Good business etiquette is essential for success in the professional world. Whether you‘re working remotely or in an office, following basic etiquette rules can help you make a good impression, build strong relationships, and improve your overall work experience. In this article, we’ll cover basic rules, rules of communication, working remotely and so on. Additionally, at th end, we’ll discuss some things you should keep in mind about working in Germany.
Basic Business Etiquette
Good business etiquette starts with the basics. Here are the three pillars of basic etiquette:
- Punctuality: Whether you’re attending a meeting or must meet a deadline, it’s important to arrive on time.
- Respectfulness: Treat everyone with respect, regardless of their position or rank. This means using polite language, avoiding interrupting others, and listening attentively.
- Consideration: Consider the needs of others when making decisions or taking action. This includes being mindful of how your actions may affect others and being willing to make compromises or accommodations when necessary.
The way you dress can affect others’ perceptions of you, so make sure to dress in a way that is professional and appropriate for the occasion.
- If unsure, it is normal to ask your superior about the dress code before starting a new position. Once you secured a job, you can look around and take inspiration from your colleagues. Generally speaking, in recent years and especially during the Covid lockdowns, dress codes have become more relaxed – even in traditionally more conservative industries such as finance.
- Make sure not to show much skin: Shorts for men are usually not a good choice for most office jobs and women should make sure their cleavage is not too revealing. If you suit up all the way you may often end up a little overdressed. But you can play with the different elements of the classic business look. For example, wear a pair of jeans with a collared shirt and a suit jacket. Or wear a full suit but swap a shirt for a nice T-shirt. When it comes to makeup for women, you’ll want the look natural.
Again, all of these are more general guidelines. You’ll still need to adjust according to the specific setting you find yourself in.
General Communication Tips
Effective communication is essential for good business etiquette. Here are some tips for effective communication in the workplace:
- Use clear, concise language: Avoid using jargon or complex language that others may not understand.
- Listen actively: Give others your full attention when they are speaking and try to understand their perspective.
- Use appropriate channels: Choose the right communication channels for the situation. For example, email may be appropriate for conveying information, but a face-to-face conversation may be better for discussing sensitive topics. Many companies also added new tools for communication such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. As they more closely resemble chat apps like Whats App the language used isn’t generally as formal when compared to email. But don’t forget, that you’re still in a business context.
- Be responsive: If someone reaches out to you, try to respond in a timely manner. If you can’t respond right away, let the person know when you will be able to get back to them.
- Add a descriptive subject line: Add a subject line that summarizes the content of your email concisely so your recipients can quickly find it if they need to look at it again.
- Use CC wisely: Only add people to the CC if the information you’re sending is pertinent to them. Beware of adding someone else’s direct superior to the CC without a good reason as it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression and an attempt to apply pressure on a person.
- If someone doesn’t respond to you, you can send a follow-up mail and add their boss to CC. It is important to develop a good sense of how to handle these situations, as they can quickly backfire. So it is better to first talk to your own boss and let them decide how they want to handle it.
- Avoid a verbose email exchange if you can: Sometimes more complex topics are better discussed with a brief phone call instead of 5 very long emails. If you’re working in the office, you can also just talk to people directly. Be aware though that dropping in on someone unannounced can be perceived as overly aggressive, especially if you don’t know that person.
- When using a shared email box with a team, make use of labels to assign responsibilities for different emails, and don’t forget to mark emails as done.
These and many other features are possible in Outlook. In case you are unfamiliar with this helpful tool, feel free to ask someone on your team or Google. Outlook is often used to organize meetings, which we are going to cover in the next block.
Dealing with online meetings
It might be a regular part of your job to plan and schedule meetings. When doing so you should keep the following things in mind:
- Provide an agenda: If you invite to a meeting, it’s a common courtesy to provide a short agenda in the invitation so attendees can give some thought to the matter and prepare in advance if it’s required. Even if the purpose of the meetings was discussed previously amongst the involved people it’s good to write that down as a reminder.
- Be prepared to moderate: If you’re the person inviting to the meeting, others will expect you to also moderate that meeting. If you’re tasked to schedule the meeting for someone else, make sure it’s clear whose meeting it is and who will moderate it.
- Organize the location: Many meetings today are held online via Zoom or Teams. Even if you’re at the office others might not be, so it’s not uncommon to have digital meetings with people both in the office and at home. In that case, you’ll have to provide them with the meeting link. Make sure you configure your video call software so that participants can enter the call directly without a password, are allowed to share their screen, and can dial in via phone. And be mindful of the time limit some free versions of video call apps have.
- If you organize the meeting in the office, make sure to secure a meeting room. Hybrid meetings are usually tricky. They only make sense if you have access to a conference room that is set up for video conferences. Otherwise, technical issues and poor audibility can make things difficult.
- Find the right time spot: When planning a meeting, you can use the planning feature of outlook to find a spot that works for everyone. Since it might be hard to find a perfect spot, make sure to schedule a meeting one or two weeks in advance. It is important that the meeting falls under accepted working hours which are generally from 9 am to 4 pm. However, some companies have their unwritten laws so feel free to ask your colleagues if the time is suitable for them, especially if you are in different time zones.
- During the meeting: When the meeting is scheduled, keep it as short as possible and do not let it run for more than 5 or 10 minutes over the planned time as it can be disrespectful to the time of the others. If it has happened, that the meeting is running late, ask people whether they want to leave or continue (but don’t expect them to stay). If necessary, it’s better to schedule a follow-up.
- Only invite who is necessary: This one is quite self-explanatory. Only invite people if the content of the meeting is important to them or if they can contribute in a meaningful way. If someone just might be interested in the outcome you can just send them an email after.
- Follow up: To make sure that the meetings have a meaningful outcome it’s your responsibility to follow up. If any tasks were assigned during the meeting, make sure they actually get done and more information or discussion is necessary, it’s on you to make that happen.
Working remotely can bring its own challenges when it comes to business etiquette. Here are some tips for maintaining good etiquette while working from home:
- Set boundaries: Make sure to set clear boundaries between your work and personal life. This may mean setting aside a dedicated workspace, establishing a regular work schedule, and letting others know when you are available and when you are not.
- Follow office norms: Just because you’re not in the office doesn’t mean you should ignore office norms. For example, if your team has a daily stand-up meeting, make sure to join the call and participate.
Video calls are a very common part of working from home. Here are some things you should keep in mind when it comes to video calls:
- Wear pants: The dress code for working at home is usually more relaxed than at the office. But don’t show up to your video call in your PJs or with extremely messy hair. Ideally, you would wear pants, but if you don’t then don’t let others see your boxers. (For example: If you have to stand up for some reason, first roll your chair off-screen)
- Mute yourself when you’re not talking: No one wants to hear you cough or sniffle or your dog barking in the background. So mute yourself.
- Turn your camera on: It’s nice to see a face when you’re talking to someone. Don’t fall into the bad habit of never turning your camera. When someone has their camera on, you turn it on as well.
- Don’t interrupt people: This general rule is especially important in the challenging and stressful environment of video calls. Talking over each other reduces efficiency and
Working in an Office
When working in an office, it’s important to follow basic etiquette rules to maintain a professional and respectful work environment. Here are some tips for good office etiquette:
- Be respectful of others’ space: Respect others’ personal space and be considerate of their belongings. For example, don’t borrow someone’s stapler without asking, and make sure to return it when you’re finished.
- Follow office norms: Each office may have its own norms and expectations when it comes to things like dress code, noise level, and communication channels. Make sure to familiarize yourself with these norms and follow them.
- Be a team player: Work together with your colleagues to create a positive and productive work environment. This may mean offering help when needed, collaborating on projects, and providing support and feedback to your teammates.
- Keep your desk tidy: No one wants to work next to a dumpster. So clean up your workplace every once in a while.
Business Etiquette in Germany
The rules outlined above are probably applicable in most business settings globally. There are however some things, that you’ll want to keep in mind when working in Germany:
- Greetings: When meeting someone for the first time, it is common to shake hands and make eye contact. This is a formal gesture, and it is important to show respect and confidence in your handshake. Since Covid, a more informal fist bump or just a simple nod became also acceptable in all industries. In fact, many people prefer them today. It’s fine to wait if the other person initiates a handshake or not and then react accordingly. If you are unsure of how to address someone, it is safe to use the formal “Sie” until the person invites you to use the informal “du”.
- Punctuality: Punctually is important in any business setting. But Germans especially place a strong emphasis on punctuality, and it is considered rude to arrive late to meetings or appointments. It is best to arrive a few minutes early to allow for any unexpected delays. If you cannot make it on time, make sure to contact the other person in advance to apologize and reschedule.
- Gift-giving. It is not common to give gifts in a business setting in Germany, but if you do, make sure to choose something practical and high-quality. Avoid giving gifts that are too personal or extravagant, as this can be seen as inappropriate or even offensive.
How to navigate “Du” and “Sie”
Standard practice in Germany is to use the formal “Sie” and the last name until the more senior person offers to use “Du”. In practice navigating how to use the “correct” form can be more tricky and require quite a bit of experience and intuition.
- Generally, the “Du” version has become much more common and, in some industries and companies has actually become the norm. If you observe that at you’re company everyone is using “Du” and you are instantly offered “Du” after meeting someone for the first time, it might be safe to just generally use “Du”. Be careful with using “Du” with executives and higher-up management.
- When talking to a group of people and using the plural form you can also use the “Du” as it does not sound as direct as the singular “Du”.
- If you use “Du” and the other person is using “Sie” then you should also revert to using “Sie”. Do not switch to “Du” if another person has not offered it and do not initiate it even if it feels like the time came.
- There are some tricks you might use to “nudge” the other person to use “Du”. If it’s someone that you don’t talk to regularly you can ask if you were “per-Du”. In many cases, the other person will just tell you to use the “Du”-form. With someone you’re in regular contact with you can “accidentally” use the informal version and then immediately correct yourself and apologize. More often than not, the other person will just invite you to use “Du-form going forward.
All these things require a certain amount of intuition in reading these situations and relationships as well as a fairly high proficiency in German. Using the wrong form when you’re not a native speaker might be just interpreted as a language mistake on your part if you don’t have very good German. So, when in doubt it’s always safer to go with the “Sie”-version.
In conclusion, good business etiquette is essential for success in the professional world. By following basic etiquette rules, communicating effectively, and being considerate of others, you can make a good impression, build strong relationships, and improve your overall work experience. Whether you’re working remotely or in an office, practicing good business etiquette can help you succeed and thrive in your career.
As a last thought, all these rules are general guidelines. You probably won’t go wrong just sticking to them. But as with all rules they are also there to be broken. Once you have developed the necessary intuition and instinct you will be able to judge situations and relationships much more comprehensively and decide to go against these “Best Practices”. The key to any successful business relationship – as with any relationship in general – is to be your authentic self. Of course, you portray a different version of yourself in a different context than when you’re with friends and family. But the more you get these two versions of yourself to overlap the more you’ll feel like you don’t have to play a character following all these rules and actually be yourself.
Author: Philipp Roth