13. Business Etiquette – Business Communication, 2nd Edition

13

Business Etiquette

“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.”

 

Will Cuppy

COMMUNICATION AT WORK

Ramalingam is a vice-president in a multinational company in Noida. He is a Harvard graduate and lived in the United States for more than five years. He understands how Americans behave and expect to be treated abroad. He knows that they follow schedules punctually, dislike delays, and hate to be kept waiting or to keep someone waiting. Therefore, Ramalingam was very uneasy when Mr Rai, the CEO of his company, was late for their meeting with the American delegation visiting the company that morning.

Ramalingam kept the visitors busy by making small talk, but their restlessness was visible in the repeated glances at their wristwatches. Mr Rai arrived after about 20 minutes and was apologetic for the delay, which was caused by a huge traffic jam. Ramalingam introduced the visiting American group to him and without any further delay, Mr Rai took everyone to the boardroom for a presentation on the company—the past, the present, and the future—before holding a discussion on the proposed trade between the two companies.

Mr James Wright, the head of the visiting delegation, listened to the presentation with full attention. He noted down some points and clarified these with Mr Rai; however, he declined to stay for lunch, saying that they had to catch a 3 p.m. flight to Mumbai and did not have time. When leaving, Mr Wright said that he would get back to them. Ramalingam wished Mr Rai had not been late to the meeting, as they had lost valuable time that could have been used for discussing business opportunities.

Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:

  1. Understand the general rules of business etiquette.

  2. Learn ways of introducing yourself and others.

  3. Know how to handle telephone and cell phone calls.

  4. Learn the rules of appropriate behaviour at business dinners and lunches.

  5. Learn how to interact with international clients.

  6. Know the norms of behaviour for business-to-business interactions.

WHAT IS BUSINESS ETIQUETTE?

Etiquette refers to conventional rules of social behaviour or professional conduct. These rules are unwritten and act as norms to be observed by all professionals who work as a team in a particular company or department. They help individuals identify what sort of behaviour is appropriate or inappropriate in a business environment.

Professional etiquette affects business deals. An intelligent business executive knows that visitors assess the status of a company not just from its balance sheets and inventory books but also from the manner in which they are received, addressed, taken around, and briefed in the boardroom. In business, as in life, etiquette is a self-rewarding trait. Successful professionals know how to conduct themselves at company meetings, parties, and dinners. They are aware of their company’s culture and etiquette. Further, business etiquette means more than just being nice. It is fundamental to conducting business successfully. Those who ignore norms run the risk of being labelled as “unfriendly” or “inflexible”. This may disrupt the smooth working of the team by causing misunderstandings or tension among fellow workers.

Choosing to be habitually late for meetings, ignoring deadlines, indulging in character assassination during coffee breaks, or demanding (as a right) instead of requesting (as a favour) help are examples of ignoring, knowingly or unknowingly, the rules of good professional conduct, behaviour, and etiquette.

Every workplace evolves its own norms of behaviour and attitude. For example, if one were to undertake a survey of banks or hospitals during lunch breaks, one would notice that in some companies everyone resumes working without even a minute’s delay after lunch, while in others taking an extra 10 to 15 minutes for lunch may be a general practice. In such cases, the etiquette is not governed by rules written down anywhere.

1

Understand the general rules of business etiquette.

The business etiquette rules discussed in this chapter relate to the following:

  • Introductions
  • Telephone/cell phone calls
  • Business dining
  • Interaction with foreign clients
  • Business-to-business etiquette

 

Successful professionals know how to conduct themselves at company meetings, parties, and dinners.

This chapter describes the behaviour and customs that would be considered appropriate and acceptable in most business organizations in modern, mostly westernized workplaces.

This approach to business etiquette assumes that each business setting has its own business protocols that an employee learns by working in that environment and observing others. But there are general rules of business etiquette that are based on the fundamental principles of organizational behaviour. In an organization, the basic concern is to create a comfortable and effective work environment where each person helps others work with ease. This is made possible by empathizing with others’ concerns and priorities. Identifying with others is the best form of business etiquette.

 

In an organization, the basic concern is to create a comfortable and productive work environment where each person helps others work with ease.

Learning the rules of business etiquette helps professionals be comfortable in any business setting. Let us, therefore, consider some common situations in business and find out how to act appropriately.

INTRODUCTIONS

First impressions and meetings play a significant role in facilitating a business relationship. It is important, therefore, to make a positive impression when meeting someone for the first time.

2

Learn ways of introducing yourself and others.

Self-introductions

A confident self-introduction always makes a positive first impression, but many people are reluctant to introduce themselves. This may be because they think it too bold an act or they feel too shy to do so. But when two people meet for the first time, they are bound to want to know each other’s identity, affiliation, and purpose. Even when people meet the second or third time after a gap of some weeks, there is no harm in repeating introductions by saying something simple like, “Good morning, I'm Smita Sharma”.

 

As a norm of business etiquette and the first step towards cordial business transactions, people greet each other by stating their full names and positions (in office) at the very outset.

Suppose two applicants are waiting for an interview with the general manager of marketing of a company. They are sitting in the waiting lounge across the corridor leading to the general manager’s office. A smart-looking middle-aged executive walks into the corridor moving towards the general manager’s office. The candidates are not sure whether he is the person for whom they have been waiting. Now, suppose one of them stands up, walks up to him, and says, “Good morning, I am Reena Seth. I am here for an interview with Mr S. K. Nair”. Hopefully, the person would respond, “Good morning! I am Mr Nair. Pleased to meet you. We shall have the interview shortly”. Reena Seth’s bold introduction to Mr Nair would give her an edge over the other candidate, who remained silent. Most likely, Mr Nair would have a positive and favourable impression of Reena Seth as a confident, assertive, and enterprising young individual.

If there is an advantage in introducing oneself at the first opportunity, why do people shy away from doing so? Some cultures, such as British culture, have a sense of reserve. Americans are more outgoing in general. Indians are traditionally more shy and, generally, would still consider it impolite to go up to someone and say “Hi, I am Amit Misra” (though this is now changing).

Introductions are standard protocol when two or more persons meet formally. Each person should introduce himself or herself in a clear manner, pronouncing their first names and surnames as well as stating their positions, which helps establish the purpose and direction of the conversation. For instance, one should say something like “Prafulla Misra, CEO, Sterling Gold Informatics”, instead of just “Misra” or “Prafulla”. Americans prefer to introduce themselves by their first names only, like “John” or “William”. But the British use the first name and surname: “WB Yeats” or “Tony Blair”. Names, specially foreign or unfamiliar ones, are generally only partially understood unless spoken distinctly. For instance, the name “Kanwal Jeet Singh Sidhu” has to be uttered slowly, so that the other person follows it fully.

During a conversation, one party may have forgotten the other’s name or may not remember how to pronounce it. At such moments the other person should help them immediately by politely repeating their name — “I am Irfan Mohammad, I am sorry, I should have told you”. Business etiquette seeks to make all concerned parties comfortable. This is why it is polite to apologize for forgetting to introduce oneself. If one simply says, “I am Irfan Mohammad”, it suggests that the other person is at fault for forgetting the name.

Here are some rules for making introductions correctly:

  1. In the case of a pre-arranged business meeting, if you are an expected visitor, you should introduce yourself by stating your name and the purpose of the visit: “I am Ramesh Bose and I have come here to meet Ms Divya Lahari in the marketing department”. Only after introducing yourself should you ask for the name and position of the other party.
  2. Do not use honorifics such as Sri, Mrs, Mr, Ms, or any other titles before your name while introducing or referring to yourself. Others can call you “Mr Chandra”, but you should refer to yourself as just “Rajan Chandra” or “Chandra” or “Rajan”. If you have a PhD, you may use “doctor” before your name and refer to yourself as “Dr Sharma”. Surgeons and physicians usually do not add the salutation before their names when introducing themselves. Saying something like “I am Roopa Salwan, cardiologist from Escorts Heart Institute in New Delhi, India, I am here to attend the International Summit of Cardiologists as an Indian delegate” is a universally appropriate self-announcement. The point is that others may add titles or professional descriptions (such as “professor”), but the individuals themselves should not.
  3. Speak your name slowly and clearly. As mentioned earlier, the listener may not catch an unusual or unfamiliar name. Therefore, articulate your name as distinctly as possible, and if required, help others by spelling it.

 

Speak your name slowly and clearly. The listener may not catch an unusual or unfamiliar name. Therefore, articulate your name as distinctly as possible, and if required, help others by spelling it.

In business, one encounters a variety of people, and it may be difficult to recognize or place someone one has previously met in a different context such as a seminar or conference. Before the other person detects this, you should ask for his or her business card by simply saying, “Could I have your latest business card for your telephone number and e-mail address?”

To be tactful in such situations is also good business etiquette. If you let the other person know that you have forgotten his or her name, it may make the person feel that he or she is not important enough to be remembered. Try to act as if you know the name but wish to have more details about the person.

Introducing Others

It is common to have to introduce others at business meetings. A clear and complete introduction of each person, both members of the visiting party and the host party, makes everyone feel relaxed and creates a congenial atmosphere for the meeting. In such situations, the person who is making the introductions should know the names and professional statuses of both parties before the meeting. The professional status refers to the role the person plays in the business transaction.

 

A clear and complete introduction of each person, both members of the visiting party and the host party, makes everyone feel relaxed and creates a congenial atmosphere for the meeting.

Normally, the senior-most person among the visitors or the host team introduces the other members of his or her group. The practice is that visitors are first introduced to the hosts. Then members of the host group are introduced. Usually a senior is not introduced to a junior, but instead, the lowest-ranked person is introduced to the highest-ranked person. Accordingly, avoid saying to the CEO of a company: “Mr Chopra, may I introduce you to Payal Muttoo? Payal is this year’s first position holder and a gold medalist, working in our placement department”. Instead, say “Mr Chopra, may I introduce Payal Muttoo to you? Payal is this year’s university topper and gold medalist, working in our placement department”.

Notice two things here. One, the polite form “May I introduce…” is appropriate and formal when speaking to a superior. But when introducing someone to others it is okay to just say, “This is Neelam Gulati. Neelam is a senior lecturer in finance”. Also note that this introduction repeats the name so that it is duly received and remembered by the other person. To repeat the name naturally, the person who is making the introductions has to create a context by mentioning a significant detail about the person concerned—such as what work they do.

After introducing the junior person to the senior, introduce the senior person to the junior, for instance by saying something like: “Payal, as you know, Mr Chopra is our President. Mr Chopra will discuss our placement status and strategies with you”.

Here, it may be important to point out that in India, and perhaps in other Asian countries, it is a usual practice to use President or Chairman as a title before the name, such as “President G. P. Chopra” or “Chairman Chopra-ji”, or even “Chairman Mr Chopra”. In the United States and other western cultures, this may sound a little odd. Americans refer to one another just by using “first name, last name”, even in the case of very senior persons. However, in Asian countries, people observe social courtesies out of respect for age and position, even in the context of business.

Handshakes and Non-verbal Gestures

Most business meetings begin and end with a handshake. Shake hands after the introduction by extending your right hand and firmly holding the other person’s right hand very briefly. In modern business, a handshake is a non-verbal clue of friendliness.

The handshake is so spontaneous that usually both parties simultaneously put forward their right hands to make the gesture. Nowadays, in business, as in society, there is no gender distinction and women shake hands in business situations too. Sometimes, while parting, people shake hands again or put their arm on the back or shoulder of the other person to communicate warmth.

As a winning form of non-verbal communication, handshakes must be accompanied by eye contact and a gentle smile. In some situations, you may express your feelings by saying, “Pleased to meet you”. The other party would generally respond by saying, “my pleasure”. These words are just pleasantries. They do not mean much as verbal communication.

 

As a winning form of non-verbal communication, handshakes must be accompanied by eye contact and a gentle smile.

As already indicated while discussing non-verbal forms of communication, there are, besides handshakes, other gestures that are culture-specific. For instance, even in business situations, Arabs often shake hands, embrace, and also kiss to communicate their warmth and respect for the other person. East Asians often bow to one another.

If you are not sure of the cultural and personal sensitivities of your visitor or host, it is best to shake hands, as this is the general norm across the world. However, in some culture-specific countries, such as India, many senior business heads, executives, and officers still prefer to receive or bid adieu to highly placed guests in the traditional form—with folded hands, slightly bowed head, and eye contact. As a visitor, follow your host’s cue and greet accordingly.

TELEPHONE/CELL PHONE ETIQUETTE

In telephone conversations, the way we listen, respond, speak, or hang up is often as important as what is communicated.

3

Know how to handle telephone and cell phone calls.

Making a Call

Before initiating a call, be clear about the why (purpose) and what (content) of the call, how to begin the call, and what to do if the call is cut off.

Prepare Before Calling

For business calls, you must know exactly who you want to speak to and choose the most convenient time to make the call. You should also know whether you are calling to follow up on earlier communication or if it is the first step in the interaction.

  • To be brief and concise, jot down the points you want to discuss and think about the order in which to discuss them. Always keep these notes at hand when making the call.
  • Keep a notepad and pen ready to write down any information worth recording.
  • Consider whether the call is important from your point of view or from the receiver’s point of view. In the latter case, structure your information from the receiver’s point of interest. Begin first with what is important for the receiver. Talk about your interests later.
  • Keep the conversation as short as possible. The other person may not be able to spare much time for your call. During the office hours, call the landline number first, directly or through the assistant, depending on your familiarity with the person. Cell phones should be used in case of urgent matters or when the relationship is of a personal nature.
  • Calling a cell phone from a landline number should be avoided as it may give the impression to the receiver that you are taking their availability for granted. In addition, the receiver may not recognize the number if it is not in their cell phone directory.
  • Avoid calling a cell phone number through an administrative assistant. It might give an impression of discourtesy.
  • Avoid the use of cell phones in movie halls, crowded restaurants, hospitals, fuel stations, and so on. Cell phones should be switched off or kept in the silent mode during meetings and important discussions. People whose calls you have missed in such a situation should be called back later.

How to Begin or Receive a Call

The first few words spoken by the caller or receiver are important for establishing identities and the purpose of the call. They create the context for further conversation.

 

The first few words spoken by the caller or receiver are important for establishing identities and the purpose of the call. They create the context for further conversation.

As a caller, you may not be personally known to the receiver. The receiver may be familiar with your purpose and your company, but may not exactly know you unless you have met in person or spoken to each other earlier. Therefore, begin by introducing yourself—state your name, company, and purpose.

In organizations, calls are generally routed through a receptionist. The usual practice at the reception is to attend to the call within five rings; if you have been kept waiting longer than that, the receptionist will usually greet you with an apology. If your call is not answered even after ten rings, it is advisable to disconnect and try calling later, or try another number, if any.

Greet the receptionist (“Good morning”); tell him or her your name and your organization’s name, and then mention whom you want to speak with. When speaking with a personal assistant, use the same introduction and tell him or her the purpose of the call. He or she will connect you to the desired person only after checking whether he or she is free to talk to you at that moment. Remember to be patient and pleasant while dealing with the assistant, who is an important link between the caller and the desired contact person.

 

Remember to be patient and pleasant while dealing with the assistant, who is an important link between the caller and the desired contact person.

If the receiver does not know you, you should first introduce yourself, for instance by saying something like “Good morning Mr Chaturvedi, I am Pallavi Mehta, marketing manager of Ferns n Petals. I want to know the details of your company’s order for floral decoration…”. As a caller, you should use the opportunity to make the receiver feel that the information you want can be acquired only from him or her and that it is required immediately. In other words, involve the receiver in a dialogue, instead of questions that can be answered just by saying “yes” or “no”. Suppose you say, “Can I have the details of…”, the receiver can respond by saying, “No, not now” and may hang up. Hence, use your conversational skills to establish a good relationship with the other person so that the call ends on a positive note.

In the case of a cell phone conversation, it is always better to check if you are clearly audible. You may be able to hear the other side clearly, but it is possible that the other side is not able to hear you completely because of a poor signal. During official meetings, it is always better to keep the cell phone on silent mode. If you are expecting an important call, you may like to inform the chair about it before the meeting begins and step outside after excusing yourself. It is also necessary to keep all such calls short.

The ring tone expresses a person’s style. However, it should be in sync with the environment of the workplace. The volume of the phone’s ring should not be too loud. Similarly, the volume of the person should also not be very loud. Sometimes, people discuss even confidential matters so loudly that the entire floor can hear them.

If the Call Is Disconnected

Sometimes, the call may be suddenly disconnected or dropped. In such situations, courtesy demands that the person who originally initiated the call should redial immediately and say, “Sorry, the call got disconnected”. In case the receiver has to suspend the call to attend to some other more important call, it is the duty of the receiver to resume the call and give a satisfactory explanation to ensure that the caller does not feel slighted.

Common Telephone Courtesies

Always use the interrogative form for making a request, such as “Could I…?” or “May I…?” as Direct categorical statements may seem like an order. “I want to talk to…” is not a polite request. Instead “May I talk to…” is more polite. Even the statement, “I request you to connect me to so and so number/person” is not quite appropriate when ones does not know the other party well. Instead, say, “May I request you to…”.

Telephone Etiquette Observed by Administrative Assistants

In business, telephone calls are mostly received by personal assistants. Sometimes, the assistant has to act quickly to find out whether his or her supervisor is free to talk. So they may say, “Please hold on” while they check. If their supervisor is present but does not want to speak to the caller for some reason, the assistant will choose any one of the following polite excuses:

“Sorry, she is busy in a meeting. May I have your number? She will call you back”.

“He is busy with a foreign delegation. May I ask him to call you back as soon as he is free?”

These statements may not necessarily be true. However, they are intended to keep the caller satisfied even when the call is not successful. Personal assistants should never try to overhear the conversation between the caller and the receiver. After putting through the call to their supervisor, they should hang up.

Telephone Precautions

As a caller you do not know whether the person receiving your call is alone. Therefore, confidential matters should never be discussed over the phone. They can be overheard/tapped in transmission. However, if you have to discuss something personal that you do not want others to know, you should check with the person you are calling in a polite manner. For example, you may say, “Can we talk about the tender for the Golden Highway project?” or simply, “Are you free? Can we talk about the tender?” This would save you from causing any embarrassment to the receiver or risk being overheard.

Communication over the phone requires the use of non-verbal skills, such as pleasant tone, proper intonation, and clear articulation of words. You should be able to convey a large part of the message through your way of speaking rather than the meaning of the words alone.

 

Communication over the phone requires the use of non-verbal skills, such as pleasant tone, proper intonation, and clear articulation of words.

BUSINESS DINING

Business meetings with colleagues or clients can be before or after office hours and can be for formal occasions such as lunch or dinner parties or informal occasions such as social functions and festivals, religious ceremonies, weddings, or birthday parties. At such occasions, one should follow the cultural norms of the company, group, or organization. For instance, meals with colleagues, clients, or consultants have their own protocol and code of behaviour that must be followed for negotiating business deals. Keep in mind that such occasions are, in fact, business activities; therefore, act with a sense of responsibility. Do not consider these merely occasions for socializing. Some established norms regarding business meals are discussed in the following sections.

4

Learn the rules of appropriate behaviour at business dinners and lunches.

The Host

The host should invite the guests personally and confirm the date, time, and place in writing if possible. If the venue is new for the guest, the host should help him or her by giving directions. The invitation could also give information on who else is invited—for instance one can say: “My colleague Abhishek, who is looking after management trainees, will also be joining us”. It is a good practice to confirm the scheduled meeting a day prior to the event. The host should plan to reach the venue a little ahead of the given time and personally check the seating arrangements. The host should also receive the guests personally outside the dining hall and move inside together. It is courteous to ask the guest to order his or her choice of dishes and drinks and it is only proper for the host to pay the bill. Similarly, the host should also arrange for taxis to take the guest back to his or her place of work or stay.

Business conversations are conducted in an informal manner that is free and relaxed. After some initial pleasantries, the host opens the meeting, starting with the background that provides the context for the specific matter to be discussed. If necessary, some points or conclusions can be noted down.

 

Business conversations are conducted in an informal manner that is free and relaxed. After some initial pleasantries, the host opens the meeting, starting with the background that provides the context for the specific matter to be discussed.

Business meals provide opportunities for easy give-and-take and negotiation. They bring together two complementary parties, such as employers and prospective employees, companies and clients, interviewers and interviewees, as equals at a social occasion.

The Guest

Guests should stick to their personal dietary preferences. If for religious or personal reasons a guest cannot eat something specific, he or should be able to refuse politely. Similarly, teetotalers can decline the offer to drink alcohol. The guest should not talk about the harmful effects of others’ dietary choices, but instead, should just say something like “Thanks, I would like to have some lime cordial or fresh lime soda”.

It is considered best to avoid drinking at business dinners, but if a guest does accept a drink, he or she should avoid drinking too much. A good way to excuse oneself is by saying “I have an early morning flight” or “I have to drive back”.

It is best to avoid drinking alcohol at business dinners.

Table Manners

Business dinners are formal occasions and forks, knives, and spoons are often used. Indian food is generally eaten with one’s hands, which is also acceptable. But, one should know how to use a knife and fork. Some general rules of correct use of cutlery are given in Exhibit 13.1.

Exhibit 13.1 Cutlery Set for a Formal European Style Serving

Placed from Left to Right Away from the Diner

  • A blunt butter knife placed on bread and butter plate

  • Dessert spoon together with dessert fork

  • Water glass, red wine glass or white wine glass

  • Coffee cup and saucer

Placed from Right to Left Near the Diner

  • Cocktail fork

  • Soup spoon

  • Tea spoon

  • Dinner knife

  • Dinner plate

  • Dinner fork

  • Salad fork

  • Dinner napkin

How to Use a Knife and Fork

The rule for using a knife and a fork is quite simple — the knife cuts the food and the fork places it into the mouth. The knife is only for cutting food into small pieces be it vegetables, meat, or any other food. It should never be placed in the mouth. The knife is always held in the right hand. The fork is first held in the left hand with the knife in the right hand, to cut the food into small pieces. Then the knife is kept on the plate and in its place the fork is held in the right hand and used to place the food in the mouth. When not in use, both knife and fork rest on a side plate, never on the table.

The basic difference between Asian and European styles of eating is that in Asia, specially India and Pakistan, people often pick up a large piece of food with their hands instead of using a fork and knife. This is not done by Americans or Europeans who cut their food into small pieces. Generally, westerners eat with their mouths closed, whereas Asians may have their mouths partially open. These differences in styles of eating are only cultural. They are based on convenience and habits.

The best rule is to eat the way one is accustomed to eating. Use whatever cutlery you regularly use with elegance at formal business meals. If you are comfortable eating with hands, use your hand. If you need a spoon, ask for it.

How to Get the Server’s Attention

Usually, waiters are watchful. A little signal from the diners catches their attention immediately. However, if someone needs to call the waiter, the best way is to establish eye contact and if necessary turn a little towards him or her. The best thing to say is “excuse me”.

INTERACTION WITH FOREIGN VISITORS

It is important to respect foreign clients’ religious beliefs and cultural needs. In business, foreign visitors should not be allowed to feel like strangers in other countries. We generally believe that when we visit another country, we should behave according to the business norms and etiquette of the country we are in. Accordingly, we can assume that foreign visitors would observe our business norms such as trade practices, working hours, office culture, and so on. But there may be some social and religious beliefs that we should try to respect. It is the primary duty of the hosts to make the guests feel comfortable in every way. Respecting cultural needs, religious beliefs, and the attitudes of foreign visitors will go a long way in developing good business relations. Some tips for doing so are:

  1. People can be easily put at ease by speaking to them in their native language. English is a global link language today. Yet many people prefer to conduct business in their own language. A foreign visitor may not know English, so use an interpreter, if necessary, for important business occasions.
  2. Prepare documents in both languages, English and the foreign visitor’s language.
  3. Try to learn and use some words of greeting in the visitor’s language as a gesture of friendliness.
5

Learn how to interact with international clients.

 

Respecting cultural needs, religious beliefs, and the attitudes of foreign visitors will go a long way in developing good business relations.

BUSINESS MANNERS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES

To be successful in business transactions one should know the chief differences in the business manners of people of different countries. When we are in a foreign country, or are hosts to a foreigner in our country, we should bear in mind the business norms of that country. The norms for business meetings and personal style followed by people in some countries are discussed here.

Americans

  • Shaking hands during introductions is common.
  • Business cards are exchanged only when there is a need to do so.
  • Punctuality is an important form of courtesy.
  • Americans prefer breakfast meetings to develop close business relations. They also have meetings over lunch.
  • Americans prefer to refer to people by their first names. It is a common business practice and should not be considered offensive.
  • Giving gifts as a memento is a personal act to be done only after considering the provisions of the respective laws with regard to the value of the gift given.

Europeans

  • British: British businessmen share most of their culture and business manners with other Europeans. They are formal in meetings and personal style.
  • French: French businessmen usually choose to speak in French with businessmen from other countries. They are very cordial and greet each other by shaking hands. Businessman and businesswoman may embrace and kiss each other on meeting and parting.
  • Germans: German business meetings are highly formal and scheduled much in advance. Punctuality is of utmost importance. Germans can explain themselves in English too, if required. People are addressed by their surnames. Senior businessmen are shown respect by sometimes being referred to as “Herr Doktor”. Similarly, businesswomen are always addressed as “Frau”.
  • Italian and Spanish: Both Italians and Spanish take business occasions as part of social life and may be less formal than other Europeans. Meetings are more informal, so discussion about personal welfare may precede the discussion.
  • Dutch: Dutch businessmen speak English fluently. Most of them are polyglots (speaking or writing several languages). They can, therefore, conduct business in several languages. They are relaxed in their approach to business meetings and personal relations.

The Japanese

  • Japanese businesspeople generally greet others by shaking hands, and not with a bow.
  • It is polite to offer and accept the business card with both hands.
  • The Japanese always like to maintain personal space, so physical contact is not desirable.
  • Japanese business people should be addressed by using Mr or Ms, never by the first name.
  • In Japan, saying “no” is considered impolite. Hence, one should not embarrass a Japanese business person by insisting on a point to the extent that he or she has to say no to the point/offer.
  • The Japanese consider giving gifts to be an important part of business. A gift has to be in keeping with the status of the person. Gifts in pairs (like a pen and pencil set or cufflinks) are considered lucky, but not gifts in fours.
  • Red cards in Japan are funeral notices, so red greeting cards are not used for business.

Arabs

Arab businessmen are known for their warm-hearted greetings. They stick to their traditional way of greeting, both as hosts and visitors, by saying “Salaam alaikum” (peace be upon you), accompanied by a firm handshake. To show greater warmth and closeness, Arab business-people may embrace each other while placing the right hand on the heart and the other hand on each other’s right shoulders. They may also kiss on both cheeks. Do not reciprocate, unless you are also an Arab.

Arab business people are rarely under pressure of time. Meetings for business are preceded by social pleasantries. Discussions on religious and political matters are strictly avoided. Business meetings are conducted in a leisurely style. Therefore, the business session may get extended beyond your expectation. Arabs extend lavish hospitality as hosts. As visitors, they expect similar hospitality in other countries. To an Arab business-person, giving gifts is a part of hospitality. Therefore at dinners, small gifts are offered as a token of friendship. As tokens of gratitude for favours received, expensive gifts are presented, which are received as a part of the business culture. It is not looked upon as bribe. It is an accepted form of giving thanks. However, never give handkerchiefs as gifts, as they symbolize tears and parting. Arabs, like most Asians, eat their meals with their hand and do not drink alcohol.

Indians

As Indian businesses go global, business-people in India are realizing the need to prepare themselves to be good hosts to international visitors and considerate visitors in other countries via a judicious mix of modernity and tradition. Indian business culture is eclectic. Shaking hands at a meeting or parting is a common practice. Indians have always been known for their hospitality. Visitors are always treated with utmost attention and respect.

Business meetings are punctual, well-planned, and formally conducted, and protocol of seniority is observed. In matters of business discussion, juniors always give precedence to their seniors. Many times, juniors wait for a signal from their senior to contribute to the discussion. Business cards are exchanged while parting generally to indicate further contacts. Presentation of small gifts at the end of the meeting is considered to be a gesture of goodwill. Very important persons are received at the threshold of the meeting venue by senior executives and are usually presented with bouquets. They are also normally accompanied back to their vehicles and duly seen off.

INTER-ORGANIZATIONAL ETIQUETTE

Individuals represent companies. Therefore, the norms for interpersonal behaviour apply to organization-to-organization communication as well. Each individual contributes to the organization’s image and should know how to conduct himself or herself as a representative of the organization. Good business behaviour includes the following:

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Know the norms of behaviour for business-to-business interactions.

 

Individuals represent companies. The norms for interpersonal behaviour apply also to company-to-company behaviour.

  1. Be loyal to your organization
    • Do not criticize your organization before colleagues from other companies.
    • Defend your colleagues’ actions without offending the complainant. Promise corrective action on your colleagues’/company’s behalf.
    • Always speak well of your company. You are a part of your company’s activities.
    • Feel proud of your organization’s achievements. Keep yourself fully informed of new developments and better prospects for the company. No company can be free from problems and setbacks, but highlight the positive gains and not the losses.

     

    Feel proud of your organization’s achievements. Keep yourself fully informed of the new developments and better prospects for the company.

  2. Be careful about confidential matters
    • Keep confidential material in as few hands as possible. It can be used against the interests of your company.
    • Secure records and use code names if the information involves protecting the concerned persons.
    • Help others develop trust in you. Confidentiality requires mutual trust. Do not leak others’ secrets to protect your own.
  3. Maintain good relationships with customers

    A company’s business sense and manners are best seen in how employees deal with their buyers or suppliers. To maintain good relationships with your customers and clients observe the following:

    • Handle the smallest of customers well. You cannot afford to ignore the biggest customers, but your company’s reputation is built on how you treat small customers and clients.
    • Be prompt in your service to the customer. Respond to complaints and e-mails on time.
    • Keep track of the following:
    • Number of complaints received and responded to.
    • Number of clients revisiting your company.
    • Number of walk-ins every day.
    • Commitment of your suppliers to help in emergencies.
  4. When you take a decision that will affect the interests of many people, look for mutual benefits for both parties and all stakeholders.
  5. Good manners breed good understanding and the mutual respect necessary for good business relations. Treat all colleagues with respect and recognize that others have positions above you. Similarly, when dealing with persons from other companies, inform them of your position through your business card and try to learn the other person’s position in his or her company. Extend due respect to the person you are visiting.

 

Good manners breed good understanding and the mutual respect necessary for good business relations.

SUMMARY
  • This chapter explains why successful businessmen should understand the unwritten rules of business etiquette and that each workplace differs in terms of appropriate behaviour.
  • There are general rules for introducing oneself and others, handling telephone calls, and attending business dinners as a host or a guest.
  • One must follow the guidelines for courteous interaction with those from different countries and cultures.
  • An employee should represent his or her company to other businesses with care.
CASE: CULTURAL SENSITIVITY

At UP Institute of Technology & Science (UPITS), a number of professors in the engineering and science departments and a chief librarian from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States worked as visiting faculty under the MIT—Ford Foundation—UPITS collaboration for two years. The Indian faculty and their families were happy to have the guests on campus. There were frequent parties and family get-togethers, which resulted in many friendships among the hosts and the visitors.

One day, professor and head of the mechanical engineering department, Dr Mathur, went to the central library to discuss the possibility of procuring certain international books and journals for UPITS with the visiting German library chief, James Wandel. Dr Mathur reached about a half hour later than the pre-arranged time. The door was shut, but he opened it and walked in, pulled up a chair to move it closer, sat down, leaned over the desk, extended his hand, and said, “Hi! How are you this morning, Wandel?”

Dr Mathur was surprised to see a frown on Mr Wandel’s face and felt further confused to hear the question, “By the way, are you my boss?”

“No”, said Dr Mathur.

“Then, please know my name is James Wandel.”

“I am sorry, I didn't mean to be impolite or rude to you. I just wanted to address you in a more friendly way. I am indeed very sorry Mr James.”

Mr Wandel was visibly annoyed. “Yes, what do you want?” he asked curtly.

“No, nothing. I am sorry”, said Dr Mathur and left Mr Wandel’s office completely puzzled and disappointed.

 

Questions to Answer

  1. What went wrong in this exchange?
  2. Was Mr James Wandel right in his reaction?
  3. What can one learn from this case about business and professional interactions?
REVIEW YOUR LEARNING
  1. At a business lunch your host keeps you waiting for 50 minutes and you are getting very late for your next meeting. When your host arrives, do you:
    1. Suggest rearranging the meeting for another day?
    2. Try to postpone your next appointment?
    3. Excuse yourself from lunch?
  2. While introducing yourself to an American host and trying to shake hands you notice he is embarrassed because he cannot move his right arm—it is an artificial arm. Do you:
    1. Apologize and say “sorry”?
    2. Greet him by shaking his left hand?
    3. Give up the idea of shaking hands?
  3. Why should the host always be at the venue of the business dinner 10 minutes before the meeting?
  4. Discuss the attitude of the following cultures to the practice of giving gifts as mementos:
    1. Indians
    2. Japanese
    3. Germans
    4. Americans
  5. Why are business etiquette rules unwritten?
  6. What key cultural differences should you keep in mind while dealing with foreign businessmen and businesswomen?
  7. Why are good manners necessary for good business?
  8. Show how individual employees’ manners reflect an organization’s culture and etiquette.
  9. Discuss some factors that may contribute to communication breakdowns in international business.
  10. “Social behaviour and manners in one country may be considered rude in another”. Explain with suitable examples.
REFLECT ON YOUR LEARNING
  1. What does the term “business etiquette” mean to you?
  2. How far is it correct to view the manners and attitudes of people from other cultures in terms of our own culture? Why do we do so?
  3. “Each individual contributes to the company’s image”. Reflect on the significance of this statement for a company’s customer care management.
  4. Like individuals, companies too have business etiquette rules. Give examples of some of these.
  5. A handshake is a globally recognized form of greeting. How does one communicate feelings through a handshake?
APPLY YOUR LEARNING
  1. As a token of goodwill, you want to present your Chinese host an expensive Titan watch from India. When should you present it: on meeting, on parting, or never?
  2. In India, the gift is usually presented to the lady of the house. What is the normal etiquette of presenting gifts in the Middle East?
  3. It is acceptable in the United States to address a casual acquaintance by the first name. It communicates a sense of familiarity. How might those of other nationalities, such as Germans, respond to being addressed by the first name after a brief, first meeting?
SELF-CHECK YOUR LEARNING

From among the given options, choose the most appropriate answer:*

  1. The set of norms of behaviour and attitude in every workplace is:
    1. internationally prescribed
    2. nationally laid down
    3. self-evolved
    4. dictated by the board
  2. When introducing ourselves, we should use:
    1. only our first name
    2. only the surname
    3. only our designation
    4. both the first name and the surname
  3. In business, when you fail to recall the name of a person met earlier, you can ask him or her:
    1. for his or her surname
    2. for his or her initials
    3. for his or her business card
    4. to excuse you for forgetting his or her name
  4. In business telephone calls, when making a request always use:
    1. the interrogative form
    2. direct categorical statements
    3. the passive form
    4. the imperative form
  5. As a host, you would invite visiting foreign guests to a business dinner:
    1. by writing an invitation letter
    2. personally, face-to face
    3. through a messenger
    4. by announcing the dinner at a meeting
  6. At an Arab business party, alcohol is:
    1. served first
    2. served last
    3. served continuously
    4. not served at all
  7. In many parts of the world, such as Latin America and India, keeping the eyes lowered is a sign of:
    1. respect
    2. dishonesty
    3. evasiveness
    4. timidity
  8. In different cultures, colors represent:
    1. different things
    2. the same thing
    3. insignificant things
    4. arbitrary things
  9. In business, keep telephone calls very short because the other person may not be:
    1. interested in talking to you
    2. free to talk to you
    3. paying attention to you
    4. noting down what you say
  10. People from other countries can be easily put at ease by speaking to them in:
    1. English
    2. your own language
    3. their language
    4. sign language