Have you ever unintentionally insulted an important client by using inappropriate language or humour?
Have you ever forgotten the name of a prospective client that you have recently been introduced to? If so, you are not alone.
Mistakes like this, or lapses of memory, do happen and can damage your reputation as a business professional and can reflect badly on your company.
The way in which you present yourself and your business can impact heavily on your future success, or failure.
Building positive relationships with clients, suppliers and colleagues is of the utmost importance and we all need to be courteous, aware of cultural sensitivities and cognisant of local and religious customs.
Business etiquette is more than just eating with the right fork, it is about always presenting yourself to others, in a professional manner.
For instance, always return phone calls even if you don't immediately have the answer to a question being posed. You need to be respectful of other people's time and when you get through to someone, it is helpful to ask if it is convenient to speak or suggest rescheduling to another time.
However, dealing with "sales calls" can be difficult, as you may not wish to buy what is being offered, but always be respectful to the caller because you are representing your company or organisation.
Many people are overloaded with e-mail — as I am, myself. But do try to respond to every e-mail even if it is just to acknowledge receipt. Where appropriate, I will put my name and or the addressee's name in the subject line so that the recipient will immediately know that it isn't spam.
But never type in upper case, either in the header or in the text, as this is considered "shouting". And always remember to sign-off your e-mail with your contact details so the reader knows how to immediately reply.
One of the most difficult challenges I face is obtaining a response even from those people I even know! And if I don't get a reply, then I do that old-fashioned thing and I pick up the phone!
It is a fact that some companies are happy with casual dress. But even casual dress should be smart and professional because appearance is important and first impressions can win or lose a contract.
Dress and appearance
Being clean and smartly dressed provides the initial credibility that you should be demonstrating as a business professional.
Furthermore, particularly if you are a woman, you should dress in a respectful manner, giving due consideration to the culture in which you are working to ensure that no offence is unintentionally given.
In certain countries, this is mandatory requirement in order to be admitted to any meeting.
When attending a business or network meeting, always carry business cards with you. There are many occasions when I am told "Oh sorry! I don't have a card with me!" — with the result that a particular person fails to be remembered, and there is consequently no further contact.
In which case, you might wonder what was the purpose of that person attending the networking group? When meeting someone for the first time, always have a 60-second "elevator pitch" ready — called this because this is the amount of time it takes for an elevator to go from ground to top.
Smile, maintain eye to eye contact, give your name clearly, say what you do and what benefit you or your organisation might give to the listener.
People will always remember what is of benefit to them. And, finally, ensure that you are an "active listener" who pays attention to what the other person is saying and not looking around the room at who has just walked in.
Key points: Be aware
- Always present yourself in a professional manner
- Take care to use appropriate language or humour; and
- Be courteous and aware of cultural sensitivities
The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies — www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk.