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Business etiquette, while often stressed at seminars and trainings, is still far too often overlooked by many employees. Whether conducting business domestically or internationally, there are a number of important rules to keep in mind. Some of these rules of business etiquette may have different applications depending on what culture you may be dealing with. Some may mean the difference between a long-term relationship and substantial profits, or a poor showing for the quarter.
The first rule of business etiquette, no matter where in the world you are, is to be courteous and punctual. While being courteous may mean different things to different people, it is important to find out what these points of courtesy may be for a particular culture with which you may have dealings. Punctuality, is of prime importance. Those who are chronically late, or who are late and fail to notify the client, may find the relationship quickly sours.
In terms of business etiquette, making sure there is open and honest communication is a hallmark of good manners. Good communication involves not only quantity, but quality. Keep your customers informed of what they can expect, whether it is the first time you meet them or even after their product or service arrives. This also means returning every message, even if the problem was resolved by the time the message gets to you.
For those who are doing business overseas, different cultures may greet in different ways. Those who are well-versed in business etiquette will understand this and be prepared and respectful of various traditions. For example, even the handshake is done differently. The Japanese tend to give a lighter and shorter handshake than most Americans. Many of those in the Middle East may offer what most Americans would consider a very long handshake that lasts as long as introductions or greetings are being made.
In some cultures, it may be customary to have an alcoholic beverage before talking business. This could provide a problem for anyone who does not drink. While it is important to be considerate, it should be explained politely if you do not consume alcohol. Preferably, business etiquette may dictate this be done beforehand, if possible, so as to avoid an awkward moment at the meeting.
E-mail has its own business etiquette standards and should be watched closely. The use of e-mail is a valuable tool in the course of business, but it has allowed or encouraged some informality in communication protocol. It is important to treat e-mail as a business letter. Some cultures may find it offensive if the tone becomes too informal. In other cases, it just may not look very professional.
In other words, don't act like you were raised in a barn! That's really what it all boils down to. Even in another culture, most people have enough sense to recognize when someone is trying to be polite. So, even if the person does make a misstep, most people understand when others are being courteous.
I'm not so sure a mandatory business etiquette class isn't a good idea for any new hires under the age of 30. I've seen many youngsters in my office who have excellent manners, but I've also seen some with manners that belong in a bar and nowhere else. Then, they look askance at people who do display good manners. It makes me wonder how they acted at home, but I have a pretty good idea.