The Meaning of Business Etiquette

by Billie Nordmeyer

In-house day care, open floor-plan workspaces and digital communication have led to e-mail etiquette, rules for proper cubicle conduct, and other social conventions. Some of the manners your mother taught you, such as the sequence in which forks are used, and saying please and thank you, are valid in the modern office and at work-related events. But other rules of business etiquette, such as refraining from the use of an Ipod in an elevator and other public spaces, take shape as companies introduce new technologies and other changes in the workplace.

Courtesy and Manners Matter

Even if business rules of etiquette take the form of “dont’s” rather than “do’s,” each rule is a means to send a message to your business colleagues -- namely, you’re willing to adhere to certain norms to support friendly and positive work-related interactions. Business etiquette is a means to treat coworkers and other business partners with courtesy and respect. Doing so is practically a guarantee that no one will be in an awkward position or situation that might negatively affect a business relationship.

Being Considerate Has Advantages

Unlike formal attire that you bring out from the mothballs for a special occasion, your willingness to adhere to business etiquette protocols is on display each time you interact with a business partner, such as a fellow employee or customer. From the moment you’re seated in your car with a co-worker to the closing comments of a late-night online conversation, your ability to express courtesy and respect in a business setting is on display. In some cases, your ability to make a good impression may carry more weight than your technical skills when it comes to promotions, public acknowledgment or opportunities to take part in special projects. Consequently, acquiring business manners is a crucial career tactic that might make you stand out from the crowd, allow you to impress the boss, and set up comfortable relationships with customers and other business partners.

Rude Behavior Affects Customer Relationships

You might witness boorish behavior in almost any business setting. In some cases, customers and other business partners can manage the manners violations with humor and forbearance. But four studies published by the Journal of Consumer Research in 2010 suggest that some rude behaviors aren’t so easily forgotten. According to these studies, observing inter-employee rudeness or uncivil arguments had a greater effect on the observer's opinion of an entire company and its employees than did witnessing employee incompetence.

Enforcing Business Etiquette

Each employee's behavior suggests to a company's business partners how the company conducts its business. Consequently, it's important that employees recognize the messages that their behavior sends. Just as employees must respect a company's values and its ethics policies, it's important that leaders enforce a zero-tolerance policy for deviations from some rules of etiquette for an office setting. For example, you should never handle, use or unplug the electronic devices of another employee without permission. In addition, upon entry to an office complex, you should mute your phone or other electronic devices. It's also important to limit the use of e-mail and instant messages to issues that you can deal with in a few brief messages and to refrain from continuing your personal work, checking e-mail or instant messages, or browsing the web during meetings.

About the Author

Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images