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Business Etiquette and Diversity in the Business World

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Business etiquette and understanding the racial and ethnic differences in the business world is more than saying a couple of grammatically correct sentences in French to a French employer, knowing what to wear during meetings with Arabic clients, or using the right silverware during business dinners with one's superiors. A couple meaningless words during a conversation with someone of a different race or culture could easily turn an alliance into an argument. Even though in the United States, the protocol of business etiquette is generally narrowed down to speak standard American English and behave in standard Western manners 1, there are still people who are unable to meet the basics because of the language barriers and the unfamiliarity with the American culture with respect to their own cultures. In addition, those who fail to recognize and respect people with different traditions also place themselves on the spot for criticisms. There are many groups of people who are afraid to practice and approve of business etiquette because they are afraid of the effects of a diverse workplace and many other issues it could possibly lead to such as cultural assimilation and prejudice. However, business etiquette is very important and should not be disregarded because it is one particular field that lets people interact the proper way in the global business world.

The most important basic skill of business etiquette is to be respectful and courteous to others regardless of the situation and who they are. Showing empathy towards other people's feelings and keeping disagreements and convictions as tactfully as possible are some ways to get this issue resolved. The main goal is to focus on the current situation or discussion and not set the person or people one is interacting with in an uncomfortable or awkward moment. This basic skill of business etiquette seems like common sense but this is one skill that could easily be

neglected when one is easily intimidated with the person he is interacting with and he does not focus on the situation at hand. Take for example a person who works in the student loan industry in the United States. He has to deal with students, not only of American descent but also of other backgrounds as well as international students. Each of these students or their families may have a different outlook on money. Some will complain or become surprised about the high interest rates if they came from a third world country in which money is not sufficient. This student loan worker should interact with them with respect and never point out about how different they are from other people. He should be focused on making explanations or negotiations with them so that the family or the student will apply for their loan and help out the loan company he is working for.

Business etiquette is usually a way for employers, customers, business partners, and prospects to get to know an individual's capabilities when dealing with other people. Peter Post, a director of Emily Post Institute and an author of five etiquette books tells his readers: "Your skills can get you in the door; your people skills are what can seal the deal." 2 Professionalism is a key trait that is sought out in any business related encounter and the way a person interacts with people is mostly judged by others. However, our society has evolved to a certain extent and with the expanding diverse workplace, "the chances of saying or doing the wrong thing are much greater than ever before." 3 Considering the punctuality issue in German business dealings, Germany is one of the few countries that is extremely strict with time and they cannot stand anything done on the last minute. German businessmen look down upon people who are 10 to 15 minutes late during business meetings or those who schedule appointments less than 1 week

before. 4 Their professionalism standard is quite high as opposed to Mexican businessmen who do not mind being 30 minutes late because in their business culture, personal obligations are much more important than the business situations at hand. 5

Another perspective towards business etiquette is it is a matter of tradition. Traditions vary from one culture to the next and some traditional practices may appear normal to one's culture but offensive to the other, and vice versa. Traditions are customs that are passed down from generation to generation, originally without the need of a writing system but more as knowledge kept in memory and practiced so it would not fade away. 6 Example of business etiquettes that might not have anything to do with the business situations but are practiced either way are the use of chop sticks in most Asian cultures, very modest and conservative clothing styles with an option of concealment for businesswomen in Saudi Arabia 7, and the removal of shoes and footwear when entering a house in most Eastern cultures. Following simple traditional steps and practices create a sense of belongingness and improve relations with those people one is having business dealings with because he is learning new things and behaviors those people usually do not show off in the workplace. Sense of belongingness is almost considered as a basic need; it is something that affects a person psychologically and mentally. As its opposite, alienation can often create complications and social dysfunctions that can affect a person's work ethic. 8

With the right business etiquette skills people can build a global workplace that welcomes everyone regardless of their ethnic, racial, or cultural differences. As of 2008, the United States Office of Employment counted that 29% of the United States labor force is comprised of minorities and is still growing. They also estimated that from 1998 to 2008, 41% of the people entering the US labor force are minorities. 9 There are several advantages to having a diverse workplace. First of all, a company can expand the limits of its creativity and productivity. An American business has a perspective: "the more ideas you can obtain from different people, the more likely one is able to develop a workable answer." 10 Other cultures can offer insightful alternatives Americans might not have considered. New skills, techniques, attitudes and perspectives are brought to the table by people from diverse cultures. Take for example the perspective in time. In the United States, business owners believe that "time is money" and "getting to the bottom line" is a set-in-stone statement in the business world. Not all countries think this way and some countries even believe these statements in the opposite way. Some cultures believe that time is not all about money or getting things done, and should be used to "build relationships" with other people or parties they are doing business with. 11 This helps one



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