Business etiquette empowers us to connect well with others in professional settings. From the boardroom to working lunches or community meetings, knowing the best way to act, perform and speak helps us leave a good impression. When we connect well, people want to do business with us and collaborate with us. Because success in business is so dependent on the relationships and connections we make, business etiquette can help our businesses become more secure and grow in a healthy way.

What Proper Etiquette Means

Having proper etiquette means that we are polite, well mannered and know how to gracefully navigate a variety of situations in life and in business. Proper etiquette for a dinner at home on the couch is very different from proper etiquette at a fancy Michelin-star restaurant. At home, it is appropriate to eat in sweats with our legs crossed on the couch, as long as we are not talking over the television show so that our family members cannot hear.

In contrast, at a Michelin-star restaurant, there is likely a formal dress code and guests must remain seated at tables with fancy place settings. Knowing which utensils to use, the proper voice volume for conversation, tipping expectations for servers and the protocol for ordering is key to a good dining experience. Variables like these play into what different kinds of etiquette are appropriate in any given circumstance.

Business Etiquette Defined

Even within business, there are many different kinds of etiquette to consider, as the rules are different than they are at home or when enjoying friends. There are certain expectations when it comes to manners on the phone, in the office, at meetings, during meals, in communication and appearance. While some types of etiquette apply most everywhere, like arriving to work on time, other forms of etiquette could vary by field or workplace. When in doubt, observe how others navigate in your setting to get a clue about what different kinds of etiquette are expected.

Telephone Etiquette Guidelines

While electronic communication has begun to take the place of phone communication more and more, chances are good you still need to use a phone in your office setting, so knowledge of basic business etiquette is key. Here are some ideas about how to represent your company well to clients and colleagues:

  • Answer the phone within three rings, or set your voicemail to pick up after three rings.
  • Use friendly language, such as, "good morning, good afternoon, please and thank you."
  • Smile, as the person on the other end of the line can actually hear your smile.
  • Maintain calm composure and strong emotional management skills when callers are upset. 

Workplace Etiquette Guidelines

Sharing a space with colleagues and employees means respecting the needs and preferences of others in order to create an environment that people look forward to working in. Of all the types of etiquette, this one might vary most from office to office, depending on company culture and employee preferences. Even so, some basic rules generally apply:

  • Show up to work on time and leave when you are supposed to.
  • Follow company dress code policies.
  • Avoid eating foods in the office that have a pungent smell.
  • Save strong perfume or cologne for your days off. 
  • Set a time to meet with colleagues, rather than interrupting their work without warning. 
  • Speak at a reasonable volume and avoid playing music without using headphones. 
  • Keep conversations professional and avoid getting too personal.
  • Do not go into the office when you are sick.
  • Make your workspace tidy and keep your garbage emptied. 

Some offices include shared work surfaces, or a culture of creativity that may encourage more interaction and noise. Others or made up of mostly individual offices with closed doors. When your work culture or setting is different from the norm, pay attention to what others are doing or not doing in order to gain a clue about how you can best respect those around you.

Meeting Etiquette Guidelines

If you have ever shown up for a meeting that nobody else showed up for, or had a one-hour meeting run three hours, you probably have some idea about why meeting etiquette matters so much. It is about respecting others' time and ensuring that everyone knows why they are there and when the meeting will be over. Meetings can include many types of etiquette, especially when they also happen over a meal or include digital conferencing.

Whatever the circumstances, follow these guidelines to make your meetings more effective, as well as respectful of others' time:

  • Only invite those who most need to be in the meeting.
  • Do not forget to include key parties.
  • Set a solid start and end time for the meeting and arrive a few minutes early.
  • Have clear objectives and a written agenda for the meeting.
  • Consider planning a follow-up meeting rather than running overtime. 
  • Email notes or minutes from the meetings, when appropriate. 

Mealtime Etiquette Guidelines

Business lunches are a common way to network or fit a little extra productivity into the day, but practicing proper etiquette can ensure you leave a good impression. Just like eating at a Michelin-star restaurant is different from eating on your couch, eating at a restaurant with colleagues is different from going there with your friends. Here are some things to consider:

  • Turn your cell phone off and keep it out of sight. This is not a good time for texting or checking social media. 
  • Don't show up starving. Eat a snack before you go so that you can focus on the meeting, not your tummy.
  • Keep the conversation professional and on-topic. This is not the time to talk about your new haircut or the kids' soccer trophy. 
  • Watch your body language, dress professionally and come ready for conversation with eye contact. 
  • Exercise good table manners and familiarize yourself with how to use a basic place setting properly. 

Communication Etiquette Guidelines

Polite professional communication helps us to collaborate with colleagues, communicate expectations and forge new business partnerships. Knowing how to communicate well makes others want to help us, be around us, collaborate with us and work for us. Follow these guidelines to make the best of every interaction:

  • Maintain friendly eye contact, use proper grammar and speak at a pleasant volume.
  • When it comes to your email inbox, answer every email within 24-hours and don't forget to set an away message if you leave for vacation.
  • For texting and company messaging, ask if it is a good time before starting a conversation. Use proper grammar and be polite. 
  • Practice active listening by paying attention to what the other person is saying, their emotions, body language and intentions.
  • Ensure your body language matches up with your words and remember to keep your cool when you feel agitated. 

Practicing Professionalism in Business

In addition to learning the proper etiquette for a variety of business settings, practicing professionalism personally is also important. Ensure that your wardrobe, hair and general appearance are in harmony with what your field expects. If you are a talent agent for musicians, this will likely look different than for a college professor or telecommunications executive. Ensure that you maintain a professional outlook and interact professionally rather than personally in your given position.

Sometimes, etiquette is nuanced rather than cut and dry, especially in new situations or cultures. When you need a little extra help preparing for a unique or uncomfortable setting, consider consulting with an etiquette coach who can help you think through the ins and outs of what you need to know to make a good impression.