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Etiquette in a Business Environment

October 16, 2010

I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to an amazing social media event. The Hip Event and Hilary Morris Public Relations organized a business etiquette luncheon hosted by the Richfield Regency in Verona, NJ. Etiquette consultant Mary Harris lead us through the etiquette of  conducting business in and outside of the office.

Ms. Harris covered a condensed version of all three programs that she offers: Business Etiquette, Dining Etiquette, and an Introduction to Etiquette. I am a stickler for etiquette, and totally enjoyed this event, but mostly loved that even I walked away with valuable information. It goes to show you that no matter how much you think you know, there is always room to learn more, especially in today’s high tech and digital age. Below is some etiquette advice for a business environment.

Dining Etiquette – The good thing about this event, is attendees received a delicious 3-course meal thanks to the Richfield Regency during the presentation. The wait staff was dressed in black suits and ties and white shits and gloves. They served from the right, and cleared from the left, so this set the tone for a business luncheon. This gave us the perfect opportunity to practice our newly learned skills. Harris used the initials BMW to help us remember the table setting order from the left to right: bread, meal, water/wine. The place setting was further demystified by explaining that the  silverware is always used from the outside of the setting toward the inside.  Advice was given on what to do during a business meal, i.e. not to order messy food, only butter small pieces of bread at a time, do not draw attention if someone uses your bread plate, arrive early if you are paying to make arrangements with the Maître d’, keep cell phones off the table, do not chew gum, and do not put on lipstick or brush your hair at the table. While dining with colleagues, clients or partners, it’s very important to be well-mannered at the table, regardless if the event is formal or casual.

Basic Etiquette – Good eye contact, a firm (but not too strong) handshake and conservative attire are the obvious first things that people judge you on when first meeting you. Other things people will notice at first glance are tattoos and piercings in visible locations, which really should be placed in more discreet places, and clothing that is too revealing (including thin shirts for men), which is inappropriate for business. Always arrive a few minutes early when interviewing, and it’s best for men and women to wear a suit. When using social media (especially Facebook) do not air your grievances, especially about your boss or company. During meetings or meals, cell phones should be turned off, because when they’re on vibrate they can be just as distracting as phones ringing. An exception could be if you’re a parent of a school aged child, it can be left on vibrate placed in a pocket or left on your lap in case of an emergency. Texting should never be done in front of a customer or partner since it shows a disinterest in what they’re saying. E-mail leaves an electronic trail, and should be tastefully written. One should also be cautious about using bcc: in e-mails. Recipients may not notice this and think they’re directly sent the message, and then might reply to all. When using a coffee shop as your office, you shouldn’t spread out your laptop, books, etc. all over the table, especially during peak times. You should also try not to use your cell phone, or keep conversations short, and you should buy one food item or beverage for every 30 -60 minutes that you stay there.

Business Etiquette – Did you know it only takes 7 – 17 seconds to make a lasting impression? Both verbal and non-verbal communication skills should be polished to make a great first impression with clients, as well as wearing the proper business attire for the occasion. It’s best to be a little over dressed than under dressed for any event or meeting. The home office should be devoid of noises from children, pets, etc. so when phone calls come in, you have a quiet background. When calling, you should be polite to anyone at an office answering phones, because being rude to a receptionist or administrative assistant will possibly get back to the boss. Causal Friday attire should be kept to a business casual appearance. No one should be wearing items with graphic prints, jeans, capris or flip-flops to the office.

Some tips may seem obvious, but in the moment it’s easy to forget to turn off the cell phone, or to allow for traffic when traveling for an interview or event, or men might not think to check to see if a shirt is too sheer, and women might out of habit put on lipstick at the table. So, the next time you go out to lunch or dinner with a client, go on an interview, or send a customer an e-mail, remember the do’s and don’ts of business etiquette to achieve and maintain a great image. After all, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

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