21 Professional Etiquette Rules You Need to Know

woman shaking man's hand in interview

 Getty Images/Ariel Skelley

The holidays are almost here, and that means you’ll probably be attending one or more social events for work. Whether it’s a blowout holiday bash with all of your co-workers or an intimate end-of-the-year meal with clients, it’s a good idea to brush up on business etiquette before you walk into the event.

Luckily, the folks at Business Insider have spoken to Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette. In her book, Pachter shares the rules “people need to understand to conduct and present themselves appropriately in professional social settings.” Since a lot of her tips can apply to life in general, I’ve rounded them up below. Here are 21 etiquette rules you should know and follow no matter what.

  1. Stand up when you’re being introduced to someone. This helps establish your presence.
  2. Always say your full name when introducing yourself.
  3. Always initiate the handshake if you’re the higher-ranking person or host. Don’t overlook the importance of a handshake. In the U.S., it is the official business greeting.
  4. Dress appropriately. This goes without saying, but you should always find out what the dress code is at an event, meeting, or restaurant. Then follow it.
  5. Only say "thank you" once or twice during a conversation. If you over use the term, you’ll dilute its impact and make yourself seem needy or helpless.
  6. Send separate thank-you notes to everyone involved. When interviewing, it’s customary to send an email or handwritten thank-you note to all of the people you met with.
  7. Leave your phone in your pocket. Don’t take it out during meetings. It’s rude.
  8. Use professional headshots. For your business profile on LinkedIn or other websites, don’t post a photo of yourself at the beach. You won’t be taken seriously.
  9. Always double-check that you have selected the correct email recipient. You don’t want to send the email to the wrong person!
  10. If you forget someone’s name, admit it. It’s no big deal! Just say, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name. Can you remind me what it is?”
  11. Greet people at work. Say hello to the people you know as well as the people you don’t know.
  12. Keep your fingers together when you point. Never point with just an index finger—it’s too aggressive. Instead point with an open palm and keep your fingers together.
  13. Never pull out someone’s chair for them. In a business setting, Pachter says you should leave behind social gender rules. It's okay to hold open the door for a guest, but a man does not have to pull out a woman’s chair.
  14. When at a business lunch or dinner, don’t order anything too expensive. Follow the lead of your host. If they say you can indulge in the steak or lobster, do so, but otherwise, select an item like chicken that is more wallet-friendly.
  15. Order the same amount as your guest/host. If they order an appetizer and an entree, you can, too, but if they order a salad, choose a menu option that is on the smaller, more affordable side.
  16. Never ask for a to-go box. “You are there for business, not for leftovers,” says Pachter.
  17. The host should always pay. If you were the inviter, you should pay the bill; gender does not matter. If you’re worried about a fight over the bill arising, excuse yourself from the table—say you’re going to the bathroom—and then discretely take care of the bill.
  18. Stay sober. Don’t get blackout drunk at a work event. Enough said.
  19. Prepare a polite exit from every meeting or conversation.

For more rules, check out Pachter’s book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

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