Knowing how to behave during business and social interactions can often make the difference between developing lasting, meaningful relationships and being successful at work, or being left behind. However, it is important to understand some differences between social and business etiquette and act accordingly to avoid being viewed as unrefined or worse, offensive.

General Differences

Business etiquette is genderless, meaning that the chivalry expected in proper social etiquette is not appropriate in a business setting. Business associates are expected to be treated as peers regardless of gender. While basic civility should not be abandoned, business etiquette dictates that all people are treated equally; this means that men should not rise when a woman leaves the table, for example. Likewise, women should always extend a hand for a handshake when meeting someone.


The proper etiquette for making introductions varies slightly between business and social situations. According to Emily Post, in a social situation, introduce the person you wish to honor first, such as when you introduce a friend to your family members or an adult to a child. The same principle holds true in business etiquette. Always introduce a client or potential client to anyone working in the company by naming the client first. If you are introducing your boss or another higher-level executive to someone of lower rank, always name your boss first. In the formal business environment, always introduce someone using first and last names.


When using technology, the rules for business and social etiquette are vastly different. When you are using email and cell phones for personal reasons, you can be as informal as you wish. However, stay professional when using your work email, and avoid sending jokes or personal notes to work colleagues. Turn off or silence your cell phones while you are in the office or at a business meeting. If you must take a call on your cell phone while you are in the office, find a private area where you can talk. If you are using your cell phone for business outside the office, do so only when you can give the person you're speaking with your full attention, not while you're driving or running through the airport.


Proper meal etiquette differs between business and social situations as well. As a general rule, the person who requested the meeting pays for the meal. If you request the meeting, choose a restaurant that you have visited before — preferably one that accepts reservations — so you can make recommendations from the menu. In a social situation, you may order whatever you like, but during a business meal, avoid foods that are messy or need to be eaten with your hands. Follow the lead of your guest when it comes to ordering alcoholic beverages, and limit your alcohol intake. While conducting business during lunch, it is acceptable to place documents or a small tablet computer on the table, but never place your briefcase or purse on the table; those items should always be placed on the floor near your seat. If you must use your computer during the meal, move closer to your lunch companion, so she can see the computer while you work.