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Handshaking is an art that many of us, even some of our highest ranking officials, have not mastered. The truth is the simple act of shaking hands is anything but simple.

A proper handshake is critical to making a good first impression, particularly in business settings. While some etiquette rules have eased in recent years, my 1990 copy of Emily Post on Business Etiquette and the Emily Post Institute’s current advice for are remarkably similar. Here are some tips from the etiquette experts:

When meeting someone or greeting an acquaintance after a period of time, it’s appropriate for either person to extend their hand first. In the United States and most European countries, “Your handshake should be relaxed but firm (never limp), and you should look the other person in the eyes, smile and say, ‘I am very pleased to meet you’ or give another cordial greeting. Do not hold on to the other person’s hand or pump his or her arm,” writes Emily Post.

The “relaxed but firm” instruction seems to be particularly tricky. People who wear rings or have arthritis can recall a handshake painful enough to make them want to run screaming from the room. If in doubt, connect in the web between the thumb and forefinger, gradually clasp the other person’s hand and attempt to gauge their comfort.

On the other hand, a limp handshake or extending only the fingers and not connecting web to web gives the impression of weakness or passivity – not how you want to be perceived in either work or social situations.

What about the excessive arm pumping we’ve been seeing in the news? Even if you’re posing for a photo, the range of motion need not be more than two or three inches. In addition, twisting the other person’s arm or pulling them toward you is unnecessary and possibly offensive, as this could be taken as a sign of aggression.

Your left hand has a part to play, as well. Watch two powerful people shake hands and note how often the person who is (or who wishes to be) higher ranking, will reach up with the left hand and touch the shoulder or pat the arm of the other person. You will never watch political debates again without noticing this little dance at the beginning and end, when candidates traditionally shake hands. If in doubt about your rank, leave your left hand at your side.

Feeling under the weather? Some people have substituted a handshake with a fist bump, usually reserved for social situations. You can extend your fist and say something like, “I’m recovering from a cold.” Better yet, skip all contact, apologize and say you would rather be safe than sorry about passing along a virus. People will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Finally, what about hugging and kissing when greeting a business colleague? That’s subject for another blog. In the meantime, check out Beyond the Handshake: Hugs and the Social Kiss from the Emily Post Institute.

Embedded within the physical act of handshaking are subtle expectations involving rank, age, gender, nationality and degree of familiarity. Study the art of handshaking and you will be well on your way to making a great first impression.

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I attended a baby shower this weekend at which guests were asked to pre-address their own thank you note envelopes. What? I may as well have been asked to write the thank you note, itself. In my book, this is tacky and a major etiquette no-no. If a guest has made an effort to show up at the shower and bring a present, the least the recipient can do is send a personalized thank you card.

Am I a correspondence snob? Probably. When it comes to business correspondence, there are a lot of us. Dozens of business etiquette resources and websites point to the same bothersome trend: that writers have gotten lazy. The days of hand-written letters, even printed business letters, are fading, replaced by email and further degraded by phone texts.

To set you, the sender apart, I suggest the following email tips culled from my own experience and some pretty awesome etiquette websites.

  1. Include a courteous greeting and closing. It’s just a nice thing to do.
  2. “Please” and “thank you” are common courtesies that will take you far.
  3. Initially, address your recipient formally: Dear Mr. Pitt, Hello Ms. Jolie. Use first names after a few interactions.
  4. Know your fields: The “to” field is for those from whom you would like a response. The “cc” field is for those who you are just FYI'ing.
  5. When replying to an email with multiple recipients noted in the “to” or “cc” fields, remove the addresses of those who your reply does not apply to.
  6. Refrain from using the “Reply to All” feature to give your opinion to those who may not be interested.
  7. To be safe, don’t complete the “to” field until you’ve completely written and reviewed your message and are ready to send. How many times have you accidentally hit the “send” button prematurely? “Doh!”
  8. Take the time to review each email to ensure the message is clear and cannot be misconstrued. Check your tone.
  9. Refrain from using too many exclamation points. It’s annoying. This is a good rule for any writing – electronic or otherwise.
  10. If your email is emotionally charged, take a break before you send it. Nine times out of ten, you’ll feel differently in the morning. It’s for the best.
  11. Just because someone doesn't ask for a response doesn't mean you ignore them. Always acknowledge emails from those you know in a timely manner. And if you cannot respond to an email promptly, at the very least email back confirming your receipt and when the sender can expect your response.
  12. Keep emails brief and to the point. Don’t lose your message in a sea of filler.
  13. In a string of emails, feel free to modify the “Subject” field to more accurately reflect a conversation's direction.
  14. When in doubt, go formal. No abbreviations — use full words and sentences (you, not “u”).
  15. And for goodness sake, no crazy fonts or fancy backgrounds.

Lastly, if you need to clarify your message, don’t forget the telephone. I know it’s a scary thing to actually talk to people. Maybe my next blog will focus on the lost art of conversation . . .

 

Sources:
businessemailetiquette.com
www.netmanners.com
101emailetiquettetips.com

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