7 Skills for Better Business Etiquette

The popular restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A, is one step (or maybe twelve) ahead of the competition. According to the 2016 QSR Magazine’s annual drive-thru report, the chain was ranked America’s top choice according to customer satisfaction. It is also the country’s most polite. In the report, employees said “thank you” 95.2% of the time to drive-thru customers based on 2000 visits at 15 locations. People are starting to take notice. In 2015, Chick-fil-A generated more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain in the U.S. The chain’s average is $4 million per restaurant. By comparison, KFC averaged $1 million per restaurant.

It begs the question. . . can being polite equate to overall success?

Following the basics of proper business etiquette, just like Chick-fil-A, could set you apart from your competition. I’m not talking about clipping your nails in public, belching or talking when your mouth is full of food, because really, those things should just be common sense. I’ve compiled a list of the not-so-obvious dos and don’ts of business. Consider this your call to action.

  1. Arrive on time to meetings. I know, this should be one of those obvious ones, but with the ever-changing definition of “meeting” today, this could mean a lunch date or a virtual online meeting. Whatever is scheduled, stick to the time agreed upon. Not only is it more professional, but it will increase your credibility with your colleagues and associates.

  2. During large meetings, don’t ask too many questions. This is a new concept to me, but the rule of thumb is to ask one larger question, but no more than three questions per meeting, as you never want to appear dominating. Also, see how often you use the word “I” in asking a question. If it is something you can track down someone later for, then opt for that.

  3. Send a thank you note. After a lunch meeting, an interview or a sales pitch, take the time to write a thank you note. An email would suffice if you need to send it quickly, but a hand-written note is so much more effective. It sends the message, literally, that you care about their association or, for instance, that you want the business deal you discussed to pan out. Say a hard-working employee completes a task exceptionally well. Imagine what expressing frequent, proper thank yous could do for the morale of the office. Keep a box of blank cards on hand and use them frequently, daily if you can. Though it seems to be a dying art, thank-you cards can have a profound, long-lasting effect on your business and those you associate with.

  4. Stand/use full name when you are being introduced. In “The Essentials Of Business Etiquette” author Barbara Pachter says, "Standing helps establish your presence. You make it easy for others to ignore you if you don’t stand. If you are caught off guard and cannot rise, you should lean forward to indicate that you would stand, if you could." She also suggests using your full name, but if your name is too long or difficult to pronounce, she suggests shortening it for professional use, making it easier for those you meet to remember.

  5. Know names. If you are the one being introduced to someone, take note of who they are and remember their name. You might meet 20 new people a day, but attempt to see them and learn their names, despite their position in the company. Rather than always looking to impress managers in the tier above you, focus on seeing everyone. Eliza Browning, VP of Digital, Crane and Co recalls a story from her childhood: “My great-grandfather ran a large manufacturing plant. He would take his daughter (my grandmother) through the plant. She recalled that he knew everyone's name—his deputy, his workers, and the man who took out the trash.”

  6. Put the device down. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to have a conversation with someone only to have them constantly be distracted by the next incoming text, call or email. It clearly sends the message that whatever is taking place in cyber-world is far more important than the conversation in front of their face. Turn off devices during meetings, put the phone in your briefcase during your business lunch and BE PRESENT.

  7. Watch what you say. “Please”, “thank you”, “I’m sorry” and “You’re welcome” all are lining the halls of elementary schools across the country as reminders to use basic manners. Yet sadly, sometimes I wonder where the manner signs are for grown-ups. It goes deeper than basic verbiage too. Watch what you say, but also HOW you say things. Is your tone kind? Never raise your voice or talk down to others in the workplace. Don’t use foul language or slang. Don’t gossip. Religion and politics are still two subjects that you should save for off-work hours. In the same vein, don’t text or email anything that you wouldn’t want sent to the entire company. Have you ever heard of the Chick-fil-A Challenge? Taking another card from this superstar company, I challenge you to go into any location and try to say “thank you” without getting a “my pleasure” in response. It won’t happen! Their employees are trained well! Learn from their examples and consistently, habitually watch what you say.

American artist, Cy Twombly, said, “Once I said to my mother: 'You would be happy if I just kept well-dressed and had good manners,' and she said: 'What else is there?'”

Everyone has their own style in business and our styles match our personalities. Because of that, there is a significant amount of research into personality profiling, tests you can take and more. All of that is geared toward helping you to understand yourself and how to relate to others. That information can be helpful in determining how to most effectively interact with those you work with. Absent more information though, you should always treat others with respect and kindness. Doing so will endear others to you and create a productive work environment, free from distracting drama and workplace contention.

Tell Us: What form of business etiquette do you value the most?

Written by Mike Williams

I am a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of business experience. My goal with this blog is to pass on some of what I have learned in order to help you achieve success in business.

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