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Cheat Sheet

Business Etiquette For Dummies

Business etiquette is vitally important for representing your company in the best manner possible. Having excellent business manners means two things above all else: respecting others, and treating people with courtesy and kindness. To get started, you should know how to deliver a proper handshake, master the art of gift-giving, and travel abroad without missteps.

How to Shake Hands in a Business Setting

In business etiquette, handshakes are the physical greetings that go along with your words. Remember that business handshakes are an important part of the first impression you make.

You're expected to shake hands in the following business situations:

  • When meeting someone for the first time

  • When renewing an acquaintance

  • When a client, a customer, or someone you don't know well enters your office, cubicle, or home

  • When greeting a host and being introduced to people at an event

  • When meeting someone you already know outside work or in your home

  • When ending a transaction or leaving a business or social event

In American business etiquette (and even in non-business settings), a handshake requires the following:

  1. Hold out your right hand.

    Don't hold out your hand too soon; you'll seem nervous. And don't wait too long; you'll seem unfriendly. Shake hands when you've just met the other person. Lean forward ever so slightly, and hold out your right hand.

  2. Grasp the other person's hand.

    Fit your hand into his — not too loosely and not too tightly. Push your hand all the way into the other person's hand, to a point where both hands meet web to web (the area between the thumbs and index fingers). Never grasp just the other person's fingers. Keep your fingers firm — never loose and limp like a dead fish.

    Don't place your other hand over the person's hand or on his upper arm. Save this "two-handed shake" for people you know on a more personal basis.

  3. Squeeze firmly — not too hard — and shake once or twice for 2 to 3 seconds.

    The range of motion should be 2 or 3 inches. A proper handshake is done from the elbow, not the shoulder; you want to be relaxed, not stiff.

  4. Let go.

If the other person's hand is sweaty, don't grimace or dry your hand in that person's presence. He or she will already be embarrassed enough to have offered a sweaty hand, and it would be rude of you to cause further discomfort.

The Etiquette of Giving Business Gifts

Gift-giving is such a thorny issue in business that most organizations have explicit rules governing the practice. Know the etiquette of giving business gifts to prevent any misunderstanding. Here are a few important elements of business gift-giving:

  • Professional gifts can be quite varied, from food to wine to small conveniences (such as a business-card holder or a pen) to office items (such as a picture frame or a computer accessory).

  • When selecting a gift, be careful to abide by your company's policy concerning gifts. A bit of research and thought can make the gift-selection process a whole lot easier.

  • Should you decide to give a business gift, make certain that it's not too personal. Be careful with humorous gifts as well. If you aren't sure that the recipient will be pleasantly amused, don't send it.

  • Extravagant gift-giving is both bad strategy and in poor taste. Others may not share your love of lavish gifts and may be embarrassed by them — or, worse, resent you for going overboard.

  • Giving a material gift isn't the only way to go, even in business. The gift of your time for volunteer work or for helping a colleague's or client's company charity might be appreciated more than a material item.

Business Etiquette when Traveling Abroad

Observe every courtesy when you're on business travel abroad. The social blunders you may commit while working in a culture unlike your own could cost both you and your company business and relationships. If you want your business trip to be as successful as possible, the following business etiquette tips can help:

  • Develop enough awareness of cultural diversity to avoid exposing yourself as a person who may not respect another's culture and customs. Your way isn't necessarily better, and every new experience you have makes you not only a greater asset to your company, but also a better global citizen.

    Before you leave for your destination, brush up on its geography, beliefs, customs, culture, religion, sports, weather, and attitude toward your home country. Remember the adage "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

  • Before you embark on your trip, practice the greeting rituals or additional key words of the language.

  • Always dress conservatively and appropriately when you're in a foreign land.

  • You can never go wrong using titles and last names when you first meet people. Academic titles often add a great deal of luster. A handshake is practically universal, and worldwide, everyone relates to a smile — which always makes a positive impression.

  • Know the protocol and ritual involved in presenting and receiving a business card. If necessary, prepare business cards in proper languages.

  • Schedule and confirm business meetings before you leave for your trip. Pull together a checklist of action items and send them to your business contact ahead of time. Your checklist should include items such as meeting locations, agendas, equipment for presentations, and meals. If an interpreter is required, make arrangements to have one prior to leaving.

  • Brush up on the country's cuisine and dining etiquette so that you'll be ready to tackle the local food without embarrassing yourself or causing offense.

  • Find out the appropriate etiquette and protocol involved in business gift-giving, especially if you're doing business in the Pacific Rim, where business gift-giving is an integral part of business culture.

  • Watch out for your body language so that you don't make gesture-related mistakes.

  • Don't take rude incidents personally, even if you are pushed and shoved. Practice patience! What may be considered rude in the United States may not be elsewhere in the world.

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