Business Etiquette – Class Versus Crass

Remember growing up how your mom reminded you to wash your face, brush your teeth and say ‘thank you’? I think we still need to be reminded ever so often because every day etiquette which is an integral part of the business world appears to be murky and a bit convoluted.

During my days in media sales when I first arrived in Miami I dressed head to toe in black, with pearls and pantyhose in 95 degree weather. And while the sweat rolled down the side of my face and down my back causing me to itch, I maintained a smile on my face even when the Account Director of Ogilvy & Mather came out of her office to fetch me for our Kodak presentation wearing a white tube top with no bra, stilettos and tight Brazilian low-rise jeans. I remained stunned as I marched behind her struggling with media kits and briefcase in hand unable to stop staring at the crack of her ass. Despite this lack of professionalism I proceeded to pitch the Kodak client on a multi year media deal though his interest laid primarily in being hand fed chocolate chips cookies by the Account Director who in between discussions of brand integration and CPMs could not stop giggling.

I learned two important lessons that day – you really can put your money where your mouth is and secondly, the standard of conducting business had faded into a bolder realm of inappropriate behavior. Are we so caught up in ourselves and our egos that we have forgotten how to present a professional decorum? Is it surreal confidence or simple ignorance?

I believe it is both which I will be discussing in my next blog. At this time I am presenting you with my top ten pet peeves on business etiquette which should NEVER be forgotten:

1. Never chew gum in a meeting. It’s difficult enough to presenting your ideas, but you should always sound as audible and articulate as possible. Besides which -it’s distasteful, distracting and the other person is always left wondering – I am going to step on this gum later or will I find it underneath my desk?

2. Always pay attention to the person speaking. People have a tendency to feel insulted if they do not feel you are listening to them. Meaning – don’t twirl a strand of hair or look dazed and confused. If necessary excuse yourself and get a cup of java to wake up.

3. Provide a firm hand shake. I am not saying break a hand, but look at the person and shake their hand so they see you are serious and enthusiastic.

4. Dress appropriately. Eyes should be riveted on your face and presentation – not on your cleavage, crotch or buttocks. A professional atmosphere should be matched by business attire unless you are told otherwise.

5. Do not fiddle with your Blackberry or answer your cell phone while you are in a meeting. I have seen this often and frankly, it is a tremendous distraction to everyone and it’s rude. If you are expecting an important call, tell the person ahead of time and then excuse yourself.

6. Be punctual. Everyone is busy and so their time is valuable. If you are running late call the person you are meeting and let them know how late you are going to be. If necessary, reschedule at their convenience.

7. NEVER have alcohol at a business meeting or meal unless the other party/client is having a drink. I have seen many people drink and slur their way through lunches and dinners. This only shows your ability to lose control, be sloppy and is a complete turn-off for the client in trusting and doing business with you.

8. Avoid foul language and dirty jokes. This is only appropriate if the client is your best friend or cousin and you are not in front of others. Naturally, if the client uses this type of language or tells a joke, there is nothing wrong in laughing to let them know you appreciate their humor, but this does not mean you should actively participate. Remember – you need to show them you are serious and a professional at all times.

9. ALWAYS bring your own pen and paper. The client is not a stationary store and you should ALWAYS be prepared. I believe this says a lot about you. If you are a wealth of information and resources, then carry your own supplies!

10. SAY THANK YOU…I can’t stress this enough. Showing gratitude and humility are very enticing qualities and let’s the client know their time, energy and money are valued.