The knowledge of business etiquette applies to all, whether you’re a successful business executive or a recent college graduate just entering the business world. We can all use gentle reminders of how to behave appropriately in our day-to-day business life. There may be times when you find the adage true that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” so it behooves you to learn as much as you can about the finer aspects of business protocol, as well.
Some may disagree, but in the twenty-first century, although it is certainly less true than in the past, for a woman to be successful in the business world, she must often work harder, stay later and be more prepared than her male counterparts; unfair, but still, unfortunately, true. There are many things that a woman can do, though, that go a long way in ensuring that she is taken seriously immediately and consistently and that her hard work and knowledge are what her co-workers and superiors know to be true of her.
The following should be your rules to work by:
1. Be Prepared
When meeting with co-workers, superiors or clients, the best strategy is to be prepared—your subject knowledge must be thorough and your written materials impeccable. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression—and in business, as in life, impressions are everything.
Your written materials must be of the highest standard. Any brochures or handouts must be edited and reviewed keenly. There is no room for error with spelling or grammar. You must also ensure that you have all of the materials that you will need, packaged together neatly ahead of time, and bring extras just in case.
Your business cards must be of the highest quality with up-to-date information and not torn or bent. When presenting your card, turn it around and hand it to the person face-up, so that they can read it easily. Note: Remember to receive materials with respect—read them thoughtfully and treat them carefully. If they have prepared as you have, they have worked hard to ensure that their materials are of the highest caliber, as well; they would not like to see them go unread, scribbled on, or callously shoved into a briefcase.
Depending on the nature of the meeting, be ready to answer your client’s questions, but also be ready to ask relevant questions—this shows that you are well versed on the subject and interested in doing an above-average job. It might even be said that your knowledgeable questions are even more important than your answers. It shows that you are interested in the person or people with whom you are dealing; and everyone appreciates when someone is genuinely interested in them, or their product/service. This is especially true of job interviews. You’ll obviously want to know about the specific aspects of the job, as it relates to salary, etc. but you can also show that you’ve done your research and that you have good working knowledge of the company and position for which you are applying. Ask open-ended questions that will lead to deeper conversation and set you apart from the other candidates because of your demonstrated interest level and initiative.
2. Be Early
Take the time to get directions and find out about parking and other considerations ahead of time. This way, you can determine how much time you’ll need to get to your destination and then can factor in an early arrival time. This will allow you some extra time to collect your thoughts and attend to other personal needs. When you arrive early (9:30–9:45 for a 10:00), you allow yourself time to get to the ladies’ room, get water, or coffee, review your notes—basically time to breathe. This all leads to a more confident and prepared you, and ultimately, your goal of a successful meeting.
3. Dress Appropriately
When men dress for business, there are few areas where they can go wrong. When a woman dresses for business, there are many more potential errors of judgment that can be made. When in doubt, dress “up” rather than “down” and stay more on the conservative side. You need not dress as a man—dark suit, white shirt, low heels (you get the picture), but if you pay attention to a few important details, you won’t have to worry.
Make sure your skirt is not too short or too tight; knee length or just below the knee is flattering and tasteful—no matter what the current style is on Madison Avenue. Pantyhose should be worn in the winter months—in colder climates; but never with open-toed shoes. Pants should fit well and should be the correct length for the shoes that you are wearing—no hems dragging on the ground. Heels are flattering, but they shouldn’t be too high or too difficult to walk in. Blouses and tops should not be too revealing, too low-cut or too tight. Jewelry should be kept to a minimum; tattoos covered and make-up and perfume subtle.
Note: This is not about sacrificing your individuality—your clothes should be a reflection of (the business) you. Remember that here is a time and place to be your (other) self—outside of work.
4. Be Gracious
Say please and thank you to everyone—always and sincerely; to co-workers, superiors, subordinates, restaurant staff, cab drivers, assistants, etc. You will never go wrong by being courteous and polite. Paying attention to how you treat others and caring about other’s feelings and opinions is the ultimate form of kindness and respect.
A smile, eye contact, and a firm handshake complete the package!
5. Follow Through
Did you tell someone you would get back to them? Then do it. Write reminders to yourself or do whatever it takes to make sure you remember to reply to the people that are expecting to hear back from you. If you forget, apologize, but make sure it doesn’t happen again. Your good reputation is at stake and if your co-workers and superiors can’t count on you, you will lose their valuable trust.
This is especially important with your clients. You must always get back to the people that you are hoping to or already do business with—you will lose business faster than you can say “lost revenue” if you fail to communicate in a timely manner.
When you remember to follow through, you have gone a long way toward gaining your co-worker and/or client’s trust and respect.
Following through with a handwritten thank you note seems to be a dying art, but it will never be out of style, and the more we rely on technology to help us communicate, the more memorable a handwritten note becomes. Within twenty-four hours of attending an event or receiving a gift, you should jot down a short thank you to your host or hostess. The time and effort you take will be appreciated.
Practicing the above “rules” will help you to act with poise, confidence and courtesy and will solidify your place as a true professional with your present or future employer.
And always remember—kindness is contagious!
By Beth Strong Taber of WomenCo.