Friday, November 22, 2019
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Posted at: Feb 6, 2019, 8:10 AM; last updated: Feb 6, 2019, 8:10 AM (IST)CIVIL SUITE

Decorum decoded

Decorum decoded

Swati Rai

An interesting Twitter ping pong last week centred around appropriate dress  for breakfast in a business hotel lounge. While the “offended” party claimed that appearing in ‘night wear’ of any type for breakfast in the lounge was an ‘insult’ to other guests,  many others saw nothing wrong with a person on a business trip enjoying a leisurely breakfast in an informal dress. BUsiness etiquette— be it dressing or behaving in a particular manner – is, no doubt, a tricky ground. As opinions vary and personal preferences win arguments, it is difficult to decide where the line of propriety should be drawn. Business etiquette is interpreted as aspect of behaviour and deportment that support a civil existence and contributes to the ease of doing business and transaction, either personal or corporate. The extent to which these are stressed upon in a business context, varies from brand to brand and company to company. Making peace with the expectations of a company and situation and not viewing it as an encumbrance, is the first step to realising and internalising, aspects of mutually respectful existence, crucial to business facilitation. Here are a few key aspects of business etiquette to bear in mind, or retain on a good to know basis:

Personal and social space

In inter-cultural communication, not limited to language, the signs and the non-verbal hints that we relay to the fellow conference attendee from another country, hold great importance. Air kissing, hugging, shaking hands even the pressure applied; maintaining distance in a queue, maintaining eye contact, and not staring blankly, while speaking to a fellow colleague, exiting a conversation and conveying that message appropriately- are all significant, when it comes to maintaining and giving mutual social respect. 

Being alert to the surroundings, taking cues from the observed behaviour and yes asking timely questions when in doubt, would help. Good to know that personal views and behaviour patterns are best left at home- also not to stand on ceremony with friends but surely with acquaintances in a business setting.


Inclusivity and diversity are not mere fads on paper in the corporate world and otherwise. With a sharp and increasing focus on sensitivity and inclusivity at the workplace, it’s great to sensitise oneself on aspects of etiquette in this sphere. A more egalitarian workplace with traditional hierarchical orders flattening and an expectation of a more relaxed work atmosphere, doesn’t imply. A complete negation of the Ps and Qs of business etiquette entirely. 

It is better to err on the side of formality, in some situations. When on a business trip, staying at a business hotel knowing the norms of dress even it is for ones’ family, is a must check. Of course the Starch-March, days are well beyond over, selecting a pair of well-ironed business suit as the case may be — will make the turn-out sharper and more focussed as against an informal attire. It remains of course, a part of the employee discretion if it is a casual coffee catch up, Friday dressing norm or the relaxed, based on the type of industry one belongs to. There are no rules set in stone except for the one that mandates sensitivity towards the other person’s business dealing sensibilities — that includes, demeanour, decorum, dialogue and yes, dress! 

 In a somewhat exacting standards of etiquette one needn’t be faced with the existential question of ‘being yourself’. Sure be that — only a better version of yourself, with etiquette that one expects from the other person. Trust me there are days when you do. A win-win situation for the company, you and the business world. 

Communication matters

The pitch, tone and lexis, all get suitably tweaked while conversing with people from different cultural contexts within or outside of the country. This however should not imply flattening of a dialogue based on stereotype, or a sweeping generalisation. Knowing about the client or business partner’s background will give you a heads-up on the topics of mutual interest to discuss and changing the tone to ease the communication.

Even inserting silences, where ever required, can be judged best by keenly observing the response of the company. What may be viewed as polite in one’s context may be viewed as overbearing or even rude. This holds true especially for dining etiquette where one’s insistence on serving the other might be seen as an unnecessary intrusion.


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