7 Ways To Fine-Tune Your Behavior

Columnist Bruna Martinuzzi explores the vital ways to practice business etiquette.
May 14, 2012

Concern with etiquette may appear to be a preoccupation with the trivial: knowing which eating utensil to use or mastering the correct way to hold chopsticks. Instead, etiquette is about developing a sensitive awareness of those around us and being cognizant of the effect that our behaviors have on others. As Emily Post once said: "Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It's ethics. It's honor."

In today's harried, fast-paced world, it is easy to think that we can ignore the small niceties in our every day encounters. However, it is especially because we live fast-paced, charged lives that we need to be mindful of issues of etiquette. Ignoring conventional rules of civility can have a negative impact on our workplace relationships. Here are a few tips to help you in this regard.

Develop executive presence. Executive presence is often misconstrued as having a commanding appearance and dominating a room. True executive presence entails an awareness of how others feel about themselves when they are in your presence. It's moving away from a focus on the self to a focus on the other—from wanting attention to paying attention. It's business etiquette at its best.

Treat everyone with the same courtesy. In our hierarchal mindset, we sometimes unwittingly end up having two sets of manners: one for those who occupy a top rung on the corporate ladder and another one for those who toil at the bottom of the ladder. Consider that when your people see you "putting on the Ritz" for the higher-ups that you want to impress while you treat your workers as inferiors, you put a big dent in your credibility. Benjamin Franklin wisely observed “To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.” Don't have two sets of standards. Show civility and courtesy in all situations.

Don't drag your feet when others need your input. There is a French proverb that says, "People count up the faults of those who keep them waiting." Nowhere is this more applicable than when someone is waiting for your input before they can complete their own work. No matter how busy you are, work on developing your empathy of others' needs, even if this means simply sending them a quick note to let them know that you have not forgotten about them. It's a sign of caring and caring is never outdated no matter how fast-paced and harried our world is becoming.

Show up at company events. As much as you might dislike organized frivolity, keep in mind that a great deal of consideration goes into planning company events such as the annual picnic or office holiday party. Not attending these events on a regular basis signals to others that you don't care. Office social gatherings are opportunities to mingle with colleagues in other areas and are intended to create an esprit de corps. Show solidarity with your company by graciously attending.

Respect the dress code. Every company has its own unwritten code of what constitutes appropriate dress. While defying this may seem to us like a small act of independence, it is also a quick way to attract negative attention. As Guy Kawasaki states in Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions: "Under-dressing says, 'I don't respect you. I'll dress any way that I please.'"

Practice digital empathy. Sending very large attachments by e-mail may clog a recipient's system and slow down his or her ability to send and receive e-mails. We can spare others this irritation by using a Web-based file-hosting service such as Dropbox or an online file-sharing service such as Yousendit. (You can find additional ideas on how to avoid e-mail faux pas by reading the Seth Godin blog post "How to send a personal email."

Be thoughtful with your telephone communication. Consider that when you use your cell phone on a noisy street or while driving through tunnels, you may be showing disregard for the person who has to struggle to hear you amidst the background noises. There is a humorous episode from Seinfeld, showcasing this behavior. Many truths are told through comedic episodes.

The rules of behavior change as society changes, but one thing that doesn't change is our need to feel respected. Observing business etiquette is a subtle signal to others that we respect them. No matter how busy our lives are, there is time for civility. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best: "Life be not so short but there is always time for courtesy."

What do you feel is the most lacking bit of business courtesy in today's world?

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