Colleen Rickenbacher Etiquette & Protocol Pointers

Office Etiquette

July 28, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Many people are now working from a home or satellite office but the majority of workers are still in the traditional office that they drive or ride a mode of transportation to and from each working day. With that comes the challenge of being the perfect co-worker or a friendly neighbor in the next cubicle. Office invasion or bad office habits can wear you down day after day and year after year. Since we tend to spend more time in the office with co-workers than with our families, we need to make it a happy and enjoyable environment. It really can be a lot easier to work side-by-side with just a little office etiquette. 

I interviewed a lot of office workers and these were top office “complaints” that could be easily fixed to provide a much better working environment for everyone:

  1. Respect your neighbor’s space and privacy. Don’t be hanging out at their door or peering over the top of their cubicle. This is their workspace and should be treated as such. Avoid strolling into their office and stepping behind their computer to see what they may be working on or typing. Leave the pens, stapler, paper clips and any other materials on their desk. If you need office supplies I am sure you can order them and get your own. Or even worse, just coming into their office and sitting down with a cup of coffee and staying. 
  2. Start on time: Arrive on time. But arrive on time and ready for work. It doesn’t mean you can come in on time and then spend the next 15-30 minutes eating breakfast and chatting about the television show from the night before.
  3. Use a conference room for a conference call. Do you think that is why they call them “conference” calls? Don’t be screaming into a phone next door to people that are trying to conduct business in the offices.
  4. Don’t yell to your neighbor or even worse a neighbor about three doors down. Either get up and walk to their office (look at this as your daily exercise) or e-mail or call them on the phone to ask a question or what they plan to do for lunch.
  5. Don’t complain and don’t gossip. Both get old real fast and you have too much time on your hands to do both or either. Find a solution or find another job. Voice your opinions but have a solution to the challenge so people will listen to you. 

Pay attention to your office environment, your neighbors and how you can make your day in the office enjoyable but yet completing tasks and handling business.

Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Author of Be On Your Best Business Behavior

Etiquette Through the Generations

July 28, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Etiquette is making a comeback but it is a little slow. In about the 1960’s etiquette was beginning to take a backseat and kept getting further and further back in the 70’s and 80’s. But now corporations are seeing the importance of business protocol. This includes the appearance of their employees, the way they close a deal over a business meal by not talking with their mouth full of food, and if they are properly conducting a business meeting. Are you also providing the best customer service and retaining your customers and clients? It all comes down to civility and just plain day-to-day etiquette. But what about our younger generations and their style of work? The look in the office place has changed, the equipment to get the work done has changed, the level of education has changed and their style of work has changed. Change is good and it will continue to change year after year after year. But with the change are we forgetting about etiquette? Rarely is it taught any more in the public schools but some colleges are now offering etiquette classes. For some it could be a challenge by the time they reach graduation. They could be totally lost when they enter the workforce or confronted with their first meetings or first corporate dinner that has more than one fork and one knife. 

Just some helpful hints. But remember this is not limited to the younger generations:

  1. Dress appropriately: If it calls for business or business casual then be safe and pull out that coat and tie, a sports jacket or a nice pair of slacks and shirt for the business casual. Always better to be overdressed than underdressed. To the women open toed shoes definitely present a less formal look, but can be dressed up with a higher heel, leather and straps. Low and rubber just don’t make it.
  2. Punctuality and preparedness: Come on time and be ready. Do your research, check the Web site, know your audience and be prepared. Never apologize for being late or not prepared. First impressions will last forever. 
  3. A good handshake and a smile. Doesn’t really get too much easier than this but a wimpy, wet or limp handshake could turn someone off instantly. They will not even hear anything you may say to them because they are just trying to recover from another bad first impression. Use good eye contact.
  4. Follow-through on all projects. If you say you are going to do something, send something, research something or get them an answer, then do it. 
  5. Follow-up with a thank-you note. As soon as you finish that meeting or dinner meal, drop that person a brief but effective thank-you note. It makes a statement and shows you are completing the process.

Get into a good habit and look and act professionally. You will be remembered and will advance.

Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Author of Be On Your Best Business Behavior

E-mail Etiquette

July 26, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Quick, immediate, now, instant.  This is what is expected or demanded in our day-to-day business response time.  No longer can we say “I’ll be back to you with that answer in a few days.”  By then ten other competitors would have filled that order, book the convention, completed the RFP and moved on to other deals.

No matter where you are, what time zone you may be in, day of the week or hour of the night, people e-mail and they expect an immediate response.  I am truly wondering if people sleep at all let alone the recommended seven to eight hours.  We have evolved into a fast-paced, no downtime society.  We must be better, provide ROI (return on investment) instantly, reach that competitive edge, and be a step ahead and all of those terms that move us up the ladder of success or to stay ahead of the game.  With that comes checking our e-mails constantly.  We do not want to miss anything.  But with that also comes rudeness to the person beside us during a meeting, a meal, on a plane or during a conversation.  Is it so bad to respond a few hours later?  I agree in a less than 24-hour response time but we don’t have to be addicted to our electronic devices especially when we should be watching our child’s soccer game or visiting with our family over a meal. 

Some e-mail guidelines:

  1. Watch the length. It is said that if your message is more than 2/3 of the computer screen it needs to go into an attachment. Also watch your attachments. Think of sending several attachments if they contain a lot of material.
  2. Watch those emotional signs. I love to receive a happy face to make me smile but would you send out a formal letter and then put emotional signs throughout the letter. I hope not. If the e-mail is to a friend and you are just chatting, then go with all the signs you want. You can even have them dancing across the bottom of your screen.
  3. Watch colors and diagrams or logos on your e-mails. You are wasting the receiver’s time, ink and energy to download a six-color logo at the bottom of each of your e-mails. 
  4. Provide a “grabber” for the subject line. With all the virus problems and people receiving hundreds of e-mails daily, you want your e-mail subject line to catch their attention so they open it. Now, the body of your letter needs to be related to the subject line. You just can’t get their attention so they open your message and the body of the letter is totally different or not even slightly related.
  5. Bullet points: Get to the point. Put the most important point right in the start of your e-mail. Don’t make them read and read to get to the bulk of important points. They may miss them or delete before they ever get there. Keep your points short and direct.
  6. Respond to only the necessary people: If you receive a question or a statement to you and 20 other people do not respond back to all of those people. If the person would like a response than only go back to that one person. Don’t tie up the e-mail with useless responses or material to everyone on the list. Better to send all the names in the bcc format so you are not releasing e-mail addresses to everyone. 
  7. Read through all e-mails from the same person. Check all your e-mails before going back to the person to ask questions after you read only one of his e-mails. 
  8. When you send out an e-mail is this something that could be sent on a postcard? E-mails can be viewed, sent, and resent to the world. Make sure your message was not personal or confidential in nature that could be viewed by the wrong people. 
  9. Signature line: Always provide a signature line. I don’t mean your name in cursive. But provide your name, title, company, address, phone, fax, e-mail and Web site. Don’t make people have to search to respond. Make it easy to work with you.

Happy e-mails.

What Happened to Public Etiquette?

July 20, 2006

By Colleen Rickenbacher

What has happened to our day-to-day manners, civility and consideration for others?  They are gone.  Of course this does not apply to everyone but a large majority have either forgotten deeds of kindness that their mothers have taught them, or possibly they were never taught.  We need to pick our heads up from our electronic devices and go back to face-to-face communication and to remember the simple "thank you" and "you're welcome."  Our society has made a huge shift in the past decade to make us all work longer hours, concentrate on the bottom line, and to push the ROI.  This focus is good but with it comes less time for our personal life and family.  I have gone to a million time management courses and I am still trying to balance and figure out how I can put more hours in a day.  What we do need to manage to include in our day are those little acts of kindness to our co-workers, family and even total strangers that we pass on the street, sit next to in airports or pass on the highway.  Etiquette is a part of everything we do from the way we look and dress, our handshake the way we exchange a business card, through our e-mails, cell phones and electronic etiquette to how we eat.  We can turn off a person instantly by talking to them after you just took a bite of food and showing them everything in your mouth.  You get approximately 3-5 seconds to make a first impression and months and even years to take it back.  I compare your first impression to your television remote control.  Many of you even take less that 3-5 seconds before you swith the channel.  Out of 86,400 seconds that you have everyday, you surely can stop for 3-5 seconds for eye contact with someone or 3-5 seconds to allow a car trying to get into traffic without honking to them, or even just to hold a door for the person coming behind you.  Let's talk public etiquette.

1.  Hold the door:  Before you let the door shut behind you just take a quick glance to see if anyone is walking toward you.  If so just take a few seconds and hold the door for them.  It doesn't matter what the age or gender just get into the habit and hold the door.  Hopefully that person will return a smile to you and a kind thank you. 

2.  Cell phones:  Just remember who is more important --The person sitting next to you or the person on the phone?  This speaks volumes about your etiqette skills.  I promise it won't be the end of the world if you get back to that person 15-20 minutes later. 

3.  Dining etiqette:  Talking and eating are two totally separate acts and never to be combined.

4.  Elevators:  Let the people get off before you even think of getting into an elevator.   When the door opens you could hold it to let them exit and then allow elderly and parents with small children get on first. 

5.  The highway:  Use your turn signals, allow people to pull on from the entrance ramp and be kind as a driver.  Road rage is way out of control so these little acts of kindness will totally confuse people and might even create a small smile and a wave as a thank you.

6.  Invited to someone's home:  Bring a gift and arrive on time.  Don't go empty handed to a dinner or a party.  If it with friends then help with the food with a dessert or appetizer. Either bring a small gift as a bottle of wine or a candle or something that would enjoy after the party.  Don't bring flowers or any gift that would cause them to stop and have to be away from their guests.  Flowers the next day would be great. 

7.  Thank you notes:  People still love to receive a thank you note and should be sent to thank a person for a job well done, a meal, a gift or something they did for you or your company.  An e-mail thank you can be sent initially and then follow-up wth a handwritten note. 

8.  R.s.v.p.:  You need to respond yes or no for all invitations.  You can have a change of plans but let people know if you are attending.  As we know all events, meetings and meal functions cost money especially if extra plans need to be handled for no-shows or 20 people that just showed up.

9.  E-mails:  Remember it is a business communication.  Before you hit that send button just ask yourself the question "Would you send this e-mail out it a letter format?"  If not, you might want to check your spelling, grammar and subject line.

10. Buffets:  A buffet is not your last meal. 

Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP


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