12 Universal Business Etiquette Rules
Whilst different countries have different etiquette, there are certain universal etiquette rules that I believe apply to all cultures.
First of all, though, what does business etiquette mean? Here is one definition:
Business etiquette is a set of manners that is accepted or required in a profession. Often upheld by custom, it is enforced by the members of an organisation. Those who violate business etiquette are considered offensive. The penalty for such behaviour frequently lies in the disapproval of other organisation members.
Business etiquette is important because it creates a professional, mutually respectful atmosphere and improves communication, which helps an office serve as a productive place. People feel better about their jobs when they feel respected, and that translates into better customer relationships as well.
Here are 12 universal etiquette rules I believe we should all follow no matter where we work.
1. Introduce others
Always introduce people to others when the opportunity arises. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a social work event with a group of people and have had to wait to be introduced. It felt so uncomfortable and I felt undervalued. If you want to make people feel valued, no matter how junior or senior, always introduce them to the others in a group.
A handshake is still the professional standard. It shows you’re polite, confident and approachable. But please make sure it’s a firm handshake. There’s nothing worse than a limp (soft) handshake. It tells the other person you’re weak and gives the completely wrong idea about you.
3. Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
This is a basic form of courtesy especially when dealing with English native speaking countries. Sending a thank you email is very acceptable (for example, after a business lunch or a job interview) and, if you can, a handwritten thank you note is a nice gesture.
4. Don’t interrupt
You know the situation. You’re in a meeting and you can’t wait to give your opinion that you don’t allow your colleague to finish before interrupting them. Not only is that rude, it shows disrespect towards your colleague. It gives all the wrong signs about you. Remember, in business we want to be assertive, not aggressive.
5. Watch your language
Choose your words carefully and wisely. Rude and offensive language is never acceptable but neither is slang especially when communicating with clients and customers.
6. Double check before you hit “SEND”
Native and non-native speakers of English alike, we should all proofread and edit what we write in emails before we hit that send button. Grammar and spelling mistakes are not acceptable in formal emails with clients. Always have a quick read of what you’ve written to make sure that your meaning and tone are what you wish to express. And no smileys!
7. Don’t walk into someone’s office unannounced
This shows disrespect to the person. Always knock on the door or if the door is open, poke you head and ask if it’s ok to enter. Don’t just enter. This may sound logical but you’ll be surprised how many people forget this basic courtesy.
8. Don’t eavesdrop (listen in)
Everyone is entitled to have their private conversations either face to face or on the phone. The same goes for email; don’t stand over someone shoulders while they’re writing an email and read it. I used to hate it when people did that.
9. Acknowledge others
When someone approaches you, wave your hand or nod your head. Don’t ignore them. If you’re in the middle of something. it’s ok to wait for you to finish before you talk to them. You could say something like “I’ll be with you in just a second/minute” to acknowledge them. If you pass someone and you’re rushing to get somewhere, a quick wave and hello is all you need. Busyness is not an excuse to ignore people.
10. Be on time
I’ve written about this before and this can be seen differently depending on cultures. In the UK, for example, being punctual (on time) is important. It shows that you value the other person’s time. Being late does not mean you’re busier; it only shows you to be inconsiderate.
11. No phone during meetings
It drives me insane when I see people taking calls, checking their emails or What’s App messages during meetings. If you’re expecting an urgent call during the meeting, be sure to inform the participants in the meeting so they know what to expect. Otherwise, hide that phone!
12. Show genuine interest
Nothing shows more respect than when you show interest in the person who’s talking to you. Good eye contact and actively listening to them tell them that you value what they have to say.