The How-To: Improving Your Business Etiquette
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We hear this all the time, “You only get one chance to make a great first impression.” But what does that actually mean? Why is it that we have heard this throughout all of our lives but cannot implement it into action? Or why is it that we sometimes forget the most basic etiquette rules that result in embarrassing moments that give people a bad taste of you without knowing your name?
But the questions that needs to be answered first is knowing what etiquette is to you and why it is important. In my newly published book Ladies and Gentlemen: The Quintessential Book on Modern Etiquette, the definition for etiquette is the act of practicing appropriate behaviour and courtesy.
In this article, I will discuss the essential rules for making an amazing first impression in any business situation, covering topics such as how to introduce yourself, how to present your business card, how to dress and groom yourself, as well as other important subjects that need to be brushed upon.
According to an article on Forbes, you only have a 30 second open window to wow your audience and to captivate them. First impressions circulate around the usual appearance, dress code, confidence, communication skills, but also around whether you value your time and behavioural ethics with respect and give equal level of respect to society.
Dress and grooming etiquette
Let’s take a look at some of the do’s and don’ts of how to dress and groom yourself.
Dress to impress
Always take the initiative to look your upmost best at every formal and business setting, as it instantly uplifts you into people respecting you and taking you seriously as a businessman or businesswoman. Your attire should reflect the setting, so if it’s a job interview, always wear a business suit including a dark colour tie for men and a tailored skirt and blazer or a formal business dress for a woman. Ensure that your attire fits you well and it’s not hanging or too loose. The most important is all items of clothing should be well ironed and looking clean and crisp. Always dress up to the position you aspire to be, rather than dressing down.
- Consider appropriate color combinations
We already established that people immediately judge others depending on how they dress. And what appeals first is the color combination. Avoid wearing bright, unmatching colors that will reveal you as immature and not fit for the business world. The most professional colors should be blue, brown, and black. White is only appropriate if worn as a shirt, top or blouse. Also, consider colors that showcase your company, similar to your company’s brand colors. These brand colors or ensembles can be used in the tie or cufflinks, or even a classy logo blazer pin if it’s a client meeting.
- Hairstyles must be clean and decent
Ladies need to have a simple but elegant hairdo that isn’t too absurd for a business attire. Keep it clean and scented with beautiful fragrances as it will make it easier for people to want to be around you. Men need to always have a decent haircut and a properly groomed face to signify responsibility as well as assertiveness. Try and keep hair accessories to a minimum, keeping it classy and simple.
- Consider clothing length
One thing to remember when dressing is to always know the appropriate length of any clothing wear to avoid looking ridiculous and standing out in a bad way. Ladies need to know the proper length of skirts and dresses for the business setting, while men have to invest in complete suits instead of short sleeves and three-quarter trousers. In the Middle East, the national dress is very elegant when worn, while women’s skirts should be knee length or longer but not shorter as respect to culture and customs need to be adhered too.
- Wear appropriate shoes
Avoid wearing extremely uncomfortable shoes as you will be walking and standing a lot when it comes to networking and attending certain events or interviews. You should make sure you have removed all the stickers on the sole of the shoe, so to avoid embarrassing situations if the sticker is poking out or if it ruins the look of the sole when walking as its noticeable. Ensure your shoes don’t squeak when walking and is appropriate for long distance or long durations of standing. When walking, never walk heavy footed making a loud nuisance noise and never drag your feet. It shows a scruffy appearance with bad lazy posture.
- Avoid flashy and glittery clothing
It instantly sends a very bad message to people about women with very revealing outfits. Keep it professional, clean, and sleek to showcase that you are a serious businesswoman who deserves respect. Remember, you are not at a party or the Queen’s ball. Keep it simple but elegant in how you select your clothing. One watch and one ring (if required) with pearl earrings and soft pearl necklace should be suffice, remember less is more.
Etiquette for introducing yourself
Now that we have covered the basic principles of dress etiquette, we can turn our attention towards how we introduce ourselves.
Show up early, but not too early
Understanding the importance of punctuality will make others instantly think you are a man or woman that means business. It is very unprofessional to show up late and untidy from rushing to the location. Always plan your timing and routes. The rule of thumb when arriving for a job interview never arrive too early, but 10 to 5 minutes before your due time. Try and go to the bathroom before to freshen up and straighten your clothes and tie.
- Always address yourself with your full name and title
You need to understand that, yes this is the most obvious etiquette rule, but the way to present yourself is important to know about. Discuss each other’s titles and company rank and affiliations with the person you are talking
- Engage eye contact
Eye contact is key when you want to build a strong business relationship with potential connections. It will display that you are listening and are really interested in what they have to offer as a business individual. On first introduction look at their right eye to develop a stronger positive connection.
- Have a strong handshake
Having a firm handshake but not too strong will give off the impression of eagerness and confidence. People will instantly get the feeling that you are not uncomfortable and love to embrace new things and new people. When a man is greeting a lady allow the lady to initiate the greeting gesture. If she puts out her hand first for the handshake, shake the hand in a softer way either in a full hand shake manner or a half hand shake. This can be tricky to gauge and depends on your emotional intelligence and experience. If the lady does not put her hand out then as the man place your right hand on your heart area and acknowledge with a light nod of the head and eyes.
- 30 second rule
As I have mentioned earlier, Forbes states that we have 30 seconds to make an impression on someone. So, practice very often in front of a mirror with a stopwatch to rehearse how you as a person will be able to add value in the business world just from a simple introduction. Always have ready a one-minute elevator pitch ready and be well rehearsed. Be proud of who you are and have the confidence to brand yourself.
- Have confidence
Let everyone know that you are worthy to be here in their presence and that you are not nervous, overthinking about whether people here will tell you that you aren’t successful enough. It is all about your mindset. Circulate with as many people as possible and be proud of your title and what you represent. Display upright body posture with shoulders back and open chest to open the heart when speaking to everyone.
- Speak clearly and fluently
Communicating your ideas and thoughts can be very tricky to get people to listen if you have a quiet or shaky voice. Speak in a moderate pace, smile and be friendly and attentive. Open your mouth when speaking, so the projection is from the stomach.
- Never forget their appropriate titles
When networking and meeting various new people, it is easy to forget the titles of certain people, let alone their names. Although it is easy and common for many, it is still considered very rude and condescending. Many business minds have claimed that they repeat the name and title over and over and use their name very often when talking amongst a group. However, it is essential that you find your own way of remembering if repeating interferes with active listening. When introducing a colleague, you can use the suffix of Mr. or Ms. and say the full name with the surname and not just the first name. For instance, Mr. Mohamed Khan is correct and not Mr. Mohamed.
- Deal with your cell phone
It is very offensive to have your phone ringing during a business discussion. You also need to not text while others are speaking as it shows a loss in interest and you will ultimately lose all respect from that person or group. Try and keep the volume of the phone at a moderate to low level with no rude or obnoxious ring tones that attract attention. Remember, never cause an inconvenience to your neighbours, colleagues or people around you. Keep uninvited attention away by being classy and considerate.
- Watch your tone of language and posture
Avoid using language with slang, colloquial and juvenile ways of speaking when in a business setting. You not only represent your occupation, but also yourself as a person. Remember to stand and sit up straight and show suitable body language that indicates that you are listening and wanting to engage more in the conversation. Exhibit poise and a desired impact when you stand or sit up straight with honour and dignity. When you stand up from a seated position, always remember to tuck your chair in so it’s neat and tidy- it shows respect for your surroundings.
Business card etiquette
Now you have introduced yourself and know everyone in your present group, it is time to exchange business cards and services.
Always carry more than enough
Always be prepared as you might miss a big business opportunity if you have run out of cards.
- Know its location
Always make sure that you store your business cards in a clean case. It is very unprofessional and frowned upon to see wrinkled up, torn or folded cards. Some might be reluctant to accept such a card. Also, know where to find your business card. It is quite embarrassing to fiddle around in your bag while they are awaiting to gain your details. Always stay organized and avoid carrying unnecessary items in your purse.
- Update card details
Before you can attend any business atmosphere, it is important to update the details on the card such as new contact details, job title, and even location. Please take note to inform your business connection of this new information.
- Avoid coming across as pushy
Remain friendly and collected. You will come across those who are not interested in your services, but nevertheless, smile and hand them your card with both hands. You can add certain pleasantries, such as “I hope to work with you one day” or “You can contact me at any time”.
- Stand up when receiving a card
Show people respect by standing up when receiving a business card. If you don’t get up, you will come across as uninterested and not a person business minds want to work or associate with.
- When offering and receiving the card
Offer your business card with fingertips at the corner and the card being in ‘read view’ for the recipient. When receiving the card, gracefully accept with both hands (fingertips) as well, read the card for three seconds, then look at the person and thank them. Then, offer your business card in exactly the same elegant manner.
- Avoid writing on business cards
Don’t write on business cards or make corrections of contact details since it looks messy and unprofessional. Also, try not to write on cards belonging to others. It is better to make sure to keep a notepad or sticky notes on you to avoid looking unethical.
- Keep the received cards safe
Do not fold and leave these valuable cards scattered on the table, collect them and keep them in a space away from liquids and risk of tearing or bending. Set up a business contact database or download a business card scanner software to keep all contacts on your technology.
The golden rule is to avoid creating any inconvenience to society, be mindful of where you are and how you project yourself - you are your own brand and have your own reputation to uphold. Show respect and gratitude to your surroundings and people and your surroundings will show you gratitude back with positive flows of vibes and energy.