The British may have a reputation for being polite, but a leading etiquette expert says it’s a different matter when it comes to ‘do’s and don’ts’ in business meetings. Workingmums.co.uk looks at how we should conduct ourselves and make sure we’re remembered for the good way we behave in business meetings, not the bad.
The British may have a reputation for being polite, but a leading etiquette expert says it’s a different matter when it comes to ‘do’s and don’ts’ in business meetings. Workingmums.co.uk looks at how we should conduct ourselves and make sure we’re remembered for the good way we behave in meetings, not the bad.
Are we rude in meetings?
Sadly, yes. A survey by hotel chain Future Inns, which hosts many conferences and business meetings on its premises, discovered 41% of British business people think it is acceptable to regularly answer phone calls or respond to e-mails during meetings while half (50%) will go as far as actually getting up and leaving meetings to answer calls.
And men are definitely the ruder sex in the bad manners stakes – nearly half of businessmen (49%) think it’s okay to take calls during a meeting and almost two thirds (61%) will often leave their colleagues or clients waiting while leaving the room to attend to a call. Nearly a third of men (31%) admitted to regularly yawning in meetings and 35% think nothing of arriving late.
In contrast, just a third of women told the survey they will answer calls and respond to e-mails during a business meeting and just under a quarter (23%) would consider arriving late.
”Women are definitely better at picking up emotional signals,” says etiquette guru William Hanson. ”They have a heightened awareness of emotional and social intelligence and are better readers of body language. They will know that answering a phone call in a meeting is bad manners. I don’t think men would be deliberately rude, but women are just more perceptive to the feelings of others. Men need to be sat down and told it is rude. It’s a bit like teaching a child table manners - they won’t pick it up naturally unless they are told what to do.”
Why is it important to be polite?
”It gives you a psychological advantage,” advises Hanson. ”We judge people within three seconds of meeting them, so it’s important to get those first three seconds right. As humans we do judge people. If you mess up, you can still change opinions, but the initial assessment is one that stays at the back of the head. Britain is renowned for politeness, but I think there’s a chronic lack of respect in this country when it comes to business meetings – I think we’re bordering on the horrendous. People from other countries pick up on how important good business manners are, particularly the Americans. It’s good manners to pay attention to those people you are with at the time and this is often more important in business than in any other walk of life. The survey shows a clear need to be more aware of the dos and don’ts of boardroom etiquette – something that can pay massive dividends for both the individual professional and the company’s bottom line.”
* A good handshake. ”Think RVPT,” says Hanson. R = right hand, V = vision (eye contact), P = palm inwards, T = two firm shakes. Don’t be too firm or too loose. And never put your left hand on top of the other person’s right hand – this is off-putting because it looks as though you’re trying to be controlling. Don’t hug or kiss someone you have never met before.
* Be punctual. The survey showed only 30% think it is unacceptable to arrive late to a business meeting. Nearly a quarter (22%) feel it’s okay to be 10 minutes late and 14% think it’s fine to leave colleagues or clients waiting for up to 20 minutes. One third even admitted to having cancelled a meeting at the last minute due to a hangover. In a social situation, such as going to a dinner party, it is acceptable to be 10 minutes late. But don’t apply this principle to business. Be on time.
* Research good manners abroad. Don’t presume it’s Britain-abroad. On foreign trips, find out which approach shows deference and which doesn’t. Crossing your legs and showing the soles of your shoes is regarded as highly insulting in the Middle East.
* Write a ‘thank you’ letter or e-mail. ‘Nobody does it these days,” says Hanson, ”but if you’ve had a job interview or business meeting, it may make you stand out.”
* Chew gum. ”This is becoming more common, but it isn’t appropriate for the workplace,” warns Hanson.
* Let your mobile ring. ”Put your phone onto silent, vibrate, or off. If it rings in a meeting, turn it off immediately,” says Hanson. However, if you are expecting an important call during the meeting, inform those at the meeting of its importance at the beginning and say you will leave the room quickly and discreetly if the call comes.
* Text/e-mail with your phone. Trying to look under the table without anybody guessing what you’re doing is futile. Others in the meeting will know what you are doing and will take on board that you think they’re not worth listening to. ”Concentrate on the human, not the gadget,” advises Hanson, ”because the human has feelings, the gadget does not.”
* Have a laptop open in front of you, unless you are going to use it for reference during the meeting.