Do you have Professional Polish?

First Look
Marcus Duval
Styling and modeling by Calynne Hill (center) and Terra Palmer (right)|!!| with Daniel Sinor.

Have you ever been passed over for a promotion or a job, or had a client go with a competitor and you have no idea why? No one will ever tell you if the reason was due to a bad first impression or because of your behavior. A lack of business etiquette is a silent killer. 

Business etiquette provides a foundation for business people to operate, communicate and collaborate. When a code of etiquette is understood in the work environment, it can be easier for diverse and multi-generational individuals to work together. It is a mark of professionalism and respect. 

Etiquette is a topic that has occupied writers and thinkers for millennia; a subject matter that continues to be featured on today’s bestseller book lists, appears daily on social media networks and tweeted about hourly. Why? Because knowledge of business etiquette is vital to success. It will make the difference between you and another person with the same technical skills and knowledge. It will make the difference to a potential employer or client.  

Business etiquette encompasses a wide range of verbal and non-verbal communications. Many of the rules of acceptable behavior are common sense. Unfortunately, in our work environment in the United States certain accepted behaviors are not acceptable to the rest of the world or to sophisticated business people. But there are some valuable non-verbal guidelines that can get you started on the right path. It is a matter of commitment, common sense and practice. Knowledge has to become habit before it is useful.

It takes less than five seconds to make an impression, and 90 percent of that impression is based on non-verbal signals. You only have one chance at a first impression. Make it count.


Your personal grooming and clothes are the first impression you make. Consider your business wardrobe an important investment and go for quality. Go for a neat, clean and crisp appearance. 

Your wardrobe should consist of tailored and fitted professional clothing. You don’t have to spend a fortune, just make wise choices. It is simple and inexpensive to have clothes altered to fit you perfectly. 

Some businesses or office cultures have dress codes that are acceptable to that specific industry. The dress code described on these pages is for those individuals interested in conveying an image of confidence and professionalism — dressing for success! 

The classic look is always in fashion and will convey a sense of professionalism and credibility. 


How you carry yourself and how you carry off what you are wearing is deportment. Correct posture displays success, confidence, high self-esteem and pride. Stand tall with your head up and shoulders back. When your shoulders are slouched or if you walk around looking as if the weight of the world is on your back, your appearance and the impression you make is negative.


Being late is one of the worst offenses you can make in business. If you are only a minute late you will be perceived as unreliable, selfish, unmotivated and disrespectful. Even if you have a valid excuse, there will be doubt. When you are late for a meeting you are telling the other person you have other matters more important than meeting with him/her. Having to apologize for being late puts you in a defensive and inferior position. 

The only exception would be a late or cancelled flight, in which case you would have ample time to reschedule the meeting at a later time. Aim to be at least five to 10 minutes early. When you are punctual or a little early you have time to collect your thoughts and mentally prepare for the meeting. You can focus on the purpose of the meeting. Punctuality projects professionalism, organization and respect. Being late for work shows a lack of motivation, a perception of unreliability, arrogance and therefore a lack of professionalism.

Make an entrance

Most everyone watches the entrance to a room, so use it to your advantage. When you walk into a business meeting, reception or party you need to walk in with confidence. Keep your shoulders square and chin up. Create an impression of confidence and leadership. Pause for a moment to survey the room and the people in it. Make eye contact, smile and acknowledge people. Don’t be in a rush, and don’t walk in texting, talking on your cellphone or otherwise ignoring the people around you. 

Utilizing these non-verbal tips will put you on the right path to enhance your professional image and leave others with a polished and positive first impression.

Elizabeth M. Redfearn is a certified corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant based in Tallahassee. Her company, Redfearn Etiquette, specializes in contemporary etiquette and international protocol training and support for individuals, corporate organizations, public officials and the hospitality industry.

Categories: Advice