It's been nearly two years since I wrote a list of 8 business etiquette tips. Since that time, I'm fairly confident I have all but stopped workplace nail trimming, at least in a large portion of Austin, Texas. I wholeheartedly hope that everyone who packed up the nail trimmers was able to close an extra deal with the time saved. You're welcome!
Since the start of 2014, I've logged thousands of air and road miles visiting customers, attended countless meetings, and had plenty of opportunity to rack up another list. I create these lists with the loud caveat that I'm far from perfect, and I'm constantly working to improve (see #8). Whether you work for a large, established organization or a fledgling start-up, making small changes in workplace behavior can have a large impact.
Use the mute button with extreme caution. I once had a call with a VP who was working remotely and talking over so much background noise that at the end of the call, I asked him if he had a Dixieland band in his car. For that reason and for the sheer number of flushing toilets I've heard on business calls, I know that the mute button is a necessary business tool. However, for more intimate calls where just a few of you are present, pressing the mute button isn't always the best idea. If the customer is speaking, you should be listening to every word they say. Plus, you're not fooling the guy on the other side of the phone. The customer can hear the lack of background hum when you place them on mute, so it's evident you're either not listening or talking about your next move.
Interrupt closed-door meetings during emergencies only. Meeting interruptions suck the life out of productivity, yet I've worked at several companies where barging in at any old time is commonplace. Have an urgent customer concern that can't wait? Come on in! Is the building on fire? No need to knock, thanks! Perhaps companies can adopt the policy that some kindergarten teachers use with their students: "Are you barfing, burning, or bleeding?" If not, please consider that almost everything can wait.
Always consider that time is a person's biggest asset. This goes for customers and colleagues alike. One of my former mentors had a mantra that we should be selfish with our time. Since open office environments are the new normal, workplace productivity is challenged by the many distractions that we face daily. Try to schedule conversations that will last more than a few minutes. Pay attention to visual cues like headsets which indicate that the person working is in the middle of something. Or, wear a hot dog hat. It's worked for me in the past!
Some things are better left unsaid, especially when it comes to personal information. I once met a C-level executive who used her first opportunity to build rapport with me by revealing such intimate details of her medical issues that it took everything within my power not to gag on the spot. Sadly, I can't think about her impressive career accomplishments without conjuring up images I really don't want to conjure.
Express gratitude. This was on my last list, but it's so important it bears repeating. The other day, I took a moment to thank a person on a different team for their contributions to our company. I believed that this particular person knew I was grateful to them, but their response indicated to me that it was worth every minute I spent spelling it out in writing. Expressing gratitude in the workplace costs nothing, but it makes such an impact on work culture.
The only appropriate time to talk on the phone in the office bathroom is if you've fallen and you can't get up. Recently, I went into the restroom at work and a woman I don't know was standing at the sink, having a phone conversation with her husband. Let's just say that I didn't practice being direct, because I had other things on my mind. I could have interrupted her call and asked her to leave, but instead, I ducked into a stall and did a desperate dance of urgency while I waited for her to end the call, at which point I said, "Thank you! I waited so your husband wouldn't have to hear me flush." I accepted her sincere apology, convinced she won't make that mistake again!
Nail-biting should be reserved for hitting your quota (and even then, done in the privacy of your home or car). We've already talked about workplace nail trimming. The same goes for biting your nails, especially in close quarters. I seem to be plagued by people who like to chew on their hands in my presence, but I'm getting better about asking them directly to please stop.
Speaking of being direct, it's a really good practice. I grew up in the South, where addressing things directly isn't in our DNA, so I continue to work on this really important skill. The more I grow as a manager, the more I understand first-hand that while having direct conversations can often be the most difficult, they also have the biggest impact. Addressing problems head-on takes less time, and helps everyone get back to business.
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