Engaging behaviour

Forty-one per cent of British business people now think it is acceptable to regularly answer phone calls or respond to emails during meetings, while half will go as far as actually getting up and leaving meetings to answer calls. The figures come from a survey carried out by Future Inns and we discovered that, despite the British reputation for being polite, when it comes to business, manners are fast becoming a thing of the past.

Many of us, it seems, have double standards when it comes to etiquette.

Of those who admit to regularly answering calls and emails during meetings, over two-thirds (70 per cent) also consider it rude when others do the same.

Every day we welcome guests from all over the world to our hotels, each with very different approaches to business etiquette. When the question of what British people felt was the most appropriate business greeting was posed, the majority of respondents (three-quarters) felt a traditional handshake is best. However, one in 10 respondents proved that more people are shaking off the typical British reserve, saying that a double kiss is ‘de rigueur’ when it comes to greeting clients.

Being fashionably late also seems to have crept into business dealings, with only 30 per cent of people surveyed thinking it is unacceptable to arrive late to a meeting. One in three even admitted to having cancelled a meeting at the last minute due to a hangover!

Our hotels are venues for thousands of meetings each year. The survey has given us a fascinating insight into what happens behind the closed doors of meeting rooms like ours, to understand the way the business meeting landscape is changing.

It seems clear that in today’s business climate people feel more pressure than ever to stay ahead of the competition and be contactable round the clock to ensure things are not missed or leads not followed up. However, there is a fine line between keeping on top of things and appearing to be uninterested or distracted in a meeting, which can be just as important to your business reputation. As meeting hosts, our aim is to ensure things run smoothly – and politely – so our clients are happy.

Leading etiquette expert William Hanson, who worked with us on this survey, has given us his top 10 dos and don’ts of boardroom meeting etiquette:

1. Ringing phones: In meetings, turn these to silent/vibrate. If your phone does ring in a meeting, switch it off immediately. Never answer it at the table. If it is an urgent call, excuse yourself discreetly and leave the room.

2. Punctuality: If a meeting is scheduled to start at 11am, get there at least 10 minutes before. Unlike social situations, where it’s polite to be 10 minutes late, in business timekeeping is essential.

3. Text/email checking: In business, relationships are everything; checking your phone signals that you are not interested in the people you are with and you risk losing credibility and respect.

4. Laptop lock down: Having your laptop open in a meeting is a blatant sign of ‘ I’m not going to listen to you in this meeting’. Unless you are using the computer for reference in the meeting, do not have it open.

5. Gum: The chewing of gum in meetings and while with clients is increasingly becoming a habit. But my recommendation is simply not to do it.

6. Foreign trips: When doing business abroad, make sure you do your research into the customs of your host country. Don’t presume it’ll be Britain-abroad. For example, did you know you can cause major offence in the Middle East if you sit showing the soles of your shoes?

7. Attention deficit: However bored you may be in any meeting, ensure you pay the person who is speaking the correct level of attention.

8. Greetings: If you don’t know someone, when you first meet them, a handshake is the only way to greet them. Don’t hug or kiss someone you have never met before.

9. A good firm handshake: Too weak or too strong a handshake can set the wrong tone for your meeting. Also, make sure you only shake with one hand. Leave your left hand by your side; don’t put it on their arm or over their other hand.

10. Saying thank you: It is a skill that is fast fading away but writing a quick letter or email following a meeting can pay huge dividends.

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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