Businesses today are primed to run at the speed of light. In a business environment, you will find yourself bombarded by an ever unending stream of emails to answer, meetings to attend, presentations to be held, an avalanche of reports to write, as well as a constant trickle of assessments. To further complicate things, there is a critical need to manage interpersonal relationships, which will undoubtedly arise, from staff to staff interactions or even more importantly, staff to customer interactions. There is no doubt, that all of this can be overwhelming for anyone but most especially for a newbie. Therefore, the office or business space, must be brought under some sort of semblance of control for sanity to prevail. The means by which this control is achieved is largely in part due to: business etiquette.
This brings to the fore the question: what is business etiquette? Business etiquette, is a set of general guidelines for manners and behaviour, in a professional setting that allows professionals (as well as customers), feel comfortable, and safe at work or in any other professional business setting. It has to do with both expected behaviours, and expectations for individual actions within a professional setting. It involves treating fellow coworkers, and your employer with courtesy and respect, in a way and manner that generates a pleasant work environment for everyone. However it goes beyond even this, it’s about projecting an image of professionalism and credibility. Furthermore, a living business must have paying customers, which means business etiquette is critically about building relationships with people both coworkers and customers. You need to, and must have, healthy relationships with coworkers to enhance your productivity, while proper interactions with customers will no doubt result in the profitability of your business. It is important to note that business etiquette in this sense, and context is not about rules and regulations per se, but aims to provide basic social comfort, as well as create an environment where others feel comfortable and secure. This can be achieved through better communication.
Basics of Business Etiquette
What are the basics of business etiquette? What are the things you need to know, need to do or attitudes to build in this regard? You must learn how to sharpen your business communication skills, with the purpose of enhancing your professional standing, while also promoting an attractive image for your business. The following, are a list of basics of business etiquette which are by no means exhaustive:
1- Projecting professional body language: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then body language in the realm of business transactions, is worth thousands of American dollars (or millions of Nigerian Naira as the case may be). The way and manner in which you walk, sit and stand tells a lot about your degree of professionalism. Your body language, does affect others, and you must learn to use it effectively. Though this may sound very strange to you, an unspoken rule, and the gospel truth is that people tend to do business with people they like, as well as people they feel safe and comfortable with. In business communications, over half (about 55%) of your total communicated message, is sent through your body language. In fact 22%, is conveyed via the tone of voice you use, while only 7% is portrayed through the actual words that you use. In addition to this, proper body posture is of great importance. Standing or sitting upright or erect, portrays confidence, while walking steadily radiates purpose and direction. More often than not, the first thing people will notice about you, will be your walk or how you stand. Therefore posture is very important. Most of the first impressions you will make about others, or you will have made about you are subconscious (we don’t even know we are making them or why), and usually occur within the first seven seconds of meeting. This is why it is not just a cliché but a fact to say “first impressions are usually lasting impressions”.
2- Dressing for business success: Donning the right business attire, will get you on track to success. Do not be deceived, people still judge you by the clothes you wear. This is standard across all climes hence the cliché: “the way you are dressed determines the way you will be addressed”. Your dressing is a major part of the critical first impression you make on people. Two rules, are worthy of note in the business world, with regards to dressing. Keeping them in mind, would help you simplify your “dress decisions” when going on a business outing or preparing for the office. They are:
- Dress according to your corporate culture
- Dress like the people with whom you are doing business
How you dress at work, depends largely on the type of industry you are engaged in. Also dress according to the position you are aspiring to attain to. Strive to mirror your company’s image as you are a reflection of your company. Always look your best when meeting with customers. Dress neatly, so you do not send the wrong message across and lose credibility.
3- Verbal communication: People skills, can get you noticed and move you up the corporate ladder. It is of vital importance, for you to know how to handle office talk, deal with office politics as well as know how to use the right words for the right occasion. Empirical studies, show that 80% of your salary depends on your communication skills, regardless of the industry you work in or your job title. Beware of so called office “small talk”. In a very real and true sense, anything you say in the office space makes a statement about you, your professionalism and your personality. Your verbal communication should be neutral and non-combative, it may be advisable to avoid issues that have to do with religion, politics, race, sex, gossip and vulgar jokes. Always say what is relevant, and appropriate to the current situation or event. It is also good to avoid talking too much about yourself. Broaden your knowledge base so you can talk intelligently on virtually any business topic. Furthermore, the tone and tempo of your voice matters a lot. It makes people have a tendency to assign a personality type to you based on the sound of your voice.
4- Written communication: The goal of written communication is to focus on your audience. An industry study undertaken by the Xerox Company, found out that managers spent 50% of their time trying to decipher employee communications like memos and letters. This resulted in a waste of valuable office working time, which could have been used more productively, which in turn, had a negative impact on the revenue the company generated. Indeed as is commonly said “Time is money”. A general set of rules, to help evaluate office written communication such as letters and memos, are:
- Decide on the true purpose of the written communication: Why are you writing? What specific action do you want the reader to take?
- Identify your audience: Who are you writing to? What is the reader’s likely reaction to what you wrote? Is the reader conversant with the subject matter you are broaching?
- Identify your bottom line: What is the single most important point in your communication? If the reader were to forget everything else, what is the one key point you want them to remember?
- Identify your strategy: What is the best method or way to get your message across to the audience?
In addition to this, email should be properly used for the appropriate occasion and setting. You should also watch your tone, and your grammar as written communication can travel anywhere. It is most important, for you to make yourself stand out with careful, focused and grammatically correct business writing.
5- Conflict management: It is a (sad) fact of life that conflict is inevitable in the course of human interaction. This is even truer of the business space. Decades of social research, reveals that you will encounter at least nine different personality types, in the workplace or business space. Therefore, chances for conflict are exponential. Learning why conflicts occur, and knowing how to manage conflicts well is the key to resolving them. Furthermore, the best way to handle potential conflicts is to catch them before they erupt into actual conflicts. Hence the cliché to “Nip something in the bud”.
In conclusion, it is critical to understand the basics of business etiquette. In the workplace, these serve as a guide and are usually encapsulated in company handbooks. It is of paramount importance, and is one of the primary responsibilities of the HR of an organization, to ensure that these are enshrined and integrated into the business culture, so as to create a safe, comfortable, conducive and business friendly environment for all.