Career Advice — Professional Etiquette

Dec 1, 2017 | Blog, Student Success

Man holding sun in silhouette at sunset.

Man holding sun in silhouette at sunset.

Professional etiquette

Professional etiquette is not just knowing what to discuss during a business dinner or how to address colleagues; it is a way of presenting yourself in such a way that you will be taken seriously. You must be aware of how your actions, small or large, impact others’ opinions of you. Understand and practice appropriate behavior to impress others that may lead into promotions and, possibly, a job.

Whether you are a seasoned professional or just starting to develop new skills, it is always useful to enhance your work persona. This involves demonstrating that you have the self-control necessary to be good at your job, expressing a knowledge of business situations and having the ability to make other comfortable around you. Poor business etiquette can cost you the trust of your workers and your customers, and the loss of valuable business opportunities.


One of the most basic elements of business etiquette is courtesy, or respect, which should be displayed to the people you work with, including your customers, no matter what. You should consider the feelings of others and address conflicts in a straightforward and impersonal manner. Raising your voice, using bad language, and interrupting others is discourteous and shows disrespect for others. People who are disrespectful may find themselves losing credibility and the respect of their peers.

Building Relationships

Show others that you value their work by taking time to visit and talk with them. This can include not only your immediate colleagues, but also people who work under you, such as secretaries and janitorial staff. These people can help you look more professional and will go the extra mile for you if you treat them with respect. Make time to actually talk to people; do not rush off immediately after exchanging greetings. You can also create a database of your colleagues and contacts, in which you list their birthdays, spouses’ names and birthdays, etc. Send a card or word of congratulations when an important event occurs in their lives. Such thoughtfulness will help you build better relationships.


Business etiquette involves communicating effectively. This includes always returning phone calls and emails. When calling or receiving a call, you should always identify yourself and your department, and speak in a polite and considerate manner. Personalize the conversation with a short question about the other person rather than rushing straight into business. This will help you to make a connection with your caller. When sending an email, use a specific subject line and keep the message businesslike and not overly personal or casual.

Peers, Subordinates and Superiors

Good etiquette involves showing respect not only to your superiors, but also to your peers and subordinates; in other words, to everyone. If you treat everyone with respect, you will avoid making costly mistakes and experiencing discomfort by accidentally treating a superior in a disrespectful way. A consistently respectful attitude will also build your credibility within the business or industry. Showing respect also means refraining from gossip and from being critical and negative to or about others.

Beyond behavior, you should also consider developing aspects of your personal presentation to increase your impact in a room or meeting. Here is short article on helpful hints on improving your professional presence.

Professional Dress and Appearance

Dressing appropriately shows consideration for others and indicates that you take yourself and your job seriously. An unkempt appearance indicates that you do not care about yourself or respect those around you. When you are unsure what type of dress is required, it is best to err on the conservative side.

Business Dining Etiquette and Helpful Tips

Ten dining etiquette bungles include:

  • Speaking too loudly or monopolizing the conversation.
  • Cell phones (“Don’t let them ring,” he says, “and never answer.”)
  • Leaving purses or keys or sunglasses on the table.
  • Elbows on the table.
  • Chewing with one’s mouth open.
  • Eating too fast or too slowly.
  • Touching your hair or face at the table.
  • Reaching across the table. (“Ask!” he says)
  • Poor posture.
  • Pushing away the plate or bowl when you’re done.

In the end, it goes back to the classic rule of etiquette: It’s not all about you. And don’t let your performance hint to others that you do think it’s all about you. In the end, this does make how one chooses to hold a fork a matter of character.

Using Social Media

More businesses are using and pursuing social media accounts. This checklist of 12 questions you should ask yourself before posting may be useful as you consider building or improving your social media presence.

  • Should I target a specific audience with this message?
  • Will anyone really care about this content besides me?
  • Will I offend anyone with this content? If so, who? Does it matter?
  • Is this appropriate for a social portal, or would it best be communicated another way?
  • How many times have I already posted something today? (More than three can be excessive.)
  • Did I spell check?
  • Will I be okay with absolutely anyone seeing this?
  • Is this post too vague? Will everyone understand what I’m saying?
  • Am I using this as an emotional dumping ground? If so, why? Is a different outlet better for these purposes?
  • Am I using too many abbreviations in this post and starting to sound like a teenager?
  • Is this reactive communication or is it well thought-out?
  • Is this really something I want to share, or is it just me venting?

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