AMERICAN BUSINESS ETIQUETTE By Candy Robinson Etiquette is about being comfortable around people and making them comfortable around you. Remember to be courteous and thoughtful to the people around you, regardless of the situation. Consider other people‟s feelings, stick to your convictions as diplomatically as possible. Address conflict as situation-related, rather than person- related. Apologize when you step on toes. Top 10 Strategies To Mastering Business Etiquette: 1. IT‟S ABOUT PEOPLE -Show respect and courtesy to everyone, regardless of their position or standing within a company. Make sure your grammar and voice tone are professional. Limit, even eliminate, profanity and coarse language. Remain in the present moment, giving your guest your undivided attention. 2. PUNCTUALITY = Honor other people's time. Start and end meetings on time. Give reasonable notice for projects. If you can't make a deadline, say what you can do. Be on time. Arrive 5 minutes before the scheduled time for all business occasions. If you know that you will be late, call to let your contact know. Offer to reschedule. If you are invited for a meal, you should arrive promptly. When invited to a cocktail party, it's usually permissible to arrive a few minutes late. On these occasions, you do not need to call ahead, even if you will be 30 minutes late. Do not arrive earlier than the stated time, under any circumstances. 3. THE CELLULAR PHONE - When using a cell phone, speak in hushed tones because a mobile phone has a sensitive microphone capable of picking up a soft voice. Set the ring tone at a low level with a tune that is soft, gentle, and not annoying. The more crowded the situation, the quieter and softer the volume of voice and ring should be. Move the ring to vibrate in any situation like a church, in a theater, a workshop, or a meeting where a ringing sound would prove disturbing to other people. Rely upon voice mail to take incoming calls when stepping up to a service counter or entering a restaurant. Respect the personal space of other people and try to speak in places 10-20 feet or more away from the closest person. Make sure that there is enough distance to keep the content private. Some stories, some issues and some conflicts should be saved for times and locations that will allow for confidentiality. Learn which spots will offer the best signal and the best conditions. Rather than hold an important business discussion or negotiation under poor conditions, wait for good conditions in order to make the best impression and provide a professional communication experience. Stop other activities such as typing when a call comes through in order to give the caller, full attention. Free of distraction; make the most of the call. 4. THE TELEPHONE - When you receive a phone call, identify yourself professionally by giving your first and last name and your department. Answer the phone with some enthusiasm or at least warmth. Know how to put people on hold and keep them there respectfully and how to transfer calls expertly. If you‟re going to be out, have your answering system tell the caller when they can expect a call back and program your phone to pick up immediately. Be sure to keep mailboxes empty and keep your voice messages updated. Return phone calls promptly. Even if you don't want to talk to someone, return their inquiry somehow. You can use e-mail, call after hours, fax a response, or have someone else call for you. If you don't have an answer, call and explain what you‟re doing to get the requested information, or direct them to the appropriate place to get it. When you initiate a call, identity yourself and state the basic nature of your call to take people off the spot. Greet people in a friendly manner. In electronic media (including phone, phone mail, and e-mail), do not act abrupt, crass, or rude since you are not face-to-face with a person. Personalize the conversation. 5. E-MAIL - Make the subject line specific letting the reader know what they are about to open. Address and sign your e-mails. Beginning the message with the person's name or "Dear ___," helps customize it. Sign your name, "Sincerely, ____" or provide a signature line for people to know who you are and where they can reach you. Do not type IN ALL CAPS. TOO INTENSE, and you appear too lazy to type properly. This is still a written medium. Follow standard writing guidelines as a professional courtesy. When replying to or forwarding an e-mail, clean up the document. Don‟t forward messages with three pages of mail-to information before they get to the content. When replying to a question, use “reply” or copy only the question into your e-mail, and then provide your response. Do not send a bare message that only reads, "Yes.” It's too blunt and confuses the reader. 6. INTERRUPTIONS - If at all possible, avoid interruptions of someone‟s concentration on a task, group work sessions, meetings, phone calls, or even discussions. Always knock and apologize if you must interrupt. Quickly state the nature of what you need, and show consideration for the fact that you are interrupting valuable work in progress. Be aware of when you butt into conversations, talk over existing conversations, or have to have the last word. 7. DRESS AND APPEARANCE - It can be insulting to your coworkers or clients to show a lack of concern about your appearance. Make sure that your clothes fit physically and that they fit the occasion and the setting. If in doubt, always err on the side of conservative. Be clear about how you expect people to look for your business. Business casual dress remains more formal than what you'd wear at home. Practice impeccable grooming. Wearing wrinkled clothes or arriving smelly and unkempt communicates that you don‟t care enough about the situation, the people, or the company to present yourself respectably. 8. INTRODUCTIONS - If you are woman and this is business, it's appropriate now to stan 9. d up and shake the hand of a male. Sometimes, people who don't like to shake hands will not meet yours. This is just their preference; do not say something cute or funny. When needing to complete a group of introductions, highest rank rules over gender. When you meet someone for the first time, use a title and his or her last name until you are told to do otherwise. If you are not told of a person's last name, simply use the first name or the nickname. If you forget someone‟s name, you can sometimes "cover" by introducing a person you do know first as this will usually get the unknown person to introduce him or herself. If this doesn‟t work, admit that you‟ve had a mental block. Appoint an employee to be a „buddy‟ to a guest, a new employee, or a consultant to ensure that they are introduced around and have someone to help resolve little logistical problems that may arise and cause embarrassment. 10. TABLE MANNERS - Immediately after everyone is seated, place the napkin in your lap. If you notice the napkin is in the goblet, this is usually a signal from the restaurant that the server will place the napkin into your lap. If you excuse yourself during the meal, place the napkin on the chair. This signals the server that you are not done. At a group table, wait for the host to start to eat before taking your first bite. When sitting at a banquet table, begin eating when two people to your left and right are served. If you haven't been served, but most of your table has, encourage others to start. The polite way to eat soup is to spoon it away from you. Reach for items in front of you. Offer to the left and pass to the right. Although once things start being passed, go with the flow. When done, place your napkin on the right of the plate and move your fork and knife to the "four o'clock" position across the plate to signal the server you are finished. If you invited the guests to a meal, you are responsible for the check. If a joint meeting, ask at the beginning or when scheduling the lunch on check splitting. If you are meeting with someone who is giving you valuable advice, you must pick up the tab. A personal handwritten follow-up note is also appropriate. If they have saved or helped you make more money, send them a gift or gift certificate. 11. RECEIVING AND ACCEPTING GIFTS - Business gifts are often presented after a deal is closed. In most situations, gifts are usually unwrapped immediately. When you visit a home for a business/social event, it is not necessary to take a gift, although it is always appreciated. Flowers, a potted plant, or a bottle of wine are good gift choices. Sending flowers in advance relieves your host or hostess from taking care of them when you arrive. During the Holiday season, gifts are exchanged. For your business associates, choose gifts with no religious connotations such as useful office items, gift baskets, or candy. If someone gives you a gift, you do not have to give one back. To feel obligated to return a gift with a gift embarrasses both giver and receiver. Employees don't need to give gifts to bosses unless they've worked closely together for a while. When you receive a gift, the thank you should be in proportion to the gift. If you open a small gift in person, you usually don't need to send a follow-up note. If you are sent a gift, always let the gift giver know that you received it as soon as possible. For big gifts, speak and write your thanks. For smaller gifts, an e- mail, a fax, or a voice mail works fine. Volumes of information have been written on what is right and correct in business etiquette. The important thing to remember is that if you strive to make the people around you feel comfortable and valued; you have succeeded whether you‟re perfectly in compliance with these or any rules you‟ve read.