Mind your man­ners in the work­place at home and abroad

Eti­quette still mat­ters if you want to smooth your way seam­lessly in busi­ness

The Irish Times - Business - - WORLD OF WORK - Olive Keogh The Eti­quette School of Ire­land is run­ning a pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment work­shop on Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 26th, in the Mer­rion Ho­tel, Dublin

Good man­ners are in short sup­ply in many work­places. Peo­ple are late for meet­ings, they don’t ac­knowl­edge texts or emails, they grunt when you greet them and they sail through doors with­out paus­ing to check if some­one is be­hind them. They are also sadly lack­ing in the ba­sics of smooth so­cial interaction and graz­ing on fast food is pro­duc­ing gen­er­a­tions of young adults with a min­i­mal grasp of ta­ble man­ners.

No one is ad­vo­cat­ing a re­turn to the starchy eti­quette of the Vic­to­ri­ans. How­ever, to­day’s creep­ing “any­thing goes” cul­ture is not ac­cept­able ei­ther, mainly be­cause we need to get on with peo­ple to thrive in the work­place and good man­ners and sound eti­quette make it so much eas­ier and more pleas­ant.

The work­place may have be­come less for­mal, but it would be a mis­take to con­fuse ca­sual with un­pro­fes­sional. The rules of re­spect and po­lite en­gage­ment, whether with em­ploy­ees or co-work­ers still mat­ter, par­tic­u­larly in open-plan en­vi­ron­ments where con­di­tions can be cramped, where what you say can be widely over­heard and where it’s very easy to saunter up to a col­league’s desk be­cause it suits you even though they may be in the mid­dle of some­thing im­por­tant.

The proverb “man­ners maketh the man” will be fa­mil­iar to many, but there’s a gold star for any­one who knows it was writ­ten down as far back as the 15th cen­tury by the then head­mas­ter of Eton, Wil­liam Hor­man. His­to­ri­ans be­lieve the con­cept is much, much older and that Hor­man was only re­it­er­at­ing a so­cial more that has been ac­knowl­edged since time be­gan.

Busi­ness eti­quette is a broad field cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from per­sonal and pro­fes­sional be­hav­iour to dressing ap­pro­pri­ately, speak­ing ef­fec­tively and know­ing what wines to or­der when din­ing with clients or cus­tomers. On top of this, there’s the in­ter­na­tional di­men­sion where fa­mil­iar­ity with lo­cal cus­toms can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a meet­ing go­ing smoothly or pear shaped.


Orla Bros­nan, founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Eti­quette School of Ire­land, tells the story of a hap­less busi­ness­man who grossly in­sulted his Asian host by us­ing the man’s busi­ness card as a tooth­pick af­ter din­ner.

“It’s easy to un­der­es­ti­mate just how im­por­tant good eti­quette and so­cial skills can be in the cor­po­rate world. They may be the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning a big con­tract or not,” she says.

“Get­ting on in busi­ness re­quires a de­gree of pol­ish and style. It is im­por­tant to be able to hold your own in any sit­u­a­tion and, if you know what the rules are, you can then adapt them as needed. No­body is go­ing to tell you if you make a so­cial gaffe, for ex­am­ple, but it will be noted.”

With busi­ness be­com­ing more and more cross-cul­tural, Bros­nan says be­ing aware of lo­cal prac­tices has never been so im­por­tant.

“In Brazil, even though meet­ings of­ten run late, never leave early as it’s con­sid­ered rude,” she says. “Brazil­ians can also stand very close to you dur­ing con­ver­sa­tions be­cause stand­ing close is seen to in­spire trust, which nur­tures long-term re­la­tion­ships.

“In Ger­many and Canada, punc­tu­al­ity is ex­tremely im­por­tant, so it is es­sen­tial to ad­here to sched­ules closely. Also re­mem­ber that be­cause of lan­guage bar­ri­ers, it may take peo­ple longer to process ver­bal in­for­ma­tion, so it can be use­ful to send printed in­for­ma­tion in ad­vance of a meet­ing or call.

“In China, it is con­sid­ered good eti­quette to bring a small gift from your coun­try to busi­ness meet­ings. How­ever, don’t give the gift of a clock, as clocks rep­re­sent death. Also, in gen­eral avoid giv­ing gifts with com­pany lo­gos on them.”

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