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Professional Appearance: Business Etiquette

For organizations and employees alike, image is everything.  Recognizing the critical link between business protocol and profit is key to your success. It is crucial to learn how to interact with colleagues in ways that make you appear professional.  Career success depends on growing past the awkwardness into a mature employee that others can rely on.  Our professional image consultants have compiled this article to help you make proper introductions, respect office etiquette, understand “casual dress” rules, understanding the importance of a hand shake, workplace behavior faux pas, business dining etiquette and even how your office decorations may affect your professional image.

Your professional appearance is a combination of your image, actions and reactions.  It requires positive reinforcement and self control.  When others regard you more favorably, you are sure to advance in your career.  Be sure to act maturely and follow these simple guidelines:

Business dining etiquette: 5 rules
When lunching with co-workers at a conference, convention or business meeting, dining etiquette can keep you from associating your image with social errors.
Here are five etiquette rules for business meals to help you maintain a professional business image, according to Robin Jay, author of The Art of the Business Lunch.

  1. Never, ever talk with your mouth full. It is best to take small bites so you can quickly chew and swallow if somebody asks you a question.
  2. Come prepared with several non-business topics in mind. It always helps to avoid awkward silences at the dining table with people whom you don’t have a strong personal relationship with. Most people enjoy sharing their thoughts on subjects like travel, sports and movies.
  3. Always be kind to the wait staff, no matter what happens. Anyone who is nice to you but nasty to the server is not a nice person.
  4. Know your lunch partner’s business. It’s especially important when your tablemate is someone you’d like to impress, but the rule holds true regardless. The fewer times you have to say or think, “I didn’t know that!” the more impressed the other party will be. Make sure to do a quick Google search and learn a few interesting facts about the other person.
  5. Put some thought into choosing the right restaurant. Too casual or inexpensive may leave the other person feeling undervalued.  Too expensive and they may perceive you as wasteful. When in doubt, suggest that the other person pick the place.  This will  alleviate any stress over finding the right place.

Special occasions with co-workers
Office party etiquette is simple: Don’t do anything that you don’t want the entire company to be talking about for several years to come. Contrary to popular myth, an office party is not the place to wear a lampshade on your head or drink anything more than 2 alcoholic beverages. Keep your dignity, and respect the dignity of others.

Cubicle etiquette:  4 rules about sharing office space
Even if there aren’t four walls and a door marking the area, you need to respect everyone else’s work space and safe guard your profession appearance. Some etiquette rules include:

  1. Don’t walk around the cubicles to see a neighboring co-worker, instead just pop your head over the top. As you pass other co-workers cubicle space, don’t peek into each workstationn
  2. Don’t chime in to conversations you overhear instead ignore comments that aren’t directed at you.
  3. Keep lunch in the kitchen. Or, if you can’t leave your desk for a meal, choose foods without odors, and dispose of your trash in the kitchen.
  4. Grant your neighbors private time. Stagger lunch breaks to provide everyone a few minutes alone at their desks.

Casual dress code etiquette
Casual, Corporate casual, Business casual and Smart casual all mean something different. Make sure you know what the dress code is and be sure to check for specific examples from your employer.  Don’t leave or arrive to meetings baffled about your company’s dress code.

Ask for an explanation on “business casual” or “corporate casual,” etc. and request examples of appropriate attire for men and women.  Always keep a sport jacket or suit in your office so that you have a back-up solution for last minute meetings or dinners.

Business phone etiquette: whether a client, vendor or co-worker; be sure to control your temper
Bite your tongue when someone screams on the phone.  Any negative response or thought will poison a tenuous relationship.  Try to stay calm and listen.  This will help your professional image and improve your communication skills.  Be sure to let them vent, don’t interrupt.  Save your solutions to the problem until they are finished speaking.

Take it down a notch. Instead of raising your voice to match the caller’s volume, speak softly. That will soothe the speaker and show him or her that you’re interested in handling the complaint in a calm, rational way

Sharing a communal kitchen
Some employees can tolerate swearing and rude behavior from a co-worker, but don’t even dream of touching their lunch. The most offensive thing an office worker can do is steal colleagues’ food from the office fridge, says a survey of 2,500 U.S. employees.  A full 98% agreed that fridge raiding was unacceptable workplace etiquette.

Respondents also cited, in order: bad hygiene, bad habits, drinking on the job, swearing, wasting paper, cooking smelly food in the microwave and using a BlackBerry in meetings was unacceptable workplace etiquette.
It’s important to maintain a cleanly communal kitchen and fridge. Help everyone keep the fridge clean by following these tips:

Post a copy of the clean-fridge policy on the refrigerator door, so no one will have any excuses or questions if their food is thrown away.  Also, be sure to make it easy for people to label containers with their names and expiration dates by keeping a marking pen and tape in the kitchen.

Office decorations: protect your professional image
Personalizing your office space is tempting because of all the time you spend there. But avoid judgment and offensive decorations by answering these questions about your cubicle décor:

  • Who will see it?
  • What does it say about you?
  • Is it distracting?
  • Is it offensive?
  • Is it a heated topic?
  • Could it be potentially offensive?
  • Does it go overboard?

Make sure that your decorations say positive things about your professional appearance and avoid introducing any political views or opinions that may offend a co-worker.

Be accommodating to visitors
When a VIP comes to your office, how do you display extra-special treatment?  Being friendly and responsive is the key to treating VIPs well.  Be sure to have cold beverages and snacks ready.  Make sure you are prepared in every way possible!  Avoid accepting phone calls during their visit as well.

When a co-worker gets fired

Your friend or co-worker gets fired which can be rather awkward. In fact, it can be so awkward that you’re tempted to do nothing. But that’s the last thing you should do.  Here’s how to deal with the situation:

  1. Steer clear of saying anything inauthentic. Avoid saying things like, “This place is going down the tubes” or “I know how you feel.”
  2. React quickly, or you may risk appearing insensitive. Even if you can say only, “I’m sorry.
  3.  Set up a get-together; wait a few weeks until the initial shock has faded. Make it just the two of you or invite others, so you have time to say goodbye outside the office. Keep it focused on the person, and understand that this is out of your control.
  4. Check in with them periodically to see how they are coming along.  have they found a new job?

How to finesse embarrassing, awkward situations
Knowing whether or not to tell your CEO that he has part of his lunch stuck in his teeth is one sure test of your business etiquette skills. (Answer: Tell him, but discreetly.)
If you find a personal or potentially embarrassing document left behind on the photocopier, deliver the document in person.

If you are exposed to an argument or an unsettling conversation courtesy of your neighboring co-worker, be sure to avoid a discussion about it.  It’s none of your business!

Handshake etiquette: Set the stage for instant rapport

A well-timed handshake and a genuine smile is a sure way to stand out, whether you’re at the company meeting or an industry conference.

A prospective employee with the best handshake is more likely to get the job, research shows.  Even if you’re not seeking a job, a good handshake will grant you instant rapport when meeting someone new.

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