A Guide To Business Etiquette: What's New?

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Maybe that’s to be expected. Etiquette, after all, is about staying out of trouble, rounding sharp corners and softening blows. Its rules tend to be anodyne, and the people who most need them, the bullying bosses and the slovenly, rude colleagues, are the least likely to consult a guide such as this. But the Post Institute in Burlington, VT, run by Emily’s great-grandson Peter, 63, exists to try to battle bad manners. The updated book is a sound guide to proper behavior in the business realm. Peter co-authored this volume with his daughters Anna, 34, and Lizzie, 31, and his nephew Daniel Post Senning, 37.

What’s new since the last edition? The 2005 book barely touched on smartphones. The new book devotes a chapter to four basic rules. Most of us already obey them. We silence our phones during meetings, refrain from blabbing about private matters where others can overhear us and try to keep our voices down to a reasonable level. But many of us violate one of the rules: don’t use your phone if there is the possibility someone around you will be bothered by it. That goes for cars, trains, elevators, check-out lines, waiting rooms, airport gates, restrooms, restaurants, cafes and theaters. I admit that I break this rule myself, especially when my teenager calls, and I’ve noticed that plenty of other people do too. We’d all do well to reform our behavior or at least to keep those waiting room calls as short as possible.

Another point the book makes: “it is incredibly disruptive and undermining when people are texting, emailing and instant-messaging while a meeting is going on.” I confess I’ve done this too, thinking no one would be disturbed by my reading or sending a silent email or text. One other rule that I’ve seen many people break: Don’t leave your phone out during a business meal. “A phone out on the table is like a ticking time bomb,” says the book, “you and your companions are just waiting for it to go off and it says to the people you are with that your phone is more important than they are.” The Posts are correct that in an ideal world, we would silence and stow our devices during meetings and meals.

There is also a new chapter on digital communications, which holds no surprises. Though I take issue with one directive: “Don’t use a signature line from a mobile device to excuse lazy misspellings.” As a stickler, I expend lots of time laboriously fixing my iPhone’s autocorrect misspellings, but I never mind if someone sends me a note with mistakes and a tag that says, “typos courtesy of my iPhone.” In fact, I predict that typos will become increasingly acceptable.

Next comes a chapter on social networking. In the age of Anthony Weiner and his career-killing Twitter TWTR -0.96% fiasco, most of us know the perils of using sites like Facebook and Twitter for indiscreet personal communications. But the book does an efficient job of laying out business social networking etiquette. In sum, it recommends the “bulletin board rule:” don’t post anything on a social media site that you wouldn’t tack up to the office bulletin board for anyone to read. Know that even with privacy settings, your social media messages are never private and don’t ever use social media to gripe about bosses, colleagues or clients.

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