Manners Matter: 13 Etiquette Tips
As everyone becomes busier and more harried, and we all seem to communicate with electronic devices more than with people, I think it’s more important than ever to pay attention to basic politeness in business situations. It’s all-too-easy to rush through our days with little concern for niceties.
Here are some tips I’ve gleaned, meant as simple reminders of the common courtesies that can make our days more pleasant.
1. Don’t say someone “referred” you unless they really, truly did.
Agents are the recipients of far too many “suspect” referrals. Be honest in your communications.
2. Avoid discussing problems with your agent or publisher in a public forum like your blog.
It can be so tempting to vent, but the way to actually solve problems is to go directly to the parties involved.
3. Don’t let email completely replace voice contact.
While it’s important to be aware of how others prefer to communicate, try not to let business relationships be “email only.” A well-timed phone call every now and then can smooth over a multitude of rough patches.
4. In email, remember: Bottom line up front (BLUF).
Don’t ramble. Even if you need to explain something at length, you should still put the most important point or question right up top.
5. Keep email subject lines current.
If you are hitting “Reply” but the subject of the email stream has changed, update the subject line to reflect the current content. Otherwise, people won’t be able to find and identify the email if they’re looking for it later.
6. Double check your email before hitting SEND.
We’ve all had nightmares of sending an email to the wrong person… or sending a “venting” email that nobody should have seen. To avoid this, here’s my trick: Whenever you’re composing a sensitive email, FIRST delete the names in the “To” field. That way, you can’t accidentally send it. Once you’ve decided the note is suitable for sending, you can add the “To” names back in.
7. Be sensitive to people’s time on the phone.
While some conversations require a sizable chunk of time, I generally recommend either planning on a 30-minute maximum, or clarifying ahead of time what length of time has been slotted for the call.
8. Send thank you notes!
It’s easy to overlook notes in this electronic age, and I confess I have a hard time with this. But enough people have told me what a big impression thank you notes make — and what a BIGGER impression the lack of a thank you note makes — that I’m convinced it’s still the most courteous thing to do.
9. Speak positively about others.
I don’t think it’s enough to simply avoid speaking negatively about others. I think it actually makes YOU look good if you praise others, giving credit where credit is due, or simply admiring someone’s work. Whenever you have the opportunity to speak about a person who is not present, make it something good if at all possible.
10. Greet people with a handshake in professional situations.
Sometimes there is that awkward moment when you’re not sure whether to shake hands. This is especially true in our business where many of us have been friends and business acquaintances for so long that a hug feels more natural. If you are comfortable with a hug, that’s fine. But remember the handshake is still the professional greeting. When in doubt — put your hand out.
11. Pay attention to the person with whom you’re interacting.
Whether you’re meeting with someone in person or on the phone, pay attention to them, not to your electronic devices or computer. It’s tempting to multi-task, but it’s much more valuable to focus.
12. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
People will often fail to live up to your expectations. People will hold different viewpoints from you. Try to remember that most people are doing the best they can with what they have, and give them grace.
13. Carefully consider your words, both written and verbal.
Before saying something, use the old method of asking yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Hopefully this will keep your interactions productive and you’ll avoid regret.
Oh, I loved this! So many helpful ideas. I admit I’ve already learned #6–never keep an address in the “Send To” box until I’m absolutely sure I want to send that email. Experience is a great teacher! But #12 is important. It’s easy to quickly judge, especially with the overload of media telling us what to think. We all carry invisible burdens, so if our best selves don’t always come through, a little understanding is a kindness.
5. Keep email subject lines current.
Tamela Hancock Murray posted about this in particular on Steve Laube’s blog today. We all have a ridiculous volume of email with which we all must contend. If we cannot spend a few seconds thinking about the subject line of a crucial email, when we’ve invested months or years in the writing we’re trying to sell, it shows insufficient patience or thought on our part.
This is so true, fantastic recommendations. Regarding thank you notes: send them when—or, to whom? I’m an author on book tour, should I be sending thank you’s to bookstores? Interviewers? Getting actual addresses these days is awfully hard. And I feel that my interviewers’ Inboxes are so full, I’m reluctant to clog them further with a TY…?
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I agree! All of these are important! Numbers 11 and 12 are extremely important!
Thank you for writing this!
[…] Gardner offers 13 etiquette tips because manners matter. She also has advice about writing a one-sentence summary (logline, hook, one-sentence pitch) for […]
Does anyone know how to delete an event from my Google calendar that someone else on Google plus put there? Grrr….
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“Life does not move so fast, that there is not enough time for courtesy.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
[…] why agents should collect and disperse the author’s money for them, while Rachelle Gardner gives 13 etiquette tips to help make professional interactions more […]
Good advice for any venue. Tweeted and bookmaked this post.
Thanks for putting this out there. So important. Personally, I wish peeps would reply with a quick email that they received an email and will respond asap. Even an auto response so we know they got it would be great since so many emails go to spam these days.
Brilliant! I’m kicking myself b/c at a recent writers conference I wanted to give a handwritten thank you note to the Literary Agent I pitched to. Another attendee convinced me not to give it based on her personal experience. Better late than never?
I can’t imagine when a handwritten thank you would EVER be inappropriate! I think late is better than never, as long as months and months haven’t passed.
[…] should also read this blog post: Manners Matter: 13 Etiquette Tips By: Literary Agent Rachel Gardner Because: Her tips are excellent reminders, especially in this […]
If you are a woman, please realize that many of us men were taught to never offer our hand to a lady. It is the woman’s prerogative to shake hands or not. Holding out a hand to her traps her into accepting it so as not to appear rude. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but the fact that a man does not offer his hand does not mean that he doesn’t want to shake yours. It may only indicate that he is politely waiting for you to offer first. Don’t hold back under the assumption that a handshake is not welcome.
If you are a man, and a woman offers her hand, shake it. It is no longer acceptable to kiss an unfamiliar woman’s hand. It’s not chivalrous. It’s not charming. It’s creepy. Just a handshake is all that is expected.
VERY interesting info there, Troy. I had no idea some dudes were taught not to hold their hands out to a lady to shake…and I was reared in the South! What I can’t stand is a limp fish handshake. But MAYBE those handshakes from men are supposed to be non-intimidating? Some kind of chivalrous hangover? Will have to ponder this!
In Egypt a firm handshake is seen as aggressive and a bit intimidating, maybe. Not that they go to the extreme of the limp fish, but when you come to Egypt you have to learn to ease up a bit with the handshake. Must be a challenge when Egyptians come to America–could be perceived as not forceful enough!
Thanks for today’s post, Rachelle. 🙂
Rachelle, these are all great pointers and a good reminder.
An alternative for #6 is I batch my outgoing emails in Outlook as I compose them. Then at a later time, I send them. That gives me time to catch any oops, errors, or sloppiness. It’s not a surefire fail-safe, but has saved me on many occasions.
[…] different from those who’ve gone before. In any case, Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) Manners Matter: 13 Etiquette Tips deserves a look. My absolute favorite, and one we need to stand up for when we’re on the losing […]
Excellent list! Good tip on deleting names when emailing until you are done writing the email.
Refreshing list of etiquette tips, Rachelle. As a certified business etiquette and international protocal consultant, I believe real manors come from making others comfortable being around you in any setting.
Teach on, Rachelle.
Thank you, Rachelle, for reminding us all
to be considerate. We do live in a more
casual society, but people’s feelings still need a boost occasionally. Sometimes a little politeness can go a long way.
Amen! SO true, all of it! People think I’m weird and old-fashioned, but I always try to send thank you cards to people when they do something nice for me. I love to get real letters and cards in the mail. I tend to often check Facebook before I check my mailbox in this day of electronic everything. Sending a card or note, and a friendly call is the best, most personal thing we can do. Who doesn’t love a nice note, card, or even a little gift every now & then?
A simple “please” or “thank you” would be very nice. For instance, I write a blog where I review debut authors. Every day I have multiple requests, to review their work. The only thing I ask of them is a digital copy in exchange for an honest review. No matter if the review is glowing or not, I have received very few “thank you’s” for it. Even in stores or restaurants “thank you” is not always forthcoming. I also agree with others that mention the lack of manners taught to children. Many don’t answer the telephone with “hello.” I have heard, “Yeah, whatcha want”, and “talk to me”, and so on, and the in-person rudeness is rampant as well. All in all however, a simple nicety of “please” or “thank you” goes a long way.
Speaking of etiquette, I have a question:
Last week I submitted a *solicited* non-fiction proposal to an editor and agent. How long should I wait before asking if they got it? And how long for other follow up?
LOVE that you brought this up. We live in a world where etiquette is often considered old-fashioned. Being polite never goes out of style.
My etiquette suggestion is related to writer conferences, specifically after classes. It seems that the first person to get to the speaker after class believes that allows her to monopolize 100 percent of the speaker’s time until the speaker has to be at the next thing on their schedule. There may be five people in line hoping to say a few words, while people are coming in for the next class in the room. But the first person there drones on and on, oblivious to the fact that other people should have a chance.
I’m not the type to say, “Hey Dufous, other people want to talk too,” but I’ve sure wanted to.
I learned at a young age to write thank-you notes. Even though that wasn’t too long ago, everyone is so much more hurried. Now, though, with so many complaints about too much email and unnecessary communication, I wonder if my thank-you email is just another irritation in their inbox or on the email loop. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? “There’s that pesky Meghan Carver again, saying thank you.” (Now I think I’ll go back to an email loop and say thank-you for answers to a question I posted last week!)
Great tips, Rachelle. I strongly encourage polite and respectful correspondences in all areas of daily interactions. Your post supports it in the publishing world as well. Thanks!
Yes I think etiquette is EXTREMELY important. As for which one is the most important it is number 2:
“Avoid discussing problems with your agent or publisher in a public forum like your blog.”
However, it really should be discussing any problems in a public forum with anyone besides your agent and publisher but most especially your employer, co-workers, family, friends etc… Remember what you place out on a blog will be there for a long time.
Thanks for these!! I’m gonna hang onto these tips for down the road.
Your final thought, consider “Is it true; is it kind; is it necessary?” such an important, ethical consideration before opening my mouth/ adding to a page. How much better would our world be if all adhered to that premise.
This is such a good list. And the things I thought of have been mentioned. Number 4 is one I don’t always think to do, but I’ll be working on it now. Numbers 9 and 11 I think are key. Using words of grace adds courtesy to any interaction.
My daddy always taught me to give eye contact to someone who’s speaking with me. This helps me to be “all there” in conversations with others. I turn my cell to “Vibrate” when I’m meeting with people. No one should be more important than the person I’m speaking with in the moment.
That eye contract rule is important and gives plenty of implied instruction for what to do with our cell phones. I can’t look at the speaker if I’m staring at a screen.
I always tell my kids I have eyes in the back of my head, but even there, I can’t read a text message and give the courtesy of eye contact to someone. I may be good, but I’m not THAT good. 😉
I’ve read recently that it isn’t truly possible to multi-task. You’re just changing from task to task very quickly. I just don’t see how someone can be reading a Facebook post and listening to a real live person at the same time. (At least, I can’t. I have six children who will tell you it’s true.) Agreed, Jeanne, with the eye contact.
I agree, Meghan. Listening and reading simultaneously don’t work for me either. My kids can definitely attest to that! 🙂
Very thoughtful list, Rachelle. The email etiquette tips are especially important, and something I’ve had to learn over time.
I have thinned out my email box from blog writers to focus more clearly on the “best ones.” Once again, you have made it clear how you over and over stay on the top of the list. Thank you for the time and effort you put into your posts – they are very much appreciated. Thanks!
I think etiquette is similar to respect and I feel it’s super important. Great list here!
I don’t like when I’m added to someone’s e-mail or snail mail list just because I won something. Thank goodness it doesn’t happen often! lol
I really appreciate this list. Thank you for showing me areas where I can improve.
In sending emails, I keep in mind the recipient can’t hear my tone of voice. Sometimes written communication isn’t understood the way it’s intended. So, when sending anything that might be sensitive, controversial, or misconstrued, I save the email as a draft, then reread it later. Essentially, the Draft File gives me 20/20 hindsight when I need it, before sending something I’ll regret.
And I love #9. Like Karma, we should all do as much as we can to spread good stuff around!
I also appreciate the reminder of thank-you notes. There’s someone I need to write to. ☺
All good rules to remember, but the most important is this. . . love your editor/publisher/etc. as you love yourself–and Jesus said it first. What do you appreciate? What do you dislike? This only works to some extent. . . I personally do not like receiving thank you notes. I would rather someone told me in person or by phone. It is a waste of my time to read an email that says thank you or a card with a few lines. Say it in person, please!
And I echo the previous poster who wrote about timely response to email. One of my employers told me to respond to all phone messages within 24 hours and I have always done that with phone or email. But treat me with a little grace. If I forget to call or email, please let me know. Sometimes I’m buried beneath an avalanche of communication and I miss something. A handwritten note can fall from my desk, an email may be accidentally deleted, and a voice mail may be prematurely erased. Please realize that I have no intent to dismiss your communication and every intention to continue to conversation. Nuf said.
Great tips. I worked in higher education in a previous career– these are similar tips to those we tried to instill in students with future employers. Kindness and etiquette have universal applications.
Here’s one that very few of you may have to think about.
“Don’t share your water bottle-germs love sharing”.
Whether it’s during a sporting event or at 12,000 feet in the Andes, do NOT share your illnesses. It may seem rude to say “no way can we share, I have a cold”, but trust me, you do not want to get sick.
RSVP requests a response. If you can’t attend, that is just as important to the host(ess) as your presence, so please let the person know.
Hmmm. I leave for a few weeks and now Rachelle is posting about manners? Clearly, MY daily influence of charm and etiquette was the only thing between *some people* and certain disaster!!
And see how the first thing I did was make this post about me? THAT was bad manners. Ahem.
Thankyou Rachelle, for reminding us all that at the end of the day, we are accountable for ourselves, our actions and how we treat friends and strangers.
Welcome back, Jennifer!
Great list. I appreciated them all. Rules of etiquette/manners still have not caught up to technological advances. One of the biggest areas where people are incredibly rude is texting & cell phone usage while in social situations. I’ve been out with friends/family, or over for a visit, only to have them spend half their time texting. It got so bad with our kids, that my wife and I have started putting out a basket, and have everyone drop their cell phone in the basket when they come over for a visit. People need to learn how to be with the ones they are with, and leave the phone alone when they are with real people. 🙂
Mine are yours! Like everyone on this thread, I think you’ve hit it on the nail(s)!
I’d just like to emphasize that with Skype nowadays, calling people is no longer expensive (even if you live in Italy as I do) and it’s really worth it: it adds a welcome, warm human dimension to all those (necessarily dry) emails!
I agree with all of your points here Rachelle, especially regarding ‘Thenk you notes.’ Good manners go a long way, whether it is on-line or in person.
Thank you for your post!
One additional point regarding email. Answer mails immediately even if you don’t have the information being requested.
Letting someone know you got their message and you’re working on an answer keeps them from wondering, especially if a final reply takes more than a few hours or possibly days.
Great list. Thanks.
Etiquette is the Golden Rule put into practice. One need not know all the rules to practice proper etiquette, but a reminder of appropriate behavior is always welcomed by those who care. Those who don’t or use etiquette as a form of manipulation are missing out on the blessing of blessing others.
Thank your for the list, Rachelle!
Great post. I wish it could see very wide distribution.
For some reason, people seem to think that the pace is modern life justifies a lowering of the standards of behavior. It’s okay to vent, and a positively good thing to ‘have an attitude’.
I wonder if it’s related to the ‘five minutes of fame’ predicted by Andy Warhol…that technology makes us feel that we’re insignificant, and don’t really matter? That rudeness and attitude are something of a cry for help, for recognition?
We’ve created a slew of neurotics who freak out whenever they’re confronted with the truth–“the world doesn’t evolve around me.”
What? Wait a minute?!?!?!?
Yeah, it’s always disappointing to be reminded of that.
I think the technology actually lends an air of significance and importance to every minor communication – so that people feel an urgency to respond to every text and email immediately when it is not actually that important. but because of the technology involved, it feels more important to interact with the technology rather than the person you are sitting across the table from.
You nailed it.
So true. It’s like being in your car, there’s a certain amount of “hiding” behind the device that causes people to forget the basic rules of manners and etiquette. I love hearing someone ask what I’m working on and see the interest in their eyes and hear the sincerity in their voice. And have their undivided attention when I answer. I see the same things when I ask others. There’s no exchange for that. Now that’s what tells the other person they’re important.
All good points – and I agree, Cheryl, that is frustrating.
I think it is important to keep our business habits out of our personal lives. Someone who was a friend is probably not going to take kindly to only receiving electronic messages. Txt, email, facebook – none of these can replace a phone call or face to face contact. Dare I even say it – snail mail? A letter? A card?
Its not only bad etiquette to abandon personal non-electronic communication – but something in the power of words can be lost without it.
Short story – a friend met an elderly lady in hospital with no family and very few friends left alive. All she had was a cat. During a previous hospitalization, her nasty neighbor had sent her cat to the SPCA. (the Pound in USA?) Without its medication, her precious furry friend – died.
She lay in her hospital bed re-reading the card from her Veterinarian nurse. She said when she felt sad, it gave her hope.
A small tale of the power of heart-felt words. Delivered well, words are received well, and can impart hope to the recipient.
On the flip side, words may well loose their impact or cause harm when delivered thoughtlessly and without good manners. Thanks Rachelle, good post.
Catherine, this story really touched me. I’ve had people look at me like I’m crazy when I mail cards, but this story reminds me that it does make a real difference to some. It renewed my passion to send snail mail cards, so thank you!
You are welcome. A small amount of words can matter so much.
Best card I ever got was when my Dad died.
Your loss is so big…
and my words are so small.
I know its frustrating for all of us watniig for the unlock but it looks very much like its just around the corner now apposed to weeks or months away. Frustrating as it is lets be a little more patient lads. It would be suicidal for the dev team to bring the unlock out before 4.2 update. You would for sure have something to whine about if apple got there grubby hands on the unlock before the release of 4.2.
I have to echo #11 – paying attention to the person you’re with. While at the ACFW Conference I was shocked to see how many people were checking their Facebook and/or texts on their phone in the middle of conversations, meals, classes, etc. When someone put their phone away and gave me their undivided attention, they stood out to me as being sensitive, thoughtful and personal – all great attributes.
No, I’m listening. I can multitask. What did you say again? 😛
How rude! That is unacceptable. When I have paid to attend a professional gathering, I expect everyone there to act like a professional. Unless someone is awaiting news of a birth, turn off the phone.
Oh, I cannot agree more! Cell phones, etc. should always be turned off for scheduled conversations, Bible studies, and business meetings. That’s what voice mail is for. People in general need lessons on prioritizing as well as courtesy.
Your list is fantastic! The lack of etiquette shows up everywhere -not the least of which is the school system. Kids are not being taught even the basic manners at home and the schools are suffering for it.
In the business world, it’s the same way. I can only imagine what it’s like in your office.
Great reminder for us all! “Thanks!” 🙂
What Denise said.
You’re so right, Denise. I feel for the servers at restaurants who compliment my kids simply for saying words all kids should: Please and Thank you. Not trying to give kudos to my kiddos, just saying it shouldn’t be something that stands out becuase it’s rare.
I agree with Denise. Great list! Too many people are not talking to each other, just texting, or emailing. Twitter, Facebook are great, but not for all communication. Where is the personal touch? People dont even romance each other the way they did, now its going on a social site, checking out their credentials, and, if they meet the test,they may get together for a cup of coffee. All business, little warmth!
I wish people would show proper etiquette by not adding me to email lists or online groups without my permission. I wait for people to sign up for mine, and I’d appreciate the same courtesy extended to me.
Yep, I get those. Just because I’m friends of a friend of a friend who sent out a mass letter, they send a ton of emails that I just delete.
That drives me insane!! By the way, can I have your email to add to my “Save the Earth by only adopting stray pets in order to help the need for more public transit”?
I’m with you on that!
This ought to be #1, in BIG FAT SCREAMING CAPITAL LETTERS!!! 😉