Etiquette: Keys for Professional Success

How would you define professional success? If you laid out a road map for your professional success what would it look like? What personal skills do you have that will help propel you to your goal?

Certainly professional success can mean many things to many different people. For some it will be reaching a certain income level, for others it will be achieving their own business and then for some achieving professional success would be helping humanity for little or no financial reward. However, you define professional success, your personal skills will play a key role.

Personal skills are developed over the course of our life. They are developed at various times and under various circumstances. It is likely that our parents are the most influential individuals in the development of our personal and social skills. From our parents we learn manners, the appropriate way to treat our siblings and how to act in public. The common term for these skills is etiquette and ethics. Our learning experience continues as we are exposed to different social and business environments. The key is knowing what is expected and acceptable in these environments. Building these skills is what will set you apart in social circles and in the workplace. Personal and professional success consists of both ethics and etiquette.

Ethics, both in business and personal situations is based on some very simple principles; honesty, consideration and respect:

  • Honesty speaks to ethical behavior and is key in building trust in any relationship. I have always said that the basis of any relationship is trust. Therefore if trust does not exist in the relationship then there is no relationship.
  • Consideration is the ability to assess how a certain situation will affect everyone involved.
  • Respect, well, some will tell you that respect is earned. This is true, but there are also people and positions that deserve respect regardless of whether they have earned it or not. For example, your boss, your mother or father.

How long does it take to make an impression? You have approximately 7 seconds to make a great first impression. What happens if you are not successful? Will you get a second chance? Maybe not. So, how can you be successful in building strong personal and business relationships? A great way to start is to pay attention to these three things:

  • Appearance: Dress above your current career level. Regardless of your stature, short, tall, thin or over-weight, how we dress can project an image of confidence. Being mindful of certain professional dress codes can set you apart from others. Appearance is not just about the clothes either. Your professional appearance also includes cleanliness, hair, makeup (if you are a woman), jewelry, etc. What are you conveying in your appearance? There is a definite difference in casual verses business casual. Knowing how to dress for an occasion or for the workplace is key. Candidly speaking, we tend to get judged first on our appearance.
  • Actions: You have heard the saying “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Take a lunch or dinner meeting, your phone begins to ring or vibrate. What do you do? Would you be able to read the social cues of the person you are dining with? Would you silence your phone or answer the call? Social skills are still very important. Focusing your attention on the company you are with conveys a message that you value the time you are sharing together whether it be a personal or business encounter. On a personal level such casualness may be overlooked, we cannot be so sure of this on a business level.
  • Words:  Never underestimate the power of your words and the use of proper grammar. When you consider your words and your style when communicating with others you need to have a good vocabulary. Having a good vocabulary is not about using big words, it is about knowing the correct terms to use that fit the meaning you are trying to convey. Consider also, how the use of slang, business and personal jargon maybe lost on individuals who are not familiar with the terms you are using. Our conversations should convey a level of professionalism. Words you would use among friends, may not be well received in professional settings or in mixed company. There is also a place for being sensitive in our conversations, avoiding rude and callus remarks. When we talk “words” we need to understand that tone, volume and the rate at which we speak have an impact on the impression that we are trying to make.

Your actions, your appearance and your words combined projects the image of who you are as a person and it is this image that will create either a positive or negative impression on every person you meet.

Etiquette is not just about table manners. Etiquette is a set of guidelines that can help you navigate various socioeconomic classes. Etiquette is also courtesy and knowing how to behave in a variety of different situations. Different situations will dictate the need for you to employ different set of social skills. The benefit to developing proper social skills is that you will feel confident in all social circles. Consider the difference between the a fast food place and a fine dining restaurant. Grabbing something to eat in a fast food place is much different than dining in a fancy high-end restaurant, right?

However, we should not underestimate the importance of table manners in the business realm. Business lunches and/or dinners can fall into two categories: casual or formal. The one thing to remember here is that you are still making an impression. It is also important to take note that your are also representing your company as well as yourself at these engagements.  One important reality to remember, like it or not, we are always being judged in one instance or another, but it is particularly true when it comes to table manners. The sum total of our up-bringing can be ascertained by observing one’s table manners. My passion for etiquette began as a child of a woman who was very proper. She instilled in me the importance of good table manners and proper table setting. Understanding the difference between formal and informal table settings, which fork to use when, soup spoons vs. teaspoons, what glass is what, is important. If you are unsure about formal place settings there are resources available.

Attention to details, being aware of different social environments, dressing for the occasion are very important for personal and business success. I have often used the analogy of having the ability to go from motorcycle casual to ballroom prince or princess.  A family member once asked me about a woman he was considering as a potential wife, knowing his lifestyle, I responded, if she can go from “motorcycle momma” to “country club elite” you have a winner.

When we consider etiquette and our professional success, we should also consider the impact of technology has on the way we communicate and other socially acceptable norms.

Here are some additional things to consider for professional success:

  • Email: A large part of our interpersonal conversations are now conducted via email. People rarely sit down and pen a handwritten letter or pick up the phone to speak to someone personally. In business today, the majority of our company communications come through this source.
    • The benefits may be that the communication is quicker and takes place in a written format that can be stored and retrieved at a moments notice.
    • The down-side of this type of communication is misunderstandings. The recipient of an email may have a difficult time assessing the tone, visual cues and intent of the conversation. In many instances, it would save time and trouble if someone would just pick up the phone and talk directly to the individual.
    • Reserve your email messages to convey benign information. When I say benign, I mean non-confrontational. Your best judgement would be to consider how you would feel if you were the recipient of the email you are about to write. Also, make sure you are utilizing appropriate email protocol, “TYPING IN ALL CAPS” conveys yelling at someone, etc. Also be careful of confidential or what could be considered protected personal information exchanged in this format. Make sure you re-read your email before it is sent. Make sure you also take time to reflect on the message you are intending to convey.
  • Text Messages: The same applies to text messages as emails. Text messages have replaced telephone calls. Again, we are more inclined to text someone in length, then to speak to them in person. The majority of the time a text communications are lengthier then what would be a three minute verbal conversation.
    • We tend to think this type of communication is faster and more efficient. However, we need to realize that this type of communication can lead to misunderstandings as well, just like with emails.
    • The downside could be misunderstandings, of course. Shouldn’t we consider the impact on our ability to interact with each other on a face to face, personal level? Our ability to communicate is more than just the written word.
    • Likewise, use common sense when texting. Be careful of confidential and potential protected personal information being shared through text messaging. Be mindful of the types of communications that should be sent in text messages. Be mindful as well of the times that you send your texts. Typically, unless it is an emergency, texts should be limited to after 8:00 a.m. and no later then 10:00 p.m. (consider time zones).
  • Cell Phones: In reality, cell phones can be seen as a blessing and a curse. There is more stress today then ever, largely due to the fact that we are accessible 24-7 through this particular technology. Family, friends and our workplace can contact us at anytime of the day or night. This is great for emergencies, but can reek havoc on your personal life. Being attached to your cell phone is not healthy and when in public can be viewed as rude.
    • Cell phones are great. The connectivity we have to the world via apps is phenomenal. We can look up information on the spot, obtain directions, confirm our appointments, check our social networking sites, the list goes on and on. Cell phones have certainly evolved and are becoming devices that we just can’t do without.
    • Since cell phones have now become our personal go-to device for calls, texts, emails and information, we need to be aware of our dependence on this device and all of its functionality. We must be aware of the impact that this connectivity has on other personal and business relationships. Take evenings when you are at home with family, what is everyone doing? Are they engrossed in their phones or other devices. Even business relationships can suffer when certain etiquette protocols are ignored.
    • Let’s start with home, set some guidelines, implement times when your family and you can be device free. Begin to enjoy the company of others instead of being entertained on an inanimate object. When you are out to lunch or dinner with your family or other professionals, silence your phone. If you are expecting an important call, let your guests know and express your regret for the interruption. Also, take the time to excuse yourself from the table, making sure that the call does not go too long.

In life, we will find ourselves in many different types of social, professional, and business situations which require adaptability. Your professional success depends on your ability to navigate social and business circles well.






About The Author

GeoJan Wright

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