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Business Etiquette: An Update to Personal Conduct at Work

Steinbeis experts offer certificate courses with the support of business partners

competence institute unisono, the Steinbeis Transfer Institute of the Steinbeis+Akademie, is offering certification courses to become a skills trainer in (international) business etiquette in collaboration with two providers of business seminars: the seminar institute TAKT & STIL and Dragon Business. In this article, Steinbeis Entrepreneur Peter Schust and TAKT & STIL trainer Susanne Helbach-Grosser discuss the role played by (new) forms of professional and private interaction.

Now that we have made it through the coronavirus pandemic, we sometimes look back at what happened with a sense of bewilderment. The changes to our everyday lives happened at a pace we had never experienced before. Open-plan offices were replaced by kitchen tables, instead of flying everywhere we had video calls, there were no more handshakes, there was a revival in sneezing and coughing etiquette, and small talk became superfluous – unlike honest conversation. Our body language and clothing changed, subtle table etiquette was back again, and mutual empathy flourished. But we also saw omnipresent refusals to show solidarity, selfishness, rude behavior in the internet, and so-called Zoom fatigue. The pandemic resulted in us changing opinions, not only regarding our own values but also those of society in general. In the process, a number of new forms of professional and private interaction entered our everyday lives.

And now that the pandemic is over?

No sooner is Covid-19 fading into the background, the handshakers are taking over again – although not everyone is happy about it. Even before the pandemic, there was controversy surrounding handshakes. “Let’s be honest, did anyone really enjoy shaking hands on a hot summer’s day or during the flu season?” asks Susanne Helbach-Grosser, in an appeal for people to be more restrained and limit themselves to a cheerful “good morning” without physical contact. Despite this, handshakes hold great significance in our culture. They are more than a mere greeting; they offer reassurance, signal openness, and literally allow us to “feel” how the person opposite us is doing right now.

Nonetheless, the need to be protected from infection is also legitimate. So if people don’t want to shake hands with their counterparts – even now, after the pandemic – they can always signal this politely with an appropriate gesture: “I hope you understand, but I’d prefer not to shake hands because of the potential risk of infection” or “Sorry, I’m still one of the cautionary ones.” You could even ask a question: “How may I greet you?” or “May I hug you?” As Steinbeis Entrepreneur Peter Schust emphasizes, “Of course you’re allowed to ask someone to keep their distance if you feel they’re too close. Just because it feels strange, doesn’t mean the concept of ‘physical distancing’ is wrong.” Overall, it’s noticeable that people have become more relaxed in their interactions. There’s something uninhibited about it, but it also means that people will have to learn to cope with more uncertainty.

First impressions count

Any approach to building rapport begins with the personal impression you make, something business leaders are also aware of. This isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about understanding what works and how. Making a success of business contacts isn’t something that should be left to chance. Ever since studies revealed that as many as four out of five Germans have, at one time or another, made fools of themselves in meetings abroad, more and more German executives feel it is essential for business success to gain a solid grasp of communication in foreign settings. Intercultural skills stopped being a nice-to-have competence many years ago; in a world of global business, they are a core competence. Constructive and successful collaboration on the international stage requires an awareness of foreign countries and cultures.

There are some who, usually unnoticed by their managers, question themselves out of a sense of insecurity, asking how best to communicate in a given situation, how to behave during a business meal, whether their choice of attire is befitting of a person in their position, how strong their network is, and how well they interact within that network. With the right training, people can be helped with such questions. Many managers improved significantly in terms of empathy during the pandemic. They also honed their emotional intelligence. As a result, there have been noticeable and welcome improvements when it comes to personal conduct.

Many companies are once again “updating” the behavioral repertoires of their teams to enable employees to present themselves even more professionally to the outside world. To do this, they bring in external trainers, but there’s every possibility that there is already tremendous potential lying dormant somewhere within their own company. “People conscious of their conduct can be turned into people of expertise. They could then provide staff, trainees, and students with the required social skills – internally, at any time,” explains trainer Susanne Helbach-Grosser. These professionally authorized workers would always be on site, as a kind of professional “gas station” to top up at any time – someone who could also organize and oversee company events and trade show visits, from the very start.

Unique apprenticeships through Steinbeis

The Steinbeis Transfer Institute competence institute unisono is offering certification courses to become a skills trainer in business etiquette and a skills trainer in intercultural business etiquette in collaboration with the TAKT & STIL seminar institute and Dragon Business. This partnership has been in place since 2015, offering training courses that are unique in Germany. The target group includes internal and external trainers, managers, trainees, and people aiming to start their own business. The courses offer in-depth individual coaching sessions adapted to participants’ current level of proficiency in order to develop their skills. After theoretical and practical modules, as well as oral and written exams, successful completion is marked by the bestowal of a Certificate of Advanced Studies CAS – Competence Training for (International) Business Etiquette. According to one former course participant: “I felt so confident after the course and knowledgeable regarding the topics of modern etiquette and intercultural business etiquette that I was able to include them in the training and presentations I offer to my own clients.”

For further information on the certification courses to become a skills trainer in (international) business etiquette, go to https://takt-und-stil.de/trainerausbildung.


Susanne Helbach-Grosser (author)
TAKT & STIL (Schwäbisch Gmünd)

Peter Schust (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Transfer Institute: competence institute unisono (Ulm)