In the digital age, figuring out the do's and don'ts of business etiquette can be tricky. What should you wear when Skyping with a client? Is it ever OK to text your boss? How does one politely decline a co-worker's friend request on Facebook?
Not having ready answers to such questions can spell disaster for even the most seasoned professionals. Luckily for unsure entrepreneurs and blundering businesspeople everywhere, there's Barbara Pachter, renowned etiquette expert and author of the new book, "The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success" (McGraw Hill).
Pachter is the president of Pachter and Associates, a business communications company that trains employees in a range of industries— from NASA to Microsoft to Pzifer — on workplace etiquette, communication and presentation.
Pachter's book offers more than 100 tips for navigating even the trickiest of business situations, from what to order at your next business dinner to what not to post on your Facebook page. In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Pachter shares some useful advice for avoiding minor foibles and maintaining a professional image in the age of social media.
BusinessNewsDaily: You devote an entire section of your book to greetings. What are some key points for professionals to keep in mind when introducing themselves to colleagues?
Barbara Pachter: The key is that if you are not introduced, you need to introduce yourself to others. Plus, have a planned and practiced self-introduction. Keep it short, but provide enough information to help start the conversation. For example, "I'm Barbara Pachter, I'm the keynote speaker for today’s program."
Shake hands correctly. We make assumptions, usually negative ones, about people who give us limp handshakes. Get feedback on your handshake from a knowledgeable colleague.
Carry current business cards. Hand them out at the appropriate time, usually at the end of the conversation with someone.
BND: Which topics are safe to discuss in business situations and which should definitely be avoided?
B.P.: Stay away from sex, politics and religion. Let me say that again: stay away from sex, politics and religion. Also, avoid discussing anything too personal like your financial situation. Safe topics include: the weather -- especially front page weather like hurricanes -- traffic, common experiences, travel, sports (if everyone is interested), entertainment (movies, plays, etc.), upbeat business news and vacations.
BND: How important is eye contact?
B.P.: In the U.S., eye contact is very important. You want to look people in the eye, but you don't stare them down. You do occasionally look away. If you don't look at people, they will usually assume you are not listening or uncomfortable with them.
BND: What's the most common breach of etiquette that you see in today's business world?
B.P.: I would say, hands down, the constant use of smartphones and how they are impacting our everyday lives. People have become addicted to their phones and use them inappropriately in meetings, presentations and face-to-face conversations. Texting during someone's presentation is rude, answering your phone when in the middle of a conversation with someone is rude, the list goes on….
BND: What are the FACS?
B.P.: FACS is an acronym I created to help people choose their clothing, whether for a business professional or business casual work environment.
F stands for fit. Your clothing needs to fit properly. You can spend a fortune on an item, but if it's too big or too small, it isn't going to look good. When in doubt, both men and women should take their clothes to a tailor for a professional fitting.
A stands for accessories. You need good quality accessories that complete your outfit without overpowering it. They're the finishing touches for your clothes, and they can be a good way to add color to your outfits. All accessories should be of good quality and in good condition.
C stands for color. Pay attention to your color choices. Darker colors usually convey a stronger impression than lighter ones. Lighter colors may not be as powerful, but they can be very appropriate, especially in warmer climates. Be cautious with bright colors. You can shout. And you have to decide if you want to shout or not.
S stands for style. Clothing styles can range from very formal to very informal. You generally want to be at the same level, or one step above the level, of the people with whom you’re interacting. It builds credibility.
BND: Which dining faux pas should be avoided at all costs in a business setting?
B.P.: I discuss "Avoiding the 7 Deadly Sins of Dining" in my new book. The key one is drinking too much. People need to stay sober. You can easily say or do something you will regret if you are inebriated.
BND: What's the right way to answer a business call on your cellphone?
B.P.: I suggest you say something like: "Hello, Barbara Pachter speaking." You are answering with a greeting and letting people know who is on the phone.
BND: What's your take on text messaging co-workers? Is it ever appropriate to text your boss?
B.P.: Text messaging has become a more acceptable method of communicating with co-workers and even your boss. As long as both parties are OK with texting, it is a fast and easy way to communicate. Yet, you still want to keep your messages to be professional. Be careful with abbreviations. Also, beware of your tone, you don’t want your message to be harsher than you intended. Choose your content carefully. If the discussion is involved, you may want to pick up the phone and talk to the person.
BND: Do you have any etiquette tips for professionals using social media?
B.P.: Social media has become an integral part of today's business world. I suggest staying up-to-date, reading about social media, talking to others about it and trying out different platforms for yourself. You may appear out of touch if you don't.
Know what your customers and clients are doing. This knowledge can help you establish relationships with them. Know what your competition is doing, also.
Provide value. Have a strategy for your postings. My strategy is to have my posts provide business etiquette and career suggestions to help people realize their potential.
BND: In the last section of your book, "Career," you talk about the 92 percent rule? What is it?
B.P.: This basic principle of mine reminds people that they don’t have to be perfect. You don’t want to let a small flaw ruin — in your mind — an otherwise good presentation. You can end up focusing on the error, which can cause you to make more mistakes. Being a little less than perfect, 92 percent, means you are still very effective— in most classes that would earn you an A. When you relieve yourself of the pressure to be perfect, you may be surprised at how successful you are.
BND: Do you have any other tips for those who become nervous when speaking in front of their colleagues?
B.P.: Practice your presentation out loud in advance. You want to hear how your presentation sounds. Saying it in your head isn't good enough. Hearing the speech as your audience will hear it will help to clarify what you need to work on.
Look at people. Have eye contact with members of your audience. You will appear confident and in control of the presentation and your audience. Try to look at everyone in the audience because you don't want to miss connecting with anyone.
Manage the questions. At the beginning of your talk, let people know when you will take questions. Also, when someone asks a question, repeat it before you answer, not only so that the audience can hear it clearly but also to give you a few seconds to compose your thoughts.