The Top 8 Essentials of Business Etiquette

Ah, workplace etiquette. Most of us are familiar with some of the basic dos-and-don’ts of the workplace, but we’ve all run into those people who just don’t seem to be aware of what is appropriate for the workplace.

What’s the point of etiquette anyway? For us — those of us who strive to be gentlemen, who want to be successful in work and in life — etiquette is not only about doing the right thing, it’s about elevating your game. Good etiquette, whether professional or personal, is what puts you a cut above the rest.

That said, these are eight essential elements to business etiquette that I think everyone should follow. There are more principles you could add, naturally — but these are the non-negotiables.

8 Crucial Pillars of Business Etiquette

1) Mind appropriate attire & self-care.

Workplaces all across the country vary wildly in what is and what isn’t acceptable workplace attire. Prestigious law firms will often only accept a full suit and tie for the 9-to-5, while a Silicon Valley startup will often sport jeans and button-ups in everyday business casual. But no matter what you or your job demands of you to wear, you should be dedicated to your own presentability.

Take pride in your appearance and presentation, if not for making a good impression, for your own self. It’s even advised the people who work from home dress for the day instead of working in sweats and t-shirts, because it puts them in the right mindset for work.

Then, beyond clothes, there’s simple self-care that is respectful of both yourself and your coworkers: brushing your teeth, wearing deodorant, going easy on any perfumes or colognes, being generally neat and fresh every day.

2) Confidentiality is key.

There are some case when perhaps confidentiality should be reconsidered—when something illegal is happening, for instance. But by and large, respect the secrets of the company. You might not have been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement before you started your job, but your bosses and coworkers should be able to trust that you aren’t going to put valuable company work out: be it strategies, secrets, or other proprietary work. Even phone conversations, or things that could damage reputations of the people involved, unless they for some reason absolutely need to be aired for ethical reasons, should be kept in confidence.

3) Work in peace.

With most of the people in our lives, we can be fairly open and honest when we don’t get along with them. Friends can come and go. Family will always be family, even if we argue with them. Coworkers, however, occupy a strange space where we have to work with them but there is no bond to keep anyone close to each other.

For any professional at any level of business, a good principle to learn is to work in peace. Debra doesn’t need to know that you think she’s annoying. Andrew will survive if he doesn’t know you think he’s a blowhard.

It’s best for everyone if you keep the peace in the workplace. Avoid personal conflicts with your coworkers and do your best to get along. Avoid gossiping and complaining. It might not be possible all the time—but as long as you can, try.

4) Be an ally to your boss.

Some people think of their bosses as an enemy: and that just might be the worst thing for their career. You boss should be an ally. Ideally, you’re helping them and they’re helping you. Keep your boss in-the-loop about what’s going on with your work, if there’s a problem or a development, and if you have an idea. Be honest about your mistakes so they aren’t caught by surprise and left trying to deal with it in the eleventh hour.

And if you have a problem with your boss? Talk about it in private. Don’t do something to try to embarrass or shame them in front of your coworkers.

5) Save others from inconvenience.

Disclaimer: not all of us work in traditional offices. That said, the principle still applies! If you have the opportunity to save someone else from being inconvenienced, do it. All it takes is some conscious consideration. Is the reservoir in the Keurig empty? Did you cause a paper jam? See something that needs a quick clean?

Think of the person coming behind you. Fill up the water, clean out the printer, add some extra printer paper, and keep things clean as much as you can.

6) Take responsibility for your work.

Successful professionals take responsibility for their work: good and bad alike. It’s owning up to it when you make a mistake and it’s believing in your good ideas enough to go to the mat for them. Taking responsibility is owning it: believing it, and going after it, learning from mistakes, and growing into a better and wiser person.

7) Don’t retaliate.

Sometimes in business, bad things happen. Office politics can get in the way, coworkers might treat you badly, you may get blamed for things that weren’t your fault: a lot can happen throughout your career.

Taking the high road, being a professional, being a gentleman? It means you don’t retaliate. You don’t stoop to the level that others are on and you don’t take revenge into your own hands. Don’t fire back and damage your own reputation: your integrity means more than taking someone else down a peg.

8) Respect everyone’s time.

The last and most essential tenet of business etiquette is to respect people’s time. Time is so important! It’s not just about being on time to meetings: it’s about being productive with your time and not wasting other people’s time, either. Use your time wisely. Don’t distract others with too much water cooler talk.

When you do come together for meetings, try to be as productive as possible and make valuable contributions.

What are your personal rules of business etiquette? Let me know what principles you stand by in the comments.