15 Tips for Mastering Business Etiquette and Protocol

Group of business people having a discussion in a conference room
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In the world of business, the way you carry yourself can make or break a first impression. But there’s more to business etiquette than taking care not to chew loudly during a business lunch and drinking your tea in a meeting without slurping.

So, how do you master the unspoken rules of business and impress potential clients and like-minded professionals?

Here are 15 business etiquette tips to help you conduct yourself appropriately in every professional setting.

1. Stand When You’re Being Introduced to Someone

It’s common knowledge that you should stand when you’re being introduced to someone. If you remain seated, it not only comes across as rude but it also gives the impression that you’re uninterested. That said, you should also extend your hand for a handshake (which is a formal greeting).

The only exception is if you’re physically unable to stand. You can also skip this step if you’re sick and you don’t want to spread any germs, but if that’s the case, be sure to mention it. You could say something like: ‘It’s great to meet you, but I’m just recovering from [x illness] and would hate to pass it on’.

2. Be Mindful of Gifts

While gift-giving is acceptable in some countries, in others it is seen as a bribe and should be avoided at all costs. For example, in the UK and USA, there are strong opinions regarding ethical gift-giving, and under the UK Bribery Act, both giving and accepting certain gifts are punishable by the law.

However, in China and Japan, business gifts are quite ordinary, but specific rules come with accepting a gift. For example, a Chinese businessperson will refuse your gift three times before they can accept it.

3. Prepare a Proper Introduction

When executed correctly, a proper introduction can transform another professional’s entire opinion of your company and yourself. Let’s say you’re partaking in a business trip abroad: you need to have a proper introduction prepared informing other people who you are and what you do – something similar to your elevator pitch.

The following example can be used in a presentation or boardroom setting and will leave a good impression as it’s both memorable and interesting:

‘Hi, my name is John. I have 10 years’ worth of experience in digital marketing, helping businesses grow their organic traffic through SEO and PPC strategies. An area where I excel is content creation, which is why I’m here to help you fine-tune your content to the audience you’re targeting. I’m looking forward to working with you all!’

4. Dress Professionally

If you want to enhance your professional reputation, you should always dress appropriately. So, if your workplace has a super casual dress code, it’s best to wear something smart casual. And if you’re dressing for a business meeting, it’s ideal if you jazz it up a little. You want to feel confident and powerful, and the clothes that you wear can have a great impact.

If you’re travelling overseas, you should take practical clothing that is smart casual. Don’t turn up in six-inch heels that you can’t walk in or a pair of Converse shoes because they were comfortable on the plane!

5. Keep Your Phone Off the Table

Whether you’re in a meeting or attending a business lunch, it’s essential to keep your phone tucked safely away in your pocket or bag. In such a digitally connected world, it’s hard to keep our hands off our devices and unplugged from technology. But during any important business encounter, it’s necessary to keep your focus on your surroundings and the people you are with.

Checking your phone while discussing business is also disrespectful to everyone in the room. It non-verbally gives the impression that you’d rather be elsewhere and this can easily turn them off – potentially causing you to lose your biggest client yet!

6. Be Punctual

No matter what country you’re in, punctuality is key. Being on time demonstrates that you honour your commitments and that you’re a trustworthy person.

But if for some unforeseen reason you happen to be running late, be sure to let all attendees know and give them an update on your estimated time of arrival. And when you turn up, don’t waste an extra 10 minutes complaining about what delayed you. Apologise and move on swiftly by opening the conversation about the topic that you’re there to discuss.

7. Express Gratitude

Gratitude makes you feel good, and it increases your motivation. So, as a business professional, it’s time to start expressing gratitude to others (if you don’t already do this). It’s easy to thank someone for doing a good job, for their time or business, which will make them more enthusiastic to help or meet you again.

Likewise, if you’re at a business lunch, be sure to thank the waiter for serving your food or the person for meeting you. Don’t simply ignore them because you’re mid-conversation!

8. Mind Your Body Language

Body language is important in any professional environment. If you sit with your back turned or slumped into a chair, it shows that you don’t really care to be there; likewise, crossing and uncrossing your legs can make you seem insecure. And this type of behaviour can make or break a business deal.

Similarly, facial expressions are the gateway to your soul. They can give away what you’re truly thinking, so it’s important to be mindful of them. Be sure to smile at others but do so in a natural way (without forcing it).

9. Use Your Full Name

When introducing yourself to business associates, be sure to use your full name so they can differentiate you from the pool of Johns and Marys that they have met. It also makes you more personable and accessible to find on networking sites like LinkedIn.

On the other hand, if someone happens to introduce themselves to you with just their first name, don’t be shy to ask for their surname (especially if they’ve failed to provide a business card).

10. Be Mindful of Lunch Etiquette

Along with table manners, punctuality and topic of conversation, there are many more etiquette rules that need to be adhered to during a business lunch. Among these are your meal selection (choose something in the same range as the invitee), alcohol consumption (don’t drink alcohol unless the invitee is, and if you do, stick to one glass), arrival time (don’t be late), as well as who’s picking up the tab (the person that arranged the lunch meeting – duh!). And for all that’s good in the world, don’t speak with a mouth full of food!

11. Ask Thoughtful Questions

During business meetings, most people tend to ramble on about their own thoughts and ideas without asking any questions. Instead of waffling on for a good quarter of an hour, be sure to ask some thoughtful questions that will include your client’s opinion.

By doing so, you can identify what’s important and then address their thoughts and concerns – essentially working as a team and getting business done.

12. Mind Your Own Business

Although business lunch settings are generally casual and informal, it’s important to be mindful of personal questions. You can easily offend someone by asking about their marital status or family life. Instead, stick to business chat but don’t be afraid to connect on common interests like music, your favourite authors or the best places to eat in town.

13. Respect Other Cultures

As many businesses are international, you’ll most likely work with colleagues overseas or do business with international clients. While doing so, it’s important to understand cultural differences and be respectful at all times.

Although you won’t know all the differences, it’s important to attempt to conform and learn a few social tendencies. For example, if you’re visiting France, you should greet your business associates with a kiss on each cheek, while in Japan a bow is customary.

14. Don’t Interrupt Anyone

No matter how passionate or excited you are about a topic, it’s extremely rude to interrupt anyone while they are speaking. It shows that you think your opinion is much greater than theirs and that you don’t actually value what they are saying.

If you’re worried that the thought will slip your mind, write it down to ensure you have notes to reflect on after. You can either then find an opportunity to voice your opinion or follow up via email after the meeting is over.

15. Send ‘Thank You’ Notes

While ‘thank you’ notes aren’t the norm after company meetings, they are essential with external clients. If you’ve invited them to a meeting, be sure to follow up and thank them for their time. And if you’re the invitee, you should follow up with gratitude for the invite.

Overall, good business etiquette involves good manners and gratitude towards others. And by following these tips, you’ll be equipped to travel to any part of the world and ensure you follow the same high standards of business etiquette.

What are your favourite business etiquette tips? Join the conversation below to let us know!