A guide for new professionals, and seasoned ones who need to refresh:
Every day, as the world of our opportunity grows, so does the distance between cultures shrink. How to function thoughtfully and successfully as we navigate ourselves through this evolving business/social world becomes more important and more vague. Here are 10 points of etiquette that can help to calm your nerves and heighten your success.
While my motivation to write these derived from the questions I receive from many young professionals and my millennial friends, I have witnessed a number of seasoned professionals who appear to have let their ‘urgency of now’ overwhelm the learnings of their pasts. One of the things we know is that its often what we don’t know that secretly robs us of progression.
These 10 points of etiquette can help you to build your career, your social confidence, and your personal relationships. Read them with an open mind and incorporate them into your life with the trust that others will appreciate you doing so.
1. When in doubt, ask.
Although many ‘old school do’s and don’ts’ no longer apply in many business and social settings, most of us today operate across cultural and economic lines. It is expected that guidelines for protocol will be offered in many instances. However, in just as many more instances, subtle points of protocol may not be made obvious to you as you grow in your career. Make a point of asking, when in doubt. Most business associates and social hosts will appreciate you for asking on points of question that allow you to arrive and participate in a good manner. Asking also allows you to gain information that supports your success in these situations, and relieves your stress or concern over showing the proper respect to any given situation.
Depending on the host of the meeting or the social setting, rules may- and often do – differ. These differences may be influenced by the culture of the person, the industry, the region or any number of reasons. As long as you ask with the proper amount of time allotted to adjust or assure, you and the host will enjoy a much more successful occasion.
2. Hy-geine/Low fragrance.
While entering any business or social setting, a smile and appropriate information is vital. It’s also important to let your smile do its work. On too many occasions, I have attended meetings or social settings in which overly fragranced individuals mingling together can create an unwelcome bouquet. In business meetings, this can be not only distracting; it can be interruptive. Allergies and sensitive noses can overtake the ability for some to concentrate or remain in the room. At a minimum, too much fragrance can simply cause negative reactions that have to be emotionally overcome before you can get to the business for which you are there. Always, it’s a good idea to follow the advice of most perfumers: Use lightly, in pulse points, prior to dressing. This allows the intent of the fragrance to be fulfilled, without overwhelming the persons you interact with.
On the point of Hygiene: Please use time management in a manner that allows you to complete your wardrobe with the necessary cleansing rituals. Fragrance atop a body that is not fresh is worse than no fragrance at all. We all live in a quicker world today. Texting and tweeting have killed the ability for many to write full-sentence notes; and, so have lack of time management and over scheduling interfered with old-school hygiene. No adult is naturally blessed enough to bathe at night for a meeting the next day. Yet, many professionals with excellent business propositions miss the mark on the importance of personal hygiene, and so lose the next step in what could be an otherwise successful opportunity.
3. Manage your expectations.
When business or social events require you to travel, manage your expectations on what is proper protocol to you. In some cultures, it is appropriate to move at one pace, and in others, a quite different pace. In some cultures, standing in lines (or queuing) is the expectation, and in others, it can be a ‘free for all’. In most business settings, its appropriate to indicate a desire to speak and be acknowledged to do so by the meeting moderator; yet, I’ve witnessed seasoned professionals overtake a conversation and lose the respect or interest of the other meeting participants. As you build your career, remember to build it on your ability to respect others as well as your ability to bring new, creative thought to the occasion.
Likewise, living accommodations differ region-to-region and culture-to-culture. Foods and food service will differ, and general social graces will, as well. Study ahead what to expect, and ask others who may be already familiar with your particular upcoming situation or event, what their experiences and knowledge are. Learn one or two social words that will exhibit your desire to know, and offer respect for your circumstance. It’s often easy enough to familiarize yourself with how to say ‘Thank you’, ‘Please’, ‘How much?’, or ‘Excuse me’. There are apps you can add to your devices that offer language translations and quick learns. Most hosts and local citizens appreciate you for the effort, even if you are uncomfortable in the process:)
4. ‘Thank You’ still matters.
Many times, I have experienced people to ask me for invitations or tickets to events (business and social) who have thoroughly enjoyed themselves, stated so on the way out, and never sent a Thank You note afterwards. While I never offer, nor give, anything with the need for a Thank You, I always, note, appreciate and remember those who do offer one….and so do most people.
It has not been uncommon for people to reach out to me to fund their annual charity events, receive the requested funding, and I never hear from them again until the next year’s event! Contrarily, there are also organizations who request funding, receive it, and send notes of thanks accompanied by an accounting of the outcomes of the event and the impact on the communities they service. Guess which organizations get my ‘Yes’ the following year….
Whether you have attended a meeting, a social event or received unexpected help from someone as you grow in business and life, a written Thank You is always welcome, and often makes the difference in how you are perceived. In business, a Thank You allows you to show respect to the person (or persons) you have met with, leave assurances to the discussion and path forward, and open yourself for follow through. In social settings, a Thank You note can offer the host a moment of post-enjoyment that can be treasured forever. In life, Thank You is not just a matter of good breeding; it is the final piece to the puzzle you are trying to solve!
5. Don’t fake it. Be yourself!
Your career will certainly take you into new and exciting circumstances. While it is important to understand and honor the cultural and business differences you encounter, it is never appropriate to ‘take on’ the culture in a quick or false manner. Doing so can be more offensive than not knowing the differences. Being yourself is always welcome, and chances are it will allow you and your hosts to enjoy the occasion more than clumsy attempts to adopt a demeanor that is not yet learned, nor natural to you. In some instances, faking familiarity can come off as mimicking or disrespectful.
6. Pay your own way.
Often, rising in your career means encountering new and exciting opportunities. These opportunities can present unforeseen costs that you may not yet be equipped to carry. Whenever you are extended an invitation to any occasion, be sure to learn what the expected costs are before you accept the invitation. This applies as much to a casual invitation to ‘join the team’ for coffee, lunch or drinks after work, as it does to a conference or weekend event. Know the cost! Don’t complicate the asking – just ask. If you are being invited as a paid guest, or a paying guest, it will be made clear and everyone can stay whole after the occasion.
If you are invited to an event such as a dinner, unless you know your host really well, never order from the top price line of the menu. Find something you can enjoy that is below midrange. Only if your host encourages otherwise, is it appropriate to do otherwise before you’ve built a well-defined relationship.
Never free-load. Being the last one to offer to pay for ‘a round’ every time may allow for jokes, but it will be noted and never appreciated. If you’re not at a point in your financial standing to carry your weight, learn to excuse yourself from accepting too many invitations – unless your host has invited you to do otherwise.
7. Learn to be heard without being the loudest.
When you have something exciting or vital to contribute to a business or social conversation, let the content of your contribution deliver the message. No matter how ramped up the conversation is, if you are saying something important, others will make way for you to be heard. A friendly touch on the arm or wave of your hand may indicate you are ready to contribute and signal a path for you, but never interrupt an associate who is invested in their own conversation. Tally the value of your contribution against the value of interrupting someone else.
8. Social media has its place. Learn where that is.
Learn up front if selfies, videos, snaps, tweets, texting or personal photography are appropriate before you attend any professional or social event. Although we live in a world that may measure our value by our ‘following’; we also must gain our professional and social rise by respecting confidentiality, protocols and individuals’ rights to privacy. This is a very good point to ask about beforehand! Once told, honor the answer.
On this point, it is as important not to post pictures after an event where privacy has been requested, as during the event. Privacy is privacy.
9. Mean what you say.
When you make business or social comments in a group setting, know that they hold when you’ve left the situation. Never make false claims to associations, access, or obligations. You may not be asked to follow through on commitments you make, but you will be remembered for those you don’t truly hold to. Your group membership, whether through employment or social connections, is offered for the value you bring. When you prove your word cannot be valued – no matter how light or grave the matter – your growth with that organization is bruised and/or hindered. What’s more, people will more quickly share with others what you did wrong than what you did right. Add technology, and your professional and social world may begin to shrink.
10. Give more than you receive.
People notice people who count tit-for-tat. When you offer your free assistance, whether at work or in life, do so freely – truly and completely. If you intend to be paid for what may be perceived as a kind gesture, make your position clear. When you are sharing out of kindness, do not come back later asking a return favor.
Many people make the mistake at work of only doing the minimum for which they are paid; yet, never associate this to the reason others may rise around them. Hosts may often invite you to some event, calculating what return favor they will ask you in the short term. You know it when this type of thing happens, and so do others. Give your gifts freely, and your Thank You’s sincerely.
Someone I learned a lot from, via his teachings, was a man named Zig Ziglar. In one of his lectures, Zig stated, “You can get anything you want out of life, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” This is sound advice from a man, even after his passing, that is still worth listening to! And, it concludes these 10 points of etiquette.
These ten points are, by no means, the sum total of what you need to know to be professionally successful beyond your work talents. Nor do they offer you all that is important to the etiquette of your social endeavors. They are very wise points to remember as you seek to grow, in any situation…even with your personal friends and loved ones. For many, they may raise new perspectives; especially if you are young in your career. For others, they may simply seem like common sense. Then, again, common sense isn’t that common anymore – AND – common courtesy is courtesy the world over.