Professional social situations can be awkward. And, unfortunately, many people wind up making fools of themselves because they don’t understand that etiquette rules in business differ from those in other settings.
In “The Essentials of Business Etiquette,” Barbara Pachter writes about the rules people need to understand to conduct and present themselves appropriately in professional social settings.
We looked through the book and spoke to Pachter to find the most important tips on how to introduce yourself, how to dress, and what to order at restaurants.
As it turns out, a lot of these rules should be followed in everyday life as well as business.
Vivian Giang contributed to an earlier version of this article.
Stand when you’re being introduced to someone.
“Standing helps establish your presence. You make it easy for others to ignore you if you don’t stand. If you are caught off guard and cannot rise, you should lean forward to indicate that you would stand, if you could,” Pachter writes.
Always say your full name.
In a business situation, you should use your full name, but you should also pay attention to how others want to be introduced.
If your name is too long or difficult to pronounce, Pachter says you should consider changing or shortening it. Or you should consider writing down the pronunciation of your name on a business card and giving it to others.
Always initiate the handshake if you’re the higher-ranking person or host.
In today’s workplace, the host or the higher-ranking person, regardless of gender, should extend their hand first, she writes. “If the higher-ranking person fails to do so immediately — often because of gender confusion — the lower-ranking person should extend his or her hand without missing more than a beat.”
Either way, the handshake must happen. “In the United States, the handshake is the business greeting. If you want to be taken seriously, you must shake hands and shake hands correctly.”
“Clothing, an important form of nonverbal communication, can enhance a person’s professional reputation or detract from his or her credibility. You want to send a professional message through your clothing choices,” Pachter writes.
Always find out what the dress code is at the event, meeting, or restaurant you’re going to and make sure your attire falls within the guidelines.
Only say “thank you” once or twice during a conversation.
“You need to say it only once or twice within a conversation,” Pachter writes. “Otherwise, you may dilute its impact and possibly make yourself seem somewhat helpless and needy.”
Send separate thank-you notes to everyone involved.
You should send thank-you notes within 24 hours, and you should send separate notes to everyone you want to thank.
“Before you choose between email and handwritten notes, consider that regular mail may take several days to get to its destination while email arrives almost immediately,” Pachter writes.
“This time difference can be important after a job interview, if the hiring decision is being made quickly.”
Leave your phone in your pocket.
Everyone brings their phone everywhere they go today — but you should avoid taking it out during meetings.
You might be tempted to text or email, but no matter how sly you try to be, it’s noticeable and it’s rude.
Also, don’t place your phone on the table when meeting with someone. You are telling that person that you are so ready to drop him or her and connect with someone else.
Use professional head shots.
Always post professionally appropriate photographs on LinkedIn and your other professional sites, she suggests. “You want to look like a credible, approachable person — not like you just came from the beach,” Pachter tells Business Insider. Use a head shot that highlights your head and face, and part of your chest and shoulders. “You are the focus of the picture.”
Always double check that you have selected the correct email recipient.
Pay attention when typing a name from your address book on the email’s “To” line. It is easy to select the wrong name, which you really don’t want to do.
If you forget someone’s name, admit it.
Everyone forgets a name occasionally, Pachter tells Business Insider. When it happens to you, say something, such as, “I’m so sorry. I have forgotten your name.” Or, “Your face is so familiar; I just can’t recall your name,” she suggests.
Greet people at work.
Say “hello” and “good morning” to people you know and don’t know, she tells Business Insider. “The person that you say ‘hello’ to on the way to the meeting may be the person sitting next to you at the meeting. And you have already established minor rapport. And if someone says ‘hello’ to you, you have to say’ ‘hello’ back. It is not optional.”
Keep your fingers together when you point.
“Point with an open palm, and keep your fingers together. If you point with your index finger, it appears aggressive,” Pachter writes. “Both men and women point, but women have a tendency to do it more than men.”
Never pull out someone’s chair for them.
It’s OK to hold open a door for your guest, but Pachter says you shouldn’t pull someone’s chair out for them regardless of gender. In a business setting, you should leave those social gender rules behind.
“Both men and women can pull out their own chairs.”
Always break bread with your hands.
Pachter says you should never use your knife to cut your rolls at a business dinner.
“Break your roll in half and tear off one piece at a time, and butter the piece as you are ready to eat it.”
Don’t order anything too expensive.
If you order an expensive steak or lobster, for instance, you will look like you’re taking advantage of your host, Pachter writes. “However, if your host makes recommendations, you can order any of those suggestions, though it’s still better not to choose the most expensive.” The same goes for wine.
Also be careful when ordering a “special.” “Many waiters do not mention the price when telling you their specials of the night. Specials can cost from 10% to 40% more than regular menu items, but you cannot comfortably ask the price of a special in a business situation.” You’re better off steering clear.
Know where to find plates and silverware.
Remember that “left” has four letters and “right” has five.
Food is placed to the left of the dinner plate. The words food and left each have four letters; if the table is set properly, your bread or salad or any other food dish, will be placed to the left of your dinner plate. Similarly, drinks are placed to the right of the dinner plate, and the words glass and right contain five letters. Any glass or drink will be placed to the right of the dinner plate.”
Left and right also work for your utensils. Your fork (four letters) goes to the left; your knife and spoon (five letters each) go to the right.
Also, think “BMW” when trying to remember where to place plates and glasses. The mnemonic BMW here stands for “bread, meal, and water” so remember that “your bread-and-butter plate is on the left, the meal is in the middle, and your water glass is on the right.”
Order the same amount as your guest/host.
This means that if your guest or host orders an appetizer or dessert, you should follow suit.
“You don’t want to make your guest feel uncomfortable by eating a course alone,” Pachter writes.
Never ask for a to-go box.
“You are there for business, not for the leftovers,” Pachter writes. “Doggie bags are okay for family dinners but not during professional occasions.”
Remember the host should always pay.
“If you did the inviting, you are the host, and you should pay the bill, regardless of gender. What if a male guest wants to pay? A woman does have some choices. She can say, ‘Oh, it’s not me; it is the firm that is paying.’ Or she can excuse herself from the table and pay the bill away from the guests. This option works for men as well, and it is a very refined way to pay a bill,” Pachter writes.
“However, the bottom line is that you don’t want to fight over a bill. If a male guest insists on paying despite a female host’s best efforts, let him pay.”
Do not get drunk at business-social activities, Pachter tells Business Insider. “Jobs have been lost and careers have been ruined because people got drunk and said or did things that were inappropriate. One suggestion to follow is to order a drink that you do not like and nurse that drink all evening.”
Prepare a polite exit.
Pachter says you need to be the one talking as you’re making the exit. “Remember to leave when you are talking. At that point, you are in control, and it is a much smoother exit.”
You should also have “exit lines” prepared in case you need to leave a conversation. You can say “Nice to meet you” or “Nice talking to you” or “See you next week at the meeting.”
You can also excuse yourself for a bathroom break, to get food, or say you wanted to catch someone before they leave.
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