The Basics of Business Etiquette

Part one of three Publications posts discussing etiquette.  This series is intended to help students and new professionals navigate the social expectations of our profession and provide a few useful tips that can set you ahead of other job candidates.

What is etiquette?  Merriam-Webster defines etiquette as “the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave.” You may be asking yourself why this is important.  

Adherence to good business etiquette is a sign of professionalism. It shows attention to detail, and that you are showing respect to others around you which leads to building trust.  Etiquette not only covers behavior but it also addresses body language, cultural competency, communication, and how you present yourself to the world around you.  It transcends generational differences, gender differences, cultural differences, and other differences we have with each other to establish a paradigm that we all understand and recognize.  It is a universal key to communicating across all boundaries in our business to demonstrate what a fantastic professional that you are and what an asset you will be to a lucky employer to have someone fluent in this area.

I will go over a few general points of business etiquette in this article and subsequent articles will provide a deeper dive in to certain aspects.  The general consensus with most aspects of business etiquette is simply to put others first – be kind and considerate.  It really is that simple.

Here are some basic rules for business etiquette:

  1. Be punctual. My father always told me that if you are on time then you are already late.  Plan to show up fifteen minutes early and then if something happens along the way and you are delayed then it is not a problem.  I try to plan for more than that because I have a tendency to get lost easily so if I am going somewhere unfamiliar then I plan some extra time.  Respect the people you are meeting by showing them you appreciate their valuable time.
  2. Plan Ahead. I map my route out the night before and I keep traffic updates with me before and during the trip to make sure I can make critical course corrections if I run in to roadblocks or accidents.  This also translates for interviews.  Do research on the company, look up the description of the job you are applying for with other companies to see how the descriptions differ, use sites pay comparison sites to figure out a reasonable pay range for the position, and look at what you can find of the company structure to see where you might be able to progress from that position.  This shows appreciation to the people you are meeting by saving them some basic explanations and demonstrates your intelligence.
  3. Dress to reflect your professional personality. Dress appropriately for the event that you are attending but over dressing is OK.  If you show up in jeans and a t-shirt when everyone else is wearing business clothes then you stick out and not in a good way.  The time and effort you put in your appearance is an indicator to an interviewer of how serious you are about a position and if you are being respectful by giving it the seriousness it deserves.  Healthcare tends to be more on the conservative side.  I have heard comments over the years from students that judging people by the way they dress is wrong and businesses should find another way.  The interviewer, the hiring managers at NCHIMA events, and others in the state do not know you and all of the special/wonderful things that make you so incredibly awesome.  It takes a significant amount of time to get to know someone well enough to draw conclusions about them and these folks just don’t have that kind of time.  Therefore, they have to look at things like punctuality, appearances, and hygiene to draw logical inferences about you and your motivation to succeed.  While it may be painful to put away the comfy clothes, it is important to demonstrate respect for yourself and those who may be in a position to hire you.  If you are confused then find a mentor and ask them to help you polish your professional image.  You can find more about the NCHIMA mentorship program here.  
  4. Communicate effectively, thoughtfully, and respectfully.  Whether it be email, face-to-face, over the phone, or virtual – make your opportunity to communicate a reflection of the hard-working and accomplished person that you are so that you represent yourself well.  You have a narrow window of time to make a good impression at meetings and in interviews so be selective about what you say.  Humor has its place but not everyone understands where you are coming from when you say something.  Be careful that you are not making a joke that people will not understand or misinterpret.  This is especially difficult in electronic communication where tone and body language are not there to help you out.  You have to be clear in your intentions when you communicate.  When speaking to someone in person: sit up straight, look them in the eye, speak clearly (enunciate), and carefully consider what you say.  If you are not sure about an electronic or written communication then have someone else read it to ensure that your message is getting across.  This can make the difference between a job offer and going home empty handed so practice having conversations with people you can trust so you can become more natural in your responses to common interview questions.
  5. Have a positive attitude. Your attitude is your secret weapon in meetings and interviews.  Showing that you are willing to work hard, listen, and that you are engaged will help make those business connections needed to grow your professional network.  I am always excited to work with a student who wants to learn, listens, takes advice and acts on it.  Potential employers are looking for that spark as well.  You can control your attitude.  If you have a good attitude and display your willingness to work and are eager to learn then people are naturally drawn to that positive energy.  Reframe negative feedback and recognize it for the gift that it actually is for helping you recognize areas where you may need to change and providing the self-awareness needed to monitor that going forward.  I was told by a potential employer that I asked too many questions in an interview.  A friend of mine was told the same thing when we interviewed with that same company.  She was very discouraged by that feedback but I thought it was great because now I know where I made a wrong turn and I can figure out how to correct it.  I applied at the same company for a different position and was called in for an interview with the same manager.  I did my homework this time so I would not have to ask as many questions and the interviewer was absolutely delighted that I had taken the feedback and acted on it.  I was offered the job and I ultimately turned it down due to circumstances at the time but that was an amazing lesson for me.  I am a very curious person.  I have an endless fascination with everything around me and I love to learn.  I ask a lot of questions but I have learned to temper that with the situation that I am in so that I don’t pester the people around me.  This way I keep the spirit of engagement and excitement without overwhelming others.  If you meet an obstacle then find a way over, under, around, or through it!

Good business etiquette benefits everyone.  Studies have shown that incivility in the workplace has tangible financial repercussions and devastating effects on employee morale over time.  Employers want employees who demonstrate these traits so that the business can be a reflection of the best they have to offer to patients or customers without having to worry about losing business or creating a toxic situation among the staff.  You will ultimately attract what you project so make sure the image you portray is a good one.

Author: Pamela J. Lail, MHA, RHIA, CHDA, PMP, FAHIMA