“Manner is personality – the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.” – Emily Post
On any given day, we may find ourselves communicating with our clients and colleagues by e-mail, instant messaging, smart phones, texts, teaming software, various social media channels, and occasionally even face-to-face contact. The complexities of technology and our tendencies toward information overload can accelerate the pace of communication, but may also encourage shortcuts in our interactions, to the detriment of our intentions to show courtesy to everyone we encounter.
When we interact with our clients and peers, the timeless standards of manners are easy to achieve. Even in – and perhaps especially in – today’s fast-paced workplace, people remember the subtle but important gestures that show we value our relationships. What are the guidelines for business etiquette in the modern era? As always, the foundation of good manners is showing genuine respect in all of our communications with others.
Be Professional: We all know the old adage “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When we arrive on time, dress appropriately, and greet people warmly, we start a meeting on a positive note. We will never offend anyone by being overdressed; conversely, overly casual attire in a professional setting may not show respect or inspire confidence. A handshake is always the professional standard, and a sincere smile sets the tone for an enjoyable and productive discussion.
Timely responses to clients and coworkers and sincere gestures that show we’re paying attention are always greatly appreciated. For example, I have a consultant that I have been doing work with for 20 years that sends me every article with my name in it or photograph that shows up in a publication. Even a simple Post-It note in an envelope means a lot to me; it still arrives by mail and shows he took the time to send it. People remember when we take the extra step to reach out with a thoughtful gesture.
Be Conscientious: Professional communication is typically more formal than communication with our friends, and our methods of communication can sometimes be as important as our content. When a client calls us, we should return the message with a phone call; if a client e-mails us, an e-mail response is acceptable. Texting is pervasive and convenient; however, we must be mindful that some people perceive texting to be an impersonal mode of communication, and texts after office hours can feel invasive to some people. Unless we know for sure that clients or colleagues welcome texts in the evenings or on weekends, we should respect their family and personal time. E-mail, likewise, can create unintended communication issues. For example, we should never forward internal e-mail strings externally, and should be mindful of appropriate use so as not to create unnecessary work or confusion by cc’ing unnecessary people in a thread.
Be Thorough: It is difficult to see our own typos, particularly when we’re in a hurry. However, taking the time to proofread, and to ask for a second set of eyes if necessary, is vital for catching spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or typos before they’re sent to a client. We’re all human and make occasional mistakes, but sloppy correspondence conveys carelessness and a lack of professionalism that undermines confidence, whereas attention to detail is always appreciated.
Be Grateful: In today’s business world we are all very busy and running in many different directions. When people are generous with their time, say thank you, and follow up with a thank you note for talking with you about a project. People still love receiving real snail mail, unless it’s a bill. Taking the time to write a personalized thank you note can go a long way in helping a client to remember exactly who we are and consider us for future work.
Our work flow and communication methods will certainly continue to evolve along with technology, but the fundamentals of good manners will never go out of style. Taking the time to be professional, friendly, conscientious, thorough, and grateful with our clients and colleagues shows courtesy and respect, demonstrating that we value our professional relationships and have a sincere interest in the people with whom we work.