Ask Mary Lou

Editor’s note: In business, do you second-guess yourself, wishing you had said or done something in a better way?

Event organizer and author Mary Lou Wilson’s column, “Ask Mary Lou,” is designed for business professionals who are looking for guidance about business etiquette and help them develop the confidence to handle all kinds of business situations in a professional manner.

While technology changes at the speed of light, business etiquette remains a constant. As George Bernard Shaw said, “There is no accomplishment so easy to acquire as politeness, and none so profitable.”

The employee, client or administrator who knows the importance of being polite looks at you when you speak, uses “please” and “thank you,” holds the door for the next person, takes the time to listen, respects co-workers and exhibits the qualities necessary to be a leader.

How a company treats its employees sets the tone for how the company is perceived in the marketplace. It sets the standard by which those employees treat the company’s customers, vendors and co-workers.

One of management’s responsibilities is to set an example for the company. The most frequent opportunity for a company to exhibit a level of professional etiquette can be displayed in meetings.

Some basic rules that set the tone and show respect are quite simple: appreciate the value of everyone’s time. When conducting a meeting, the person who called the meeting should be prepared and start the meeting on time. If the agenda is not understood, there should be a handout.

Do not take offense if someone questions what you are saying. Remember, this is issue-related and not person-related. When presenting a topic one is well versed in, it is possible that everyone may not have the same basis of information. Always talk in the vernacular of the industry and be clear without being condescending.

Never assign people to a task if they are present at the meeting, unless you speak to them personally. This prevents any miscommunication. Conclude the meeting by thanking everyone for his or her time and participation. Mentioning how contributors helped with the meeting’s objectives creates a positive energy for co-workers. Everyone appreciates recognition.

Business meetings offer employees the opportunity to:

• Present themselves in a professional manner

• Exhibit how and when to speak

• Handle discussions in a constructive manner

• Come to a positive conclusion.

This can be accomplished if you have confidence in your presence, knowledge of the subject and know how to interact in a positive way with others without overpowering them.

Business meetings are called for a variety of reasons. There is an agenda, written or understood. The person who called the meeting is in charge and should therefore be given the chance to speak – uninterrupted. When in doubt, remember less is best. You do not have to make a comment at every discussion. It is more effective to listen well and pay attention.

Here are some helpful tips, and while some of them seem obvious, they are worth following:

• RSVP that you will/will not attend the meeting

• Be on time

• Turn your cell phone off

• Allow others to speak

• Listen carefully to what is being said

• Ask your question, if it has not already been answered

• Keep questions relevant to the subject

• Do not make people repeat themselves

• Be courteous and thoughtful of those around you, regardless of the situation

• Give others a chance to explain the concerns or problems they may have with a particular agenda item.

Simply being polite and considerate of others is the best rule in business one can learn. Mom was right. Manners do count.

Bedford resident Mary Lou Wilson is the author of “Party Like A Pro: Real People, Real Parties.” It is available at area bookstores or at Questions or concerns about how to handle a situation at work or work-related event can be e-mailed to her at All questions will be confidential.

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