Following the boom of the Internet communication and the globalisation of economy, the business etiquette norms went through a serious change. Which are the “golden” rules of good manners and business attitude that we have to know? How to dress and behave adequately in front of our business clients and colleagues in Asia or the US? It turns out that there is no explicit answer to any of these questions, but the main thing remains what we call “the first 7 years”. Both Ana Dinkova and Maria Kassimova-Moisset, experts in business etiquette, agree that “it does not matter if we work at home, in a café or in an office - the place should not have anything to do with the politeness with which we communicate with others.”
“Business etiquette follows social etiquette and is more flexible. Its purpose is to eliminate all possibilities for misunderstanding so that people can concentrate on business itself,” Maria explains.
According to Ana, although some standards of behaviour, especially the ones concerning clothing, change dynamically or remain in the past, this does not mean that we can afford frivolous behaviour and too much familiarity. “Unfortunately, less and less people, especially the younger ones, can really assess their ability to communicate adequately in a work environment, and less and less people can make a difference between a social and business etiquette. I often get comments, mainly by young women, that their male colleagues, especially at higher positions than theirs, behave frivolously, sometimes even aggressively, and compliments cross the line of decency. It is high time we start treating people as equal and respect them for their professionalism,” Ana points out. In her opinion, each leader should be well aware of their behaviour and how it resonates among their employees, whether they need to improve their own soft skills – communicational, presentational or even work on their manners.
Maria comments that “the national peculiarity of the Bulgarian business etiquette is that it is missing.” “Yes, there are already many people who have worked in large companies abroad and who gradually impose these general rules. But the “What Do You Care” syndrome is still strongly present. I see it when I work with team leaders who have come from the outside. In such a case, the etiquette is to be imposed with strict rules and fines. But there are also people who just do not know. They try, but need to develop. In cases when the tough business etiquette confronts a completely different social and business culture, my advice is: “Loose your tie, take off your jacket, do not humiliate the other person with contempt.”
More and more large companies around the world, whether international or operating on a local market, work on guides of good conduct at the company, for customer service, business etiquette and even on a code of conduct. “Business etiquette can be compared to the Esperanto - it is more or less the same everywhere, but in Bulgaria apply the main rules applicable in the Western World - Europe and North America. The places where specific practices are transferred from the culture or religion into the business communication are mainly Asia and the Arab countries. More and more young people, especially the ones who have to travel and communicate with foreigners, try to refresh or expand their knowledge and skills,” Ana says.
Work from Home
More and more people work from their homes. Here is Ana and Maria’s advice on how “to be business”, even from the sofa in your living room. “Even if we work from home, it is advisable to have good manners and follow the main rules for writing e-mails, and to organise our working time and process in a way we would do it in an office,” Ana insists. She adds that business meetings require clothes that are adequate to our profession and position, as well as our environment. Usually, we talk about standard everyday business clothes, and at public events, business lunches and dinners - more elegant clothes.
Maria reminds of a popular Skype video interview of a British political expert who spoke on national television from his office, and his wife tried to take their two small children out of the shot. Such things happen and are accepted on their funny side, but they are indicative of a new trend in business communication, namely, that it is becoming more “human.” But as soon as we are live on air, it is important to create a work environment, because this sets conditions for a business climate. “After all, one should look as if they go to a real office.”
8 years ago, while she was studying the basics of business etiquette in London, Maria and her fellow students were shown how a high-ranked head of an insurance company crossed the line with his red socks in combination with an elegant suit. Then, he followed the “rule of the big” who can change the so called “uniform”, but the ones at a lower position do not have that right. Today, on Wall Street, one can buy socks with ladybirds or a cartoon character. “This is part of the trend of “humanising” the business. In order to perform better, people have to be happy, and that is why they wear jeans on Fridays and can work from home on certain days.” But even the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, famous for his grey T-shirts and jeans, wore a suit during his hearing before the US Senate as a sign of respect. Still, “clothes speak a lot in business and it is important to know before whom and with what to present ourselves,” Maria reminds.
OnlineThanks to the Internet and the social networks, our personal and public space and image are already blurred, but the “net etiquette” or the online business etiquette is also binding. Both ladies are firm that there are still too many cases of inadequate digital social behaviour. It may seriously hinder our business realisation and lead to a communication crisis and a public scandal. “It may seem extreme, but we do not know how the information that we share about ourselves online will resonate. That is why any kind of hate speech, extreme opinions or too personal photos are inappropriate even in our personal digital space.”