Business Etiquette

  • Oct 19, 2006
  • Vicky Smith
  • Career advancement

A good friend of mine started her career in the insurance business.  She worked for many years in small communities and then was transferred into a manager’s position to London.  It was Christmas time so she joined the London team for the Christmas party.  The group was seated a big round table and the waiter took before dinner drink orders. My friend doesn’t drink and heard other people ordering Singapore slings, grasshoppers, mudslides, etc.  She quickly looked at the menu and decided she would order a shrimp cocktail.  When she ordered there were a few chuckles but the laughter really broke out when, her shrimp cocktail appetizer was brought out with everyone else’s drinks.  She was mortified and of course this was the office joke for a few weeks.


Business etiquette is about presenting yourself with the kind of polish that shows you can be taken seriously.  Etiquette is also about being comfortable around people from diverse backgrounds and them being comfortable around you.


Understanding business etiquette related to business functions, casual Fridays and emails can enhance your professionalism and your career.

First impressions formed at a business dinner, client meeting or golf game can make or break a key business arrangement. We all know that we have 60 – 120 seconds to make a first impression and we want to make it a good one. “Your image, how you look, carry yourself and dress can speak volumes about your mood, energy level and attitude.  People do make capability judgments based on their impressions of your style and appropriateness of attire,” state Lewens Bayer and Karen Mallett –          


In a globe and mail article titled ‘practice makes perfect at social events’ published in January, 2005 Wayne Foster the chief information officer of the Frouin Group of charter accountants in Ottawa stated, “when I was promoted to this position it required me to attend business receptions nearly every day and I worried about how to handle myself to always make a positive impression on potential clients and contacts.”  Some of his suggestions are:

  • Try and find out who will be attending the function – ask for a list of attendees
  • Take the time to check your address book to refresh your memory about the people you are likely to meet.
  • Decide how you are going to introduce yourself.  In addition to your name and title, you want to give the person you are meeting an idea of what you do and something about why you are at this event, all in 10 seconds or less
  • Find a conversation topic other than the weather – check out a newspaper or television news before heading out and prepare a few small-talk stories you can tell


Wayne Foster stated, “I’ve become a lot more confident.  With practice it becomes almost innate.”

Always carry business cards and make sure you have an ample supply. It’s surprising how many people forget to check and have to apologize all evening. 


Diane Craig, president of Image International in Toronto and Ottawa, trains executives and politicians in etiquette and public image.  She says “There is a right and wrong way to present a business card.  It’s always best to ask for someone’s card before you offer yours.  Make sure the card is turned so the person you are handing it to can read it, because it’s awkward for someone to have to turn it around.”


On Casual Fridays many business environments look like gym workout areas or trendy London night spots. Employers are quilted into not eliminating Casual Fridays because employees use the ploy of fundraising to wear the track suit or hipster jeans.


In an article titled ‘Dress for Success – has Casual Friday gone to Far’, Karen Mallett gives the following suggestions:


  • Casual includes:  khakis, sport shirts, sweaters, slacks, blouses and skirts.  Some people get casual confused with very informal or ‘play’ clothes.  Typically business casual means a tie is not required but a collar is
  • In determining what to wear each morning take a minute to assess the role you are playing that day.  The level of formality depends on who you are interacting with and what your responsibilities will be
  • Dress as though you hold a position higher in rank than where you actually are in your company
  • Ask yourself the following three questions: 
    • Does this clothing fit me properly?  Is it too tight, too loose or too short?
    • Does this article of clothing, pair of shoes, etc. look worn out or out of date
    • Am I dressed appropriately for my position and responsibilities? 


The ‘first impression’ rule applies to emails as well.  Chris Mitchell of Microsoft in the article ‘E-Mail Etiquette in Business Makes a Difference’ written by Anthony Mitchell – gives the following tips:


  • Many people don’t scroll down in their emails.  To communicate effectively with non-scrollers, put essential info at the beginning
  • To be effective restate the central idea or original query at the beginning of an email that goes back and forth
  • The subject line may be the only part of an email that many people read so it’s a good place to summarize actions required

“Business etiquette is essentially about building relationships with colleagues, clients or customers. In the business world, it is these people that can influence your success or failure. Etiquette, and in particular business etiquette, is simply a means of maximizing your business potential by presenting yourself favourably,” states Neil Payne in ‘Business Meeting Etiquette’ –