Basic Rules for Summer Networking Etiquette

Each June, business publications offer up an array of professional etiquette do’s and don’ts. The timing seems right, given the golf tournaments, office barbeques and memos reminding us of “appropriate summer office attire”.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between good manners, etiquette and civility, after fielding a few client queries about social norms. According to Judith Martin (otherwise known as Miss Manners) and her son Nicholas Ivor Martin, manners are “the principles of courteous behaviour” and etiquette “the rules that apply to a particular situation.” Civility, according to Johns Hopkins University Professor and Author P.M. Forni, is “a code of decency applied to every day life”.

Taken together, these concepts set the boundaries of appropriate behaviour that make life easier for all of us in a professional realm. They help us know what to expect of others and of ourselves.

I took an informal poll of some of the best advice regarding considerate professional behaviour during the summer months. I hope these tips help you put your best foot forward (albeit an appropriately clad foot).

  1. Every invitation deserves a reply. Every single one. You don’t have to go into a long explanation or excuse, but at least acknowledge the gesture. It sends a message that you care about your reputation as a considerate person.
  2. Don’t bring uninvited guests to parties, lunches or events. Your host might have a budget or a reason for wanting to speak to you as originally arranged. You’ll come across as oblivious and your host might feel awkward.
  3. If you’re the host, help guests feel as welcome as possible. Small details often make a difference, whether you are greeting others with a warm smile, introducing two strangers or sending golfers away from a tournament with a goodie bag. Above all, don’t show up to an event later than your guests.
  4. Dress appropriately. This applies to both genders. I know it’s hot. But please, please don’t subject your colleagues or clients to attire that would cause them to question your credibility and your judgment. Summer wardrobes tend to be more casual, but law is still a relatively conservative profession.
  5. Recognize that no one is perfect. Etiquette is not an excuse to feel superior to someone who uses the wrong fork. People feel embarrassed when they mess up – you don’t need to be Henry Higgins to someone else’s Eliza Doolittle.
  6. If you are upset by someone else’s seemingly rude behaviour, then say something. Don’t gossip about it. Don’t ask someone else to talk to them. Do it yourself, and do so appropriately and constructively. Have enough self-respect to set boundaries for how others treat you. It is okay to seek advice from a trusted colleague, as long as the objective is to prevent further incidents and/or provide perspective.

There will always be people in our professional lives who don’t worry enough about the impact of their behaviour on others – think of the colleague who knows he shouldn’t chew his food with his mouth open, but does so anyway. It’s exasperating.

Most of us don’t deliberately set out to be offensive, though. With a few pieces of good advice, we can aim to treat others as respectfully and politely as we’re able to, and hopefully we can all get along.

Which suggestions would you add to this list? Please comment.

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