9 Etiquette Rules That the Boss Shouldn't Break
BY Abram Brown
From the office Christmas party to friending employees on social media, here are nine new and old etiquette rules you need to commit to memory.
In that corner office, you’ll find yourself balancing concerns about payroll and the supply chain with concerns about being liked by your employees and customers. Sometimes that desire to be popular can get you into trouble or land you in a lawsuit. What follows is a collection of new and old social rules you need to commit to memory.
"A business etiquette mistake can become very costly depending on how severe it is, and who you're offending," says Jacquelyn Whitmore, Etiquetteexpert.com founder and author of several business etiquette texts, including the forthcoming Poised for Success. To help you navigate these tricky situations, we talked to Whitmore and several others versed in business etiquette to construct a list of what you should avoid in the workplace.
1. Don't Always Stay Behind Your Desk
For everyday conversations about budgets, meetings, or reports, you can remain seated behind your desk. But for anything that's not part of the daily routine—meeting a client, an interview, a review—stand up. If you welcome that person and shake his or her hand while standing over your desk, you set up a power play. You seem in charge, yes, but also dominating and impenetrable, which will hurt any attempt for a honest or frank conversation. Some business executives keep a separate table in their office for occasions like this.
2. Don't Skimp on Small Talk
Granted small talk can prove uninteresting—who really cares that much about the weather—but this basic information helps your employees connect with you, says Whitmore. "The small talk is extremely important," she says. "You must have the BLT factor: believable, likable, trustworthy. The only way to get to know someone is through that BLT factor."
Your spouse or child may understand what 'lol' means when you shoot them a quick text message, but in an e-mail to your client, it looks sloppy and inappropriate. Treat initial e-mail exchanges like business letters. As you get to know the person you e-mail with, you can write more casually. Something to always avoid though: emoticons. If you're happy, then just write that.
4. Don't Avoid Compliments
Some bosses think positive feedback will encourage employees to start coasting. But no compliments to your employees at all, and you'll soon end up with a disgruntled herd. Find a justified compliment to pay someone, and make this a regular occurrence, says Susan Sommers, who runs Dresszing, a business imagine consultancy. "I think it's important for bosses to recognize talent and help talent grow because that's what keeps a company vital," Sommers says.
This comes down to how you phrase it. If you think your employee looks nice, try something like, "Thank you for always looking so professional," Sommers says. An off-hand mention about their style or clothes can seem like a come-on. "You don't say to someone of the opposite sex, 'I love your shirt,'" Sommers says. This is treacherous territory, and Sommers advises her clients to generally avoid this if at all possible.
6. Don't Dress Sloppy
You will set the tone for work attire. First ask yourself what the day will bring. If you're a lawyer in court, then a suit makes sense, says Barbara Pachter, author of Greet! Eat! Tweet!: 52 Business Etiquette Postings to Avoid Pitfalls and Boost Your Career. But for an Internet start-up, a polo with khakis makes sense. Also, your clothes must fit well. Nothing should hang loose. Wear items neither too big nor too tight.
When your employees or clients go home at night and log onto Facebook, it's likely a respite from the workplace and a way to connect with people outside of the office. If a boss adds them on Facebook, they can feel nervous about what to share and who to associate with. "They may not want you on there, so don't ask," Pachter says. You should avoid making first contact on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. If your employees reach out to you, go ahead and accept.
8. Don't Forget Your Facial Expression
As a boss, you've likely figured out a good poker face for negotiating. No doubt you're still developing that. You should always work on your "boss face." A boss that scowls drives employees away. A boss that grins encourages an overly lax atmosphere. Shoot for an expression of concentrated attentiveness, and flash that smile when necessary, says Pachter. "Often times you don't realize it—that standard facial expression," she says.
A gossipy boss can seem insincere and even untrustworthy. This means you should not share too much of your personal life and avoid pointed questions to your employees about personal areas, like marriage, finances, and children. Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, suggests sticking to discussing the business world, the competition, or other broad topics. And if a rumor spreads about the inner workings of your company, you should address it directly. "What you don't want is an atmosphere of closed doors and whispered exchanges," says Oliver. "It will kill moral and kill productivity. It just creates an atmosphere of distrust where gossip rules."