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Etiquette: The Competitive Advantage

We've all heard that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. That adage is just as important to your career as it is to your personal life. Deals are made and broken based on performances at the dinner table, on the golf course and in the boardroom. Whether it is a ringing cell phone at lunch, licking a butter knife at dinner or asking a client about personal finances, a lack of etiquette can turn a sure bet into a lost cause.

People may not notice your good manners, but they will almost always notice your bad ones. Sandra Schell of Help-U-Sell Real Estate knows how bad manners can lead to bad business. "We represent the attitude and customer service level of the entire company. If we make a poor first impression, we are likely to lose opportunities to work with potential clients."

Etiquette is about making others feel at ease. It is also about presenting yourself with the kind of polish that shows you are serious about what you do. If you embarrass yourself in business and social situations, bosses or clients may conclude that you lack the professionalism necessary to conduct business at a higher level. Suppose you take an employee to lunch and she speaks rudely to a waiter while stuffing large quantities of food in her mouth. Would you want her to meet with your clients? Probably not.

Today's competitive market means that it is not enough to simply have a good product. Companies now realize that building trusting relationships is what gives them the competitive edge. If they don't feel you can do that, you may not get the job or promotion you were hoping for.

Etiquette is equally important around bosses and co-workers. Some office environments can get too casual and consequently employees may treat their bosses like peers and their peers like old friends. Often, the line between what's professional and what's not can be crossed.

Many people wouldn't think twice about walking into a co-worker's office, or maybe even their employer, and rambling on about their personal problems, but this type of behavior reflects a blurring between workers' personal lives and their careers. Employees think that people at work will accept them with all of their social and work-related faults, but the workplace is not like home. It's a competitive environment and acceptance is conditional. It is based on image, behavior, expertise, productivity and manners. And so are promotions.

Brushing up on etiquette and taking the time for small courtesies may make a big difference in a person's career and how quickly and how far they advance. People want to do business with, and promote, those who show respect and act in such a way to bring a favorable image to the company. So remember, simple etiquette may take a person farther than any college degree ever earned - and it's free!

To learn more about business etiquette, consult the two leading sources: Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior and Emily Post's The Etiquette Advantage in Business.

Etiquette: The Competitive Advantage