This article is written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting, who facilitated the August SBDC Roundtable discussion: “Good Business Etiquette Gets a Better Response”.
Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities begins,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it
was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it
was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Dark-
ness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of de-
spair, we had everything before us, we had nothing be-
fore us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all
going direct the other way, — in short, the period was so
far like the present period, that some of its noisiest au-
thorities insisted on its being received, for good or for
evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
While the motifs presented here set the stage for the major plot of the book, it also sets a strong statement of time contrasts as so different and yet all the same. In this way, I think of how different we are from our forefathers when it comes to cultural and business mores, and yet, simultaneously, how the same we are. As Small Business owners, we have to navigate personal and business etiquette much like the polar opposites of Dickens’ famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities–understanding of the best and worst, both wisdom and folly, and all manner of personalities with whom we engage in the course of our professional lives. Alexandria SBDC hosted our monthly Business Development Roundtable with a central theme, Good Business Etiquette Gets a Better Response, on August 16, for our business owners to come together and discuss. We know that every touchpoint with a past, current or potential customer or referral source is an opportunity to appeal or repel new or repeat sales. I want to highlight some of the wisdom to use and some of the folly to avoid when engaging with contacts in-person, via digital communications, especially on Social Media, and on mobile today.
In essence, your “soft skills” matter. Wikipedia colloquially defines soft skills as “the cluster of personality traits that characterize one’s relationships with other people. These skills can include social graces, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, and leadership traits.” And, Monster.com identifies six soft skills–communication skills, teamwork and collaboration, adaptability, problem-solving, critical observation, and conflict resolution skills–as the most desirable soft skills in the professional world. Needless to say, the proliferation of the Internet, email, Social Media, and mobile communications have increased both the volume of communications and reduced our opportunities to practice in-person soft skills. So, in case you’re feeling like you need to “sharpen the saw” when it comes to etiquette, here are some key insights into how to best navigate professional interactions.
Traditional, In-Person Etiquette
First, show up on time and know what your mission is at any business event. It’s best to have crafted a personal, professional introduction that takes less than 30-45 seconds to say (sometimes called an “elevator pitch”). Make sure that you’re showing genuine interest in the person with eye contact and questions of interest about him or her, not just their professional life or title, and how you can be of benefit to them. As Dr. Ivan Misner of Business Networking International sagely coined, networking is all about “giver’s gain.”
Also, it makes a great deal of sense to bring business cards to share with new contacts. This may seem antiquated to millennials; however, this is still the predominant way that much of the workforce shares contact information and remembers the people they meet at networking and business events.
Another important tip is to make sure that you don’t lie to people when disconnecting after a conversation. For example, if you were ending a conversation and say, “It’s been a pleasure speaking to you, I’m going to the restroom now,” Then it’s imperative that you actually go to the bathroom! If you walk away and head over to grab a few refreshments and start up another conversation, your new contact will see that, be offended, and it will sour potentially your future relationship.
Finally, when it comes to in-person business etiquette, it’s always best to avoid taboo topics of politics, religion, and sex. Unless you happen to be at a professional event that was focused on one of these three as an industry, you’ll likely make your newfound contacts uncomfortable.
When it comes to digital communications, such as commenting on websites and blogs, emailing, instant messaging, or any number of other Web-based engagements, it’s really important to treat people with respect. The most important concept about digital communications is to consistently remind yourself of the fact that there is another human being on the other side of the computer. Since you don’t see that person it’s easy to respond with trite, curt or even downright rude response because you’re not confronting them face-to-face.
One way to combat this loss of humaneness is to consistently use a face when representing yourself and your business online. This includes Social Media profiles, using services like Gravatar that displays your face on websites and in email programs, and making sure that you or the person representing your business is shown alongside your logo online.
Remember, people do business with people they like, not with companies.
Today, it’s so simple to rattle off a SMS text-message to a client or potential customer. The problem with this is the vast majority of people who neither text-message nor consider it as an appropriate professional communication means. Yes, some of this is generational, and some of this is technological fear. However, you should always communicate with people in the way in which they choose to be communicated, not in the most convenient way for you.
So, when it comes to mobile communications you can make it a standard question to ask new contacts how they best communicate with others and how best they receive communications from professional contacts. This sets your contacts and engagements up for success and it acknowledges that you are thinking about them, and not just about yourself. I’ve seen this time and time again, this small act of empathy from you generates a large positive impression with professional contacts.
Keeping up with all the latest business and Internet etiquette can be daunting. The times and technology are ever-changing, especially as new generations become a greater and greater part of the workforce. My hope is that notwithstanding who is engaging professionally, that we all remember that we’re all still humans communicating with humans. And, as such, we should treat one another with a standard amount of respect and dignity. This creates better business environs to work and increases revenues through better, more positive engagements with customers and referrals. So, no matter if it’s the best of times or the worst of times, we can all be civil, sensible and constructive in all our interactions online and offline in business.
The September SBDC Business Development Roundtable will take place on September 20th at noon and participants will discuss: Referrals & Leads – How to Effectively Get, Use & Give Them.