Etiquette is a big world, covering many topics and with lots of guidelines. I’m often asked, “So what really matters? What should I concentrate on first?”
Three etiquette topics stand out for me:
Greetings: How you begin an interaction matters. Start it out on the right foot and the interaction moves forward in a positive way. But do something that is unexpected and off-putting and the focus immediately shifts to “Why did he/she say/do that?” The most obvious example is not shaking hands when a hand is offered. Either you have to make an excuse for not shaking or endure an awkward moment. In both cases you’ll need to apologize for your inaction. What about the less mentioned mistake of not offering your name during an introduction? You leave the other person not knowing who you are, how to address you or how to introduce you. Additionally, you put the other person in the position of having to ask you for your name. Awkward.
Table manners: Bottom line: People judge each other on their table manners. A job, promotion, or piece of business can be won or lost on how you conduct yourself at a business meal. Remember, table manners exist primarily to stop you from grossing out your dinner partners as you eat. So if you’re not sure about how to do something, ask yourself if what you are considering doing might gross out the other people at the table. If your answer is “yes” or even “maybe,” then don’t do it. One of the best pieces of table manners advice that covers a wide range of possible situations is: When in doubt, watch what other people are doing and emulate them. Second best piece of advice: Eat a meal in front of a mirror. You’ll quickly see if you risk grossing out your dining companions.
Workplace etiquette: Relationships matter at work, especially those with your colleagues. After all, you are at work eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks of the year. That’s more waking time than you spend with your family and/or friends outside of work. Having positive, pleasant relationships with people you spend that much time with will go a long way toward making work a positive experience. Etiquette, which is built on being considerate, respectful, and honest, offers you a road map to help build those relationships. While there are lots of specific pieces of etiquette advice for the workplace—dress appropriately, replace paper in the photocopier when empty, focus on the person you are with not your device, use “please” and “thank you,”— as you interact with your colleagues making choices in what you do and say that are grounded in being considerate, respectful, and honest, will help build rather than hurt your relationships with them.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.