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Business Etiquette

Business Etiquette


First published in four parts on www.successfactory.co.za
Copyright © 2007 Elsabé Manning
Used with permission of the author:
Author: Elsabé Manning
20 November 2007


Business etiquette describes the display of certain behaviours, actions, attitude and overall conduct in business, which is based on our personal and professional values, culture and expectations.

Many business deals have been lost due to unintentional lack of manners or etiquette. Ignorant, unintentional behaviour, causing people to feel disrespected or abused has lost organisations and business leaders a lot of money and respect. You may never be given a second chance unless you find out what went wrong and can admit your ignorance and apologise profusely. Make it your business to know as much as possible about the client’s and/or the organisation’s culture and expectations.

The most important thing to remember is to be courteous, considerate and thoughtful to everyone around you, regardless of the situation. Address conflict situations with utmost respect and apologise when you step on toes.

Remember, when speaking in meetings, not to raise your voice, remain calm at all times and think before you speak. You will earn the respect and credibility expected of you.

Build relationships

  • Make it your business to get to know as many people in your own and your client’s organisations as possible. Secretaries, PA’s and receptionists may have more clout than you think. The rule of thumb is to treat everyone with respect. You never know when you may need them.
  • Always be ready to introduce yourself to other participants in workshops, meetings or functions and hand a clean business card to each person. Remember, you never know who you might meet at social functions. Use the opportunity to network.
  • Be sincere in your approach and be a good listener. Ask open-ended questions (“What do you do for a living?”) – it gets people talking about themselves, their business etc.
  • Keep notes on people. Create a contact database with names, name of company they work for, type of industry, the person they work for, their designation, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, spouse and children’s names etc. All and any appropriate information you may need. Remember to use the information. Send an e-mail or make a phone call to them on their birthday or to congratulate them on a promotion. Send a gift for engagements, weddings or send condolences for a death of a loved one. Remember to check the person’s religious or cultural background, because it may not be acceptable or appropriate to send gifts or certain colours or types of flowers.
  • Kindness is a virtue. If you are kind to everyone you come into contact with, you will gain the respect and admiration of others and by being courteous and respectful to everyone you come into contact with, you avoid ever having to apologise for your conduct or ignorance.
  • Remember to build relationships inside your own organisation as well. Colleagues and direct reports may help or hinder your promotion in the organisation. They may leave your organisation and become an important client or join a sought-after organisation.
  • Always give people the benefit of doubt.


  • Always give your boss clear and concise feedback. Report your movements to your boss and make sure that you inform him / her of issues that may arise. Be sure that your boss is aware of all outcomes and milestones.
  • Always treat your boss with the utmost of respect and never speak ill of him or her. The same applies to your organisation.


  • Step on anyone’s toes. In other words, be careful not to intrude on anyone’s space, deals etc. You need permission to approach someone else’s client, staff member or boss.
  • It would be unprofessional to give a colleague’s staff a task to perform or to wrap them over the knuckles for something done wrong. You need to approach their direct superior (your colleague), who will deal with it.
  • Do not go over a client’s head to their boss, for business. You need to ask your client’s permission to approach anyone else in the organisation. If you suspect that they will block you to protect themselves, then say, “I hope you don’t mind if I see Mr Jones. It is vital to get his input on the issue of training the staff. Would you like to be present?”
  • Don’t report colleagues to superiors. You will be viewed as childish and perhaps jealous. It is best to stay out of other people’s business, unless you witnessed disrespect or a crime or something that will affect the company or you personally.
  • Don’t speak negatively about your organisation to others. If the company is that bad you shouldn’t be there. Your values should be in sync with organisational values – if you feel it is not, you should find another job.
  • Never burn a bridge. In other words always make sure that your relationships are intact with colleagues, staff, superiors, clients and client’s staff. If you make an enemy out of anyone, it will come back to bite you some day. You may sit opposite that person for an interview one day – and you will NOT get the job or you may need them for something else. Dr Phil McGraw said: “You either contaminate a relationship or you contribute to it…”


Meetings are often seen as a waste of time. This may happen when the organiser and / or chairperson of the meeting didn’t do enough preparation.


  • The objective of the meeting
  • The expected duration of the meeting
  • The exact location of the meeting
  • The names of everyone expected to attend
  • The minutes of the previous meeting (if any)
  • The agenda

Remember to:

  • Do your homework. You may have been given a task in the last meeting. Don’t wait until the last minute before completing the task
  • Excuse yourself, preferably in writing and in good time, if you are unable to attend the meeting. If you had a task to perform, make sure that it’s done and report on when you excuse yourself from the meeting. Do not make a habit of excusing yourself from meetings.
  • Make every effort to attend every meeting, because management will notice.
  • Observe the rules of meetings.
  • Be on time.
  • Be prepared.
  • Do not be loud or disruptive.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Give any and all feedback required of you.
  • Be respectful of everybody.
  • Observe the rules of Communicating With Integrity elsewhere in this book.
  • Listen before you give your point of view.
  • Resolve conflict amicably and respectfully.
  • Do not leave the meeting, unless there is a crisis.
  • Switch your cell phone off.
  • Participate.
  • Stick to the commitments you make in meetings.

If you chair the meeting:

  • Do not allow interruptions. Management often feel they have the right to interrupt informal working sessions or meetings of subordinates. This may be viewed as disrespectful, unless it is an urgent matter that needs to be attended to immediately. Always apologise if you must interrupt conversation, meetings or someone’s concentration on a task.
  • Make sure that you thank everyone for their time and participation.
  • Get approval of previous well-documented minutes.
  • Never assign work to anyone not present in the meeting, unless it is absolutely necessary. Note that the person has not agreed to do the task and that they have not been informed of it yet.
  • Stick to the agenda. As the person chairing the meeting, you are responsible for reaching outcomes of the meeting as quickly and effectively as possible.
  • Thank everyone again for attending at the close of the meeting and for the tasks they agreed to do.
  • Remind everyone of the time, date and venue of the next meeting

New staff members and guests

  • Be well prepared for any visiting guests, or for the arrival of new staff members. Don’t leave everything to the last minute to organise.
  • All guests should be fetched from reception. Do not let your guests wander through the building looking for you.
  • Greet and introduce yourself to your guests by shaking hands. Do not use the ‘African’ handshake unless you are sure that they know it well.
  • Invite the guests to use your first name, and they may reciprocate. If they are guests of your superior, you should not use their first names unless they invite you to. People should be introduced to each other in a professional manner.
  • Guests visiting a manager should be taken to an agreed place such as a boardroom or the manager’s office. Make sure the manager has been notified of the visitor’s arrival.
  • Make sure the guests are introduced to everyone. Also make the necessary introductions if people from within the organisation don’t know each other, invite everyone to take a seat, and offer them something to drink.
  • All guests should be welcomed sincerely and made to feel at home as soon as possible.
  • Make sure that the guests have all the resources and information they need to do their job. The same applies to visitors who may be with you for a while, for instance consultants, auditors, trainers, facilitators, or people from Revenue Services. They will need to use relevant documentation and information—allow them access to everything necessary.
  • If a guest is to be provided with an office or work area, make sure that it is of a standard similar to one you would give to an employee working in a comparable role.

Visiting your clients

It doesn’t matter how well you know your client, you have to make sure that your conduct is utterly professional at all times when you visit them. Here are some useful rules.

  • Always make an appointment in advance — never arrive unannounced at your client’s office or business.
  • Make sure that you have all relevant documentation with you.
  • You simply must be on time. Make every effort in this regard.
  • Write down the name of the receptionist so that you can use it next time
  • Switch your cell phone off. You cannot under any circumstances receive or make calls in the company of your client, unless it is for their benefit and with their approval.
  • Do not smoke, unless your client is a smoker and you are in a designated area. If your client is smoking, you can ask for permission to light up too.
  • Make sure that you have done what you promised to do or what is expected of you. Do not make excuses or give outlandish reasons why something has not been done.
  • Look and behave your best. Don’t be loud or aggressive.
  • Never lie to anyone about anything. Your organisation’s image will be tarnished and the client will have the right to take serious steps against you. If this happens you may even lose your job.
  • Deal with your meeting professionally and do not overstay your welcome.
  • If your client seems to be in a hurry, politely refuse any offer of a drink since this is likely to delay your departure, and thus delay your client.
  • Do not wander through your client’s organisation hoping to meet more people. This is unprofessional and will be viewed with suspicion.
  • If you want to meet more people in your contact’s organisation, ask them whether they would be willing introduce you, or whether it would be in order for you to contact other people yourself. Do not go over your client’s head.
  • Diarise everything. If you do not, you may miss your next meeting, or forget to do certain tasks. It is totally unacceptable to say you forgot.
  • Always thank you client for their time, and shake hands. Do not greet your client with a kiss — even if you know them well.

Elsabé Manning is an Executive, Life and Business Coach; Facilitator; Author of Up The Corporate Ladder - Professionalism in the Workplace, Public Speaker and Consultant. She studied Human Resource Management at RAU in Johannesburg. Elsabé founded Success Factory - a highly successful business, specialising in professionalism; communication; sales training; performance management; leadership development; coaching, mentoring and team re-building. She consults with organisations on skills development and coaching for individuals and teams from foundation to executive level. Elsabé is a sought-after public speaker and an accomplished writer. She writes weekly leadership and self-development articles for organisations and she has a monthly television slot on Professionalism in the Workplace on the commercial channel of DSTV and her own professionalism slot on ABSA Bank’s internal television training channel. Elsabé is a member of the Coach Trainers Association of South Africa - A Special Interest Group of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa). She stays abreast of all the latest ideas and developments through constant self-development and her own personal coaching programme. Success Factory is an accredited service provider - SETQAA DecisionNumber 2075.She can be contacted at011 648 8969 or www.successfactory.co.za

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