Basic Business Etiquette

If there’s one thing that really makes my heart sink (more so than contemplating three day old leftovers in the fridge) is encountering lapses in, or a complete absence of, Basic Business Etiquette (BBE). It’s not just me either, I’m pleased to say. To check my impressions out I recently asked a few clients, colleagues and friends what were the ten most important BBE’s for them – important because when they were either partially gone or totally absent, they were driven either to mild distraction (md) or to spit chips (sc). What could you add to our list and how would you rate what’s there?If there’s one thing that really makes my heart sink (more so than contemplating three day old leftovers in the fridge) is encountering lapses in, or a complete absence of, Basic Business Etiquette (BBE). It’s not just me either, I’m pleased to say. To check my impressions out I recently asked a few clients, colleagues and friends what were the ten most important BBE’s for them – important because when they were either partially gone or totally absent, they were driven either to mild distraction (md) or to spit chips (sc). What could you add to our list and how would you rate what’s there?

#1 – Returning Messages – ‘Please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you’, earnest voices gush down the phone. ‘Your call is important to me’, they solemnly continue. ‘Speak slowly, leave your message and thank you for calling’, they helpfully add. But why do any of this when there is little or no intention, either today, tomorrow or next week, of ever returning those calls? It would be much more helpful to say what’s really meant by those deafening silences – ‘don’t leave your name and number. I’m not the least bit interested. I’ve much more important things to do’. This way at least, the callers would know where they stand.

#2 – Promises, promises – ‘I’ll get on to that today’ you hear. ‘I’m going to finish this on Wednesday’ you’re told. ‘I’ll find that information and give it to you’, they promise. And what happens? Nothing. And no calls to the expectant to say there are delays or that thing you promised to locate can’t be found or that it went out of your mind completely. The result? People realise after one or two experiences that gunnadoos are all promise, no action and are best avoided, because their word is worth zip, basically.

#3 – Timeliness – Always late for meetings? Late for work? Completely forget what you have diaried and miss scheduled appointments altogether? Always ‘getting caught up’ with things and running about five hours behind every day? Well, if you’re always consistently late for everything, it’s not an accident nor a one-off situation – it’s the Norm and serious time management (add management, relationship, public relations and credibility) problems exist. The problems may be obvious to everyone, but the perpetrator. Serious help is needed before they completely irritate……well, just about everyone.

#4 – Tidyness – Share space in an open plan office? Share a workstation? Like to have everything really close at hand? Like tottery stacks and huge piles of paperwork? Believe dust, papercups, litter and empty boxes give your office that cosy, welcoming, lived in look? Well, although it may work for you, it may not work for your colleagues nor your visitors. Make it easy for people to visit. Don’t let them wonder if they’ll twist an ankle walking around the floor clutter or worry when they get up from the chair, their clothing will be dirty or dusty. Avoid giving them the impression their important document or concerns will be lost forever in the paper jungle surrounds.

#5 – Availability – If an office door is shut and people have been told not to disturb the person within, then what part of ‘i’mbusyanddon’tdisturbme’ is difficult to grasp?

#6 – Preparedness – To gladden the hearts of girl/boy scouts in offices everywhere and for those of a naturally nervous disposition, preparation for meetings, presentations, events, whatever, is definitely good form. It’s not OK to constantly wing it, make it up as you go along or offer the same excuse (I’m just so busy) every time. No. It raises questions about your professionalism, your time management and your commitments – why should others wear your lack of wherewithal?

#7 – Turning Up – Turning up to see someone without warning or an appointment and expecting to be seen, doesn’t win you friends nor positively influence people. The bright eyed, expectant look may work once or twice, but you’ll be pushing your luck and risking irritating others, big time, if you persist.

#8 – Contribution – Are you known as someone who will help colleagues when there’s an unexpected deadline to meet? Would you voluntarily wash the tearoom cups and put them away? Would you think to pick some litter on the foyer floor, even if it’s not your role to do so? Contributing to the organisation in little ways is some of the glue that binds it all together – do you give, take, or have a good balance of both?

#9 – Obtrusive Phones – Leave your phone on going into meetings? Do you sit in the cafeteria or stand outside someone else’s office and talk loudly into your phone? Noise pollution can be problematic in most organisations – what can you do to cut it out?

#10 – Electronic Communications – Wanting to send your colleagues the latest e-mails from cyberspace highlighting the holes in the ozone layer, examining the plight of the North Alaskan pigeons or identifying the toxins in your deodorant? Do check first to see whether they want to receive that sort of stuff. Tempted to send e-mails instead of talking to the person in the next door office? Think again. E-clutter can seriously irritate so don’t add to the problem. Help eliminate it instead.

First published in NZ Business Magazine July 2000

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