Business Etiquette: 5 Rules to Increase Executive Presence

What do you think about when someone mentions etiquette?  Maybe thoughts of a fancy 18th-century lady, who is the wife of a large landowner. She has invited the other wealthy ladies over for afternoon tea. These might be the thoughts that flash through your mind.  You imagine too many tiny pearl buttons, gloves, lace, and over-politeness.  You then flash to the time your mom sent you to an etiquette class in elementary school.  You spent WAY too much time sitting still, folding napkins on your lap, and worrying about which oddly shaped knife you were allowed to use to put butter on your roll. The business etiquette rules I am sharing here are a lot more fun and all about a connection with others.

When I made the transition from enlisted Sailor to United States Naval Officer, part of that transition included an entire week of etiquette training that culminated in a “Dining-In” which is a formal military dinner.  According to the Naval History and Heritage command, the dining-in as a military tradition has its roots in the shadow of antiquity. “The pre-Christ Roman Legions probably began the dining-in tradition. Roman military commanders frequently held great banquets to honor individuals and units. These gatherings were victory celebrations during which past feats were remembered and the booty of recent conquests was paraded.”  The tiny, but well-cultured lady who taught me etiquette took her role very seriously.  I can picture her now, she was nearly 100 years old, explaining to us how to properly tip our bowls to get that last spoonful of soup.  She is the exact vision my mind conjures when someone mentions etiquette to me. 

Etiquette may sound old fashioned, but it is really just a set of guidelines to help you navigate polite society.  Today, we are going to discuss 5 business etiquette tips. They will help you to be seen as professional, thoughtful, and just a touch more charismatic than before.  These 5 tips are all about genuine respect for your fellow humans and will help you connect with others.  Connection and collaboration are the only way to make really big ideas come to life.  

5 Business Etiquette Rules:

1.  Remember the names of the people you meet.  Have you ever met someone and when you see them weeks later, they come up to you and say your name as they shake your hand? How does that make you feel?  If you are like me, you feel genuinely, pleasantly surprised.  It is simply delightful. Did you remember their name?  **cue guilt reel**  

In a similar vein – when you reply to an e-mail where someone spells their name a certain way, make sure you spell it correctly (their way) when you reply.  These are simple, personable things that show you care.   Here are some tips you can practice to get better at remembering people’s names:

  • Pay attention when someone introduces themselves.  Really listen to their name.  (If you happen to miss it, or didn’t hear it clearly, politely ask them to repeat it.)
  • Repeat it back to them, “It is nice to meet you, Shelley!” Just repeating it back to them will begin the process of remembering it for good.  
  • Try to look at them and find something about them that stands out, something you can associate with their name.  For Shelley, maybe her eyes or her glasses or her smile remind you of a sea shell you have seen in the past.  Picture a sea-shell in its place.  If this image makes you laugh (inside) or seems really silly, that is even better.  It is more likely you will remember it next time you see her.  
  • I try to write down the name, or add their contact info to my phone as soon as I possibly can afterward.  There is a note section in the contact for each person, and I use that to add all kinds of things I want to remember.  Some examples include:  Where did I meet them, how will I remember them, where do they work, something they mentioned that they really love, etc.
  • If you really want to remember their name, remind yourself at the end of the day who you met and what their name was.  Maybe do it again at the end of the week for the past week, eventually – you will get into a habit of these things and you will start remembering more often.  

2.  Greet everyone in a room when you enter it (even a smile or small wave across the room), and introduce people who you know have not yet met. I am an introvert, so this was hard for me at first.  Now, I realize that everyone wants to meet others, but they may feel just as introverted as you do.  Meeting new people is hard for so many.  If you make the first gesture and begin introducing yourself to others you haven’t met, they will be glad you did.  Also, take the time to smile or say hello to others you know throughout the room.  These actions will put others at ease.  This is one of those, “People might forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” moments. 

3.  Always be on time.  Being on time is important for several reasons.  The primary reason is that it is a huge sign of respect.  It mostly shows on the negative side: when you are late, due to your own actions, it is a huge sign of disrespect.  If you want to be seen as dependable, as an example to others, as someone who has it all under control – be an excellent steward of your time.  Here are some good tips that will help:

  • Do not make a commitment that you cannot keep.  
  • Manage your calendar like your time is gold (because it is.) Make sure you add space to travel, drive, or walk between meeting locations.  
  • Create morning start and evening stop routines to bookend your days.  Add these to your calendar.  Include a review of upcoming meetings for the day as part of these routines.  Print any read-ahead material if needed, and review any actions you should have completed prior to these events.  Schedule time to get your thoughts straight (deep work time) if required.

4.  Learn to graciously change the subject.  To be seen as someone who is executive material, you can’t allow yourself to be dragged down into the muck.  Every day, you will overhear a conversation, it might be juicy – one that you are tempted to jump into.  You feel the same way about that department head everyone else is gossiping about.  You have two really good stories that you’d LOVE to share.  But… that is not who you are.  When someone pulls you into these conversations, do NOT take the bait.  Rise above.  Practice gently changing the subject to something more positive.  You don’t have to change it back to a full-on work-related topic, but at least shift it to something positive or interesting in a good way and stop the gossip.  Learning to change the topic will come in handy at other times too…  when someone gets you to talk about proprietary information or other official topics that you cannot or should not discuss, this skill will save your bacon, over and over.   

5.  Acknowledge others.  Always take the time to be thankful.  Do it in all kinds of ways:

  • Written notes to colleagues or associates who have gone above and beyond
  • Verbal “thank-yous” are always welcome, especially when they are genuine, Hand them out freely
  • Submit your team for awards and bonuses, you did not get to where you are without other’s recognizing you, this is your time to “Pay it Forward” and to help others succeed as well.  

I want to celebrate your wins. You’ll find my contact information on the contact page. Let me know via e-mail or on the Genuine Driven Women Facebook page if there are other business or personal etiquette rules that you think others should follow more often.  Do you have a pet-peeve? Do you have a business etiquette rule that you think I missed?

What does this have to do with Executive Presence?

A person with Executive Presence will have a certain level of class, that bit of “something special” will radiate from them.  The 5 etiquette tips we talked about today will allow you to shine just a little brighter.  People will remember you because of how wonderful they feel when you are around.  You know exactly what I am talking about because you have been around other leaders when they made you feel just that special.  

These business etiquette rules are so important so I want to help you to remember them. I created a little “Cheat Sheet” to help you keep these rules, along with the key tips for each, top of mind.  I recommend printing this sheet (in the appropriate size). Then tape them inside your planner so you will see them every day until they become second nature and you have them incorporated into your daily actions.