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With great professional power comes great professional responsibility. The ability to work well at your job is a must, but being able to continually conduct yourself in a professional manner is equally critical. One embarrassing miscue could send you packing in a hurry.
The ever-expanding rulebook of professional etiquette can make it hard to keep up, but the following business blunders are universally condemned. Here’s how to spot them and what you can do to stay in the safe zone.
behaviour etiquette mistakes
Profanity, lack of personal space, unnecessary cellular chats, and poor eating habits top our list of behavioural blunders. Bad behaviour isn’t good anywhere, but it’s worse at work where people witness it on a regular basis.
Don’t swear to make a point. It’ll take away your credibility and make you look stupid. In addition to profanity, standing too close to a coworker or being physical with them is also unwise. Your work environment isn’t a place for intimacy.
An office favours speech over intimacy, but that shouldn’t include your cell phone. A sudden call at a meeting or lunch can be irritating, especially if you’re talking loudly. Volume and rudeness are also bad when you’re eating. Being loud and talking with your mouth full takes attention away from the conversation and puts any business talk on shaky ground.
behaviour etiquette tips: Choose humour over swearing, as it will keep the attention on you and you’ll be well-liked for your efforts. When you’re humouring or even just interacting with someone, give them a respectable distance of 15 inches, smile often and acknowledge them as a sign of respect. Cell phone talk can be lessened through caller ID screening and voice mail, as most calls are unnecessary. Anticipate potential callers and call them first — before work. Don’t answer in a meeting, and speak quietly if you really must take a call. Don’t make your phone visible on a desk or a lunch table. When you do eat with others, chew wisely and while they are talking instead of when you are talking.
By maximizing good behaviour, your blunders will be minimized.
Conversation etiquette mistakes
The way you talk to others goes a long way towards establishing your credibility or losing it in an instant. Where conversation is concerned, the worst of the worst blunders are taboo topics, office gossip, interrupting, and shouting.
Politics and religion aren’t fair game for discussion. You are at work, not with friends. Sex is absolutely off limits, as it induces awkwardness and possible harassment charges.
You might feel targeted if a boss or client is angry with you, but you’ll make it worse by interrupting and shouting tactless remarks. Shouting and interrupting aren’t suitable with coworkers, either. Yelling across the office to start a conversation is distracting and embarrassing, while interrupting another conversation to “join in” shows impatience and lack of respect.
Conversation etiquette tips: Aim small with your conversations and don’t go out of bounds. Asking basic questions and paying attention will lead to common ground and steer you away from taboos. Keep your personal life private and don’t be a gossip. Instead of talking about others, pay respectful compliments to them instead. If they do the same for you, always thank them. You won’t regret it. Regrets can’t be undone after a testy argument, so when dealing with an irate client or manager, be proactive and problem solve. Instead of interrupting or yelling, hear them out and don’t judge. Think about their main issue and calmly offer some solutions — you’d probably be just as upset if you were in their situation, so imagine how you would want to be treated. Also be calm when starting coworker conversations. Try walking over to see them and if they’re busy, come back or leave a voice mail.
Positive and constructive conversations will reduce stress on the overall working environment and make everyone more pleasant.
Image etiquette mistakes
Professional image blunders are deadly because they can ruin you before you’ve even interacted with anyone. The most potent ones are tardiness, weak handshakes and wardrobe failures.
Poor punctuality wastes everyone’s time. If you aren’t on time to meet new clients, lateness is especially damaging. Another blunder is to offer a weak handshake. This shows no conviction and suggests a timid personality, which will hurt your first impression.
First impressions are also based on how you look. If you have tattoos or earrings on display, this will contribute poorly to your image and that of your company. Unfortunately, stereotypes still exist with piercings and body art, so it’s best to keep them under wraps when in the business world, just in case. The same thing will happen if you wear revealing or inappropriate clothing (think T-shirts with rude slogans or brash logos). Lastly, a lack of business cards makes you look amateurish and unprepared — scribbling your name and number on a napkin just isn’t good enough in the professional realm.
Image etiquette tips: Sometimes medical appointments are unavoidable. Arrange them outside of work if possible and if you come to work late afterward, offer to stay later or work through lunch. The added confidence of punctuality will be handy when it’s time for new introductions. In those instances, make eye contact and offer a firm handshake that is less than three seconds long but still affirmative. Offer your full name and show familiarity by repeating theirs. The dress code rules aren’t yours to rewrite, so be aware of what’s allowed. Cover up anything unsightly, and remove excess rings or earrings. Take the added step of carrying extra business cards and anticipating how many you’ll need. Make an effort to present them at the end of a conversation and if you receive one back, take time to look at it before putting it away.
A solid professional image will keep your bosses happy and your clients will be impressed with your polished presentation.
Travel etiquette mistakes
A business trip is exactly what it sounds like, but sometimes travelling to a new country or city can increase the likelihood of blunders. Cultural misunderstandings, unrealistic expectations, heavy drinking with clients, and room service indulgence are the biggest culprits.
A foreign setting can bring along many cultural misunderstandings. Every country has different customs and expressions, which could turn simple acts like gift giving or physical contact into unintentional insults. Things won’t be like they are at home, so don’t brag about your country being better or expect your hosts to offer you more than you’re getting.
You may be travelling for business, but don’t push your clients to wheel and deal around the clock. And while there is often shared social time, that’s not a licence to get intoxicated in front of them. Furthermore, your hotel room isn’t a bar or an office. Overindulging in room service and inviting clients there (especially those of the opposite sex) could cost you dearly.
Travel etiquette tips: Before you venture abroad, learn about your destination’s traditional customs, as well as the expectations for how to interact. Speak clearly and politely address people with titles. Also understand and appreciate the differences of your surroundings, instead of comparing it to your home and other places you have traveled to. When it comes to client-related business, be willing to develop a personal relationship first, but know when to draw the line. You are a guest, so make every decision with maximum respect and minimal intake of alcohol. That means keeping business and guests away from your hotel room and using room service sparingly and ideally.
As a gracious guest, you will be welcomed on a return trip and rewarded by your company upon your return home.
Happy hour etiquette mistakes
A company “social” event can lead to celebratory memories or infamous moments that can last a lifetime. Happy hour is supposed to be happy, but it shouldn’t mean overdrinking, outlandish behaviour or social faux pas.
Overstaying your welcome at the open bar will leave you with a nasty hangover and a hard-drinking reputation. If your boss has to carry you home, you’re finished. Drinking is just one way to overdo it. So is arguing at softball with the home plate umpire, who’s also your coworker. This kind of behaviour will bring unwanted attention (and often pictures, too).
Other picturesque moments come when people mistake a business event for the dating game. Now is not the time to make eyes at your boss’ wife or finally put the moves on your cubicle neighbour. If you think you’re avoiding trouble by bringing a date, watch out. You’ve just taken full responsibility for someone else’s actions and they could be worse than your own.
Happy hour etiquette tips: If you’re drinking at a company function, alternate between water and alcohol. This will keep you in line and you’ll be able to leave under your own power. If you do go too far with anything, offer a sincere apology and some warm humour. It might be your only option. To avoid getting to the point of apologizing, remember that these are business events before social ones. Think about where you are and think of who your boss is. Treat everyone with the same respect that you would in the office. Instead of bringing a date, bring a gift that suits the occasion. It could be a Christmas surprise or some delicious home cooking and it won’t carry the risk of future embarrassment.
If you respect your surroundings and enjoy without overindulging, happy hour can still be happy.
We all make mistakes in any number of situations, but when it comes to business, the less, the better. With time being money, a substantial etiquette blunder can result in wasted time, lost money and, in worst-case scenarios, a no-expenses-paid trip to the unemployment line. So whether it’s tomorrow’s shift at the office or your next business trip overseas, remember that your choices in etiquette will ultimately reflect back on your company and your own professional persona. The way you handle yourself is a test of practicing good business as well as good manners. It’s in everyone’s best interests. As long as you don’t screw up, you won’t get screwed.
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