Charmed, I’m Sure

Proper business etiquettegoes beyond the salad fork

After eight months as the marketing manager at a major book-publishing house, Wayne Harris resigned. Harris and his supervisor did not get along but Harris felt obligated to give three and a half weeks notice, instead of the standard two.

“I was in the middle of a project when I got [a] job offer,” he explains. “I didn’t want to leave my colleagues in the lurch.”

Proper business etiquette goes beyond using the right fork at a lunch meeting; it is also about developing effective people skills. Considering the welfare of your co-workers is all part of having good business manners — a practice that many experts say is missing in the American workforce.

The decline rapidly increased with the booming economy of the ’90s and the emergence of the dot-com millionaires, offers Pamela J. Holland, author of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? (Brody Communications Ltd.; $10.95). “People felt they could ignore protocol that generations before them had been adhering to.”

But the trend is not without consequences. One survey of CEOs across America found that one-third of the respondents declined to hire someone because of poor etiquette and nearly one in four had fired someone for lack of etiquette.

Here are several areas to consider:

A proper handshake Make eye contact and offer a warm, sincere smile. Susan Fignar, president of Pur*sue, an image management and consulting firm, describes a “power shake” as making web-to-web contact and locking thumbs as opposed to grabbing the person’s fingers. Wrap your hand around the other person’s hand with a firm (not bone-crushing) grip.

Chivalry vs. sexism “A man should stand when a woman comes to or leaves the table,” says Colleen A. Rickenbacher, author of Be on Your Best Business Behavior: How to Avoid Social and Professional Faux Pas (Brown Books; $13.95) and an etiquette consultant whose clients include FedEx and Four Seasons Resorts. “When a woman invites a man to lunch, she pays.”

Returning phone calls and e-mails “Respond within 24 hours, by the close of the next business day,” says Rickenbacher, except when you’re traveling. Business e-mails should be written as a business letter — without the abbreviations. “Write as though you were going to put it into an envelope with a stamp.”

Voice mail messages Always include your phone number, slowly reciting the digits. “If you have a difficult time thinking off the top of your head, write down a bulleted list of what you want to say,” says Holland.

Professional attire You should always be well appointed. “No ties thrown over your shoulder or tucked into your shirt at a lunch or dinner meeting,” says Rickenbacher.

Adds Holland: “Little things don’t mean a lot, they mean everything. Behaviors that go against kindness, logic, and efficiency get in the way of good business and annoy people who will see you as less competent.”