Etiquette Check.

Think about how many times you’ve dined with someone who does something inappropriate at the meal table. No, this isn’t a joke like the one with the punch line: “if there’s nothing simmering in the pot, then you’re dinner”. Your mother or spouse may call you on speaking with your mouth full, but they would never fire you or deny you an opportunity because of your sloppy etiquette. Business people aren’t as forgiving. Impressions are much more than half of the battle in business and you never know when a door will be closed to you because of how you present yourself.

At this time of the year, while you’re still adhering to your New Year’s resolutions, take a moment to be introspective with a business eye, and revisit your standards. Here are a handful of intentions to reflect upon, and act upon at will. You needn’t fill out a questionnaire or return a quiz; this is a gift for you:

1.Tis the Season to be Coughing.

The safest place to sneeze or cough on your person, a.k.a. when a hankie or tissue isn’t handy, is in the crook of your elbow. If you tend to expel into one of your hands, actively choose your left hand. In Western culture, it’s customary to shake hands with your right hand. Need I say more?

2. Bite Your Tongue!

A brain works six times faster than a mouth forming words. Often, a ‘listener’ feels he knows the end of a sentence before a speaker completes the thought, and may feel compelled to finish that sentence. This is a bad habit for a few reasons: a speaker may not have intended to complete the idea as the listener has predicted, and the mental flow of the speaker is now interrupted. Second, the listener isn’t fully absorbing what is being said, wasting the time of both parties. And third, it’s just plain rude to be “waiting to speak” instead of truly listening.

3. Dining-Friendly Dress….What’s the Code?

It’s not only about the danger of wearing a white shirt when eating spaghetti & meatballs. Think about how your clothing fits, especially after the holidays. When you put on that outfit in the morning, you do look good in front of the mirror. The question is: how do your clothes lay when you sit down? Take a moment to check it out before a business meal– where you’re going to be a bit fuller after the meal. And remember, good posture is your friend when dining, not only for appearance, but to maintain focus– and digestion.

4. Only A Mother Could Love It.

“Don’t chew with your mouth open!” “Don’t speak with your mouth full!”

As much as we all say we don’t commit these basic faux pas, it’s a constant complaint from human resources, recruiters, and managers/partners at professional firms. Check in with yourself during business meals; are you slurping your soup? In some cultures, this is a compliment. In US business dining, always defer to discreet.

5. Make the Most of a Thank-You Note.

A thank-you note is often a quick afterthought, or forgotten about completely. Take a few minutes to compose a thoughtful and sincere thank-you email after being taken to a meal….even if it’s by a manager and is done weekly. This will have substantial impact for such a brief gesture. Include a meal-or-discussion-specific sentence (A learned fact constitutes extra credit!). No one was ever penalized for being too polite. If the meal resulted in a particularly exceptional circumstance, consider a hand-written thank-you.

Hand written notes may seem old fashion, but take a look at this point of view. Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine yourself thumbing through your pile of mail and you see a hand written envelope. Don’t you feel a zing of excitement? Besides the positive energy felt by the lucky recipient of a hand written thank-you note, the thoughtfulness of taking the time to write neatly, looking up an address and affixing a stamp will not be lost in the shimmer of anticipation as the envelope is ripped open.

Want to share some dining disasters or pet peeves? Have some dining questions? We’d love to hear from you! And fear not: unless you request otherwise with your entry, all contributors will remain anonymous.

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