Lesson 4: Business Etiquette

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Introduction

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define business etiquette
  • Seek ways to improve business etiquette

Business etiquette

What is business etiquette?

Business etiquette is a set of manners that is accepted or required in a profession. Often upheld by custom, it is enforced by the members of an organization. Those who violate business etiquette are considered offensive. The penalty for such behavior frequently lies in the disapproval of other organization members.

Business etiquette is important because it creates a professional, mutually respectful atmosphere and improves communication, which helps an office serve as a productive place. People feel better about their jobs when they feel respected, and that translates into better customer relationships as well.

To help you define the type of manners or behavior that are expected in your workplace, consider the following:

  • How do you treat clients or customers?
  • How do you treat your coworkers and supervisor?
  • How do you conduct yourself in your cubicle or office?
  • How do you conduct yourself during meetings?
  • What kind of email messages do you send?
  • Do you follow a dress code?
  • How do you conduct yourself in the break room?
  • How do you conduct yourself during business-sponsored social events?
  • How do you conduct yourself during training events?
  • How do you conduct yourself on the telephone?

Improving business etiquette

Improving your business etiquette can have a positive impact on your career. Remember to use common courtesy. Adopt the "you" attitude—consider others' needs and feelings first. This behavior leads to good manners and common courtesy, thereby improving your business etiquette.

Examples of courteous behavior include:

  • Using please and thank you as appropriate
  • Addressing others using Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. unless otherwise requested
  • Speaking clearly and distinctly while using a pleasant tone of voice
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Smiling and offering a firm handshake when meeting someone new
  • Writing thank-you notes and letters of appreciation, congratulation, and condolence as appropriate


You can improve your business etiquette skills by:

  • Conducting some research. When at work, pay attention to the manners and habits of your supervisor, mentor, senior management, and other key players. If you are unsure about displaying proper etiquette, consider asking your supervisor or mentor for advice.
  • Joining a professional organization. Aside from being a great way to network, professional organizations give you an opportunity to gain insight into the etiquette that's particular to your profession. Added benefits include practicing your business etiquette skills outside of your organization.
  • Visiting your local bookstore or library. There have been numerous books written on improving business etiquette. Check out the self-improvement section of your local bookstore or library to find them.
  • Going online. Whether it's someone selling books, tapes, seminars, or offering free advice, the Internet is filled with suggestions on how to improve your business etiquette.

Remember, business etiquette can vary depending on your profession and organization.

Business etiquette and electronic communication

Electronic communication has complicated the rules of business etiquette. To ensure you're doing your best to follow business etiquette when using electronic communication, consider the following:

General telephone etiquette:

  • Consult your organization's rules for telephone use.
  • Answer as quickly as possible.
  • Speak clearly and distinctly, stating your name and the name of your organization.
  • Use a pleasant but professional tone of voice.
  • Transfer calls to the correct personnel.
  • Take messages and deliver them promptly to the correct personnel. Return messages as quickly as possible.
  • When recording an outgoing message, say, "Hello, you've reached (your name) at (name of organization). I am either away from my desk or on the other line. If you'll leave your name, phone number, and a brief message, I'll return your call as soon as possible. Thank you. Goodbye".

audio icon Listen to an example of a professional-sounding voicemail message.

woman talking at home

Cell phone etiquette:

  • Consult your organization's rules for cell phone use.
  • Turn off your phone (or set it to vibrate) where ringing may disturb or offend others. Never take a call in the middle of a business meeting.
  • Try to avoid taking calls in the middle of social meetings, such as working lunches.

General email etiquette:

  • Consult your organization's rules for email use.
  • Include a subject line.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Pay attention to grammar and spelling.
  • Use a pleasant tone.
  • Don't forward junk mail.

Email etiquette is especially important because your work email is not private—many companies monitor their employees' work accounts for unprofessional conduct. To learn more about email safety at work, check out our lesson, Email Violations Can Jeopardize Your Job.

Unprofessional conduct

Failing to display proper business etiquette won't help your career, but engaging in unprofessional conduct could result in losing a promotion or even your job. Never engage in the following inappropriate behaviors:

  • Coming to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Engaging in unethical practices, such as misusing company funds
  • Engaging in sexual harassment
  • Showing a lack of respect to superiors, peers, or subordinates
  • Using foul language
  • Complaining publicly about your organization or supervisor
  • Engaging in divisive gossip
  • Violating confidentiality

Emily Post Institute: Provides information on basic business etiquette
Columbia University Center for Career Education: Contains a good list of tips on how to make a positive impression in the workplace.

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