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Newsletter April 2011
Results of Business Etiquette survey
In February 2011 I undertook an international survey on Business Etiquette.
I’ve been running business etiquette courses for several years, and was interested in gaining examples of what ‘people on the ground’ are actually doing; and to see if there were any marked differences among countries and cultures.
At this point I’d like to thank all those who replied. I received responses from people in many countries including New Zealand, UK, USA, East Africa, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the Philippines, Australia, India, Canada, Zambia.
Your responses have been most helpful.
The survey comprised seven questions, and the responses to these questions highlighted four main points:
1. A lot of Business Etiquette is based on common sense and respect
2. Unfortunately common sense isn’t always that common (!) leading to many people expressing a preference for there to be guidelines, though not necessarily strict rules
3. There is very little difference among countries and cultures
4. The workshops I offer are very much in line with what is happening world wide!
Survey results are always a good catalyst for analysing your own situation and seeing if any improvements can be made.
Samples of people’s responses to the seven questions are included in the summary of each question below. Enjoy!
1. When you are having a meeting, at what point do you hand over your
Why at this time?
Answers varied, depending on the type of meeting, its purpose, and people’s reasoning.
a) Many gave their card at the start of the meeting:
Before the meeting starts; when introductions are made; At the beginning if I am introducing myself; Upon meeting the person; Before we start any deliberations; At the beginning when we sit down and get our sales literature & note pads out; My business card is already stapled into the presentation folder.
It promotes a better image, more professional; So that everyone knows who’s who; It makes it easy to remember people's names when their card is in front of you; To help reinforce who you are talking to, and who they are talking to; In a formal business meeting as it is a form of introduction; So that the other finds it easier to remember me later on; People find my name a bit difficult and it helps them remember; My visit often has some legislative backing so I might need to show some ID too; Primarily as a courtesy so that you can address the individual by name (as that’s the thing people like to hear the most); It seems a natural extension of introductions; to show your title and qualification to speak; I might forget to hand over; it usually prompts other parties to produce theirs; It's an informal sign, that I am giving you permission to keep in touch with me or that I am interested that we keep in touch, even after this meeting has ended… it is a way of saying that my interests/purpose in this meeting are sincere and will be dealt with in a professional manner; It allows them to look at my name and organisation details during the meeting, which in turn helps get my name and organisation ‘into their head. It also promotes a more meaningful association and recall when they look at my card days or weeks after the meeting; Force of habit; Because we jointly attend meetings, are married and are both Directors so it gives us an opening for conversation and discussion of family values; To get it out of the way and try to be polite; It will help the person am introducing myself to have confidence in me; Because some names are difficult to pronounce and it makes it easier to record for the minutes; to avoid my interlocutor(s) from forgetting my name or mispronouncing it; So you can get people's names, positions and company right.
b) Some people like to give their card out once the meeting has started, when people are seated and after talking for a while.
Our hands are free and we can put our attention in the card; It gives colleagues a chance to place cards somewhere handy / in order rather than grabbing a whole heap at beginning or end; Making a connection and impression is important.
c) Many gave their card at the end of the meeting.
It is better when people have been acquainted with you as so many times I get business cards I never have to use; When a certain level of trust has built up and / or I want to maintain contact or acknowledge the trust; If you hand it over before, it has the possibility of getting lost; In case of unclear issues I tell people to contact me on the address on the card; At this time people will know if they are interested in making contact again; To avoid distraction from the main event (the meeting itself); To emphasise how they can get in touch with you for further follow-up; It lines up with any follow up commitment; So they can put a face to the name/contact details and to determine from the meeting contents whether there is interest between both parties; Business cards and other publicity/marketing/information materials are used as follow-up to the meeting, or when it is agreed that further contact will take place; I would have come to the decision that they may need to contact me.
d) For many, there were no hard and fast rules, and a business card may be given at varying points during the meeting:
Sometimes it's triggered by the other party and I respond accordingly, other times I feel that if I gave the card in the middle of the meeting it would detract the trend of thought; Depends on the type of meeting, sometimes at the start, sometimes at the end , can be part way through; After I have had some conversation and established there is potential to meet again/hold further discussions/learn more; Only hand out cards if they are requested; This depends on the situation as if you have a handout of some form then my business card can be attached or on top of this handout prior to the meeting, if not then I would usually hand them out at the end to those who wish to have my business card; After I have had some conversation - established there is potential to meet again/hold further discussions/learn more; at any time! This depends on when you truly connect with someone, the present moment is always the best time… however, I think always follow up at the end of the meeting with your interest/excitement in meeting them and show that you look forward to keeping in touch; No specific time - just when it seems appropriate; It depends on the meeting. It may be first up – mainly so people spell my name right and it’s a great excuse to get them my card up front. I have a very striking card and that in itself usually creates a point of interest and continues discussion. If not earlier then definitely at the end of the meeting.
I think the award for the best answer to this question goes to Rhic from Saudi Arabia:
“Business card is usually handed over when we introduce ourselves to the guests. Remembering names with almost the same features (meaning with beards) are bit difficult. We are in the Middle East where all males are named Mohammad or Ahmad or Ahmed, and 95% are sporting a beard and moustache.”
2. If you work in an open plan office, what etiquette rules, either formal or informal are in place? For example regarding interruptions, conversations, noise, cleanliness, etc.
The answers to this question show that while some organisations have formal rules, most have informal rules or guidelines or just use ‘common sense’ (which is a reply running through many of the answers in this survey). It also seems that a sizeable number of organisations don’t have rules… though people wish there were!
Guidelines are usually around:
Polite interruptions accepted; if someone is not busy then you can badge in at any time when you want to inquire about something; I maintain an 'open door' policy, so I generally welcome most interruptions unless I have urgent business to attend to, I request my team for privacy, unless it is something urgent; The only interruption I allow is the telephone; No interruptions to meetings unless dire; We say "excuse me" or "have you got a moment" when interrupting a colleague at his/her desk; All face to face conversations take place in a 'break out' room; Use PEP approach to interruptions or flags to indicate working on something important, flip calendar with signs saying ‘out to lunch’ or ‘at meeting or do not disturb’; Interruptions to phone calls are only made in urgent circumstances, and usually by noting on paper rather than speaking to the person on the call; If you are not busy you can solve a short term query quickly. If it will take some time take details and advise you will get back to the person in a specified time frame
No food at workstations; avoid eating food in the office, particularly food with a high odour; Food rubbish to be put in kitchen bin not in office area; Eat smelly food in the lunchroom not at your desk
Noise to be kept to a minimum; noise is strictly prohibited; We cannot avoid private conversations but we discourage them; Conversations on low volume or else move to the small meeting room; No music (get an i-pod); Keep the noise down from either telephone calls or visitors; Informal rules about respecting other people’s need for quiet to get their work done; Keep cellphone rings, text alerts on low, or vibrate, learn how to use your cellphone so you know how to turn off the continual reminders that can drive colleagues mad when you leave your cellphone on your desk and walk away to another venue; No shouting across the floor – go and talk to the person face to face; If they have earphones on (large or small) don’t expect them to hear you speak to them; Don’t talk out loud to yourself
Cleanliness is emphasized and must be respected; Where the meeting is to be held must be clean and in-order; Each person has to maintain a clean working area; Room must be checked for presentation prior to being used; Washing your tea cup; All dirty cups are collected in one bucket and washed by the janitor after tea’ clean desk policy and nothing on the floor (safety and health); All staff clean up after themselves, but one person is in charge of over-seeing our office space & kitchen at the end of the day- this rotates on a daily basis.
e) Politeness & general guidelines
Etiquette is about being comfortable and make people around you also feel comfortable to take you seriously, put in mind that people are the key factor in your business success, be neat, courteous, tone down while talking to people, avoid being disrespectful and discourteous in order to achieve your goals; We ask guests if they are comfortable and if they require anything in terms of hospitality; Manners must be used at all times; Ask permission if you want to borrow stuff from your neighbour; If I have a workshop or meeting at my business which is also my home, I always ‘Zen’ the place before hand, i.e. clean, beautiful (flowers) and orderly, the phones (land and cellphone) are turned off, no interruptions or extraneous conversations allowed; Do not wear strong perfume to trigger an allergic reaction; Do not walk away from copier jams without taking appropriate action; We are expected to hang up our coats on hooks; We have a strict dress code smart formal business wear shirts ties jackets etc. Clean showered & shaven every day. We have a mutual respect policy to protect the Directors and staff; No personal visitors, all staff requiring a meeting of over two needs to book into the meeting rooms, never let a phone keep ringing even if it is not on your desk, across the room shout out not acceptable
And finishing with some interesting quotes:
“I work from home. There are no rules in place and I am inspired to put some in place!”
“I don't work in an open space but it seems to be bedlam in the area they do.”
“ …we have ways and means to direct those untidy people.”
3. What etiquette rules, either formal or informal are in place
Time management is a must; arrive at least 15 minutes in advance of the meeting; That they finish on time; Must be short and well agendered; Always be on time or send apologies ahead; Start on time - even if Chairperson is late!; Be on time or be frowned upon; If leaving early, or arriving late inform the Chair or the Meeting administrator
You must have researched about something abut the meeting you are going to attend; Attend the meetings fully prepared so that any questions could be answered immediately.
c) Procedure & politeness
We have formal meeting rules pinned on the wall of every meeting room; Stick to the points; We follow our team charter which includes ways we work together such relates to behaviour, responsibility and ways of communicating; We try to use Robert's Rules of Order in our meetings; Formal will be sometimes Chatham House rules; Welcome immediately on arrival, offer tea coffee water, wine if after 2pm. Any meeting notes taken, a copy is offered to the other party if they want them; Proper decorum and respect should be observed at all times. There might be some possibilities of arguments and frictions during meeting. Hence, meeting attendees are advised to be more courteous and open-minded as to the issues discussed; That whoever has the floor shall have it without interruption. In return that person shall be precise, short and to the point. That only matters related to what the meeting was called for shall be discussed; The host receives, shows people to seats, offers something to drink, opens the meeting; If you can't attend, then decline the invitation; Follow the Agenda, one speaker at a time, listen to all opinions; only one person to speak at a time; Respect is the number one. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if you don't agree with that opinion. And everyone is entitled to speak; If you want to speak request it through the Chair; We normally open with a word of prayer; Applaud at the end; Always ensure everyone knows each other; Always have additional pen / paper handy, perhaps other tools that might be required such as a smartboard or voice recorder; I often ask each person how they think the meeting can be conducted in a respectful and fruitful manner.
Meeting room booking system in place; Bigger meetings or meetings with outsiders are held in the meeting room; There set dates for meetings and agenda is sent a day before all meetings have a chairperson & a minute taker, decision making is usually by consensus; We usually go out for a meeting with clients or if in office the other person leaves the room; Individuals are to schedule their meetings through Windows Outlook, and if their meeting is canceled, they should cancel the meeting so others can use the room.
e) Phones etc
Switch off the mobile phone, do not use SMS, notebook, BlackBarry or email.
For formal meetings, it is best to dress in a suit; Professional formal dress; Unless it’s anything to do with the film industry (in which case ‘smart casual’, I always dress formally as I think this creates a climate of respect for the people and the meeting.
And some good guidelines for meetings from Solomon in Zambia:
“All meetings must have a clear agenda and agenda items tagged for reasons of information, decision, brain storming or discussion.”
4. Are there etiquette rules regarding use of email or phones?
Strictly business related only; reply email or phone (voice message) within the same day; Don't send private emails via the offices network - depending on what is said, you can get fired; We have a uniform signature; Shall not contain any thing derogatory or anything that would bring the organization into disrepute; No capitals and not too much bold or underlining. Don't write anything you wouldn't want to read on the front of the paper the next morning; Avoid “reply all” if possible with emails; Re-read critically before hitting the send button; Keep the ‘tone’ polite and factual; there are the e-mail police who take random info from what people are e-mailing; Don't give e-mail or mobile numbers of others without permission; Don't flame; consider face to face instead; Fwd mails and unnecessary cc's unacceptable especially where they do not concern other staff.
Don't have personal conversations at work; Official phones are used for official work; No cell phones in meetings; Identify oneself on the telephone; I ask the person I am calling if it’s alright to talk to them at that time; Remove oneself from the open plan office before discussing sensitive matters; All phones given by the organisation must be accounted for (Airtime) at end of every month; No personal toll calls; We have a greeting we expect staff to use; Don’t use a cellphone when you are meeting with one other person, unless it is absolutely necessary, ask permission to answer - the person you are with should take precedence over the phone call; May only be accessed during a break and must be turned off again afterwards - if a response is required it must be handled in the break; When participating on conference calls or webinars, always have your own phone muted unless speaking; Write down the points to be discussed before you call somebody so that you do not forget anything and you can write down the answers on the same paper; phones should have appropriate voicemails.
5. Is there an etiquette regarding dealing with senior members of staff?
Many stated that there were no specific guidelines, simply that senior members be treated with respect, as with all staff members.
Specific responses included: If staff members have any complaints or suggestions, they have to go through their immediate supervisors, who will then either resolve the issues, or go on to higher authority; say ‘no sir/yes maam’; Not so much anymore, things are a lot more egalitarian than they used to be; If you want to have one of their staff do something, or plan to do something that may cut across their area, check with them first; Arrange meeting times with them rather than casual interruptions; Ideally, they should be afforded the courtesy of being asked how they prefer to be addressed in private, and in the workplace. If they are very senior, it is customary to stand when they enter, and to remain standing until such time as they indicate you may sit down; If their door is shut they are not available; Be polite even when offering a differing viewpoint; Always pay compliments (salutation); Yes the chain of command causes huge issues; Of course! However, there are generational and industry expectations – e.g. saying Mr. so and so for older folks in the beginning and first name basis for 30’s and below; Unspoken – treat with respect or else watch out’; Introduce them first; Don't assume they know background to everything; they report to me (MD) in the first instance and only if they are not happy with my decision then they can request and second review with another senior member; It is understood that if there are problems we go to our line manager, not to the boss. However the boss has an open door policy and is not 'removed' from the 'shop floor'.
And a quote from the military:
“As per any military we have a ranking structure whereby the senior members of staff will be addressed either by their rank or the appropriate title of Sir or Ma'am. Naturally if they have not demonstrated and earned your respect other names may pop up outside of the immediate area.”
6. Are there etiquette rules regarding dealing with people from other countries or cultures?
Many people’s responses talked about treating people the same, there being no difference, i.e. affording everyone the same level of respect or that there should be no discrimination.
Other responses included: Respect their culture, choice of diet and religion; Try and establish their normal rules of etiquette before engaging with them; Absolutely and they are different for different cultures - a whole subject in itself; We ask everyone at Reception where they are from and we have several translations of our information which can be offered for anyone who struggles with English; We have had talks from University staff about cultural differences; Sometimes we can make a mistake, if we apologise when we do then that is usually ok. Always try to find out about people before risking making mistakes; Try to understand their language if there is a strong accent. Remember, you may have a strong accent to them too; remember that they like the same things you do… friendship, kindness, peaceful relationships; I think it is vital to do research on the etiquette of different nationalities before the meeting if possible - you may be able to ring an Embassy – they are always grateful for your enquiry; Offer assistance where possible; be inclusive: assume people have best intentions at heart and that our world view is not the only world view
Responses from New Zealand:
We honour the treaty of Waitangi and formal policies around Kaupapa Maori; karakia before meetings if required; if something is upsetting culturally, e.g. sitting on tables, don't do it.
7. Any other etiquette rules or strategies you may use?
My simple rule is respect others' point of view.
Try to live in a way that is as much as possible comfortable to others.
We are in a service industry and are very sensitive how clients are handled. We limit some of our staff contacting our clients, especially the staff we know are not very good at handling clients (despite training). We instead ask them to refer our clients to our office, where they're handled more professionally.
We hold periodic staff training in matters pertaining to our clients and other matters.
Coach staff on how to handle difficult clients.
Listen carefully (two ears, one mouth)
Customer is the most important person in our business.
The customer is always right even when you think they’re not
All people who come to work in the office receive a formal welcome.
If you wouldn't like to be on the receiving end - don't do it yourself. Also, in a supervisory or management role - don't ask staff to do something you wouldn't do yourself.
Good clear communication.
Keep everyone informed
Regular team meetings.
For communication with people like the media, one needs official clearance.
Correct use of ‘out of office’ functionality greatly assists handling of urgent matters which may otherwise be delayed.
As a Values based organisation we always remind our people to live by the set Values and they will not skew to far from acting and behaving responsibly. Our Values are: Service and Allegiance to NZ; Professionalism; Integrity; Teamwork; Traditions and History; Discipline. These are all designed to make our people take ownership of any actions they take along with any effect of that action or maybe inaction.
And finally from Joseph:
“Just treat people the way you would love to be treated.”