Etiquette in the Business World
By Michelle J. Hoppe


I recently attended a seminar on etiquette in the business world, even though I'm a stay-at-home mom struggling toward publication. Surprisingly, I came away with some very helpful pointers that I believe could further any career, no matter what the milieu. Because at some point, writers too, must leave the sanctuary of their home and the security of their computer screen, and come face to face with the real world, be it an editor, agent or the all-important paying customer.

Manners can make or break a relationship. By being considerate and respecting others, you show sincerity in wishing others well. Making others feel good will make you feel good.

Here are a few highlights of the seminar. And just a note--these situations refer to the business setting. Rules for social occasions may vary.

Nametags--that innocuous little addition to your carefully planned wardrobe that becomes suddenly garish on your silk blouse. But they have a purpose, and can better serve that purpose if handled correctly. First of all, print your name clearly. Do not use script. A printed name is easier to read. If you want to be referred to by your first name, print it larger than your last. If you want others to refer to you by your title, include it on the nametag. Always wear the nametag on your right shoulder or lapel. It is easier to read when shaking hands with someone.

Meeting Colleagues--First opinions are instant, therefore you must be poised and gracious, your speech and actions confirming a favorable opinion. How do you do this? Make the other party feel as if he or she the most important person in the room. Look them in the eye and stand still. Don't rock back and forth on your heels no matter how nervous you are. Speak clearly and in complete sentences. Shake a hand if it is offered. In the work force, the highest-ranking person would initiate the handshake. That may be you, so feel free to do so.

Introductions--It is a common business practice to introduce oneself with first and last name only, although persons who have worked hard for their titles sometimes use them. Rank plays a role in introductions, but customers rank over everyone except dignitaries when it comes to business. The lower-ranking person is introduced to the higher-ranking person. The subordinate to the boss, the colleague to a customer. Verbalize the highest-ranking person's name first. For example, if Sue is the colleague and Mary is the customer, the introduction is as follows: "Mary, I'd like to introduce Sue to you. Sue, this is Mary."

Err on the conservative side when addressing a new colleague. Use their title (Mr., Ms., etc.) until they give you permission to address them by their first name. Never take the liberty of using a nickname unless it is offered. Be sure to repeat a name in greeting and during ensuing conversations. Not only will the person appreciate it, but saying it helps you remember the name for the future.

After the initial introduction, move on to small talk. Ask how they are, then add a compliment or other statement. In the business world, this should not be personal, that is, relating to clothes, family or the like. Also, in a group of people, never single out a person and compliment them. If you must compliment someone, compliment the group as a whole.

Conversations--A good rule of thumb is 'Think before you speak.' Listen to what others are saying before you jump in. Stay away from negative comments. Be generous with praise and careful of criticism. Be considerate of other's feelings. Avoid slang, and don't dominate the conversation. And by all means, be discreet. Confidences are just that--confidential.

Deadlines--Not only should you be on time to work or for appointments, you should meet any deadlines and keep any promises you make. Emergencies sometimes creep up, but if you have a reputation for reliability, you will more likely be granted that extension you need.

Dress--While acceptable attire varies from business to business, there are some general guidelines to help choose the wardrobe right for you. Look at what your boss or supervisor is wearing and dress similarly. Keep as conservative as possible. Shorts don't belong in the office setting, nor do gaudy nails or glitter and sequins. Skirts should not be higher than just above the knee, or fall below mid-calf. Shoes should be well kept, with heels no taller than two to three inches. And that perfume you love so much? Wear it for your enjoyment only.

So the next time that editor meets you at a conference, smile, shake hands and say hello. Make them feel as important as they are. You will be remembered not only for your manuscript, but also for your manners. Make that lasting impression a favorable one. Once back in your hotel room or home, you can kick back, relax, throw on the jeans and have that chewing gum again.


Michelle Hoppe, 1997 Golden Heart Finalist, is webmaster for Chicago-North RWA, and runs her own business on the Internet:

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Copyright 1998, Michelle J. Hoppe