Networking Interview #21: Office Etiquette Tips For Professional Women

by on September 1st, 2012

Today in my networking challenge I am interviewing Diane Gottsman. Diane is a national etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas. I am so excited to speak with her today so thanks so much for being here Diane!

In case you are reading this at work and can’t watch the video, you can read all of the great advice below instead!

1) What are some office etiquette tips for someone who is just starting out in the workplace?

If you are a new college grad and you are starting out in your first job or perhaps your second or third job, you want to make sure that you really do what it takes which means that if your boss asked you to do something you don’t go and look at your job description and decide whether it was written on your job description before you say yes. The answer first is YES and then do whatever it takes. That means if they ask you to run an errand to go buy staplers at the local office mart, DO it! Everything you do is building your own reputation. For example in my office, we have several different people doing several different things but if we go to our office kitchen and there’s not any coffee you’re not going to say I don’t make any coffee that’s not in my job description. Its part of what we do because we’re small office. Larger offices might have different roles but you just need to roll up your sleeves and pitch in, be part of the team.

2) How can we become more polished when presenting ourselves to others?

If you’re talking about presentation skills in speeches, that’s one thing. If you’re talking about becoming more polished across the board because you can be a great speech maker but if you don’t have the credibility, before you get to that speech, you’ve already have everything against you. So I’m just going to talk about across the board, how you can become more polished.

And that’s number one, you want to be genuine so every action that you take has to be an action that is truly you but we can fine tune on what we do. So, in other words communication wise. When you’re talking to someone, I want you to really be listening to them not thinking about what you want to say because you look distracted. So you wanted to present your best self, that means that you want to arrive to work and you want to look good. You don’t want to come with wet hair and your cup of oatmeal in your hand because it looks like you have poor time management skills. Everything you do speak something about who you are. You just want to take pride of who you are. You want to appear confident you want to make sure that you are communicating effectively if your boss calls you to his or her office – don’t arrive empty-handed. That means is if someone calls you in you arrive with your pen or pencil, a notepad ready to take notes. You never want to say, Oh just a second can I get back to you I got to go get my notepad at my office. So often we’re nervous we want to put our best foot forward and we are over thinking it. There are certain things that you can do but at the same time you have to be who you are. You have to have a genuine look on your face. If you’re smiling nervously, there’s a difference in smiles, so if you’re smiling and you’ve got your lips purse or you look too controlled if everybody else’s culture and if everyone has different filter based on how they see you so when you smile, we want to see your teeth. We want to be able to count your top teeth not being someone who’s counting your teeth but because its more genuine smile, your eyes are not crinkled, your shoulders are up, you look confident, you look controlled.

3) What are some important etiquette tips for when we are out to a meal with our boss or coworkers?

First and foremost, if your boss asked you to lunch, you are not there to load up. If you’re at a networking event and going to a buffet line, you’re not there carrying two plates. Its very important to know that over a meal you are still building relationships and that’s a great opportunity to get to know someone better. So, you don’t want to order something so expensive that you look glutteness and you don’t want to order something so tiny that you look nervous. If your host, which can be your boss or it could be someone that invited you out, doesn’t give you any cue or doesn’t say, this is wonderful this is great why don’t you try this, then just order middle of the road that way you look confident and you look composed. It’s really important to know just few basic rules because if you don’t understand the rules of the table you look at your plate setting and you look awkward and you look uncomfortable and this is what your clients will see. If you’re out with your colleagues, that’s another great way to build relationship. Someone asked you to go to lunch, you don’t want to consistently tell them no. You want to go out and you want to be around them because that’s how you built your relationships and that’s how people get to know who you are.

4) How can we communicate better with our clients and colleagues?

Listen to them. That can be a big factor in whether your client is going to continue being your client. It’s not about your agenda, it’s about their agenda. When your communicating with your client, you want to make sure that you’re on the same page and in terms of actually communicating with them. You may be a texter and they may want to use email or they may prefer a telephone call so when you establish this initial relationship with your client ask him, just say what is your preferred way to communicate because that’s how I want to communicate with you. Let them lead the way. If they text you, certainly you can respond back by text but don’t be the first one to text them. Let them guide you. And if you’re texting, and am not encouraging texting to be the main form of communication because it should not be, or if you’re emailing every correspondents that you have with your client is still a professional correspondents. Be careful with your abbreviation, be careful with your emoticons, and be careful how casual you are. It’s still important to touch-face personally every once in awhile so they can hear your voice and you can hear their voice and you can establish this relationship because you can’t get someone’s tone over an email. Don’t forget that occasionally you want to invite them to lunch if that’s the relationship that you have if it’s something that needs more than just a quick communication you want to be able to sit down and look at them face-to-face and get their feedback.

5) What are some common corporate etiquette mistakes that you see young professionals making?

That’s one of the top FIVE commonly asked office questions. In my opinion on that, I think it’s very important to establish relationships with your coworkers and most of the time that’s where we make our friends because we spend most of our time in the office. I think it’s great to become friends and friendly with your co-workers. At the same time it’s a double edge sword because you have to still maintain a professional decorum in the office. You have to be very careful. You’ll have to use your best judgment. Your friendly but you can’t show especially if you out ranked them and that’s tricky. If you want to be friends with your coworkers, that’s one thing. If you’re making friends with your supervisors and your boss, then your supervisors and your boss need to think very carefully as to you because you don’t want to be seen as someone who’s getting favors or being shown favoritism. But in terms of being friends with colleagues, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Just don’t friend up with the office gossip because your mom used to say you’re judged by the company you keep and it’s true. Look at who you’re hanging around with and that says something about who you are. That doesn’t mean you don’t talk to a certain person because you have to maintain a professionalism across the board with your colleagues.

6) This question I ask at the end of all of my interviews, what do you wish you would have known when you were a young professional woman just starting out in her career?

I’m going to go back to what we first talk about, the job description. Supervisors and CEOs say to me, I’m having trouble with someone because they come back and say it’s not on their job description so I’m going to restate that your job description is a guide. But, just remember that your job description it should state all your duties as requested so that’s one thing. Another thing to remember is to make sure that you are part of the team and let the rest of your team know what’s going on. No surprises with your colleagues and never surprise your boss. You want to keep them posted every step of the way, if you have a client that you’re having difficulty with, if you have a client that’s asking questions and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes new employees are afraid to look for like of a better word stupid. And there’s no such thing as a stupid question so certainly ask questions because that’s how you grow, find a mentor, somebody who can help you along the way. In terms of your actual office, when you’re sitting around the board meeting table and you are there taking notes, you certainly want to make sure that you were being included in the conversation. If you have something to say, by all means make sure that your voice is heard in a polished, professional way. You don’t want to take a coffee cup in or have a glass sitting back into the meal with lipstick rings because it’s unsightly and its distracting. Make sure that before you go in a board meeting or at a meeting or a meal just blot your lipstick so we don’t have to look. It’s a tiny little distraction that makes big difference. Cellphones should not be taken into a dining situation. If we are distracted by your text tones going off, it says something about you I may not verbalize it but I’m thinking it. And that’s how we form judgments about people.

We learn along the way. And I think it is so important to not be afraid to ask questions, to show that you don’t know when you make a mistake own it. If you’re not responsible but sometimes you just have to take that risk and if the risk has pain,  well it’s a learning experience. That’s how you grow. You are always learning. You are never ever too old to stop learning. At every level that you progress, you need to be able to learn something new. When you stop having growing pains it means you stop growing. Its really important to just stretch yourself, get out of your comfort zone. And for me that would be my advice to step out of your comfort zone and do the things that don’t feel comfortable but do it because you are learning a new skill.

7) If people want to learn more about you where can they find you online?

You can find me on my blog at www.dianegottsman.com and my website is www.protocolschooloftexas.com.

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