Top Etiquette Skills Critical to Administrative Success

(First in a two-part series, exclusive to
Want to succeed in the administrative profession? Then remember this: You could be the very best assistant in the world, but if your etiquette skills don't exhibit professional poise, it is very likely that you won't get as far in this career as you deserve.

Manners matter, now more than ever. They distinguish today's most sought-after and highly compensated assistants from those who are "great", but don't advance to better jobs.

By Joan Burge

Keys to Administrative Excellence

To help ensure you break through the "success barrier" and move up the ladder quickly, review this refresher list of critical etiquette skills:

  1. Use mobile phones wisely
    Mobile phones are a lifeline to managers, colleagues and even our families when we're on the go in this fast-paced business world.

    However, their usage is increasingly drawing critical fire, which means we have to be aware of how, when and where we're using them. Here are a few pointers:
    • Keep mobiles on "silent" or "vibrate" mode when at the office, restaurants, meetings or conferences. Ringing phones in quiet places are rarely welcome.
    • Remind colleagues to silence their phones before meetings, and be sure to do the same yourself.
    • Speak softly. A little-known limitation of mobile technology is that it prevents you from hearing the feedback of your own voice. Result? People tend to speak more loudly than necessary.
    • Excuse yourself if you must take an important mobile call, and avoid discussing sensitive or confidential issues in public as a rule.

  2. Practice punctuality
    No doubt, you know the value of punctuality in the workplace. Here's what happens if you get "so busy" that you're routinely running "a little behind":

    People start wondering if you care about your job, and your credibility gets compromised. Worse, chronic lateness can seem disrespectful – something you should avoid at all costs!

    One solution: Build extra time into your schedule. An extra five or ten minutes can keep you on track and minimise stress levels.

    There are times, though, when we can't help being detained. In these situations, two practices can preserve your professional image:
    1. Contact people affected by your absence and let them know in advance that you'll be late, as well as the reason why. This basic courtesy is sure to be appreciated.
    2. When you arrive late, extend a brief verbal apology to the group (if necessary) and sit down to avoid calling attention to yourself. Catch up on what you missed later; for now, keep the focus on the work at hand.

  3. Watch your words
    One of the more common etiquette problems (and liabilities) I see today is people blurting out the first thing that comes to mind in challenging situations.

    Today's assistants need to exercise the same critical thinking skills as their managers. So step back a moment – especially in high-pressure situations – and consider the impact that your verbal or written words might have.

    Imagine you're preparing to offer constructive feedback to someone. How would you feel if you heard the words or read the message you intended to share? Put yourself in the other person's shoes and edit what you plan to say so it has the best, most effective impact. Result: Your good manners will be rewarded with even greater respect, and your message is more likely to hit the mark.

  4. Dress to impress
    There are dozens of books on the market today putting forward the importance of how you dress in the workplace. So I'll only pause a moment here to remind you of what you already know:

    The way you present yourself each day is a key indicator of the respect you have for your manager, peers, clients and position. It also speaks volumes about your career aspirations.

    Rule of thumb: Model the dress of your most respected colleagues, or even higher-ups, you admire. It doesn't cost a lot to look great! Assess your current "fashion sense", seek out resources (such as books or coaches) to help you look great, and you'll be on the road to even greater success.

    Next month, I'll share the remaining critical etiquette skills that lead to administrative advancement. Until then, best wishes and keep reaching for the stars!

Joan Burge, founder and CEO of Office Dynamics, is one of North America's foremost authorities on administrative excellence and workplace effectiveness. She's best known for her Star Achievement Series, a 12-part training program promoting "Star Performance" that's been endorsed by some of the world's most prestigious businesses and organisations. The author of Become an Inner Circle Assistant and two other books for success-minded employees and executives, Joan has been hosting her own national, annual Forum for Administrative Professionals since 1993.

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