The first time I went to dinner with a business partner, I was terrified. What if I accidentally brought up a sensitive subject or committed a faux pas? What if it was hard to eat my meal gracefully? What if I made too much eye contact — or equally bad, too little?
Fortunately, the dinner went well. Now that I attended several professional dinners per year, I stay up-to-date with the types of business etiquette and professional norms. Studying up gives me confidence that I’m representing my company well.
The 4 Types of Business Etiquette
- Workplace etiquette
- Table manners and meal etiquette
- Communication etiquette
These rules deal with your behavior at the office. Culture and expectations differ from company to company, so what’s rude at one workplace may be normal at another.
For instance, HubSpot is dog-friendly, so my coworkers frequently bring their pups in with them. At a traditional office, showing up with Rover would probably annoy your colleagues — and may even get you in hot water with upper management.
Figure out what’s acceptable and what’s not by reading your company handbook, paying attention to how the executives behave (and following suit), and sticking by the standard rules (such as “Don’t heat up excessively smelly foods in the break room.”)
Table Manners and Meal Etiquette
There’s far more to dinner and meal etiquette than knowing which fork to use. Luckily, once you’ve memorized these rules, you’ll be well-equipped for any eating situation.
I can’t even begin to cover them here — you should read a book on meal etiquette or watch some videos for a full briefer — but every professional should know the following:
- Put your napkin in your lap when you sit down
- Order items in a similar price range to your dining companions
- Don’t start eating until everyone has received their food
- Pass condiments and dishes from left to right rather than reaching across the table
- Chew with your mouth closed
- Don’t snap your fingers at your server
- After the meal is over, partially fold your napkin and put it to the left of your plate
Being professional means contributing to a pleasant, productive, and inclusive work environment. Professionalism includes an entire range of behaviors; however, here are the most standard:
- Keeping your word: When you make a commitment — whether it’s big or small — keep it. If you know that will be impossible, give the other person as much notice as possible.
- Being punctual: Show up on time (or early).
- Remaining calm: Even in heated situations, do your best to stay cool.
- Acting flexible: Sometimes you’ll have to stay late, show up early, change plans, move meetings, and more to make things work. Unless this is happening all the time, accommodate these changes without raising a stink.
- Using diplomacy: There will be people you don’t like — prospects, co-workers, or both. Be kind and amiable anyway.
- Accepting constructive criticism: Throughout your career, others will offer feedback. If you’re closed off to it, you’ll not only harm your professional rapport, you’ll also lose valuable opportunities to improve.
A large majority of our relationships hinge on good communication. Not sure what that entails? Let’s break communication etiquette down into four categories:
- Don’t speak too loudly or too softly. If you’re worried about your volume, ask, “How am I coming across? Do you need me to talk more or less quietly?”
- Never interact with your phone while you’re with someone else. Keep it stashed in your pocket or bag at all times.
- If you’re on a conference call and you’re not speaking, mute yourself so the others aren’t distracted by the outside noise.
- Aim to answer internal emails within one day and external emails within three days.
- Avoid overusing exclamation marks and smiley faces.
- Default to “Reply” over “Reply All.”
- Check with each party before you make an introduction.
- Steer clear of complimenting someone’s appearance, since this can make people feel uncomfortable.
- Maintain eye contact 60% to 70% of the time.
- Match their speaking volume.
- Show interest in what they’re saying.
Virtual meetings etiquette
- Look at the camera — not your own face or theirs — so you seem like you’re making eye contact.
- Shut the door and make sure you’re not interrupted by your pets, children, roommates, significant other, etc.
- Before your meeting, check the area in camera range for inappropriate or overly personal items.
This might seem like a lot of rules. And, well, you’re not wrong. But rules have an upside: Once you know what to do, it’s much easier to build and maintain a great professional reputation.