The 10 Commandments of Business Behaviour

SEATTLE (Reuters) - What impact do your interpersonal skills have on your ability to do your job?

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown (R) shakes hands with South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak after their meeting at 10 Downing Street in London March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Those of us dedicated to such matters have long recognized the truth in John D. Rockefeller’s comment: “I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than any other skill under the sun.”

Lest this scion of another century be ignored, a report by Google concurred that its most effective managers are people first, geeks second. Google’s report brought Rockefeller’s words full circle. What, specifically, does it all mean?

To this columnist, it means following: the Ten Commandments of Business Behaviour. They are, I believe, worthy guidelines for anyone’s career (even if I did write them myself, with apologies to the Bible). And I reserve the right not to deal with social media because it has been addressed so skilfully by my colleagues.

Here goes:

1. Thou shalt have a positive attitude. Everybody has bad days. Nobody has the right to take it out on others. Rudeness, impoliteness, surliness, ugly moods, unprovoked displays of anger, and general unpleasantness can be costly to your career - and your company’s bottom line.

2. Thou shalt be on time. Keeping others waiting is the ultimate power play - whether it’s a meeting, an email, a telephone call, or that charmingly Jurassic example of business behaviour, a letter. In the end, it’s self-defeating. Everybody’s busy. Everybody’s time is valuable. Being late only makes you look like you don’t have your act together.

3. Thou shalt praise in public and criticize in private. If you intend to improve a situation or someone’s performance, public criticism is the worst approach. It serves no purpose except to humiliate the other person, and possibly lead to cutthroat retaliation. Remember that the office gossip looks far worse than those being gossiped about.

4. Thou shalt get names straight. We all forget people’s names. There is nothing wrong with saying: “Please tell me your name again. My brain just went on strike.” But there is something wrong with not checking on correct spelling whenever you write a name. That’s lazy. It can cost your career. And remember, it’s a big mistake to assume you can call somebody by his or her first name. We have four generations working in a truly global marketplace. Each generation feels differently about using first names.

5. Thou shalt speak slowly and clearly on the telephone. Texting makes us forget how we sound, or when we speed-talk. Again, remember those four generations in the work arena, as well as the diversity of cultures. A smile can be heard in your voice. So smile or you will sound irritated and put out. Not a good move when business is on the line.

6. Thou shalt not use foul language. KIND is the only four-letter word for the workplace. Don’t accept vulgarity, poor grammar and slang as your personal standards. They are three of the top reasons people don’t get hired. On the other hand, liberal use of “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me” can be most helpful in one’s career ascent.

7. Thou shalt dress appropriately. Don’t enter your workplace without knowing its dress code. If you must, call the human resources department and ask. Good grooming is at least 10 times more important than making a fashion statement. Good taste and fashion are not always synonymous.

8. Thou shalt take clear messages. It pays to take time to be sure the messages you take are clear, correct and complete.

9. Thou shalt honour social courtesies at business functions. Etiquette is just a matter of common sense with a large dose of kindness. Make sure you respond to invitations promptly and never bring an uninvited guest without permission. Never be a no-show when you said you’d show. Good guests contribute as much to a party as good hosts.

10. Thou shalt be accountable. We all make mistakes. That does not give us license to blame someone else for them. There is no shame in admitting you don’t have all the answers. Yet there is shame in not being willing to look for them.

(Mary Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts." She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website

The opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by Paul Casciato