The New Golden Rule - Tips for Business Etiquette

This is a guest post by Ann Potts.   You can find and follow her on her Executive Performance Fuel website.


Etiquette is formally defined as a code that delineates expectations for social behavior according to norms within a group. Yet what we are seeing is a breakdown of clearly defined norms due to rapid changes in technology and society. In fact, we have more generations in the workplace at one time than ever before in part due to the economy and in part due to better health and longer life expectancies.  How do you handle things when you have disparate viewpoints and habits?  When you have people who love to shoot out a brief text next to people who would rather have a long, collaborative meeting?


Etiquette Golden Rule

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles /

We all know the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  And yet that assumes that we all have the same preferences and the same etiquette will please everyone.   So if a conduct code or set of rules isn’t clear anymore, then I would suggest we move towards the purpose of etiquette, which in my mind is to make our interactions run as smoothly as possible.  As I think about creating new habits for business etiquette, I would suggest a new Golden Rule: do unto others as they want to be done unto. 

New Golden Rule

Here are three quick tips for enabling you to do unto others as they want to be done unto:

  • Watch and listen.  People provide cues all the time as to how they prefer to be treated – just watch how they engage with others.  Once you start paying attention, you will see the cues people provide as to their preferences.  I remember watching two colleagues with amusement – Tom always preferred face-to-face communication, dropping by with a cup of coffee while Steve preferred to close the door to his office and send out emails.  They were constantly on edge with each other and both would complain about the others’ preference… “Why does Tom waste my time? It’s more efficient to send an email!”  “Why doesn’t Steve realize that he can solve more in 5 minutes with someone versus spending an hour going back and forth in email?” 
  • Be willing to adapt your approach.  As noted in the scenario above, perhaps Tom and Steve would have done better if they’d openly discussed their preferences and been willing to find a new ground that allowed both of them more comfortable communications.  I believe that they could have agreed upon some general rules that would have worked for both of them.  Both were good people, but they were each uncompromising.
  • Suspend judgment.   Making critical assumptions about others is one of the first breakdowns of effective interactions.  Again, in the example shared, Tom and Steve both judged their methods as superior to the other person’s.  This judgmental attitude shut down the potential for dialogue and finding a solution that both could work within.

Finding new ground rules requires a willingness to respect others’ styles, as well as a belief that it is both more productive and satisfying to build relationships from that respect.  In order to forge new rules of etiquette, we all need to be willing to acknowledge that there are benefits in others’ approaches and be willing to do unto them as they would prefer whenever possible.


Question:  What's your Golden Rule for Etiquette?

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