Manners matter

Follow the right business etiquette to make an impression and avoid ruffling feathers

business welcoming a guestEtiquette is about presenting yourself appropriately and projecting a pleasant as well as trustworthy image. Disrespectful behaviour and bad manners distance people and damage your reputation.

Gloria Starr, image and etiquette advisor, ranked in the top five consultants world-wide explains, “Etiquette is the art of making others feel comfortable. It is the skill of an ambassador and I believe that everyone should be an ambassador for themselves, their company and their country.”

Corporates are seeking experts of business etiquette to groom their employees.Priya Warrick president-cum-executive director, Priya Warrick Finishing School, says “Several organisations are arranging corporate grooming sessions for their employees as it helps them deal with clients effectively. Politeness puts you on a pedestal and is the most effective way of getting things done. The behaviour and deportment of the person reflects on the organisation.”

A command over the proper business etiquette enables a person to concentrate fully on the business in hand and not on her behaviour. Here’s some expert advice on some of the major etiquette issues that people usually take for granted.

Making introductions

In a business environment you constantly meet new people. The lack of social etiquette while introducing people makes for a lousy first—and sometimes even last—impression. Not many people are aware that there is a hierarchy to follow when making introductions.

“Introduce the higher ranking person first by saying his name first in the introduction. Also keep in mind the “HOW” rule, which stands for higher, older, women.

Rank is considered first, but show respect for an older or elderly person. A woman would be introduced first if she is senior in age or when the woman is of equal status or rank,” advises USA-based business etiquette expert, Colleen A Rickenbacher, author of Be On Your Best Business Behaviour.

Here’s an example of a good introduction: “Mr Arvind Khurana, CEO, Sir this is Pankaj Awasthi Senior Manager, Finance.”

That is just not it. After the basic introduction, back it up by enumerating some information about the introduced person. “Mr. Khurana sings ghazals beautifully.” “Pankaj is a budding writer.”

Look at the person you are speaking about. If you are in a large group, ignore this rule—just go around in a round robin manner and introduce people in order. A person who is clearly miles ahead in stature gets mentioned before all. For instance, “Shahrukh Khan, meet my colleagues Jaya, Aisha, Anil and Rajesh.”

In the corporate world, the person who holds the highest post always comes first and you move down. If you have clients or customers in the group, they occupy the privileged position here.

Usually, the host does the introductions, but if the host is busy, go ahead, introduce your self.

Saying thank you

There are two little magic words; That would open any door with ease; One little word is thanks; And the other little world is please.

a thank you noteThese lines from a nursery verse contain invaluable advice. A polite person never fails to impress. Always respond to a gift, card, congratulatory note, a party invitation, a recommendation and successful completion of a project with a thank you note.

Email is an acceptable medium nowadays but nothing could beat the graciousness of a nicely written note on quality paper.

“I have an easy way to remember how to handle thank you and that is ‘3-3-3’—it only takes three minutes to write a thank you note; a note needs to be only three sentences long; and it should be sent within three days. If you miss the three-day limit, don’t think you are excused. Still send the note but try not to wait for three weeks or three months to do it,” says Rickenbacher.

Barbara Pachter, an expert on business etiquette, and author of eight books on the subject, including the latest New Rules @ Work says, “Is it appropriate to say thank you with an email? I’ve lessened my stance on it, as long as it’s not for a gift,” she announces.

“When you send a thank-you note for a gift, it could take 3 – 4 days to get there. People start thinking, isn’t this person going to acknowledge it?”

Similarly, do not hesitate to drop in a sorry note when you are wrong or in case of a mishap involving someone you know. People appreciate these small gestures; they give you an edge over the competition.

Engaging in small talk

Conversations are the key to success. Often, big deals are struck during discussions. While conversing keep your voice low, maintain eye contact and liberally intersperse your sentences with words like “surely” and “certainly” and see the magic bloom.

The British always open a conversation with discussing the weather. Small talk is vital for building a rapport with people. Current affairs, sports, weather, books, theatre and movies are all good conversation starters.

“Do not discuss religion, politics, money or any topics that are sexual or racist in nature. Personal questions should not be about an individual’s marital status, age, education, parentage, income and cost of possessions,” advises corporate grooming expert Suneeta Kanga.

“When you find yourself in a group of strangers, join in and listen to the flow of conversation for a while. Add your own opinion and then introduce yourself. Never stand next to a wall, as it shows a lack of confidence,” suggests Warrick.

Also, listen to what the other person is saying attentively. People get bored of loudmouthed braggarts.

Saying no

Being polite and courteous doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you. Many a times it is important to say no, but a proper refusal should be unambiguous and impersonal. Yet, the person should get the message loud and clear.

If a person gets obnoxiously rude to you when you refuse, be firm but stand your ground. Do not shout back. Smile and move away diplomatically. “If a person is being downright insulting, excuse yourself and leave,” advises Starr.

Speaking on phone

man talking on phoneCell phones are so ubiquitous today that you have to learn the right decorum to be maintained while using the mobile. You will agree that loud buzzing of some lyrical tune in front of a business associate causes embarrassment.

Also when you are talking on the phone, keep your voice low. People shouting away into their mobiles, specially the Bluetooth-enabled ones, in public places seem very crass.

Tone down your ring tone—both in volume as well as content. While in a meeting or conference keep the cell on mute.

Do not keep other colleagues waiting while you speak on the phone. Always insist on calling back later unless urgent.

“If your phone rings while talking to someone, apologise and ask permission to attend it. You should move away and swiftly attend the call in low tones,” suggests Warrick.

So if you want to climb the corporate ladder, polish your Ps and Qs. As Suneeta Kanga, explains, “Polished professionals are the most valuable asset for any organisation. They are among the most cost-effective methods for a business to generate positive public relations.”

Dress code

According to Barbara Pachter, an expert on business etiquette, “The first question people need to ask themselves: Is my clothing appropriate—for my job, my profession, my company, my part of the country?

What’s appropriate for a corporation in New York may not be for a small office in some other part of the world. You send a message through your clothing, and you have to know what that is.”

Although businesses scenarios have become increasingly informal in dress and attitude over the past two decades, a large proportion of the corporate world hasn’t completely lost its desire for a bit of decorum and savoir faire.

Many organisations insist on a formal dress code. Even if the dress code at a do is mentioned as informal, it is not the occasion to take out your little black dress with the plunging neckline or the torn jeans.

Sia Mitra is a New Delhi-based freelance science writer.


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