If I mention the word “etiquette,” what comes to mind? Are you automatically rolling your eyes? Sweating about which fork to use? Feeling trapped in Etiquette Hell? If you are, you’re not alone. The word “etiquette” often gets a bad rap. And we get it – “etiquette” can sound stodgy and pretentious -- conjuring up old-fashioned images of elaborate table settings, or handwritten thank you notes – practices that seem completely archaic and out of touch with today’s 21st century lifestyle.
“But the concept of etiquette is still essential, especially now—and particularly in business. New communication platforms, like Facebook and Linked In, have blurred the lines of appropriateness and we're all left wondering how to navigate uncharted social territory,” says Eliza Brown in her recent blog for Inc.com
So riding on the coattails of September’s National Courtesy Month, here are a few simple tips that ALWAYS matter, no matter if it’s September, July, or February:
1) Send a thank you note.
Staunch traditionalists will insist that it should always be handwritten, and with good reason – taking the time to do so will differentiate yourself and show that you value the relationship with the recipient. If you’ve had a job interview, sales meeting, or any other kind of relationship building interaction, at the bare minimum, send a digital version.
2) Practice internal customer service.
So much focus is placed on looking upward and impressing senior management that we sometimes forget to look elsewhere within our organization. An actor cannot perform without a stage manager, lighting and prop technicians, wardrobe supervisors, etc. In your company, take the time to acknowledge and recognize colleagues on ALL levels of your organization — these are the people who work hard to make your business run!
3) Zip it!
Once as an understudy, I was performing the leading role. My mother was excitedly sitting in the audience, waiting for the curtain to go up, when the people in front of her opened the program, saw the insert announcing my performance, and loudly said to each other “Oh no, the understudy’s on!” So, call it superstitious or polite, but never rehash the details of an off-site business meeting until you are in a private and safe place. You never know who may be riding the elevator or the subway car with you — don’t risk damaging your reputation. (p.s. my mother informed them who she was, and the offending audience members apologized profusely and lauded my praises at intermission.)
4) Focus on the face, not the screen.
We’re all somewhat gullible enough to believe the myth of multitasking, but the bottom line is, when you’re in a meeting or listening to someone speak, turn off your phone. Don’t text. Don’t send emails. Be present and attentive. This is not only a courteous move, but is also another way to differentiate yourself from everyone else chained to their phones. And trust me – the emails will still be there when your meeting is finished.
To put it simply, business etiquette is about being respectful and making people feel good, not about adhering to archaic rules and having someone tell you black-and-white "do’s" and "don’ts." It should never feel like Etiquette Hell. Use the above tips as guidelines in your next business interaction, and let us know how it goes!