Why Business Etiquette Matters

Blog > Industry News

Why Business Etiquette Matters

By Mikayla Milburn | Sep 30, 2019

Who cares about business etiquette? Your boss. Poor manners could cost you a job when it comes to navigating generationally diverse work climates.

Etiquette may sound like posh behavior that is only required of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but the truth is that neglecting to mind your manners could cost you business, or even a job. For example, if you’ve ever been on a date and the other person won’t stop talking with their mouth full or doesn’t bother to look up from their phone for more than a couple of seconds, the date is probably already over. The same goes for business meetings and dinners.

Rupert Wesson, academy director for Debrett’s—an authority on social etiquette since 1769—says that although modern societies are becoming less formal, the world is also getting smaller and the core benefits of etiquette remain.

“Even a little knowledge of the etiquette of others helps us to connect more quickly and easily,” he says. “What has stayed the same is the principle at the heart of etiquette, namely care and consideration for others.”

In other words, social etiquette can provide a framework on which to build work relationships in a generationally diverse workforce.


Many young professionals come into the industry wondering where to go next and how to get there. Oftentimes they are naturally lacking experience and knowledge of corporate structure and career progression. In their inexperience, social etiquette is sometimes unknowingly violated, causing harm to their budding careers.

This lack of industry knowledge is exactly why it is so important to get a mentor within the industry. In some ways it’s up to the older generation to facilitate newcomers who may not have had the appropriate mentorship in the industry or in corporate etiquette.

Colleen Rickenbacher (MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter), co-founder of the Global Protocol, Etiquette and Civility Academy, author of Be on Your Best Cultural Behavior and a former event planner, says that the No. 1 path to success for young professionals is getting a mentor.

“The No. 1 thing is to get a mentor,” she says. “No. 2 is listen to them, because they’re a plethora of information. That’s all I can say—surround yourself with leaders because they’re just a wealth of information and they’ve gone through all this.”

“The No. 1 thing is to get a mentor,” she says. “No. 2 is listen to them, because they’re a plethora of information. That’s all I can say—surround yourself with leaders because they’re just a wealth of information and they’ve gone through all this.”

Courtney Stanley (MPI At Large), a corporate meeting planner and recipient of the MPI Chairman’s Award and RISE Award for Young Professional Achievement, says that although there are differences in generational social etiquette, we have a lot to teach each other.

“If both parties are willing to be open-minded and patient in teaching one another the benefits of their own etiquette and communication styles, both generations win, and so does their company,” she says. “Older and younger generations need to own the fact that they each have a responsibility to learn, and they each have an opportunity to educate.”

As Stanley points out, a mentor-mentee relationship benefits both parties by being able to cross-educate in different, generational aspects of social etiquette and corporate knowledge, such as when it’s appropriate to ask about a promotion, or the use of cell phones.

First Impressions

First impressions are the most important aspect of business etiquette and you can ensure a good first impression by first being respectful of people’s time. Showing up on time shows the other person that you respect them enough not to waste their time. There are exceptions, of course, if something out of the ordinary causes you to be late, but always make sure you contact the person you’re meeting to let them know.

Rickenbacher says that first impressions are paramount in indicating how you want to be perceived and how you’ll handle business.

“Your first impression is the way you come in or stand up—you give a nice welcome to someone with a firm handshake,” she says. “Your appearance—I’m not saying you have to have nice, expensive clothes, but look like you took your time to get dressed that morning. I’m not saying you can’t wear jeans, but you’re dressed appropriately for whatever that business is. Meaning, if they’re dressed smart business then you come in wearing smart business clothes. If they’re more relaxed, then you are more relaxed in your dress.”

If you show that you are respectable and respectful, that could be the edge you need to seal the deal. Being polite and considerate to others shows that you’re reliable and a good representative of yourself and your company. That includes remembering to give prompt thank-you notes.

“If we finish up with a nice thank-you note, that’s going to make the difference,” Rickenbacher says. “We’re going to get that business over someone else.”

Whereas younger professionals may opt for a quick and comfortable email thank-you note, a handwritten note will always make you more memorable than the competition.


“The manner in which you behave at the table is similar to how you will behave socially or with a client,” says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “Proper dining skills take away awkward moments so you can concentrate on the person in front of you.”

Most of us are well acquainted with the cardinal rule of dining: Don’t talk with your mouth full. However, there is more to dining than chewing your food and keeping your elbows off the table—and mistakes can mean the end of the deal.

One rule that is often neglected is if you’re the guest at a dinner party or corporate dinner, never eat before the host or start the meal without them or make a toast before they do. It is important to know what to order, the appropriate way to break bread—tear, don’t gnaw or cut—and even which hand to eat with and which direction to pass food. If you’re going to be dining with international guests, always be sure to research their dining customs.

Just as it is important to treat international diners with respect, keep in mind that men and women should be respectful of the working relationship that is still in place outside of the office. An act that might appear chivalrous to you may appear demeaning to others.

“Men and women are held to the same standards when it comes to doing good business. Socially, a man seats a woman at the table. Corporately, a woman would seat herself,” Gottsman says. “Basically, men and women should be treated equally with respect and decorum.”

If you’re the host, always put guests’ needs above your own, and that includes keeping phone use to a minimum or, preferably, not using it at all. If you’re focused on your guests, it’ll be easier to put them at ease and do good business. Putting away a device that’s been ubiquitous since childhood for digital natives/Millennials may seem daunting, but doing so will show that you’re dedicated to quality face-to-face time with your professional peers and business partners.

“Make sure that your fellow diners want for nothing,” Wesson says. “You don’t have to just talk about business at a business lunch—take the time to get to know a bit about the person with whom you are dining.”

Phone Etiquette

Let’s talk more about smartphones. Oh, how phones have managed to both simplify and complicate our lives. As a Millennial who literally can’t remember a time before cell phones, I can attest that being without your phone feels plain weird. In a way it’s a security blanket for many us. As opposed to some people’s perception, to us, a cell phone is not a hindrance to forging relationships, but a boon.

That being said, older generations may not feel comfortable with this kind of relationship building and may prefer face-to-face conversations as the most effective option for building work relationships. Michael Lynn, co-founder of the Global Protocol, Etiquette and Civility Academy, believes there is a gap in generational social etiquette, at least when it comes to smartphones.

“Individuals struggle with face-to-face meetings and conversation,” he says. “[They] will even send a message to a person in a cubicle instead of walking over to talk or can’t turn off their devices during meetings or while having a conversation with an individual.”

In Conclusion

He adds that bridging the gap will take commitment from everyone to interact with one another. Commitment from everyone includes understanding the issue with phones on both sides by acknowledging that there is a time and place for phone use. While phone use may not seem like a big deal at the moment, the person giving a speech or dining across from you might take you playing on your phone as a snub. The important thing to remember is to take pains to extend the core principles of social etiquette: care and consideration.



Mikayla Milburn
Mikayla Milburn

MiKayla Milburn is a freelance contributor who writes relatable, accurate and resolute content. In her personal life, she adores her furbabies and her husband, in that order.