Summer School

Tips for using National Business Etiquette Week to brush up on weak spots
Illustration by Tony Healey


By the time you read this, National Business Etiquette Week — June 2 through June 8 — will be in full swing. While it’s difficult to confirm, my research indicates that The Protocol School of Washington started the weeklong initiative approximately 12 years ago in an effort to “recognize the need for proper business etiquette to compete in the growing global marketplace.” Unfortunately, I haven’t found any events designed to mark the occasion, so I encourage everyone to find their own way to celebrate.

Are you at a loss? Here are a couple of suggestions: Curl up with a copy of Peter Post’s “The Etiquette Advantage in Business, 3rd edition,” to brush up on the basics. Or, you could vow to spend the week practicing a point of business etiquette that you’ve always found challenging. For example, if you notoriously forget to send thank-you notes, plan to write and send one per day to an existing or new colleague or business acquaintance. (If you are reading this post-National Business Etiquette Week, you are officially granted a homework extension and have my permission to practice all month.)

The etiquette basic that I find difficult time and time again is breaking into and participating in conversations with existing groups during a networking event. Networking in general presents a lot of challenges for people like me who are ambiverts — which is a fancy way of saying that you straddle the line between being an introvert and an extrovert. Ambiverts enjoy socializing, but only so much. Once we hit the threshold, alone time and quiet activities (for me that’s reading) are essential for getting reenergized and back into the fray. Meanwhile, no matter how much the extrovert in me wants to jump into networking events with gusto, my inner introvert inevitably decides this is the perfect time for shy and awkward emotions to surface. Suddenly I’m thrust into a familiar and vicious cycle of wanting to approach a group of strangers, but struggling to muster the courage to do it. I know that I’m not alone in this plight. In fact, I had an exchange about this very thing not long ago with a group of friends. Ironically, the discussion happened not face-to-face, but rather on a Facebook thread. At the time, I was reminded of a meme that author and inspirational speaker Glennon Doyle posted to Instagram on International Women’s Day, which I shared with the group. It read:

“If you are standing with other women in a circle and there is a woman standing alone in your circle’s vicinity — the thing to do is notice her, smile at her, move a bit and say, ‘Hi, come join us!’ Even if she looks at you like you’re crazy — inviting her is still the thing to do. Widen your circles. All the time. Also: Horseshoes are better than circles. Leave space. Always leave space. Horseshoes of friends > Circles of friends. Life can be lonely. Stand in horseshoes.”

My friends all loved the concept of horseshoes and since then, I have been trying to keep it in mind — and not just as it pertains to women. I keep reminding myself that most people are nervous about approaching a group and then in turn, when I happen to be in one of the groups, I look for others who are hanging out on the perimeter. This tactic helped me get over some of my own shyness and, more importantly, prompted me to become more inclusive. For me, compassion and empathy tend to win out where other strategies have failed.

If you decide to embark upon a weeklong or even month-long practice pegged to National Business Etiquette Week, you can’t go wrong if kindness — to others and yourself — is the focus of your effort.


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