Today’s business world is fast-paced, constantly changing and technology allows us to stay connected.  Times have certainly changed, but this doesn’t mean professional etiquette has become any less important.

Business has always been about people. Companies that are able to hang on to customers and talented employees understand the importance of always showing them respect and consideration. Ultimately, don’t you prefer to buy from or work for someone who always acts professional and treats you exceptionally well?  

Below are some basic rules of etiquette everyone should follow when doing business:

Put away your gadgets

We all know someone who is constantly checking their smartphone, as if they’re waiting for a message notifying them they’ve won the lottery. Don’t be that someone. If you’re in a meeting, having lunch with a colleague or attending a seminar, turn off your phone or other device. The constant stream of messages, tweets and updates we receive is a huge distraction and makes those around us feel as if they’re not important.  

Instead, be present. Focus your attention on the people standing in front of you and show genuine interest when they’re talking. While elevators and hallways seem like safe places to check your phone, don’t do it. Checking your phone is like putting in earplugs or listening to music; you’re telling everyone around you that you’re unavailable. If you want to get ahead in business, this is the wrong message to send.

Maintain a professional appearance

Casual Friday looks very different than it did 20 years ago. Some organizations have relaxed dress policies that many employees take too far. Even if those around you dress like slobs, don’t follow suit; no pun intended. Like it or not, appearance counts, and your professional attire sends a strong message about how credible you are.  Offsite parties and office retreats are not the time to pull out grungy T-shirts and flip flops.  How you present yourself to colleagues and clients, whether it’s at work, social gatherings or on Facebook, will either work for you or against you.

Respect cultural differences

If you work with clients from other countries, avoid making cultural faux pas by doing some research before you meet.  

For example, Canadians tend to be very punctual and well-organized, so don’t show up late to a meeting or cause the meeting to go over schedule. While these two rules should always be followed, they especially hold true for certain cultures.  

Business meetings for the Chinese tend to be formal events and it is not uncommon to exchange small gifts. Just don’t wrap the gift in white, black, or dark blue paper since these colors are associated with funerals and death.  

Also, don’t ask how many children they have. Because of government policies limiting family size, this is a sensitive issue for many Chinese. Every country has rules of etiquette they follow and it’s important to be aware of these.

 

Be considerate of colleagues’ space

In some companies, it’s common practice to abruptly walk into someone’s office and interrupt their work. For employees who work in cubicles or open-plan offices, the assumption is that they’re always available to chitchat. Most people, however, like boundaries. Even if you’re delivering a quick message, always announce yourself by saying “excuse me” and ask if they have a moment to talk. Then wait to see if, in fact, you caught them at a bad time and should leave. If you know — a conversation is going to take more than a few minutes, email or call to schedule a time to meet.

Ultimately, being successful often comes down to how you make people feel when they do business with you. In a fast-moving world, it’s easy to forget the value of considerate gestures.  It’s only by taking the time to maintain high professional standards and building relationships that you can maintain an edge over the competition.

Send a thank you note

If someone takes more than 15 minutes to help you out, follow-up with a written thank you note.  

Don’t be tempted to save time and simply send an email. A handwritten message is a memorable gesture that you shouldn’t skip.

Melissa Brown is an associate professor of Applied Business at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Community and Technical College.  She can be reached at mcbrown@alaska.edu. This column is provided as a public service of the UAF Applied Business Department.