Business Etiquette

Adapted from a Career Services workshop originally presented by Rosette Pyne and Sharon Fleshman.


Building Professional Relationships
Computer Usage
Small Talk
Telephone Usage
Social Events
Cultural Differences

Why is business etiquette important?

  • Etiquette' is French for label' and in English it refers to socially acceptable behavior. Your behavior is one of the ways people see you like a label.
  • People form a lasting opinion about you within the first seven seconds.
  • Assimilating into an organization's culture is critical to success.
  • The little things that you did not consider important may make the difference between promotion and stagnation.


  • Make certain your handshake has a firm yet comfortable grip.
  • Use verbal additions (e.g. how are you, Mr. Doe?').
  • Non-verbal additions (e.g. maintaining eye contact).
  • Greet everyone in the room when you enter.
  • Repeat everyone's name the first time you hear it, to help you remember. If you cannot remember everyone, at least remember the most important people.
  • Maintain a pleasant look. Smile!
  • When introducing colleagues, always say the name of the most important person first


  • You must dress the part. Stay within the norms for your company. Dress for the job that you want to have next.

  • Wear appropriate accessories and/or jewelry.

  • Think about your hairstyle and facial hair.

  • Don't use too much perfume or cologne.

  • Is your wardrobe the "right colors" for your company? Remember your shoes. Many older businesspeople tend to judge people based on their shoes.

  • What is "business casual" at your company?


  • It is important to understand from day one the number of vacation, holiday and sick days you are entitled to and the policies in place to request them. If this was not discussed prior to your starting work, be sure you ask about this within the first few days.
  • Try to arrive earlier than your boss every day. Arrive early and stay late if necessary to complete your work. However, if working certain hours conflict with the company's culture, do not insist.
  • Be aware of time spent during short breaks, around the water cooler and at lunch.


Teamwork is essential to success in most organizations. Therefore, having working professional relationships is important to most work. Create positive relationships - learn others' wants and needs and see how you can help to fulfill them. Understand how to read peers and superiors watch and listen to what they do to anticipate and understand their needs. Do not abuse relationships once they have been established by always depending on others' to help you it will impede your ability to work independently. When asking for help, make your questions multiple choice questions whenever possible, which means you have thought out several possible solutions beforehand.

  • Take interest in non-work common interest groups, such as company sports teams.
  • There is no gender in business etiquette. Women stand when shaking hands, open doors for male clients and pick up the restaurant bills.

Computer Usage

  • Do not use your computer at work for personal correspondence or to check your stock portfolio. Ask if you can use the computer for personal use during break hours at the orientation session.
  • Nothing is private, so watch your words. Do not use abusive or profane language and never slander your employer. Even if the company says that they do not monitor the computers, do not take the chance.
  • No spam (including chain letters, advertisements, etc.) is allowed.
  • Many companies have a "0" tolerance policy with regard to websites and email. Sending or accessing questionable information may result in dismissal.
  • Do not forward or otherwise distribute proprietary messages. Messages are usually marked as proprietary or confidential at the bottom of the letter.


  • Check e-mail daily.
  • Delete unwanted messages.
  • Keep file attachments to a minimum.
  • Clean up documents when forwarding messages. Erase unnecessary tick marks or otherwise extraneous information or markings.
  • Follow the company's e-mail format.
  • Be careful about replying with history. Make certain none of the previous messages have inappropriate language or confidential information in them.
  • If you do not know someone's gender, use their full name (i.e. Dear Pat Johnson:).

Telephone Usage

  • Do not use the telephone for personal use. Only give your work number to close family members as an emergency number.
  • Leave personal cell phones off during the day, and check for personal messages at lunch.
  • Answer the business phone following organization protocol.
  • Create an appropriate voicemail message for yourself.
  • Call yourself and listen to your greeting.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Pause between your first and last name, spell difficult names and say your phone number slowly at the beginning and the end of the message.
  • Leave clear, concise messages. Keep in mind that they may have caller ID, and may be suspicious of the number that keeps calling and hangs up before leaving a message.
  • When using speakerphone, tell the person you are calling that they are on speakerphone, identify each person in the room and state their purpose in being present.

Cultural Differences

  • Be cognizant of different cultures and their customs.

Comfortable distance between two individuals. Handle Asian clients' business cards properly. Business cards must be kept out until the end of the meeting, even during meals. Treat the business card as though it is an extension of the client. Hand your card to the client using both hands, with the bottom of the card facing toward the client so that s/he can read it without rotating it. Receive the client's business cards with both hands, as well. Be aware of inappropriate terms and gestures for that person's culture. Greetings and salutations.


  • Use the correct dishes and utensils.
  • Order an appropriate meal.

Do not order the most expensive dish. Do not order before your host. Do not order food that is likely to splatter (e.g. pasta), food that takes too long to chew (e.g. steak) or anything that is difficult to eat easily (e.g. chicken on the bone). Chicken breasts and fish are safe bets.

  • Do not begin eating until everyone is served, except if you are asked to begin by the others.
  • Wait until everyone is seated before touching anything on the table.
  • Be aware of your alcohol intake. A one drink limit is recommended, if any.
  • It is okay at a bar or club, to have a drink in your hand that is not alcoholic. Don't feel pressured to drink.
  • Drink beer from a glass; don't send the wine back because you don't like the taste, and when drinking a mixed drink use the stirrer to stir, not as a miniature straw.
  • Basic table manners:
  • Put your napkin on your lap when everyone is seated. When leaving the table during the meal place it on your chair. At the end of the meal place it loosely to the left of your plate. Do not refold it.
  • Your bread is to your left, and your drinks are to your right.
  • Use silverware going from the outside in and use the utensils at the top of your plate last. Once you use a utensil it should not touch the table again.
  • Taste before seasoning.
  • When eating bread break the bread into one piece at a time and butter as you go. It should be small enough to fit in your mouth. You do not butter the entire roll. Likewise, cut your food one piece at a time
  • While eating, keep your knife across the top of your plate. Once you are finished eating, place the knife and fork across your plate as if they are pointing to the numbers 10 and 4 on a clock face.


  • Every office has it!
  • Do not become involved in office rumors and gossip.
  • Take time to learn the unwritten rules of the organization.
  • Inappropriate behavior outside of what is documented.
  • What are desirable and valued traits in your company?
  • Read the environment and be aware of your surroundings, because the unwritten rules are everywhere.

Small Talk

  • Do not use obscene language.
  • Do not tell jokes that may offend anyone.
  • Keep your personal life personal.
  • Remain friendly and interested.
  • Stay away from controversial topics, such as politics or religion.

Social Events

  • Social events are extensions of the workplace.
  • Mingle.
  • Keep drinking to a minimum
  • Be conscious of your behavior.

Remember, perception is reality.