How to behave at work: An Interview with business etiquette expert Diane Gottsman

Professionalism and etiquette go hand-in-hand, or at least they should.

How to behave at work: An Interview with business etiquette expert Diane Gottsman

Etiquette is, or should be, on the minds of professionals at all times. We recently connected with Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas and an etiquette writer for The Huffington Post, to learn more about the evolution of etiquette in the workplace in the era of social media, remote workers and the influx of millennials to the workforce.

Why would you say business etiquette remains so important in the workplace today?

Business etiquette is more important than ever. People often have the misconception that business “etiquette” is about “please and thank you” or stuffy mannerisms that make others feel small to make themselves feel superior. On the contrary, business etiquette is about making others comfortable to be around you. Your behavior determines whether or not you are considered to be a team player, know how to interact with others, and are a good fit for the company you work for. Business etiquette is all about people skills.

What has changed with business etiquette in recent years that might surprise some senior members of the workforce?

Nowadays, the most powerful performer is not necessarily the eldest. And the owner of the company is no longer a man. Senior members of the team defer to both women and men, and don’t have to stand up for a female executive that walks through the door, or hold their chair at the table. Men and women are gender-equal and standing or holding a chair is not necessary, unless they need help — both men and women.

What important points of business etiquette do you frequently see younger workers missing out on?

I don’t see younger workers as necessarily disadvantaged professionally; however, I do think that technology has become a central form of communication and handwritten thank-you notes have become less prevalent. Never underestimate the value of a handwritten note. Also, it’s important for college grads to start at a level that allows them to learn from the ground up, and not expect the corner office right out of school. If it happens, great, but seldom does one start at the top.

What type of etiquette guidelines should employees follow when they’re in a remote working situation instead of sitting near their peers in an office?

Whether you are working remote, on Skype, texting or by email, always stay in a professional mode — don’t get too relaxed, skip a signature line, slump on Skype, make a phone call from the restroom (flushing is not silent), and let down your guard. Always be ready to represent yourself and your company in the best possible light. Dress for a Skype job interview, or client meeting, not just from the waist up!

How heavily should business etiquette factor into online interactions, especially on social media?

Social media is extremely important to most businesses and it’s important to think before you tweet or post. It’s perfectly fine to thank a customer publicly, apologize for a mistake and handle it online, but take a serious altercation offline to handle privately. It’s difficult to rectify a situation with 140 characters or less, and people don’t get a true feel of your tone of voice online.

What else should people keep in mind about business etiquette?

Don’t underestimate the value of a business meal. People do business over lunch or dinner, and knowing how to handle yourself at the table sends a positive or negative impression. You are judged by the way you treat the wait staff, the way you handle a problem at the table, and the manner in which you tip your server. Keep cell phones off the table and out of business meetings. Only in an emergency should you take a call or text during a meeting with a client (or a friend!). It sends the message that they are not as important as the person on the phone.