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The Benefits of Business Etiquette Training for a Modern Workforce
Whether it's as large as a nation or as small as a sports team, every group of people has its own culture. This culture includes social customs and behaviors that individuals and groups are expected to follow. Most of these behaviors fall into the category known as etiquette.
Businesses are no different. Business etiquette is essential for collaboration and success, whether you're operating a small team within a larger company or a small business where everyone works together.
What is Business Etiquette?
The dictionary defines etiquette as "the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group."
Business etiquette is essentially the same concept applied to a group within a business or company. Business etiquette is the set of rules, spoken and unspoken, governing the behavior of individuals within a business.
Unlike company policies, business etiquette is enforced socially, usually by an individual's peers. Penalties typically include disapproval, strained relationships, poor communication, brevity, and other social pressures. If etiquette is ignored long enough, the penalties can increase up to and including eventual termination for reasons such as "not being a team player" or "does not fit the company culture."
Luckily, unlike many other aspects of an individual, such as their core personality traits, business etiquette is learned behavior. That means, like some soft skills and most hard skills, you can train business etiquette. Training for business etiquette brings with it many benefits.
The Benefits of Business Etiquette Training
There are quite a few benefits to providing business etiquette training for your workforce.
1. It fosters a professional environment.
A professional environment is critical for an effective business. Though you may often see talk of Silicon Valley startups with their dart guns at every desk and their constant office games, these are the exceptions, not the rule. They often fail; those casual, unprofessional measures fall by the wayside as employees realize they don't have time to mess around.
A professional environment helps build up an effective and collaborative team. People who treat each other with professional courtesy can also work better together, even if they may not personally like each other.
2. It generates a base level of mutual respect.
Often, you might discover that you don't personally like an individual, whether due to a disagreement or simply clashing personalities.
Business etiquette forms a simple baseline of interaction, even with people you may not like, that allows for a basic level of respect and collaboration. Even if you don't like them, you can work with them, and together, make your business a better place.
3. It improves communication between employees.
No business can function without communication. People on a team need to work together, and they need to be on the same page to do so. Communication is the backbone of collaboration. Moreover, good communication helps prevent mistakes due to miscommunication, sabotage, malicious compliance, or other issues.
Business etiquette is vital for ensuring a collaborative team.
"Taking business etiquette seriously in your company will help prevent misunderstandings because proper etiquette requires everyone to interact professionally with one another and to communicate clearly and honestly. For example, managers who always speak professionally with employees need not fear making inappropriate remarks as they guard against casual types of interactions. Those in management who allow non-business-like joking or teasing can find themselves in hot water should employees feel they are being harassed." – AZ Central.
This fundamental respect and communication also help remove the risk of unequal treatment that can lead to discrimination or harassment suits.
4. It creates a baseline for interaction with those of other cultures.
Many businesses operate well beyond the boundaries of their own local cultures.
Even interacting with people from another city can lead to culture shock, let alone working with team members, vendors, suppliers, or customers from other countries and vastly different cultures.
"Training helps employees understand how to act in unfamiliar cultural interactions, such as those encountered in business travel. In other cultures, men and women are often expected to act differently; therefore, it's important to know the cultural expectations of each country." - Chron.
A baseline level of business etiquette gives you something to fall back on when your cultural training fails. Etiquette training also prepares and teaches you how to behave in a specific situation, which may not have been something you needed to do before.
5. It improves your business image.
Particularly for B2B businesses, or for instances where your company needs to work with a vendor or supplier or meet with venture capital or representatives important to your business, you must provide an excellent first impression.
This first impression includes everything from how your representatives dress to how they shake hands, make eye contact, and hand over business cards. This ends up part of overall business etiquette that builds the first impression of competence and success.
"By observing proper etiquette, however, you suggest to fellow professionals that you're on their level. You also portray yourself as someone at ease both in the boardroom and when meeting with people one-on-one." - Chron.
First impressions matter, and business etiquette give you a baseline to use to build upon.
How to Improve Business Etiquette
Business etiquette is trainable, but it needs to be done appropriately. Done poorly, it becomes a handbook of inane rules for behavior that don't make sense. Done well, it becomes a framework of a culture that can be engrained and intuitive. How can you, as a manager, or your employees, improve business etiquette?
1. Solicit feedback about actions and behaviors.
Just about everyone has blind spots in their self-perception for their behaviors. Even the idea that you have a blind spot can be a revelation to those who have never thought about it before.
The introspection and knowledge necessary to self-examine, contextualize, and analyze your behaviors can be immensely helpful.
"Most people have behavioral blind spots. You may think that you're behaving in a considerate, respectful manner without noticing how annoying you might be. We all have pet peeves, but understanding what yours are and being mindful of your behavior can help you avoid getting on people's nerves." – Time Doctor.
Therefore, one of the best ways to improve your behaviors is to ask for feedback from peers, managers, or reports. Open communication is essential for a modern business regardless, but giving and taking feedback about something as intimate as behaviors is crucial.
It's necessary to be careful when giving and receiving feedback about behaviors because it's very easy to get defensive about how you act. You might not believe you're doing anything wrong, but your behaviors may talk down to those of another culture. In some cases, it can be both insulting and discriminatory, such as the way you may speak to women, the disabled in your workforce, or those whose background you don't understand. Something as simple as a casual in-joke may be taken differently by someone with an entirely different context.
One primary example can be describing the actions of a disabled employee as "inspirational." While this can be complimentary, it can also come across as demeaning. Individuals that are disabled are often used as props for "inspiration" in a way that is harmful to them and their community. The etiquette of your team should make them feel at home in their role within your organization.
2. Remember non-verbal communication as well as verbal.
Etiquette is about more than just the things you say; it's about the entire context of your presence in a situation. It can include everything from the way you move, fidget, crack knuckles, look around, the way you shake hands, make or break eye contact, and even how you smile.
It can be challenging to monitor and identify your non-verbal communication tics. It's also important to recognize the difference between an uncontrollable tic and a controllable behavior. Some tics can be excused or overlooked; others are behaviors that need to be un-learned.
3. Place behaviors in context.
The context surrounding your actions and behaviors is relevant. Speaking loudly and clearly can be critical as part of a meeting or presentation but can be considered aggressive in a team stand-up or collaborative setting. Conversely, remaining quiet and listening can be crucial in shared settings but can be seen as submissive or problematic.
Remember that some behaviors can be disruptive or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eating or snacking is insensitive and disruptive unless everyone has snacks. Checking your phone can be necessary for some contexts but dismissive or annoying in others.
4. Discover your communication style.
There are many different communication styles, from direct and spirited to considerate or systematic. Discovering your communication style is a vital part of understanding your behaviors and adjusting them to fit varying situations and needs within the company.
It's very beneficial to take a self-assessment to discover your communication style. Assessments such as the HRDQ What's My Communication Style? are powerful tools to allow you to analyze your personality and communication habits, which you can then place in context and, as necessary, change.
5. Build fundamental habits of behavioral etiquette.
There are a lot of small, basic behaviors that go into the core of business etiquette.
These include things like:
- Give everyone the respect they deserve as fellow employees and human beings. Being dismissive or snide with your employees or coworkers isolates you and, even if your goal is to move on from the team and up the corporate ladder, can leave you with few allies and more enemies.
- Give praise where praise is due. Empty praise can be detrimental, so take the time to think about an individual's contributions, whether behavioral, practical, or theoretical, and give them tangible praise. You don't need to be effusive, and you should avoid only praising your managers or higher-ups, but praise can be a great way to build etiquette. These actions can be as simple as giving credit where credit is due.
- Be punctual. Arriving when you need to arrive, being where you need to be, and avoiding excuses; all of these things help you to build that impression of a professional who has their affairs in order. When you're late, whether it's to a meeting with the team or an appointment with a manager, it shows a lack of care and professionalism. Being too early can even be detrimental, as it can show desperation.
- Make amends, not excuses. For example, if you're going to be late and unavoidable, communicate about it. Explain the situation – without seeking sympathy or forgiveness – and proactively try to reschedule as necessary.
- Avoid gossip. While the urge to share rumors around the grapevine can be challenging to ignore, do what you can to let those rumors die with you. If your team is talking about employees in private, such as gossip about colleagues or an external group, it can lead to petty and vindictive behaviors. It can also isolate those who have a similar background that you don't know or recognize.
All of this is part of the overall core of etiquette. You may recognize many of these processes as simple manners; that's because business etiquette and personal etiquette have significant overlap. A business might not need much to handle silverware, but etiquette training can still be valuable.
Where Business Etiquette Grows
Whether you're a team leader, an individual concerned about your behaviors, a CEO looking to boost company professionalism, or a manager intending to adjust your managerial style, investing in business etiquette training can be an excellent idea.
No matter how you go about it, the first step is to identify and build upon your communication style. Determine what your communication style is, and you can figure out how to adjust it better to fit the needs of your business as a whole. Only then can you work on overall business etiquette.
Do you have any questions for us about business etiquette? Are you having etiquette problems in your workplace communications? Please let us know in the comments below!