Moving from the ‘Golden Rule’ to the ‘Platinum Rule’
Today’s business environment is a diverse blend of genders, cultures, and generations that includes virtual meetings, casual dress codes, and flexible work-from-home arrangements. Although the modern work world may feel more balanced, the different perspectives, variety of backgrounds, and relaxed rules can create conditions for confusion, unintentional annoyance, and social blunders.
“The definition of and feelings about the importance of work itself are no longer universal,” said business etiquette consultant Roseanne Thomas and author of Excuse Me: The Survival Guide to Modern Business Etiquette in a forbes.com article. “Once, the ‘Golden Rule’ of treating others how we wished to be treated sufficed because the workplace was largely homogeneous. Today, we need to go a giant step forward and apply the ‘Platinum Rule’ of treating others the way they wish to be treated.”
"Etiquette boils down to making other people feel comfortable and respecting their differences.”
Sara Jane Ho, founder of Institute Sarita and expert for the 2022 Netflix series Mind Your Manners would agree. “Etiquette boils down to making other people feel comfortable and respecting their differences,” she says. We sometimes forget that business is about people. As times change, so do social norms for personal and professional behavior. There are plenty of competent and reliable people in the business world, and practicing good manners can be a tie breaker. It indicates self-control by showing you’re willing to manage your behavior for the benefit of others and to foster mutual respect.
Fortunately, business etiquette rules are simple and mostly require common sense: Pay attention to the manners and habits of your clients and colleagues, and use common courtesy. Although there are certainly modern etiquette rules that are newer to evolving business settings (such as email etiquette and digital etiquette), the basic rules of punctuality, good listening, and wearing appropriate clothing are still vital to achieving professional success. To keep these essential soft skills sharpened, here are a few foundational guidelines for business etiquette.
Be on time. The first item on emilypost.com's “10 Tips on Business Etiquette” is punctuality. “Start out every interaction—employee, employer, colleague, business acquaintance—on a positive note rather than having to start out by apologizing for being late.” Being punctual shows others that you value their time.
When in doubt, introduce others. To make people feel valued, American Express advises to “always introduce people to others whenever the opportunity arises, unless you know that they’re already acquainted.’
Use “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” This rudimentary tip falls in the common sense category, but its importance is stressed on all experts’ lists. According to emilypost.com, “‘Please’ turns a demand into a request. ‘Thank you’ changes an expectation into an appreciation. ‘You’re welcome’ acknowledges the other person’s thanks, rather than discounting it with a ‘no, thank you.’” Also, sending thank you notes never goes out of style
Greet people properly. Listed high on The Ascent’s list of “10 Business Etiquette Rules You Should Never Break,” greeting people with warmth and respect is paramount to leaving a favorable first impression. In addition, people don’t like it when their names are mispronounced, so if possible before you meet with someone for the first time, find out how to pronounce their name correctly. Also, if you’re doing business in a different country, do your homework. “When communicating with persons from other cultures, it is important to remember that almost everything could be different,” says Thomas
Listen and don’t interrupt. On their “25 Tips for Surviving the Modern Workplace,” TheForage.com emphasizes the importance of listening and not just waiting for your turn to talk. Interrupting is rude and shows disrespect for the opinions of others. Plus, listening will give you the opportunity to understand and sympathize with the speaker’s point of view
Stay focused and send signals of engagement. Don’t let your smartphone interrupt you when you are speaking with someone or in a meeting. Take the time to ask questions and show an interest in the other person’s thoughts. The Ascent adds, “Nod in accord with their comments and smile genuinely when appropriate.”
Dress appropriately. Although business clothing may not be the same as it was a decade ago, this is a rule that still appears on most etiquette experts’ list of essentials. Setting a professional tone with your clothing is crucial to building new relationships.
Grow your skills
Having strong personal skills can make or break relationships, so it’s a good idea to perform a periodic self-check to find your blind spots to improve your ability to work well with others.
"Many times, you may not even be aware of the negative things you are doing."
“Many times, you may not even be aware of the negative things you are doing,” says Bill Sweeney, AVP, program director at Global Atlantic Consulting, which offers a workshop called CLOUT. The program is designed to help financial professionals gain more self-awareness to create deeper connections with people, build influence, and stand apart.
“This is something that financial professionals often don’t think about. We think about managing people’s money to put them in a better position financially. But you can’t even get to that point unless you understand your clout,” explains Jeanne Underwood, SVP & Head of Global Atlantic Consulting. Through a series of questionnaires and exercises, the CLOUT workshop examines each individual’s appeal on a personal, emotional, and social level to identify behaviors and manners that need attention designed to help win more business.
In addition to participating in training courses like this, other ways to hone your business etiquette skills include conducting research through books or online, consider joining an organization that focuses on skill-building, asking your peers for feedback, working with a professional coach, and, most importantly, practicing. No matter what, soft-skills improvement requires a willingness to change your behavior to become a more effective, compelling, and valued professional. In the words of etiquette expert Lisa Grotts, “Good manners don’t cost a dime, but bad ones can be very costly.”