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  • Why Professional Etiquette Is Overrated

    Several years ago, I went to a networking event right near Washington, D.C.

    One woman in the group introduced herself as an “etiquette expert.” Then, she gave everyone in the room one of her “best tips on how to be professional:”

    Make sure your name tag is on the right side of your shirt/jacket and not on the left side.

    (Apparently, it’s not possible for someone to be able to read your name tag when it’s 4 inches away on the left side of your shirt.)

    After hearing this “secret for success,” I looked down and noticed that my name tag was on the left side of my jacket, as it always was when I attended an event that required name tags. However, I disregarded her meaningless advice and kept my name tag where it was.

    Later in the event, I found myself next to this woman during a break. Before even introducing herself, she looked at me and said, “Did you not hear my tip about putting your name tag on the right side of your jacket?”

    “I must have missed that,” I replied.

    She then pulled out a full sales brochure for her company, and said, “Here is a brochure on my company in case you’d like to learn some other ways to be more professional.”

    I reciprocated by handing her my business card. However, I apparently did not do that correctly either.

    She then demonstrated the “proper” way to hand someone a business card and gave my card back to me so I could practice handing it to her again!

    Wow… all this time I thought networking was about building relationships with people. Apparently, it’s all about the way you wear your name tag and how you hand someone your business card.

    This “etiquette expert” is like a resume writer who obsesses over the size/type of font to use on your resume, as if using Times New Roman font 11 (not Times New Roman font 12!) is the secret to impressing people.

    Guess what… this stuff does NOT matter.

    To be clear, this is not permission to dress like a slob or to submit a resume riddled with grammatical errors.  However, this “etiquette expert” was focused on trite ways to be professional.

    Professional etiquette is not about name tags and business cards. Professional etiquette is about how you communicate and how you treat other people.

    Are you focused on the person you are talking to, or are you scanning the room looking for other people to speak to? Are you genuinely interested in what other people have to say, or are you trying to jam your elevator pitch (or sales brochure) down their throat?

    When you meet new people, just worry about taking a genuine interest in them first. When you do that, no one will care about how you wear your name tag. Most people don’t even know that “you are supposed to” wear your name tag on the right side of your shirt anyway.


    Pete Leibman is the Founder of Dream Job Academy and the Author of the new book titled “I Got My Dream Job and So Can You.” His career advice has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN, and he is a popular Keynote Speaker at career events for college students and at conferences for people who work with college students.

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    Posted in Networking, Personal Branding, Success Strategies
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    4 comments on “Why Professional Etiquette Is Overrated
    1. avatar

      Nice post Pete! While I agree with you that “Professional etiquette is about how you communicate…” and that the theory of how you should wear your name tag is downright silly. I’ve also come to realize in this not so perfect world of ours that an individual’s presentation of them self is not the end-all, be –all but plays an important role in (our society) opening the door to have anyone in the business world take you seriously.

    2. avatar

      Great story – btw, I wear my name tag on the left hand side too. I also do not pull out my business card unless someone asks for it or if we have agreed to follow up for lunch etc. I agree with you that it’s all about how you treat others consistently.

    3. avatar

      Nice 🙂 I also prefer talks where people expand my way of thinking, open new ways of looking at things, inspire me to try something new – and where I feel like they care, instead of restricting my options based on some right/wrong way of doing things. And I would say that’s also a part of professional etiquette.

    4. avatar
      Jay Remer says:

      I agree with you, Peter. Despite the correct advice given by the “etiquette expert”, she broke a more fundamental rule of respecting other people. Offering unsolicited advice, especially in a public setting is unacceptable. This woman gives our profession a bad name, and I would certainly not consider her a trusted colleague. Thank you for sharing your observations in a clear and kindly manner.

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