At one time, the line between labor and leisure was abundantly clear: 9-to-5 was work. Evenings and weekends were for play.
In this age of entrepreneurship—a new workplace order in which going to the gym happens on the job and chatting at the cooler is encouraged—the line between personal and professional time is blurred.
It’s important to remember that whether you are spending a day on the golf course with a client, or speaking to one of your friends in a board meeting, the rules of the game are still the same.
1. Good grooming is essential. It's great that you ran a 5K with a client during your lunch break or took a spin class with your assistant. Always take the time to have a shower or at the least rinse off. Nothing affects someone's credibility more than poor grooming. If you worked up a sweat, you need to take time to refresh—no matter how much work you have crammed into your day.
2. Loud language lingers. If you drop a language bomb, the effects of it will linger. And like all bombs, language bombs spell danger. The words you use leave a lasting impression on those around you. Although Sandra Bullock’s slip at the 2014 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards may have earned her a few startled chuckles from the crowd, it also overshadowed her acceptance speech. Do a quick search of “Sandra Bullock + acceptance speech” and you’ll find dozens of videos and commentary on the slip, with very few details about the actual monologue. Drop the “f” bomb and the following occurs: credibility goes down; caution goes up.
3. Meet people in their model of the world. The Golden Rule—treat others as you would have them treat you—is no longer enough in this age of connectivity. Instead, the order of the day is the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they would have you treat them. Some people prefer to use email to communicate, while others prefer texting, social media and Skype. And, yes, there are still those who prefer a phone call. Everyone has a PMoC (Preferred Mode of Communication), so it’s best to find out what that is for each business contact—and use it.
And that's just the first step.
If you want to build lasting relationships with clients and colleagues, know and appreciate their model of the world. Perhaps you’re working with a client that has specific days of the week blocked off for meetings, for example. Note this so that you are certain to schedule meetings on those specific days. Having this awareness—and meeting people in their model of the world—goes a long way in building strong business relationships.
4. Know how far to go. How much of your own personal challenges—or successes—do you share with your clients or colleagues? Even though you’ve become friends with some of your business connections, there needs to be some level of professionalism that is considered when sharing personal information. It would not, for example, be appropriate to share the gruesome details of your spouse’s infidelity with someone you work with—no matter how close you are. Keep the information at a classified level if you’re reaching out for support from co-workers, and refrain from seeking advice from clients or your boss when it comes to your personal life. Instead seek out someone from human resources for support, or find a coach or therapist you can work with.
The converse is true here; when you are on the receiving end of the conversation, be available to lend and ear to those who need it. Just be careful not to get pulled into personal drama. The line can become blurred if you open the door too wide. Take the time to listen, and encourage them to get professional support if needed.
5. Leave things better than you found them. What things? Everything: people, plans and projects—whatever you are involved in. Sometimes we don’t realize the implications of our interactions. Too often “average” and “good enough” are the standards that people reach for. While average is great for your blood pressure, it is not inspiring in the workplace, and it is not likely to inspire others around you.
How do you want people to feel when they interact with you? Worse? Exactly the same? Or better? You really do have the power to make or break someone’s day. Sometimes it’s the simplest gesture that makes the biggest impact.
Imagine if you approached life, business and everything else that matters with a vision of leaving it better than you found it. Or each time you did something you wanted to do it better than the time before. If you set the bar at this height you will always have a job, a career, a place to go and people who want to be connected to you in some way.
While it’s true that the way we conduct business these days has changed, the way we present ourselves is fundamentally the same. If you are well-groomed, speak profoundly, connect with others and make a positive difference in the world you will succeed at work and at play.
Margaret Page is founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises and the author of several books, including The Power of Polite: The Essential Guide to Etiquette in Business.