Business Etiquette For Dummies book cover

Business Etiquette For Dummies

By: Sue Fox Published: 04-28-2008

Make no mistake, etiquette is as important in business as it is in everyday life — it’s also a lot more complicated. From email and phone communications to personal interviews to adapting to corporate and international cultural differences, Business Etiquette For Dummies, 2nd Edition, keeps you on your best behavior in any business situation.

This friendly, authoritative guide shows you how to develop good etiquette on the job and navigate today’s diverse and complex business environment with great success. You’ll get savvy tips for dressing the part, making polite conversation, minding your manners at meetings and meals, behaving at off-site events, handling ethical dilemmas, and conducting international business. You’ll find out how to behave gracefully during tense negotiations, improve your communication skills, and overcome all sorts of work-related challenges. Discover how to:

  • Make a great first impression
  • Meet and greet with ease
  • Be a good company representative
  • Practice proper online etiquette
  • Adapt to the changing rules of etiquette
  • Deal with difficult personalities without losing your cool
  • Become a well-mannered traveler
  • Develop good relationships with your peers, staff, and superiors
  • Give compliments and offer criticism
  • Respect physical, racial, ethnic, and gender differences at work
  • Learn the difference between “casual Friday” and sloppy Saturday
  • Develop cubicle courtesy
  • Avoid conversational faux pas

Business etiquette is as important to your success as doing your job well. Read Business Etiquette For Dummies, 2nd Edition, and make no mistake.

Articles From Business Etiquette For Dummies

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48 results
48 results
Business Etiquette For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-26-2022

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.

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Mingling Effectively at Company Gatherings

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Believe it or not, mingling is a vitally important business skill. Mingling well demonstrates that you're a friendly, open, and engaged person who is interested in other people. Mingling poorly shows others that you're either unsure of yourself or so egotistical that you can't listen to others. Nowhere is the art of mingling more important to your career than at a company party. Make the rounds at the party. Don't spend all your time talking to one person; you want to circulate. Other people will be anxious about mingling and will welcome your efforts to make conversation. The following tips show you how to make the most out of an event and be a good representative for your company: Be prepared. Know what you want to accomplish at the event — to meet a number of people, find a particular resource, or get noticed. Remember to carry business cards and exchange them when appropriate. As you circulate, make sure you politely excuse yourself from the conversation. To say nothing as you exit is considered rude. Hold your drink in your left hand so that if you are introduced to someone, you don't extend a cold, wet hand to shake. Always avoid making negative comments. You don't have to lie, but never slander your employer or coworkers. Even if you think the company is mismanaged, keep it to yourself. Don't overindulge at work events. Your behavior is a reflection of your company, and staying sober can keep you from saying things you will regret later. Introduce yourself and others properly. If possible, learn the names of the attendees and the appropriate way of making an introduction beforehand. If name tags are available, wear one. Make eye contact, give solid handshakes, and try to speak to people you haven't met before. You never know what doors may open for you simply because you made the effort to greet your colleagues in another department. Follow the preceding guidelines and you'll be set! Mingle! Don't let fear stop you from approaching someone you've never met. With a bit of practice and planning before the event, you'll soon be conversing with confidence. While making small talk with a new group of people, the worst thing you can do is keep glancing around for someone better to engage in conversation. You can't find a faster way to make someone feel unimportant. When you're speaking with someone, she should receive your full attention — no wandering eyes! Cocktail parties and other mingling events usually are noisy and punctuated with interruptions. They're not ideal venues for serious business conversations, so people will appreciate your keeping the conversation light. If you see the potential for a fruitful business discussion, hand the other person your business card, and say you will call her to make an appointment to continue the conversation.

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E-Mail Etiquette on the Job

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A couple years ago, e-mail surpassed postal mail as the highest-volume carrier of messages. Its popularity has been booming ever since and shows no signs of stopping. Though volumes have been written about e-mail etiquette, many of the worst offenders don't seem to be reading. What can you do to keep your business e-mails proper? Communicate clearly The best feature of e-mail is also the worst: Communication with one or many people, across the hall or across the world, can happen immediately. That immediacy can be a tremendous asset when you need that kind of power. It can also be a real problem when you use it as a substitute for thoughtful, meaningful communication. One problem with overusing e-mail is that your tone can easily be misunderstood. In person or on the phone, listeners can get visual or verbal cues and pick up emotions and nuances, particularly sarcasm. Even in the age of irony, and even if you use the ubiquitous smiley, readers may miss your point. "I heard Thursday's staff meeting went really well!" has a completely different meaning when it's spoken in a sarcastic tone (the meeting didn't go well at all) than it does when it's spoken in a happy, direct tone. Chances are good that your readers will misunderstand this statement in an e-mail. Always reread your e-mail message for clarity and tone before you send it, and follow up with a phone call if you don't get a prompt response. Write with style Here are a few stylistic mistakes that people make when using e-mail: Forgetting the rules of spelling and grammar: Perhaps because of the sheer volume of e-mails that people send, e-mail tends to be a very informal medium. Informal, however, should not mean sloppy. Watch for problems such as sentence fragments and spelling errors. If you're not sure about the rules of grammar, keep a style guide handy. Being unprofessional: Just because you're sending an e-mail instead of a memo or telephone call doesn't mean you can let your professional standards relax. Although a touch of humor in the tone of an e-mail can be fine, make sure you preserve your professionalism. Although smileys may be helpful in social e-mails, avoid using them in business. Omitting a greeting and/or closing: Even worse is using "Hey" as a greeting. Is it really that hard to type "Hi Jim" or "Best wishes, Bev"? Using ALL CAPITALS: Capitals are harder to read than regular text. In addition, many people view their use as the e-mail equivalent of yelling, so if you wouldn't scream something in the conference room, don't type it in all capitals. Using all lowercase letters: This is often a sign of laziness. Make sure you capitalize proper nouns, names, and the first letter of each sentence. Using offensive language: Though you should watch your language at work in general, spoken expletives float away into the air. Written ones sit there on the computer screen, maybe for longer than you want them to.

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Body Language and Business Etiquette

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Body language can make or break a deal. How you carry yourself when engaged in conversation is often as important as what you say. Body language is nonverbal, but it communicates volumes about you nonetheless. With almost infinite symbolic interpretations for body language, no wonder people are nervous about it! Your best bet is to know about some of the body-language pits you can fall into and how to avoid them. Standing When you stand, keep your back straight, middle section in alignment with your back, shoulders back, and head up. This posture connotes comfort with yourself and ease in the situation. Slouching, sticking your belly out, stuffing your hands in your pockets, and folding your arms defensively all suggest aggressive unease. Sitting Take care in the way you sit, for no other position connotes so much on its own. Think of the diversity of sitting positions that you've seen in business meetings, from practically horizontal to alert and upright. Sit with a straight back and with your legs together in front of you or crossed, either at the knee or at the ankle. Normally, women don't cross their legs, but men are allowed. Avoid jiggling your knee, which is a sign of nervousness (and can be pretty annoying to people sitting near you). Hands Some people talk with their hands; others stand with their hands glued to their sides. Most people haven't the foggiest notion what their hands are doing when they talk. Using your hands can be effective sometimes, aggressive sometimes, and irrelevant most of the time. Controlling your hands takes effort and willpower. Monitor your hand movements. Avoid making sweeping, cappuccino-clearing gestures during meetings. If you have to, sit on your hands. Head movements Head movements communicate important information. Nodding in agreement can be immensely helpful to others, but too much nodding makes you look like a bobble-head doll. Shaking your head can signal disagreement or disapproval, but avoid shaking your head too much. Facial expressions Facial expressions are crucial in your repertoire of body language. No other part of your body can convey the immense richness of nonverbal communication that your face does. For example: Smiles are important signals of generosity and nonaggression. But forced smiles signal that you can barely tolerate the other person. Likewise, frowns signal disagreement, disapproval, and sometimes anger. But they can also suggest hard thinking and focused concentration. These facial expressions are the most obvious ones, but hundreds of others exist: an arched eyebrow, flared nostrils, a bitten lip, a grimace . . . and on and on. Every one of them has a culturally agreed-on set of meanings. Take a day to monitor your most frequently used facial expressions and assess their appropriateness and their effectiveness. You'll probably be surprised by the types of messages your expressions transmit! Eyes Maintain eye contact when talking with others. Do not study your hands or clean your fingernails while others are talking. When talking in a group, make eye contact with everyone; don't focus on only one person.

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Respecting Racial and Ethnic Differences on the Job

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Stereotyping, ridiculing, demeaning, or insulting other people is always a mistake. In business, this behavior can be disastrous. Racial and ethnic differences can be especially complex, particularly in the expanding global market. Along with the cultural diversity inherent in the global marketplace comes confusion about how to behave. People don't always know how to interact with others from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. In fact, people don't even know whether their behavior should be different. Race and ethnicity are less important than your beliefs and attitudes about these things. Don't typecast or stereotype because of physical or cultural features. The paramount rule of etiquette — respect for others — rules out such behavior. Nevertheless, differences do exist, and you need to know how to respect them. You also need to know the etiquette of particular situations and how to adjust your verbal and nonverbal behavior for those situations. Over time, a standard code has emerged to allow people to get along with one another in business and to know what to expect from each other. Standard American English is the international language of business, and standard Western manners are the official protocol in the United States. For better or worse, if you don't speak or behave according to these standards, you immediately set yourself up for criticism. But by the same token, if you don't recognize and respect those who follow other traditions, you may get yourself in a jam. A paradox lurks here. The standards of business etiquette in the United States require Standard American English and Western manners. But Standard American English may not be your native language, and you may be a member of a tradition whose codes of manners are different from Western manners. Luckily, you have a way out: When you're in the United States, do as the Americans do. You don't have to adopt American business etiquette around the clock, of course. At times, U.S. business etiquette is entirely inappropriate, and your role as a professional need not consume your life entirely. U.S. business etiquette applies when you're doing business in the United States. When you're not doing business, or when you're not doing business in the United States, other codes of etiquette apply. In addition, knowing more than one language helps almost everyone in the business world. Learning even a few words and phrases can be a real plus. In certain businesses — the music industry, for example — slang and jargon are useful. But in almost all other situations, speaking and writing clearly and grammatically are paramount. Now that you can communicate, how do you behave? Respect dictates that you take it upon yourself to learn about other cultures. If your business regularly takes you to other parts of the world, take a course in protocol, or read about the customs, religions, and expectations of those parts of the world.

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Defining Business-Casual Menswear

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Business casual can be a tough assignment for some men. Although most men understand formal or business dress, they might have difficulty defining business-casual dress. One of the biggest reasons men struggle with sharp casual clothing is because there is some gray area with company policies and the guidelines of business casual. Business casual and Friday casual are distinct from one another: Business casual: Generally means khaki pants, a plain polo shirt or a long-sleeved casual button-down oxford shirt, a V-neck sweater, sometimes a sports coat or blazer, and brown leather shoes. Loafers are a good choice, and you should wear socks. Casual (or Friday casual): Includes all the business-casual options, and in some companies, can include jeans (that aren't torn or ratty), T-shirts (that are clean and inoffensive), and tennis shoes. Don’t forget these general guidelines: A short-sleeved shirt is, by definition, always a casual (or business-casual) shirt. Khaki and flannel pants are business casual for most businesses. Tank tops, shorts, and sandals are weekend wear, not business wear. Plain shirts are best, in general; shirts with ads on them are for fishing. Button-down oxford shirts are business casual; T-shirts are for musicians and computer types (and for mowing the lawn). Loafers and dark walking shoes are business casual; clean sneakers, running shoes, and hiking boots are for play but can make occasional appearances on casual Fridays. Blazers and sports coats are business casual for some businesses and dressy for others.

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Doing Business in a Multicultural Environment

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Along with the cultural diversity inherent in the global marketplace comes confusion about how to behave. People don’t always know how to interact with others from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. In fact, people don’t even know whether their behavior should be different. Race and ethnicity are less important than your beliefs and attitudes about these things. Don’t typecast or stereotype because of physical or cultural features. The paramount rule of etiquette — respect for others — rules out such behavior. Nevertheless, differences do exist, and you need to know how to respect them. You also need to know the etiquette of particular situations and how to adjust your verbal and nonverbal behavior for those situations. Over time, a standard code has emerged to allow people to get along with one another in business and to know what to expect from each other. Standard American English is the international language of business, and standard Western manners are the official protocol in the United States. For better or worse, if you don’t speak or behave according to these standards, you immediately set yourself up for criticism. But by the same token, if you don’t recognize and respect those who follow other traditions, you may get yourself in a jam. A paradox lurks here. The standards of business etiquette in the United States require Standard American English and Western manners. But Standard American English may not be your native language, and you may be a member of a tradition whose codes of manners are different from Western manners. Luckily, you have a way out: When you’re in the United States, do as the Americans do. You don’t have to adopt American business etiquette around the clock, of course. At times, U.S. business etiquette is entirely inappropriate, and your role as a professional need not consume your life entirely. U.S. business etiquette applies when you’re doing business in the United States. When you’re not doing business, or when you’re not doing business in the United States, other codes of etiquette may apply. In addition, knowing more than one language helps almost everyone in the business world. Learning even a few words and phrases can be a real plus. In certain businesses — the music industry, for example — slang and jargon are useful. But in almost all other situations, speaking and writing clearly and grammatically are paramount. Now that you can communicate, how do you behave? Respect dictates that you take it upon yourself to learn about other cultures. If your business regularly takes you to other parts of the world, take a course in protocol, or read about those parts of the world. For example, if you're doing business in Asia, absorbing the ideas in Doing Business in India For Dummies or Doing Business in China For Dummies can help you stand out positively with your business counterparts there.

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How to Behave on a Business Trip to Latin America

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

On a business trip to Latin America, remember that Latin American men are in business, and women stay home with the family. A business trip in many locations in Latin America can be jarring, especially for a businesswoman, for this reason. Here's a summary of Latin American business facts: Language: Spanish is the primary language spoken in Latin America, where people are proud of their language and aren’t particularly eager to use English. Brazil, however, uses Brazilian Portuguese as its official language, but many Brazilians also understand Spanish. Appropriate dress: You won’t go wrong by dressing conservatively: suits and ties for men, modest business suits and long dresses for women. Greeting rituals: Latin Americans generally are very friendly, very physical, and very good hosts. Handshakes are firm and relatively brief. Throughout Latin America, expect your conversational partner to stand close to you, and expect casual arm touching or shoulder patting. Don’t move back, and don’t waver in your eye contact. Business cards are exchanged without much ceremony. Your business card should be printed in both English and Spanish (or in Brazilian Portuguese if you’re in Brazil). Handling meetings: You’re expected to arrive in a timely manner, but your host isn’t, and the more important he is, the later he’ll be. Meetings themselves involve lots of preliminary discussions designed to establish rapport. Business discussions occur only after rapport is established, and after they start, they’re comparatively disorganized and subject to interruption. Decisions typically aren’t made during first meetings. Dining and entertaining: Business lunches are common throughout Latin America, and they’re usually long. Dinner is a purely social event and can occur very late. Don’t bring up business at dinner unless your Latin American host does so first. Giving and receiving gifts: Gifts in most Latin American countries aren’t expected on the first visit; however, gift-giving is more acceptable with subsequent visits and can help build stronger business relationships and friendships. Appropriate gifts include fine chocolates, a bottle of good wine or liquor (if you know the recipient drinks), business card holders, high-quality pens, or other office accessories. Social taboos: The sign for “okay” formed by your forefinger and thumb is offensive in Brazil and Colombia. Don’t cross your fingers (as a sign of good luck) in Paraguay; it denotes the act of sex. Putting your hands on your hips signals a challenge in Argentina. Raising your fist to head level is a gesture associated with communism in Chile. Also, slapping your right fist into your open left palm is viewed as an obscene gesture, and displaying your palm up with your fingers spread apart means “stupid.” Putting your hands in your pockets is rude in Mexico.

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How to Conduct Yourself on a Business Trip to the Middle East

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

In the Middle East, religion plays a significant role, which can have a great impact on your business-trip conduct. Middle East business-trip behavior depends on the country you visit, but here are some general guidelines: Language: Several languages are spoken in the Middle East. English is widely used in business throughout the Middle East and as the second language in most schools. Appropriate dress: In Israel, business casual is acceptable in a wide range of businesses. In Turkey and Arabic countries, go conservative, with dark suits and subdued ties. Businesswomen still have a hard time in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, in particular), although less so now than ten years ago. Women must keep their knees and elbows covered at all times; a high neckline is required. Greeting rituals: Business and personal greetings are given enthusiastically, with a smile and direct eye contact. Men shake hands and kiss each other on the cheek. Titles in the Middle East are important. Always use full names and all appropriate titles upon your first meeting. Use the honorific “Mister” and any academic or political title and the first name. Arab titles are “Sheikh” (an elderly man, leader, or scholar), “Sayyid” (a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad), and “Hajji” (one who has performed the pilgrimage). Handling meetings: Morning meetings generally are preferred in the Middle East. Be aware of religious holidays before scheduling meetings, and in Muslim countries, don’t request meetings on Friday, which is a day of rest. Meetings can be long, chaotic, and even pointless to an American sensibility. People in the Middle East love to talk, discuss, wrangle, and argue. If no decision is made on the spot, don’t be disturbed. The decision will come later — sometimes weeks or months later. Dining and entertaining: Across the Middle East, hospitality is a means of demonstrating generosity, power, and wealth. Giving and receiving gifts: Gift-giving is common in Middle Eastern culture, though gift-giving isn’t the norm in Saudi Arabia unless you’re invited to someone’s home. Always reciprocate a gift with equal quality and value. In Jewish homes, a gift of flowers to the host is preferred, but gifts to the host are frowned on in Muslim homes. Social taboos: Don’t ask personal questions about spouses and family, and never ask an Arab colleague about his wife or daughter. Crossing your legs and showing the soles of your shoes or feet are considered rude, as is openly disagreeing with someone, in Arab countries. The thumbs-up sign is rude in Muslim countries.

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How to Keep Your Business Writing Clear and Professional

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Clear business writing requires good grammar, spelling, and vocabulary and ruthless self-editing. You also need to make your business writing courteous, getting your point clearly across with civility. These tips can help you give a good impression with your business writing: Read. You acquire a good vocabulary in only one way: by reading. To paraphrase, “You are what you read.” The intention is to be as clear as you can be and to avoid all avoidable ambiguity. Writing requires an attention to detail that you don't need in conversation. Edit. Editing is perhaps the most difficult thing to do with your own writing. After all, you wrote it, so you don’t want to change it. But you should; even trained writers can always find changes to make. Be graceful. Business writing, like all professional writing, is bound by the code that performance — not the person — is the subject of criticism. Focus on the topic at hand, rather than on the person who is talking about it, even if the person is a rude so-and-so. Here are the mistakes to avoid: Never swear in business correspondence. Never call people names in business correspondence. Never make off-color remarks in business correspondence. Avoid spelling errors. Believe it or not, spelling errors can doom business relations. Clients and business associates notice when your letters aren’t proofread. Many spelling errors are easily remedied by running your document through your computer’s spell-check program. But beware — spell-checkers don’t catch all the errors that can creep into a document. A trained eye is still better than a spell-check program. Remove grammatical errors. Grammar is a necessary skill for composing effective business letters, e-mails, and memoranda. Repeatedly making grammatical errors instantly brands you as being poorly educated and careless. Bad grammar leaves a bad impression. Here are some of the most common grammatical errors: Subject/verb agreement: If the subject of the sentence is singular, so is the verb; if the subject is plural, so is the verb. This rule applies even if other words intervene between the subject and the verb. Sentence fragments: A sentence is a complete thought that must have a subject and a predicate phrase, including a verb. Sentences that lack subjects or predicates are sentence fragments. Run-on sentences: Run-on sentences include too much for a single sentence. Breaking one long sentence into several shorter sentences is a quick and easy fix. Dangling modifiers: Modifiers are sentence clauses that modify or affect the subject of the sentence. Modifiers dangle when what they modify is unclear, as in this sentence: "After being accidentally dropped, John had to replace the microwave." Punctuation errors: Punctuation errors are among the most common writing errors. They make your correspondence look unprofessional. Excess verbiage: Bad writers use more words than are needed. Good writers don’t; they know what words will convey their message efficiently. You improve your writing immediately by eliminating unnecessary verbiage.

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