustrated college student.
The idea of etiquette is not to impose more rules on maxed out college students or society as a whole. Etiquette is about being aware of the people around you and attentive to their needs. Dr. P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of the bestselling book, "Choosing Civility," calls it a "benevolent awareness of others." (Call me an etiquette nerd, but I love the way that gentleman speaks.)
My good friend Maria Everding of The Etiquette Institute has a wonderful way of looking at it. She says, "The number one rule of etiquette is to break any rule of etiquette to make the people around you more comfortable."
(from the Culture and Manners Institute)
The Great Plate Debate
People often ask, "If my entrée is not in the best position to cut, may I turn the plate?" The answer is, "Yes, you may turn your plate once." You may not continue to rotate your plate this way and that like you are driving a bus.
When out for a business meal, do not mix all the food on your plate into one pile of hash. In the comfort of your own home, when you are not entertaining others, feel free to pile on.
(from the Culture and Manners Institute)
Can You Watch This for Me?
Have you ever been sitting in a public place -- maybe a library or a busy restaurant or coffeehouse — when a total stranger from a nearby table approaches and says, "Can you watch my laptop while I go to the restroom?"
My answer to that person is, "No."
I tell the person, "No, I cannot accept that responsibility. If someone larger than me wants to take your laptop, I am not willing to tackle that person to stop him or her from leaving with it. (To one woman I said, "Is that the new Apple Macbook? I might take it myself.")
At some time in our lives, we must all rely on the kindness of strangers. Do not let it be with your $400-2,000 laptop. Pack it up, take it with you, and when you return, unpack it and start using it again. Okay, maybe you will lose your seat and have to look around a lot of people's legs to find another outlet, but would you rather lose your seat or your laptop?
Do not be afraid to turn down such a request. Some will be taken aback, but you can soften the blow in a kind way. You might say, "You pay me a high compliment in saying I appear to be an honest and trustworthy person. And while I am, I want you to have a healthy distrust of strangers."
(from the Culture and Manners Institute)
I am always surprised when I meet a college student or person in business who is the picture of confidence — smart business attire, great eye contact, smiling, perfect posture — but then when that person goes in for the handshake ... his or her handshake is so lifeless, so limp, I feel like my next step should be to check the person's pulse. What a letdown! I know labradoodles that can shake more affirmatively.
Your handshake speaks. It must be firm. It should say: "I am intelligent. I am confident. And I am darn glad to meet you."
A weak, limp handshake says: "I'm not sure of myself. I am not sure about you. I am not sure why I got up this morning."
Your palm fits in the other person's palm. Seal the grasp by wrapping your fingers around the other person's hand. Don't squeeze the blood out of the other hand, but do give a good firm grip. No need to pump up and down like it's crack-the-whip. Just grasp.
If you are concerned that the person you are shaking hands with might be frail or suffering from arthritis and a firm handshake might hurt them, then mirror the pressure that person puts on your hand.
Practice your handshake with friends and other professionals. If you mean business, if you want the job, if you want the sale, say it with a firm handshake.
(from the Culture and Manners Institute)
The great thing about interviewing is it is the one time you can tell people how wonderful you are and they are actually willing to listen.
Be honest about your qualifications and experience. If an interviewer asks, "What is your biggest weakness?" Do not try to disguise a positive as a negative with a canned baloney answer like, "I work too hard" or "I am a perfectionist."
Instead, give an honest answer about a time that you really goofed and put it in the context of what you learned from the experience. A wise CEO once told me that a person who learns from mistakes is more valuable than a replacement employee.
(from the Culture and Manners Institute)
The Narrow Gate and Important Date
Earlier in my career I worked for Sony Music, the Epic and Columbia recording labels. I started on the front phones and you can just imagine the crack-open-a-can-of-crazy people that call into a music label.
"I am a very close friend of Mariah Carey, but I lost her phone number. Could you give it to me?" Me: "Sure, it's right here in my rolodex." (Click.)
One day, a man called in saying he was Eddie Money. I said, "Right." I put him on hold and said to the woman at the next desk, "Get this, this guy says he's Eddie Money." She said, "Did he ask for Mike?" I said with some hesitation, "Yes..." She said, "That IS EDDIE MONEY." I quickly picked up the phone again and said, "Mr. Money, he will be right with you."
Observe Administrative Professionals Day. Always be nice to the person who answers the phone — the executive secretary, assistant or receptionist. He or she is the gatekeeper — the person who puts your call through ... or not.
When calling a business, announce yourself to the person who answers the phone: "Hello, this is (first name, last name), May I please speak to John?"
Add your company name or your department if calling for business: "Hello, this is (first name, last name), I am calling from X Company…" "Hello, this is (first name, last name), I am calling from the IT Department."
Do not put the person answering in an awkward position by saying, "Don’t you recognize my voice yet?" That your voice is unremarkable and not memorable is not that person’s fault.
Have you hugged your administrative professional today? If not, that's good, because you don't want to get fired or sued for hostile work environment. But try to do something nice this week for the administrative professionals that you work with, whether it's a card, a gift certificate, lunch or time off. For more tips on etiquette, visit www.cultureandmanners.com (from the Culture and Manners Institute)
For the Road ... and Beyond
These words of wisdom for the road pop up in various forms from Dale Carnegie to Louis Untermeyer's Golden Treasury of Poetry:
Here lies the body of Michael Shay, who died maintaining his right of way. His case was clear and his will was strong, But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.
You can win the argument and still lose. Yield and keep the peace — on the road, in the workplace and at the dinner table.
Respecting Your Betters
It was recently found that males over 80 years old consider their biggest etiquette pet peeve not to be the rude use of cell phone and texting, but by young men who enter restaurants without removing their hats.
Never underestimate a senior person's ability to note the details. When dealing with the "young at heart" in business or social situations, take care of your appearance. Shine your shoes, press your clothing, button up (you too, ladies), comb your hair and gentlemen, please remove your hats.
And while you are at it, please call your grandparents.
For more tips on etiquette, visit www.cultureandmanners.com (from the Culture and Manners Institute)