By Oleg K Temple, November 2018
When researching how to start a business, etiquette is one of the fine details people tend to overlook. Etiquette is too often taken for granted and its importance underappreciated. Despite the fact that proper manners are a sign of a good upbringing and label the individual as a cultured member of society. After all, if you do not understand how business mannerisms work, you have no business being in business, right? First impressions are important, as is body-language. We all know that and yet we assume that we will always react correctly and respond flawlessly. However, etiquette is a learned skill like any other. It takes practice and a willing, supple frame of mind to assimilate good habits.
They say that music is a universal language, understood and enjoyed by all of mankind. So are the most-common facial expressions, such the smile. An ancient Chinese proverb says “A man who lacks a smiling face, should never open a shop”, as a smile goes a long way in putting other people, as in: your partners and customers, at ease. Failure to do so, will raise red flags in their minds, causing them to get their guards up, scrutinise and cross-examine every offer you present them with and, ultimately, make for an incredibly difficult sell. A charismatic smile lubricates the gears of human contact, making transactions smooth and effortless. The obvious thing that follows is that if you go overboard with the smiling or smile at inappropriate moments, you could generate the opposite effect, come across as confused, nervous or worse still, make the other person feel uneasy. So be intelligent and use your charm sparingly for it to have maximum effect when it matters most. Here are four carefully selected principles to contemplate and observe at various stages during a business relationship. They hold true whether you are aiming to become one of the best hotels in USA or one of the top lawyers in the UK.
1) First encounters: be switched on
The first thing to remember is that the more people you know, the better connected and more influential you become, so be open to making new contacts, you never know where they may end up. It is people, not possessions that make you successful and powerful, so learn to be diplomatic and become a connoisseur of character.
When you are being introduced to someone, pay them your full attention, rather than just pretend to look interested or merely contrive not to look bored. Get up if you are seated and if you are the senior initiate the handshake (more on the latter in a moment).
Believe it or not, there exists a proper way to make introductions: first you introduce the most senior party, stating their full name, area of expertise, position or job title. Follow up immediately with an introduction of the junior party in the same manner, then, optionally, give a sentence of background information about each party, as a conversation-starter.
If people present you with a business card, don’t just grab, pocket it and move on, rather take a moment to look at it, read the name and title and thank the person for giving you their coordinates. If you too have business cards, now’s the time…
Just like in the military, where the superior office barks: “at ease!” In the world of business, the senior person initiates the handshake if there’s to be one. No matter your denominator or power in the hierarchical equation, never present a ‘dead fish’ hand. A limp handshake speaks volumes of a weak, craven character. Your handshake should be welcoming, firm and last for the appropriate duration—too brief and you appear to be recoiling, too long and you appear clingy or even creepy. Do understand the difference between a firm handshake and pulverising the bones of the counterpart. A handshake is not a contest of strength, but an affirmation of trust—if you grip too hard and you will have ruined the moment. It is foolish to try to assert your dominance on first encounters, a much wiser approach is to listen and learn as much as you can about the new party. Even if it were not foolish, in the modern business world, physical strength accounts for very little in the way of earning respect, so flex your mind, not your muscles!
2) Business meetings: be open
Rule number one: be punctual. If you must cancel, do so hours, or better still—days before the meeting, certainly not minutes. That is very rude and would leave your contact feeling dejected for having wasted their time and unlikely to agree to another meeting. If you are running late, inform the other party, giving an estimated time of arrival, so they are not kept in the dark. Be sure to apologise, whatever the reason, as being late to a meeting is extremely poor form indeed.
Mind your body language and avoid disrespectful gestures such as crossing your arms, keeping your hands in your pockets, crossing your legs or manspreading. Do not fidget, scratch, whistle, pick your teeth with your tongue or display any other mannerisms that may cause others around you to feel awkward or uneasy. Strive to have a semi-relaxed pose, sitting up straight and radiating keen attention towards the present company. Be a conversation starter, but also a keen listener. Do not interrupt or talk over others, even if they are your subordinates. Try to remember people’s names and basic facts about their interests and lives, this shows people that they matter to you.
Just like when being introduced to someone, do not feign interest, rather remain actively engaged throughout in what they are saying. Make eye-contact when speaking or being spoken to and strive to use intelligent, professional and clear language. When speaking, stay on point and do not hog the time with monologues, instead, encourage your listener(s) to participate in the conversation and, again, really LISTEN to what they say. This encourages people to share their opinions, which is what communication is all about.
In business, just like in the army, gender-induced chivalry is inappropriate, so treat everyone equally. What might be considered as good manners on a date, may land you in hot water, as you could appear to be fawning or patronising toward your female colleagues. Treating businessladies like damsels in distress, pulling out chairs and opening doors may come across like you perceive them to be weak, helpless people. Such an attitude is rife with very negative connotations indeed, in the world of business. However, don’t err on the oafish side either—do not interrupt your colleagues—male or female. Furthermore, do not try to be the first to get to and through the door, if you happen to be the closest to the door and go through first, don’t let it slam behind you, but hold it open long enough for whoever follows you to catch.
If you consume alcohol, hold on to your sobriety for dear life, throughout and after the course of the meeting. Do not let your speech become slurred and actions muddled by an inebriated stupor—it is disrespectful to those around, who will find such behaviour repulsive. It would doubtlessly end up being embarrassing to you in the near future. Control your intake and stay well within your limits—nothing good can come of lowering your IQ, so keep your head.
When it comes to meeting junior staff members, do not be shy to admit it if their names escape your memory, despite a previous introduction. By admitting this and asking them for their name again, you signal that they matter to you and that you will not forget again. Two points to mention at this juncture, one: if you ask a person for their name a second time, commit it to your long-term memory. In this case, the third time is NOT the charm, rather, asking a people to introduce themselves again, will signal that they do NOT matter to you and leave them wondering whether you are senile or just outright disrespectful. Your seniority will not assuage their contempt. And two: if you value your career, do NOT forget the names of more senior executives. If you do, strive to not let it show and do your research as soon as you are alone to establish the person’s exact identity and position.
Whether you are meeting in a specially-designated meeting room, restaurant or on a park bench, get up when your counterpart approaches and let the senior person take the first seat and invite everyone else.
Remember basic table manners, such as: not being loud or obnoxious during meals (e.g. loud chewing or slurping, clanging or scratching your utensils against the dishes). Do not use utensils to break bread (do it with your hands), do not toy with your food, do not push your plate away or stacking dishes when done, strive not to leave left-overs, etc. Also, strive not to eat overly quickly or slowly, so as to avoid any awkwardness where one person is watching the other eat. If your counterpart orders a desert, follow suit—for the same reason. If you initiated the meeting, you should insist paying for the meal, unless this is in breach of corporate gift policy, or the other party stands categorically against it.
3) Business garb: be smart
The charade of wearing a 3-piece suit to do business, like some inescapable, grim uniform is thankfully fading into the past. This is the 21st century. Thanks to ‘cazh’ trailblazers like Steve Jobs, the world is gradually waking up to the fact that expensive suits have nothing to do with the wearer’s vision, experience or expertise. However, the superstition is not dead yet and being a maverick in this aspect could severely backfire and slam the doors of great career opportunities right in your face. The type of business you are in is likely to hint at what kind of business attire is expected of you—jeans and t-shirts are fine for some of the more casual professions, such as: social media developers, artists, comedians, etc. while government officials, bankers and lobbyists prefer to associate themselves with others garbed in a more sombre costume. When in Rome… right? Whatever the case, make sure that your clothes are fresh, clean and well-pressed. Also, try to stay within a stone’s throw of fashion’s last decade.
As the saying goes: dress for success. This by no means entails show off the most expensive clothes you possess. And, as mentioned, it is absolutely true that what you wear does not matter nearly as much as the ideas you present, however, if people judge and shut you down without giving you a chance to present these great ideas of yours, you have lost twice. So make an effort and bolster your chances of being taken seriously by everyone in your field off the mark. Just like your open and friendly facial expression, your apparel and overall appearance are well-known forms of non-verbal communication and can be powerful tools in securing trust, respect and understanding. Appropriate dress code is interpreted as a clear statement of respect and serious intent.
The same applies to your digital enhancements such as mobile phones and other gadgets—they should be kept out of sight and silent during meetings. If you must take a call, do not disrupt the proceedings, rather, excuse yourself and go outside. Different levels of formality in appearance are required for different events and encounters, so learn the rules and adhere to proper etiquette in order as to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
4) Follow up communication: be polite
Do your best to remember people and put names to faces. Regardless of whether you remember the person or not, reciprocate in kind if greeted first, even outside of your usual business setting. If you can’t remember the person, again, don’t be scared to say so—return the greeting and just be open and friendly when you ask them to remind you where you met originally.
Needless to say that ignoring emails or not returning phone calls is terribly poor form. Remember that this is a very small world and whichever industry you are in, is a smaller world yet. Snub someone’s underling and before you know it, that person may overtake you in the pecking order and you will find yourself in a humiliating situation, seeking their help and understanding. Don’t burn your bridges, treat everyone with respect and kindness. When you do respond, be sure to check your letters for spelling errors. Virtually all text editors these days come equipped with robust spell-checkers, be so kind as to not subject your recipients to crass, misspelled or grammatically incorrect messages. Having people guess your meaning is rude and unlikely to result in prolonged contact.
There are many more points worth mentioning, such as intricacies in presenting your project and pitching investors or clients, signing contracts, organising corporate events, accrediting authors of any visual or acoustic design material you use, etc. etc. But this is a finite article. Here is another article on The Best Mind-sets to Keep You in Business. Please browse our article section for more actionable advice on how to start a business, as wedo not only tell you how to start a company, we go into detail of how to stay in business and outsmart your competitors. If you would like to see more information on any particular topic, leave your feedback down below. Also, if after reading this business article, you feel that we’ve left something out and you have questions or comments, likewise drop them in the field below.
About the author: Oleg K. Temple has worked as an editor and consultant on numerous projects advising various start-ups and fledgling SMEs (mostly in the travel, accommodation, tourism and HR sectors) for over 12 years. His main project has been The Cornerstones of World Business, international business directory focused on bringing to light the best companies from each country and state, providing them with affordable advertising and marketing opportunities while encouraging them to engage in lucrative B2B and B2C relations. For travel information such as hotels in California, accommodation New York, hotels Illinois and other destinations across Europe and USA; or if you seek reliable financial, real estate, consultancy, insurance, construction or shipping partners – welcome to CornerstonesWORLD.com.