Social Graces

Career success depends on business knowledge, work ethic, and strategic communication skills, but a surprisingly large influence involves social skills: the basic ability to politely co-existing within the business community.  Learning to say “please” and “thank you” was a good childhood start, but there are some business-specific skills you’ll need to master.

Some people would say that how you treat others on a day to day basis is the most important aspect of professionalism. The foundation for working productively with others involves some basic rules of getting along.

Say Hello! Say hello to people in the morning and goodbye in the evening. After you’ve said hello once, it’s appropriate to nod or smile in the hallways, but don’t stop to chat again on “social” matters throughout the day. Do say hello to people as they get on elevators or anywhere else they might be stopped for a few minutes, such as a copy machine or break room. At those moments, the tasks are necessarily suspended during the short wait, and “social” chats take over for those few seconds.

Let others go first Traditional “social” manners deferred to women, of course, requiring that men stand to greet them and allowing women to offer their hands first. Older women and men will sometimes find these traditional gestures more comfortable, business manners generally recognize the organizational status of the individuals, without regard to gender. Let the boss enter a room or elevator first, standing politely aside until those who outrank you have passed.

Don't take up too much room Powerful people take up a lot of space, but in a collaborative work environment, taking up too much space is perceived as arrogant. Use restrained gestures in meetings or conversations, and save the expansive, enthusiastic gestures for dynamic presentations.

Don't get too close Maintain a “polite” conversational distance when talking to others, which is about 18 inches in the United States. Sounds should not intrude either. Don’t impose your conversations (especially cell phone conversations) on others. Keep your voice down so others can stay focused on their work.

Respect others’ privacy. Avoid listening in on other people’s conversations or phone calls, especially in an open office. Pretend you didn’t hear even when you did. Don’t use speaker phones without the caller’s permission. Don’t read others’ faxes, copies or mail. Don’t ever offer correction or negative feedback in a public place.

Respect doors--even the open ones. Don’t interrupt others who are working, or barge into their offices without knocking. If the cubicle has no door, knock on the wall and ask whether the occupant has a few moments.

Be on time! U.S. business culture is notorious for its compulsive timeliness. Others expect you to be precisely on time--or even a bit early--to all appointments and to complete all work by the stated deadlines. Others are depending on you to meet deadlines, so you would be expected to apologize, perhaps profusely, if you are late doing any part of your job.

Don't make others wait. Other people are depending on you to meet their own deadlines. Be responsive, even when you can't do your work immediately. Return all phone calls and emails within the day, or use an auto-response to let people know when you will. Never let folks wonder; it you can't meet the deadline, let others know beforehand. If you can’t provide an answer right away, offer to call back with the information by a specific time.

Respect others' time. When others have committed time to a conversation or meeting, make sure you don't waste any of it. Don’t allow interruptions to extend the length of a phone call or meeting. Don’t disrupt the meetings with any kind of personal grooming, side conversation, or multitasking. Don't leave early when the task hasn't been completed.

Share! Interruptions happen, but professionals keep each other informed and share the responsibility for solving the problem. If you are expecting (or get) an urgent call, let others in the meeting know what's going on. It might be better to reschedule--or not--and talking about the situation allows the team to work out the best solution for everyone.

Pay attention to costs Everyone in a business environment is on a budget, and attention to others’ expenses is part of good business manners. Don't expect others to pay for your expenses, and don't be greedy when they do.

Pay your own way. You'd probably realize that charging things to someone else’s expense account would be an ethical violation, but it’s just as bad to assume you can use things others have already expensed. Don't use others' office supplies, vehicles, or staff without permission.

Remember just how awful it feels to tell someone she has bad breath? Don’t make your co-workers feel like that! Check these points for yourself EVERY DAY.
  • Never, ever groom yourself in view of others. It projects meekness, self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence, and it is considered disgusting as well. It is best to style your hair, beards and mustaches so that public hygiene is not required. Makeup should never, ever, ever, ever be applied in public.
  • Fingernails should be clean and trimmed; women’s nails should be sport length, at most, and if polished, the polish should always be perfect. It’s better to remove the polish completely than to display even one chip.
  • Body Odor
  • Bathe frequently and use deodorant. 'nuff said.
  • Don’t use cologne or perfume at the office; it can be socially offensive, and many people suffer allergic reactions.
  • Disgusting Habits
  • Most businesses are now smoke-free, but even if smoking is permitted, be careful that you don’t blow smoke at others, leave a mess in the ashtray or attend meetings smelling of cigarettes.
  • Clean up after yourself in the break room. Don’t spatter all over the inside of the microwave.
  • Don’t make noises. Farts and burps are obvious, but constant lip smacking, knuckle cracking, and sighing are equally annoying.
  • Illness
  • If you are creating fluids, you probably should have stayed home in the first place, but be an adult in the office. Sneezing into your sleeve was a great trick in elementary school, but now you need to plan ahead. Purchase and use tissues, medications, hand-washing, and face-masks as needed.
  • Dinnertime rudeness couldn't get you thrown out of the family, but now those basics matter a whole lot more. You won't get hired or promoted if you can't be trusted to interact properly with clients or colleagues.
    Young professionals can expect to attend one or two award or fundraising dinners a year once they become active members of a professional or community organization. It’s important to know how to behave confidently at such events! Under Construction!!
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    You might be involved in sporting events, community events, or co-worker parties. COMING SOON!
    After all those thank you letters to Grandma, you thought you had this one down, but even the basics get more complicated in the complex, competitive, political world of business!
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    Professional success depends on positive relationships with others, which suffer when people issue a routine, mindless “thank you” that ignores the other person’s value. Instead, a professional thank you specifically acknowledges the other person’s act and recognizes the value of his or her action.
    • Opportunities to express thanks are frequent. Take advantage of holidays, orders placed, mentoring meetings, network referrals, interviews, and any other time someone helps you meet your business goals.
    • A complete thank you message involves two parts. The exact words don’t matter. Even the words “thank you” are entirely optional. What matters are two specific pieces of information: what the person did, and how that made a difference.
    Construct your message in two parts. The parts can come in either order, and they could be just a few words in an email, or possibly and entire paragraph in a formal letter.
    • Part 1: State clearly, in concrete, behavioral terms, what the other person did. For example, “you provided your part of the project ahead of schedule,” or “you agreed to let me interview you.” A vague reference to “doing a great job" or being "helpful” does not acknowledge the other person’s actual behavior and can come across as dismissive or demeaning.
    • Part 2: Explain the specific, concrete, positive benefit that resulted from the action. For example, “we were able to do a full editing job and received a much better grade,” or “I learned about an exciting career option that nobody else had ever mentioned.” Again, vague statements like "that really helped the team" or "I learned a lot" don't give the other person due credit and can sound insincere.

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