Focus on Business Etiquette: The Beautiful and the Ugly

For those of us who have been working for many decades, maybe improving business etiquette can be our legacy for generations of workers to come.

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Why did the topic of business etiquette strike such a chord when I wrote about it six months ago? Much of the business world involves dealing with work contacts who seem impossibly hard to reach, overly busy or empowered to treat certain work associates less well than others. When a work contact clearly and consistently treats us badly, those instances stay with us. Conversely, when someone really goes out of their way to show interest or appreciation, these positive impressions can last ten years or more.

5 Examples of Nasty Etiquette

1.     Attempted invasion of privacy. A networking contact once introduced me to a business coach who seemed perfectly nice. I expected a short, pleasant phone conversation to follow. Shortly after our phone meeting began, I realized that she was pushing a new business venture with her partner. She then asks how much I earned last year, which seems completely inappropriate for a first conversation.

2.     People who forget the golden rule. A colleague and job seeker once asked me for an introduction to a networking colleague. Sometime later, after my colleague landed, I asked him to help another job seeker colleague of mine. But this former job seeker was apparently too busy to respond. Instead, he should remember to treat others as he wants to be treated.

3.     Inconsiderate treatment of prospects. From time to time, prospective clients ask me to suggest dates for a meeting. I dutifully respond and put tentative holds on my calendar. The prospect goes silent, and it takes me a while to realize that the meetings have a 5% or less chance of happening (you can read more about radio silence in my last etiquette post).

4.     All-powerful networking groups heads. A colleague of mine arranged for me to visit his group when he was traveling. Upon arriving very early in the morning, I was not welcomed, but told to stand to the side for a few minutes until the networking group leader checked with another member and decided if I could stay – as had been previously arranged by my colleague and group member.

5.     Brevity taken to an extreme. A contact emails out of the blue with a time-sensitive assignment that requires a bit of research on my part, but then does not acknowledge my response,

4 Examples of Wonderful Etiquette

1.     A thoughtful client. When I first started consulting, both of my parents died within months of each other. I was onsite at a client, and an acquaintance came in to where I was sitting, shut the door, and shared that she had lost her husband at an early age. As my parents lived to their 80’s/90’s, her situation was probably more difficult. But she made me the focus of the moment and showed real empathy and concern. 

2.     Appreciative hosts. I attend a cocktail party fundraiser for a local nonprofit each year. The Executive Director and Director of Development always greet me warmly and thank me for coming (even though I must be at the very low end of their donor tiers). This really enhances my experience at their event and my view of their organization. Thank you, Cindy Kanusher and Jana Kosberg-Kleidman.

3.     Considerate hosts. If I am new to a group and attend an event for the first time, I really appreciate when the host finds out who I would like to meet and makes an introduction. I try to reciprocate that practice – for example when I meet guests or new members at the Business Council of Westchester.

4.     Day-to-day consideration. This includes simple things like making a call to resolve a tricky issue and picking up the phone when you know that a colleague wants to reach you.

Each time I write on this topic, I look for statistics on business etiquette. There are none. And frankly I had more difficulty coming up with the “Beautiful” than the “Ugly” examples. So readers of this article could help by supplying additional examples of good and bad etiquette.

For those of us who have been working for many decades, maybe improving business etiquette can be our legacy for generations of workers to come.

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