Good Manners and the Business Professional

When anybody thinks about “good manners,” it’s mostly an afterthought -“ something your mother drilled into you when you were a child. Surely, we think, manners are automatic by the time you’re an adult. But that’s not necessarily true.

Of course everyone knows about “Please” and “Thank You,” but anyone who interacts with other people in the business world needs to know more about manners. Charm, poise, confidence and respect are virtues that can be learned -“ and they also need to be practiced so that they become second nature. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not common knowledge. In the normal course of business, there are three important areas I like to stress:

1. Greetings, with handshake
2. Conversation and cell phone courtesy
3. Dining

People always ask me what the difference is between etiquette and manners. I tell them that “etiquette” refers to the rules of society that help people be civil and act accordingly. “Manners,” I teach, means “kindness of the heart.” Whether opening a door for someone or not contributing to office gossip, demonstrating good manners simply shows respect for others. Anyone can learn the rules, but the true business professional knows proper respect and kindness.

Within the first few minutes of meeting someone, you will be judged as a person, and that first impression will likely be long-lasting and hard to change. Do you have confidence and integrity? Are you friendly and self-assured? Offering your hand for a greeting first goes a long way toward demonstrating your value for the other person. The “dead fish” handshake is the worst of all. And a limp, finger-grasped handshake should never be used by anyone.

Here are five points to remember:
-¢ Stand tall.
-¢ Look the person in the eye.
-¢ Offer your right hand.
-¢ Fit your hand firmly into the other person’s hand.
-¢ With a gentle up-and-down movement of the hands, let the person know by your expression that you are pleased to meet them.

The “art of conversation” is truly an art. The two most helpful tips for easy-flowing and interesting conversation within a group are:

-¢ Keep yourself well-informed about current events in the world as well as in your local community, and
-¢ Make sure the other person is comfortable by asking questions about that person to show your interest.

On a social level that would include asking about sports he or she might be involved in, books they might have read, movies they’ve enjoyed or even travel plans. At business functions the conversation might go in the direction of success within the company, promotions or future business plans. Gossip, conflicts and politics within the company should not be brought up and discussed. In an office situation, speak in a normal tone and without a lot of gesturing. Direct and polite conversation always shows maturity and respect for your co-workers.

Some of the biggest complaints I hear are about phone conversations in an office or on a cell phone. Social calls are never a wise thing to do during work hours, especially if you are in close proximity to others. Text messaging has also grown tremendously, along with the abuse of texting -“ doing it secretly under the table during a meeting or in a restaurant. Constantly checking your phone for messages is another growing problem. Never check messages while you are actually talking to someone. Have the courtesy to give your partner in conversation your full attention.

Etiquette and good manners go hand in hand in regard to dining. I often suggest purchasing a current, basic etiquette book and then studying the procedure for table etiquette. Children as well as adults should follow the same rules of dining. It is important to practice every day at home in order to ensure that the practice becomes natural and comfortable. You can’t separate home manners from special manners for business dinners or social events.

In order to be confident at the table -“ or in any social situation -“ only practice will enable you to feel comfortable. You and your family can learn and practice together. That will help everyone now and, truly, for the rest of your life.

Holly Beth Moncher founded Time for Manners to teach the fundamentals of politeness, table manners and basic kindness. She is the co-producer and writer of the “Time for Manners” DVD series and can be contacted at [email protected].