10 Tips for Excellent Business Etiquette

Jeanne Oliver has been the “Miss Manners” of the Pacific University College of Optometry for 25 years, though her real title is director of external relations. Beyond her “day job,” Oliver gives optometry students a little lesson in professional comportment with an annual session in business etiquette and “final exam” of a formal five-course dinner event with some of the college’s corporate partners.

  1. Dress for your audience. Be sure that your clothes make the impression you want. “A conservative neckline for women is two inches above the cleavage. Men will wear socks, and women will wear hosiery,” Oliver says, though she acknowledges that’s not always a popular perspective.
  2. Turn off the cell phone.
  3. Social etiquette is gender-based; business etiquette is hierarchy-based. The “top” person may be your boss, your client, an elected official, or the eldest in the room. “Always defer to the person with the checkbook,” Oliver says.
  4. Introduce people to the highest-ranking person. Example: “Ms. Prospective Client, I’d like you to meet Team Member.”
  5. Never refuse a handshake. Oliver says she understands that a fist bump spreads fewer germs, but she’s not buying it. If someone offers a hand, take it. If you need to wash up later, do so covertly.
  6. When you receive a business card, take a moment to read it and comment on it. “Don’t just shove it in your pocket,” Oliver says.
  7. Receptions are not about eating or drinking. Do not have more than one alcoholic beverage at a business event. Be prepared to shake hands. That means no sweating beer bottle or messy food in your right hand. Keep your napkin handy. Ladies, blot your lipstick to avoid leaving marks on your glass.
  8. Use proper table manners. Pass food from left to right. Pass the salt and pepper shakers together. In a formal dining situation, select silverware from the outside moving toward the plate for each course. Use the “b” and “d” trick to identify your place-setting: Make OK symbols with each hand. Your left hand looks like a lowercase “b,” for the bread plate on the left. Your right hand is a lowercase “d,” for the drink on the right.
  9. Order a meal that you are comfortable eating and can consume neatly. Skip saucy pastas, ribs, and finger foods. Avoid crumbly foods that will leave a mess.
  10. Send a handwritten thank you note within 24 to 48 hours of receiving a gift or attending a function. Oliver has a collection of notes on her office bulletin board. “Nobody prints out an email to hang up,” she says.

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