By Hope Robbins
If you want to stand out in the corporate world, brush up on your business etiquette.
“It will be the skill that sets people apart in the professional world,” said Eric Robbins, associate teaching professor of finance and associate director of corporate outreach and research for Penn State Behrend’s Black School of Business. “The people who will rise to the surface are those with good soft skills for virtual meetings, email communications, and in-person interactions.”
That’s why, Robbins, with help from Phil Stuczynski, assistant teaching professor of finance, and Carol Peterson, co-curricular programs coordinator, put together “Make the Fork Be With You,” a business etiquette dinner that included a presentation on the importance of professional etiquette and communication.
Speakers at the event were George Emanuele, senior director of Global Investments for BNY Mellon, and Ann Scott, community outreach manager for Erie Insurance. Thirty Behrend students attended as well as sixteen alumni who were invited to network with the students.
According to Emanuele, it isn’t a question of whether or not you need business etiquette; it’s something that should innately encompass 100 percent of your job. He stressed the importance of many daily factors in business etiquette, such as the “sundown rule,” (that is, responding to emails within 24 hours).
Scott also talked about the maintenance of etiquette and how unprincipled table manners can distract from the subject of a company dinner. Everything that you do (for example, writing emails, wearing professional attire, and behaving appropriately at networking events and business lunches) is a representation of your employer.
If you don’t raise yourself to meet that professional bar, metaphorically speaking, Emanuele stated, “You’ll be stuck in a back-office position, and you will never see a front-end client.” For anyone seeking to rise in the ranks of the company they are a part of, this poses a professional risk and should be a call to action.
Why is the concept of behaving respectfully and engagingly in a professional environment becoming harder for the younger generation to understand? Scott said she thinks it is a byproduct of emerging from COVID-19.
“A lot of people haven’t been able to utilize their interpersonal skills in person,” Scott said, which inspires “a lack of confidence among the younger generation.” Making a phone call, for example, may seem more intimidating than sending an email or communicating online.
One of Scott’s pet peeves is seeing people at networking events gathered in groups with others they already know rather than fulfilling the purpose of being there: networking, or as she calls it, “making new friends!”
Emanuele and Robbins both say that business etiquette is becoming a lost art and there is a contentious device (literally) behind the decline in professionalism: cell phones. According to Robbins, a new generation of employees has become accustomed to “short bursts of unprofessional communication that are typed rather than spoken” via texting and online posting. This has led to a decline in professional phrasing, creating a causal conversation style that is less than business appropriate.
Another reason business etiquette skills may be less common today? Scott said it might be a lack of practice with in-person communication, a byproduct of COVID. And along with becoming accustomed to more casual conversation, our sense of personal presentation has adjusted into a more comfortable routine.
While there are many nuances to business etiquette, Scott summed it up with a single rule to thumb: “The basics of etiquette is to make other people feel comfortable and confident.” The only way to succeed in this is to make yourself comfortable and confident in any professional situation.
Hope Robbins is a junior majoring in Digital Multimedia Design at Penn State World Campus.
10 takeaways from “Make the Fork Be With You”
- Do not overshare or make the conversation all about you.
- Find common ground when networking – vacations, hobbies, etc. Have a list of conversation starters.
- Introduce and include others in conversation.
- Stay positive – Do not complain or talk about co-workers.
- Follow the lead of your host (in choosing your meal based on price, whether or not to order an alcoholic drink, and where you’re seated).
- If seated, introduce yourself to everyone at the table.
- Look for ways to give, help, share in a conversation.
- Demonstrate good table manners – Avoid ordering “messy” foods, eating too quickly, and putting your napkin on your chair if you leave it.
- Respect everyone, including the staff serving you.
- Follow up after the event, reference something specific from your conversation.