Business Etiquette: What Your Students Don't Know

By Mausehund, Jean; Dortch, R. Neil et al. | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Business Etiquette: What Your Students Don't Know


Mausehund, Jean, Dortch, R. Neil, Brown, Paula, Bridges, Carl, Business Communication Quarterly


Recent developments in the workplace have supported the need for more awareness of business etiquette, especially by new employees entering the workforce. This study was completed to determine the current level of etiquette awareness possessed by students enrolled in business communication courses at three AACSB institutions. The findings indicate that students are most concerned with issues related to job interviews, interpersonal relationships, and social issues and least concerned with intercultural issues.

The variety and number of business publications including articles on etiquette in the workplace reflect a definite interest in the topic by employers. One reason for the interest may be in the general belief among business persons that etiquette skills have declined or at best stayed the same during the past decade. Over 40% of the respondents in a study by Schaffer, Kelley, and Goette (1993) believed that the business etiquette skills of college graduates had actually worsened over the past ten years. Furthermore, they said once in the business world, these graduates have little on-the-job opportunities for etiquette training. Finally, the respondents indicated the business school should include etiquette in the course of study.

Even if your students have had the benefit of being well-grounded in social etiquette, they may find that familiar rules do not always apply in the workplace. The double-sided effects of trying to walk the fine line of proper etiquette in the different worlds of social and business are recognized by Judith Martin. In Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior she said, "Good business manners often dictate the opposite of good social manners" (1982, p. 12), and in Miss Manners Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium, she said, "If the relaxed manners of leisure could be used successfully in the office without anyone's being fooled about the realities hidden underneath, Miss Manners could argue against them only on aesthetic grounds" (1989, p. 302).

However, professional protocol, that is, business etiquette, is considered by some to be a "soft" communication skill that does not need to be focused upon in business students' training. Prevalent attitudes are either "They know how to behave" or "They'll pick up social savvy on the job." The reality may be that because business students are graduating with less effective business social skills each year, more of them will continue to make social gaffes on the job.

Problem and Procedures

The problem of this study was to investigate what facets of professional protocol are of concern to business students. When gathering data for this study and interpreting results, the researchers worked within the parameters of the following assumptions:

1. Business etiquette permeates all activities in the workplace.

2. Educators can incorporate business etiquette across the curriculum.

3. Students recognize need for but are unclear on what constitutes acceptable business etiquette.

4. Students are uncertain of appropriate etiquette in routine situations in the workplace.

A data-gathering instrument was given to and collected from 457 juniors, seniors, and graduate students enrolled in business communication classes in three AACSB-accredited colleges of business (COBs) at the close of the 1994 spring term. In addition to providing demographic data, the students responded to one open-ended question: What is one question about business etiquette that you've always wanted to ask?

Statistical Analysis

Analyses of data identified the social discomfort areas of students. The major categories of professional protocol discomfort are shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Categories of Business Etiquette Questions

Category                      No.   Pct.

Interviewing                  150     33
Interpersonal relationships    78     17
Social issues                  78     17
Job-related issues             35      8
Ethics                         30      7
Appearances                    26      6
Intercultural issues            3      1
Unrelated                       9      2
No response                    48     10
Total                         457    100

The major source of discomfort areas are job interview, interpersonal relationships, and social issues. …

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