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10 Business Etiquette Rules That Matter

For someone starting out in their career, or maybe someone going back into a corporate environment after a long break, it is vital to reflect on the “rules of the game.” There are some expected norms that are taken for granted by many, but if forgotten at the wrong time, in the wrong place and with the wrong people, could cause an everlasting smear on your career.


So, for the sake of saving the blushes of a few readers, I thought I’d list a few of the “rules” that I view as being particularly important. Some are obvious, some not so obvious, but all are crucial in making friends and influencing people.

Observe the elevator rule. When you leave a meeting, don’t engage in a private discussion until you are sure that there is no one listening. There is nothing worse than commenting how boring it was, only to have the MD’s PA behind you in the elevator.

Never be late to a meeting. It is common courtesy, but remember that everyone is stupidly busy and no one wants to be at most meetings anyway. Even being a couple of minutes late can cause frustrations and bad feeling. Worse, never CANCEL last minute unless absolutely necessary (i.e. some total disaster has enfolded you are not in control of). There is soooo much wrong with last minute cancelling I cannot spare the space to list them all. Fundamentally, it’s plain rude and disrespectful. Grrrrr.

Don’t be critical of others. Office politics is common, but it is often a subtle undercurrent rather than an obvious tidal wave. I am not condoning subtle politics, but one thing that definitely isn’t done is overly criticising people in the office – in front of their face or behind their backs. No one is perfect!

Don’t interrupt. This one is so hard to do, but it is the ultimate mark of a true professional. Wait until the other person has said their piece and then put your point of view across.

Try not to swear. Emotions can run high, tempers can get frayed, but someone that cannot remain in control of their language is not going to be respected. Lack of control is a hugely negative trait – make sure that you don’t.

Focus on the face, not the screen. It is so easy to be self-importantly immersed in your own world of tablet and smart phone screens. Yes, I realize that your world is there, but if you are talking with someone in person, glancing at your phone every now and again is not going to endear them to you.

Send a thank you note. After any external meeting, it is polite to say thank you, even if the meeting didn’t go so well. Not acknowledging their part in the meeting might be considered as a snub, and you wouldn’t want to do that.

Put your phone away in meetings. There is nothing worse. Your attention should be 100% with what is going on the in the room. Pretending to be important and answering emails on your blackberry is not the way forward.

Do what you promise. You are in control of the words that come out of your mouth. Once your words are out, you are accountable for delivering on them. Overpromising and underdelivering is a sure way for people to stop believing you, no matter how hard you tried.

Don’t eavesdrop. The office can be a stifling place if you think that everyone is listening in to your conversations. Don’t be the one to listen in to a conversation and then “suggest” a solution. If you are not involved, don’t get involved. This will just make other people wary of what they say in your vicinity.

Hope these help and if you see yourself in one of these, please try and deal with it. No-one is perfect, but everyone can try.

Do you have any pet hates of people in a business setting?