The modern-day office is a viper pit of perils, with new-era etiquette changing on a seemingly weekly basis. Whether it’s figuring out if your boss is a fist bump kind of guy (FYI, he’s not) or the sales team can stomach a bit of mankle, it’s one of the world’s hardest obstacle courses and we have to run it every single day.
Helpfully, as award-winning business honcho and personal branding expert Nathaniel Cassidy points out, there are a few boardroom basics that, once learnt, make navigating this minefield a lot easier. Get ready to climb the ladder.
Shake It Off
“In the UK, the ‘business air kiss’ is still a bit of a mystery. Whether you do it depends on your job and whereabouts in the country you are. The handshake, however, is a non-negotiable non-verbal business communication, so it pays to get it right.
“The perfect handshake goes like this: the section of skin between your thumb and forefinger should meet with the same space on the shakee’s hand. You should then gently but firmly clasp your fingers around the under of their palm and give a couple of gentle shakes. No more, no less.”
A study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience in 2012 stated that not only does a good, strong handshake give off a good impression to whoever’s on the receiving end – it also helps to negate any negative impressions that might have been building prior.
“It doesn’t have to be an accessory, it could just as easily be a signature item of clothing, but the idea is the same: have something visual that makes you memorable. Pick something that fits with your personality and becomes part of your work identity.
“It could be a lapel pin or a great pair of shoes. Whatever it is, it should be something you’re comfortable with, but that sets you apart from your peers. Don’t try to make a novelty bow tie ‘your thing’, go for something understated.”
So Fresh, So Clean
“It goes without saying that smelling good is a must. [But] in an office environment, opting for something subtle is better than overpowering.
“A client could turn up unannounced, or your boss might ask you to attend an event at short notice, so having a freshen up kit at work with fragrance, wet wipes, moisturiser, hair product and toothpaste is also essential.”
Co-Ordination Is Key
“It’s a fact that people want to work with teams who work well together. While you don’t want to turn up looking like a boy band, coordinating your outfits ahead of a big meeting or pitch will send a visual signal of unity. Think complementary colour palette rather than matching uniforms.”
“This is such a simple tactic, but one that has a huge impact. When someone hands you their business card for the first time, don’t just blindly pop it in your pocket.
“Their business card represents a career they devote their lives to, so taking a moment to look it over and find something positive to say about it is an easy and genuine compliment that rarely fails to make people warm to you.”
And research has found that compliments are well worth giving – even indirectly. Giving someone a compliment activates the same part of their brain as if you just handed them a wad of cash, according to a study published last year by the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan. And that’s bound to make you come across in a positive light – without having to spend a penny.
“Don’t stink the office out with pungent foods – everyone will hate you. At events, it’s really simple: again no smelly food and eat finger food and canapés with your left hand, to avoid shaking hands with greasy fingers.”
But if you can’t resist going in for the buffet, counterintuitively, you might want to reach for the onion. One study by the Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, found that participants who smelled onion breath on a gender-neutral silhouette associated it with manliness.
“Treat networking like a cocktail party rather than a sales pitch. People generally dislike being sold to, so don’t work around events thrusting business cards at people and repeating the same sales patter at everyone.
“Be chatty, ask lots of questions specific to that person, make lots of eye contact and – most importantly – smile. It’s better to make one great contact than 15 who won’t remember your name.”
“If it’s party time with your colleagues, always buy the first round. Everyone will remember your generosity before they are too merry to remember anything else. If you need to keep composure and remain in control, go for a soda with a slice of lime and just ask the barman to throw it together like a gin and tonic.”
A study in 2012 actually found that just holding a drink can make you look less intelligent – never mind drinking it. This conclusion was based on research from the universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which carried out five studies involving more than 1,300 people.
And they found that this is the case for those holding a glass of wine, which you may have ordinarily assumed would convey intelligence and sophistication. The researchers also asked senior managers to rate people they interviewed over a meal – and those who ordered wine were considered significantly less hireable.
Do Your Homework
“Before meeting someone important in a work context for the first time, look them up on LinkedIn, Twitter or perhaps their profile on the company website. Have they recently won an award or been promoted? A nod to this never fails to go down well.
“Check the headlines in their industry news so you have a flavour of what’s going on and what might be impacting them. Don’t blag that you have any in-depth knowledge though, you’ll get caught out.”