What is business etiquette and what major roles does it play in today's business world?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The primary reason to care about business etiquette is, of course, to generate and maintain successful and productive business relationships. The term "business etiquette" can refer to a range of things from how to act in social settings to how to dress to how to conduct business overseas.

The Columbia University Center for Career Education (linked below) gives business etiquette tips in the following categories: making positive impressions, people, communicating, meetings, work space, and international business etiquette.

In order to make a positive impression, be mindful of the office dress code and dress to it, if not a notch above it. Know that all of our accessories (shoes, bags, briefcases) speak for you, and present yourself professionally, including a smile and a firm handshake. 

In terms of how you treat people, remembering people's names is at the top of the business etiquette list. Refrain from speaking disparagingly about co-workers or clients or from sharing too much personal information in the business environment. Routinely assess your own behaviors and respect other people's personal space.

Communication is essential to business, so adhering to business etiquette in this area is especially important. Returning phone calls and e-mails (which are grammatically correct, of course) in a timely fashion demonstrates that you value the people who sent them. Words are only one aspect of communication, so monitoring your tone and your body language is always important. 

Meetings are unavoidable in the business world, so be punctual (never late) and respectful. Generally avoid any direct, aggressive confrontation in this setting, and avoid being part of anything that might be a distraction (phone calls, food, interruptions) to the meeting.

The guidelines for your work space are similar to those for meetings. Keep your space neat and professional at all times, and do not be a distraction to anyone around you.

Some considerations when doing business internationally include being aware of the time difference, learning languages (or at least key phrases) of your clients, and adhering to the customs and traditions of the country with whom you are doing business.

Clearly these and other elements of business etiquette are essential for success in any kind of business endeavor. After all, we all want to be treated with courtesy and respect by those with whom we deal every day, especially with those who want our patronage or business. It's just common sense. 

While it is true that in many places and work environments, casual and comfortable have become the norm. While it's not true everywhere, suits and ties and the other formalities associated with them are not as prevalent as they once were, but do not assume. A casual atmosphere does not change the way people want to be valued, however, so being on time and answering messages promptly are still important aspects of business etiquette. 

The fact that the core elements of business etiquette have not changed over decades suggests that there are fundamental principles about dealing with people that we should adhere to, especially in business. Basic courtesies and relationship-building are important. On the other hand,

[p]oor business etiquette can cost you the trust of your workers and your customers, and the loss of valuable business opportunities.

Business etiquette is not much different than personal etiquette: instead of keeping or losing friends, you are keeping or losing business relationships. 

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