With networking technology like LinkedIn's "Who's Viewed Your Profile" feature at our fingertips, we sometimes forget the importance of face-to-face interactions. We stumble when it comes to business meetings, tweeting from under a cafe table or fist bumping when a handshake would do just fine—making little mistakes that could cost us big business.
Here are four rules of thumb when it comes to proper face-to-face business etiquette.
While it may seem inappropriate to hug a business colleague, it happens all the time. I'll be the first to admit I'm a repeat offender, often bypassing an outstretched hand for a big embrace. Sure, it can be considered a warm gesture, but it can also overstep a line for some.
If you're wondering how to start a meeting with a potential client or colleague, "a firm handshake, eye contact, and a soft smile while introducing yourself will do," says etiquette adviser Karen Cleveland from mannersaresexy.com. Using the person's name when meeting can also help you better remember it, she suggests.
If you're a germaphobe or feeling under the weather, just be upfront and say you're sick. Don't go in for a fist bump instead. "Unless the person you’re meeting comes in for a fist bump, leave the college affectations for the kids," says Cleveland.
When your meeting is underway, it's important to stay on track. Too often we find ourselves reaching for our phones, interrupting the flow of conversation, without even noticing what we're doing.
Cleveland recommends what she calls "topless meetings." She isn't talking about taking your shirt off, to be sure, but rather keeping all devices off the table to avoid distraction. "It ... does wonders for removing the temptation to squeeze in a text or email when our attention should be on the meeting," she says. "It’s similar to grade school: If you don’t want to share what you’re doing with the rest of the class, then don’t bring it."
If you are bringing a device to a meeting, an iPad always seems less intrusive than plopping a laptop up on a table. What's more, your tablet could be a great tool to illustrate something quickly.
When it's time to pick up the tab, do you insist on paying or graciously accept a free lunch or coffee? Dorenda McNeil, a business etiquette trainer and principal at Counsel Public Relations, offers the following tips to help navigate that awkward moment when the bill arrives:
If you're breathing, you're busy. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is we're all juggling a million things and sometimes meetings have to be canceled. "Give your colleagues the same attention and respect you would want," says Cleveland. "Don’t use busyness as a crutch for bad manners." If you do have to cancel a meeting, give the person you're meeting with as much notice as possible. What's more, if your day is simply too packed to meet in person, consider video chatting on Skype or Google+ Hangouts.
It's easy to let manners slip, especially when we're constantly bombarded with information. Don't forget to put your best foot forward when you're taking the time to meet a person face-to-face. It will pay off in the end.
[Image: Flickr user cogdogblog]