Most of us, I guess, would say 'Absolutely not!' if we were asked this question. Yet the subtlety of what constitutes rude or ill-mannered behaviour escapes many people in business today. So what, you might think. Yet everything about you speaks. So committing an etiquette or manners faux pas (blups), particularly when you don't know that you've done so, can dent your image, your reputation and your credibility.
Despite the geographic size of South Africa, even Johannesburg is described, in business-terms, as 'a small town'. Reputations and impressions get around quickly. To paraphrase Iago, in Shakespeare's 'Othello': 'He who steals my purse steals trash. But he who robs me of my good name, takes from me all that I have and enriches himself in no measure.' Yet most of the image and reputation losses I see, are not occasioned by other people, but by the person themselves. Sometimes you can indeed be 'your own worst enemy'.
A few thoughts then, for behaving and interacting like a professional – and it's not a treatise on e-mail or 'netiquette', but let's kick off on those topics, anyhow:
- Speak your e-mails out loud of they're likely to have the slightest chance of offending. Remember, people can't see your facial expression, your body language or hear the tone of your voice – so the chances of misinterpretation escalate exponentially.
- If it's a contentious e-mail, don't put the recipient's name in the address line whilst you're drafting it, in case you inadvertently hit the 'send' button.
- I use the occasional smiley emoticon in my mails. So if there's a line that might potentially be misconstrued, the smiley creates the tone of voice. Don't go use a great big, animated yellow smiley waving its arms. Here's the one I use. J Simple.
- Don't get straight into the business matter of the e-mail. You would never just walk up to a client or customer and cut to the chase as it were. There would be some vestige at least of what we call a socio-emotional phase. A bit of chat that acts as the segue or link into the purpose of the interaction.
- What do you say at the end of your e-mails? Some people have just an embedded signature with their details. They finish writing and that's what you're left with. Make sure you finish with 'regards', 'cordially, 'best wishes' or something halfway civilised! J
- If you ask for help, do you say 'thank you'? I receive so many messages or e-mails asking for information, advice or a contact and 90% never bother to 'close the loop'with a little 'thank you' message or communication. Those that do, are always at the top of their game. Interesting, isn't it? It tells you why they're there.
- Do you only contact specific individuals when you need their help or want something from them? Don't. That's exploitative at best and parasitic at worst.
- Don't try, uninvited, to leverage other people's relationship networks to your advantage. Sometimes people will offer to connect you. If they don't, maybe it's because they're not comfortable doing so. Remember, it's relationship capital you're asking them to trade on your behalf. That's a precious commodity.
- Don't lay claim to relationships, friendships or to 'having worked with' people when it's simply not true. Don't do it. You will inevitably be 'busted'. The credibility damage that comes with that is huge.
- Do you conveniently 'forget' your wallet in your car when you're doing coffee or a luncheon with others? I know of one woman who regularly spends ten minutes scratching in the depths of her handbag in an attempt to 'find' her purse. Not OK.
These are just a few examples of inappropriate business social behaviour. The list goes on and on. Here's the bottom line: be aware of how you engage with and interact with others. Observe what you do as if you were in their shoes – maybe you won't be very happy with what you read, see or hear.