Business Reception Etiquette

by Eric Herboso
Looking someone in the eye when talking with him shows you're interested in what he has to say.

Looking someone in the eye when talking with him shows you're interested in what he has to say.

Minding your manners is never more important than during work events. Not only can a faux pas cause you embarrassment, it can leave a bad impression on people who may be important to your career. Unlike more formal events like presentations, dinners and banquets, a business reception is a casual affair where people from all levels of employment and all departments are usually encouraged to mingle and relax together.

Attendance

Punctuality is more important at a business gathering than a personal one. A late entrance can be remembered and may even be seen as indicative of irresponsibility or disrespect for the time of your colleagues. Show up on time or a few minutes early.

Timing

A polite host should plan for the business reception to be between two to three hours. That's long enough to give people time to feel appreciated and get to know one another, yet short enough that it won't exhaust everyone. The host should shake everyone's hand and greet guests as they arrive. All guests should greet the host upon arrival. They should approach the host when leaving to express their thanks and say goodbye.

Curb the Gossip

When gathering with colleagues, bosses and other professionals for a business reception, it's inevitable that talk about the company will come up. Keep all shop talk casual, though. Do not confide in a new acquaintance and resist the temptation to gossip about others within the company or badmouth the business itself. You never know who is listening in, and you don't know if you can trust someone you just met. Beyond that, it would likely make the other person feel awkward to suddenly listen to negative talk at a gathering that should be comfortable and pleasant.

Polite Conversation

In addition to avoiding gossip and negativity, it's important to be a conscientious conversationalist in many ways. Political, religious and deeply personal issues should also be avoided. It's a faux pas to ask about someone's marital status, sexual orientation or work history when you've just met them in a professional setting. Safe topics include current events that aren't too serious and industry news. A polite compliment and expressing a willingness to help someone professionally are great ways to strengthen an initial conversation as long as they are sincere. If you're talking in a group, attempt to include everyone in the conversation and ask others' opinions more often than you share your own.

Colleague Cues

An employee attending a business reception often leaves a first impression on many colleagues. Set the tone for conversations you have by being considerate of the other person. Practice active listening and allow others to lead conversations. Use proper posture and make direct eye contact with everyone you meet. Indicate that you are listening by paraphrasing what the other person is saying when they are obviously passionate about making a point. This confirms that you understand and really hear what's being said. Even if things get exciting, remember that your voice volume should remain fairly low because a gathering is often a loud, busy event, and you show your consideration for others by watching your vocal volume.

Mingling

Business receptions are ideal times to network and make new friends among your colleagues. The art of mingling requires constant consideration for your fellow guests. If someone is by herself, it's polite to go introduce yourself by your first and last name, then ask her full name if she doesn't automatically give it. Address her formally unless she sets the tone by using your first name, then it's safe to assume you are on a first-name basis. The only exception would be if it's someone in a much higher position in the company, in which case the lines may be blurred on how to properly address him. Share your position within the company right from the start so that there are no embarrassing conversation errors.

Drinking Concerns

If refreshments are being offered, take a snack or beverage in your left hand and keep it with you; the right hand should be free for handshakes. It's always a wise idea to avoid drinking alcohol at business receptions. However, some people feel social pressure to be "one of the gang" and at least have one drink. If you know that you cannot have just one or may drink too much, don't even try to drink just a little. If you do plan on drinking, set your limit ahead of time and stick to it. Having too much to drink and embarrassing yourself in a business setting can have lasting consequences and give you a bad reputation within the company.

About the Author

Eric Herboso is a nonprofit social media expert with articles appearing in national print magazines and throughout the blogosphere since 2003. He regularly gives talks and seminars at national nonprofit conventions, helping charities optimize their effectiveness through social media. He is currently working on a graduate degree in applied ethics from Stanford.

Photo Credits

  • David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images