Behave yourself

by Alex Lai

This is the third article of a special series on personal branding - Business etiquette

The socially acceptable ways to make new friends and keep old ones

Patricia Lan
strategic image consultant
Photo: courtesy of HKET

Placed in a complex social situation, professionals must observe a high level of business etiquette so as to build a professional image. According to Patricia Lan, strategic image consultant, AICI, it is of equal significance to show appropriate demeanour in front of colleagues with whom you work day in and day out.

Employees and employers alike represent companies to customers, professional organisations and the community everyday. People judge them and the company behind them by what they see and what they believe to be true based on behaviour and, in particular, social manners.

"Since we all want to be perceived as knowledgeable and smooth professionals who know the proper business protocols in a business or social situation, we need to take business etiquette into account regardless of our work experience," Ms Lan says. "This will enhance our work performance and personal development."

First impressions

When meeting people, proper introductions are necessary in all work and social situations. Yet, Ms Lan says, most people have felt anxious at some point when they have needed to meet and introduce themselves to a stranger. "This can be seen as a sign of lacking self-confidence so we need to cast away our shyness and be courageous. It's best not to indulge ourselves in negative thoughts like guessing other people's responses," she notes.

At times like these using mental imagery can help. "Try imagining yourself in a role and then galvanise yourself to live up to it. And remember, an introduction should be brief and breezy, like 'nice to meet you'," Ms Lan says. "Also by repeating the person's name, it helps you remember this new acquaintance and shows your courtesy."

According to Ms Lan, there is a systematic way to introduce one person to another:

1. Introduce a person from a lower rank to someone of a higher rank
2. Introducing a man to a woman is generally most appropriate
3. Introduce a peer or fellow executive in your company to your client or acquaintance from another company

Physical impacts

In turn, responding to an introduction or question is equally important. "Yes-no answers are inappropriate, since they make people feel uncomfortable and imply that you are not interested. So let people know that you are interested by saying a few more things," Ms Lan advises.

Handshakes are often the first physical connection with another person and impressions are formed from then. "The handshake is a universal signal of peace," Ms Lan explains. "If you do it solidly with good eye contact and a smile, the other person will be happy to meet you. Of course, remember to shake hands before leaving social events and business meetings too."

Exchanging name cards is another integral part of business formalities. "It is a social gesture and way of introducing your company and industry. We should present it with both hands. Oftentimes it can be used as a talking point in terms of its design," Ms Lan says. Sliding the name card into the pocket without reading it carefully is impolite. "But leaving it on the dining table for too long may lead your business partner to worry that there may be food dropping onto it," Ms Lan says.

In the office

Relationships with colleagues are referred to as "non-voluntary," because as long as someone holds a particular job, he or she has no choice but to interact with the other people in the work environment.

"Successfully dealing with colleagues is one of the keys to teamwork and successful companies do all they can to create a harmonious atmosphere in the workplace. Teamwork involves knowing your job, doing it well, respecting the other members of your team and working together to accomplish common goals," Ms Lan explains.

"An office environment is like a spider web. Everyone is affected by each other," Ms Lan says. Thus, interpersonal communication and courtesy are important to maintaining good relationships with colleagues and holding the web together. "Greetings, telephone conversations and email correspondence in the office all have their own specific etiquette measures. By ignoring the appropriate usage it can seriously affect your work performance," she cautions.

Meetings, she notes, are another area that should not be taken too lightly. "Your boss judges you on things like punctuality and responsiveness. And speaking clearly and wisely when at a conference call meeting can help your company's presentation to a client and make you appear intelligent and reliable."

Finally, Ms Lan adds, conflicts at the office are inevitable so people should not take everything to heart. "Though we need to be generous at times, we do not necessarily have to perceive our colleagues as friends. When conflicts arise, don't take things personally. Don't make the assumption that someone disagreeing with you is doing it on purpose."

Taken from Career Times 20 July 2007
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