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Business Conversation Etiquette

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 2 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Business Conversation Etiquette Formal

When we are at work, we may consciously (or even subconsciously) adopt different types of conversational behaviour towards different people we encounter within the workplace. We’re probably more likely to be less formal and more relaxed when speaking with our immediate work colleagues than we might be with, say, an area manager who might be visiting and, if your work involves communicating over the phone, you’ll often hear people refer to using their ‘telephone voice’. Similarly, even bosses themselves will often have to be more formal in certain circumstances than others and this is simply a part of accepted business conversation etiquette.

Putting it into Practice

A lot of people who never need to be formal most of the time can tend to perceive ‘formality’ as being ‘stuffy’ but in business, it’s an absolute necessity. You’re inevitably going to encounter a great number of people whom you’ll have never previously met before either face to face or over the phone. And, this doesn’t just apply to white collar workers, it is equally as valid for tradespeople and others whose work regularly brings them into contact with people they’ve never met or spoken to before. But formality is often very necessary, given that you’re unlikely to know the different types of personalities you’re going to be dealing with until you’ve actually met them. Using ‘Mr. Mrs or Miss’ will always get you off to a good start, until you’re actually proffered a first name the person might prefer to be called. Once you’ve got over that hurdle, if you’re given a first name, use it and, more importantly, REMEMBER it. There are numerous ways of training your memory to recall names and it’s a useful skill to learn, especially if you’re being introduced to several people at once as it shows a respect to the other person if you’ve been able to remember their name later on.

Keep any Bad Habits in Check

Many of us will have some habit or other which is not particularly appealing so be aware of them and avoid them when holding a business conversation. Chewing gum and trying to continue a conversation with your mouth full at say, a formal dinner or even a business lunch, is not good etiquette and these are just two of the most obvious examples.

Listen as Well as Speak

Whilst we all want to make a good impression in business conversations, don’t fall into the trap of never shutting up and talking just about yourself and your own company. Develop the skills of being a good listener and of showing an interest (whether genuine or not) in what the other person has to say. By making eye contact, nodding your head from time to time and making other facial expressions, e.g. smiling, will inevitably give off the impression that you have listened to what the other person is saying to you and indicates to them that you have been interested in what they’ve had to say.

Lessening the Degree of Formality Over Time

As the conversation moves along or if you meet the person again at a future point in time, then you can simply modify your degree of formality to match theirs whereby your conversations are likely to be more free flowing and natural but look out for ‘cues and signals’ from them first and, if in any doubt, stick to a formal approach. One of the biggest mistakes people make is in trying to second guess a person’s sense of humour and that can prove fatal if you overstep the mark in terms of taste and decency so be very aware of that.

Ending the Conversation

Ending with a repeat of the person’s name, a closing handshake (if it’s face to face), thanking them for their time (where appropriate) and an exchange of business cards are all ways you can close the conversation whilst ensuring that you’ve maintained a professional and businesslike manner throughout the whole of the conversation.

Play it Safe

Finally, stick to safe topics of conversation, especially if it’s the first time you’ve met the other person. Try not to be sidetracked or to get involved in any contentious debates and keep the tone of your voice relatively low and dignified, avoiding any overtly emotional reactions.

All of the above is good business practice and you’ll often find that all good ‘networkers’ will use these and other methods of business conversation etiquette to enhance their reputation which in turn often means more business.

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