Business Etiquette Rules

If you want to be taken seriously you must communicate in a polite, professional and organized manner and follow business etiquette rules.

One of the best ways to show your professionalism and build connection is to use the recipient’s name in a sentence. People like to see and hear their names and, in an email environment it shows you’ve thought about and personalized your message.

But how you address someone (how you use their name), can also create a professional or cultural faux pas that can end a relationship abruptly. The best way to save face is to police yourself and follow some simple manners and business etiquette rules.

Name Etiquette / Business Etiquette rules to live by.

1. Use the correct structure of the person’s name.

Know if they want to be  called Mr. Mayhew or Bruce. If you don’t know them this may be difficult to determine, so go formal if you are in question:

  • If they are senior to you or a new relationship, it is safest to default to using their honorific (Mr., Ms, Mrs., Dr., Rabbi, Father), until it becomes clear they want you to be more casual. Note: Ms can or cannot use a period. The general guidelines are to use Ms. if you follow Canadian or USA writing guidelines and to use Ms if you follow UK writing guidelines.
  • If they are from a more formal work environment, don’t get too informal too soon. Best practice is to default to using Mr., Ms, Mrs., etc. to demonstrate courtesy and respect. At least do this until told otherwise.
  • If you wondering how to address a woman, Ms (either with or without the period), is the default form unless you know positively she wishes to be addressed as Mrs.

2. Be aware of cultural and societal hierarchy.

People from Canada and the United States are often more casual than people from China or India. China or India and many of the other developing countries are very serious about business etiquette and how to demonstrate respect to:

  • Elderly
  • Wealthy people
  • Senior people (work)
  • New acquaintances

Without doubt, there are people who believe it’s NEVER proper to call another adult by their first name unless they’ve been invited to do so. They will likely be the most conservative group and / or the most influential group so be careful and go formal to be polite if there is a question.

3. Use the correct pronunciation (at least try), and spelling.

  • Last names: I don’t know how many times I’ve received phone calls or mail and have been addressed as Mr. Mathew.  Worse yet – I more often get Mr. Mayhem (I know – that’s funny). I can assure you both situations it clearly demonstrates to me that the person doesn’t know me and/or CARE to know me.
  • First names: I have a friend who is Katherine – not Catherine. Believe me, she notices the difference.
  • Shortened names: Be careful if you’re in the habit of shortening first names. You may meet someone who is ‘Alan’ who may not mind you calling him by his first name – but try to call him ‘Al’ and he may object fiercely.


Even since my days working for one of the big banks (not so long ago), business etiquette has changed and Millennials and their informal, over-protecting helicopter parents are helping to speed the change along. This isn’t bad – it just is. However, there are still many people who are annoyed when younger people take the liberty of addressing them by their first name without having been invited to do so.

My suggestion is that if you want to be polite, always use the highest level of formality Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc. in a relationship (especially a business relationship), until your audience invites you to use their first name.

Imagine work being easier. Imagine work being more productive.

Happy communicating.

Click here to join our priority list of people who receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: