The BookExcuse_Me.jpg

According to a 2013 report from Harvard Business Review, “Rudeness at work is rampant, and it’s on the rise.” BUSINESS ETIQUETTE shows readers how to treat everyone in the workplace with respect. It discusses civility from generation-specific and generation-wide perspectives. Using the depth and breadth of experience gained over a 30-year career, the author begins with one of the biggest stumbling blocks to respectful interpersonal business interactions: the relationships between the generations.

Part of the problem is that millennials have never known a world without technology. It is the air they breathe; they are digital natives. Yet they work side by side with digital immigrants   ̶ Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers. Digital natives’ and digital immigrants’ diametrically opposed approaches toward virtually every aspect of work and life lead to across-the-board confusion, frustration, and bad feelings.

The generations don’t understand or trust one another. They speak different languages, hold different values, and have different goals. They learn differently, see people and institutions differently, and access information in completely different ways – but they are colleagues, employees, bosses, and clients. They are the sources of vast amounts of valuable information that only they, from their unique perspectives, can disseminate. They are the past, the present, and the future of the workplace and the world. They have to work together.

And for this they need good business manners. Some argue that digital natives don’t   ̶   that their tech savvy and social media connectedness trump all. Isn’t it up to digital immigrants to understand and adapt to them, not the other way around? NO, because millennials, born roughly between 1980 and 2000, are still outnumbered by the previous generations  ̶   Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Generation X. The other generations are still mostly in charge and they are not going anywhere any time soon.

Baby Boomers corner the CEO market; the median age of an S&P 500 CEO is 55. Traditionalists boast CEOs in their 80s and 90s, including Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet, and J. Willard Marriott. There are countless more immigrant CEOs in their 70s and 60s.

Indeed, the average age at which Americans expect to retire is 66, the highest age Gallup has found since first asking the question. “You need to work until you’re 70,” says Gary Roderick, 63-year-old manager of the Harvard Club of Boston. “My institutional knowledge keeps me viable and will keep me going for a long time.”

So digital natives are not in charge, at least not yet. And since they will not corner the tech market for much longer, they will not be able to rely upon a captive world audience in thrall to them for their technical skills to justify their lack of social skills. The next generation is coming up very fast. So for many reasons, millennials need to learn to master those soft skills – the people skills.  As John Rossheim said, “The soft skill gaps most likely to trip up millennials include written and oral communications, socials skills, and the ability to engage and motivate, business etiquette, and professionalism.”

BUSINESS ETIQUETTE teaches these and more, equipping millennials – and the other generations  – with the success tools they may not even know they need. For instance, most millennials don’t know how much their fixation on their electronic devices and lack of eye contact irritate others. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE tackles eye contact and the other nonverbal cues that derail millennials in their quest for success.

But BUSINESS ETIQUETTE has plenty to teach the other generations, too. Older workers are often accused of being tech-averse, unwilling to accept new ways of communication, and reluctant to embrace new business practices and priorities. And sometimes they are, which creates problems for millennials who text their bosses, unaware that they don’t text, or bosses who leave voicemails, clueless that Gen Ys never listen to them.  BUSINESS ETIQUETTE addresses both legitimate and perceived concerns about older generations, providing specific advice on how older workers can stay current, relevant, and convincing.

Too many workers today do not understand (or do not wish to understand) how to interact with other generations. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE acknowledges the disparate ways the generations look at the work environment and teaches them all how to get along.

BUSINESS ETIQUETTE also deals with the way technology has redefined the workplace itself. Today, one could be working at home, in a car, hotel room, coffee shop or airport, at the beach, or at 30 thousand feet. This new workplace creates uncertainty. We never before needed to know the etiquette for a FaceTime meeting with a colleague dressed in a bathing suit (do we mention that the gym has clearly paid off?) or whether confidential information is being recorded in a public space (do we ask an important client to move to a more private location?).

The book provides the proper business etiquette for all stages of your career, from securing a job to retiring. How does one handle a checkered online past to mitigate its impact on future employment? How does a fifty-something applicant establish rapport with a hiring manager half his age? Is it appropriate to ask for a LinkedIn connection with an interviewer? Questions like these need answers, and BUSINESS ETIQUETTE provides them.

Once on the job, the uncertainties continue, beginning with adapting to the organization’s culture. Not long ago, loyalty, length of service, respect of established business practices, and dedication were the keys to job security and advancement. Today, these might actually be considered negatives.

Catching up to new ways of thinking can be just as challenging for digital immigrants as not being able to change the entire system overnight can be for digital natives. Interpersonal skills and attitudes, the two things employers value most, require attention from both factions. But how does someone with thirty years of experience learn and display a new way of thinking, and how does a young idealist reconcile his priorities with those of an employer? These are unclear issues BUSINESS ETIQUETTE clarifies.

The dos and don’ts of appropriate dress have changed dramatically in the 21st century. Until the advent of business casual, the uniform of professional dress was a suit. But today, even the term “Business Casual” has lost much of its meaning because it is so difficult to define. Appropriate professional attire in general is equally confusing, differing as it does by industry and location. Employees of all ages are baffled about to wear, often donning attire that do their careers disservice. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE demystifies the dilemma of what to wear at work.

In addition, your brand is on display as soon as you leave the house for the new commute – whether that’s by carpool, public transportation, biking, walking, or running. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE provides tips for staying in control even with clueless space hogs, distracted iPhone users, and maniacal drivers. Encountering the target of your rage at your next meeting is embarrassing!

The workplace itself has many new faces. When Traditionalists first entered the workforce, 80 percent of their colleagues were non-Hispanic white men. Today, the workforce is 16 percent Hispanic, 12 percent African American, and 5 percent Asian. In 1950, women represented just 29.6 percent of the workforce, but are currently closing in on 50 percent. Gay and transgender workers now represent 6.28 percent, and persons with disabilities, 5.5 percent.

Knowing how to interact courteously with people of other genders, races, cultures, physical and mental abilities, and sexual orientations is not second nature for most. Treating everyone the same – with respect – is not as simple as it sounds, because understanding what constitutes respect often confounds well-intentioned coworkers. Do you know whether and how to offer help to a person with a disability or what to say to a co-worker when he or she comes out? The new workplace mosaic requires a primer for interacting with all populations, which BUSINESS ETIQUETTE provides.

Acceptable guidelines for everyday professional behavior have also changed. Gone are the days of men holding chairs for women or women bringing coffee to men. These have vanished – but many civilities that would actually be quite welcome have gone with them. Common courtesies  ̶  i.e., acknowledging passersby, keeping noise levels down, respecting others’ privacy, offering assistance when needed  ̶  are gone, too. How one conducts oneself at a meeting, on an elevator, while walking down a hallway, or while waiting in line for coffee are truly anyone’s guess. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE provides the answers.

Communication on the job has undergone a metamorphosis, beginning with conversation. Digital natives are not the only ones who’d rather sit behind their computers than engage in chit-chat with others, or text rather than exchange information with a phone call. Many digital immigrants also find conversation daunting, which has resulted in an endemic communication breakdown.

Other communication casualties (aside from the nonverbal communication discussed earlier) include vocabulary and grammar. The written (or typed) word has also suffered. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE provides best practices for appropriate professional communication in all of its forms to help employees protect their brands and their organizations’ brands in the process.

In the latter quarter of the last century, the only technical know-how most people needed was how to make and receive phone calls (and some executives even had secretaries do that!). Today, laptops, tablets, text and instant messaging, and wearable technology further increase the need for guidelines. Exemplary digital communication skills are vital for professional success. Digital natives can be careless and digital immigrants often need coaching. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE offers in-depth coverage of electronic manners for both groups. 

Breaking bread with colleagues, bosses, and clients has always been about strengthening relationships. Aspiring professionals should still take advantage of every such opportunity, because uninterrupted time with VIPs is golden. But being an attentive, convivial host or guest (starting with responding graciously to the invitation!), and using good table manners are lost arts to many. There is a price to be paid for a lack of manners here, beginning with lost opportunities and credibility.

Fortunately, for those so inclined, business dining skills are some of the easiest to acquire because the guidelines are so straightforward. But for digital natives especially, understanding why these skills are critical to success is at least as important as mastering the techniques. All generations will benefit from a review of the fundamentals and an understanding of the subtleties of business dining. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE covers them, soup to nuts.

Despite examples of ostensibly bright people blundering when it comes to social media, too many of us just haven’t gotten the message. Posts and pictures shared in various states of emotion (or even undress!), coupled with obliviousness to possible outcomes, permanently derail otherwise promising careers and relationships. And younger workers who are presumed to know better get themselves in as much trouble as their older colleagues.

Mistakes in the virtual world last for life. As Jeffrey Rosen said in the New York Times, “It’s not just that the web and social media threaten your privacy. It’s that there’s no way in the digital age to move on, to start over   ̶   to erase your digital past.” The worst thing people do online – whether due to a youthful indiscretion or an out-of-character meltdown  – is often the first thing others find when researching their names. BUSINESS ETIQUETTE shows how to use social media manners – and sense.

The workday looks nothing like it did in the 20th century. The old Monday through Friday, 9-5, is now often a few hours a day, a few days a week, a few weeks a month, or project-based. Jobs are shared and flextime is the norm. Sabbaticals and paid volunteering are increasingly common. Workspaces are different, too –  in open-plan offices, everyone can be seen and everything can be heard. Cubicle walls are shorter and offices, if they exist at all, have glass walls and doors. Workers “hotel” or “hot-desk” as they share work space with others.  Some even “not-desk,” eschewing the anchor of a traditional office for the freedom of roaming.

These new configurations generate a multitude of business etiquette questions that leave HR departments as flummoxed as employees. What is the polite way to ask a colleague to take her distracting speaker-phone conversations behind closed doors? Is it okay to turn off a co-worker’s loud, incessantly ringing cellphone? Can you ask your boss for an endorsement on LinkedIn? Is it ever okay to contact someone on PTO?

In BUSINESS ETIQUETTE I answer these and the other perplexing questions people ask about manners in the modern workplace. I teach all generations the skills that are crucial to continued success – the skills they need to get along with their colleagues, customers, and bosses. My hope is that in reading this book, individuals will develop confidence in themselves and their interactions with others, and feel empowered to bring their best, most authentic selves to the workplace each and every day.

When everyone in the workplace treats everyone else with courtesy and respect, everyone wins, including the organization. That’s why employers have asked for this book and why I have written it.