Mind your Ps and Ls

Written by Laura Pratt

These days business success depends as much on good manners as acumen. And many a profitable alliance has been lost thanks to an unintentional breach of etiquette. Favorable impressions are crucial, and they could easily turn negative over an improperly used oyster fork or an inappropriate joke.

So, where do you score on the sophisticate scale? Find out with PROFIT’s executive etiquette quiz — and learn exactly what to do with that oyster fork in the answer key. (Note: multiple correct answers are possible.)

1. You’re going out for the afternoon and don’t expect to be back in the office till next morning. What’s more, you won’t have an opportunity to check messages and return calls. You should:

  1. Leave your phone message as it is. After all, a half-day’s wait for a response isn’t going to kill anybody.
  2. Arrange to have someone intercept your calls and explain your absence. That way, callers at least get to speak to a human.
  3. Change your message to reflect your circumstances. Explain that you’re going to be away for the day, and that you will return calls the next day.

2. You’ve just landed a valuable client, and now you’re the belle of the ball. At a Chamber of Commerce soiree, someone proposes a toast in your honor. What will you do?

  1. Say “thank you,” and knock it back with your admirers.
  2. Smile graciously and keep your drink on the table.
  3. Raise your glass in the air with everyone else’s, but don’t join them in the sip.

3. You’re on the links shmoozing a trio of corporate bigwigs. Your next shot — a wickedly bad slice — lands out of sight in the rough. What are your next steps?

  1. Chuckle nervously, and begin the hunt, allowing yourself five minutes to search for your ball. If you can’t find it, drop a new one onto the green.
  2. Proceed to the general location of your wayward missile, then take a maximum of two minutes to look for it.
  3. Make a few self-deprecating remarks and then trot off in the general direction of the ball. Throw your heart into the search without any worry of how much time it takes.

4. It’s another busy day, and your e-mail inbox is filling up rapidly. Are you obliged to respond to each and every note before day’s end?

  1. You’d better believe it. These folks are every bit as busy as you are.
  2. Not necessarily. Unless the subject matter is particularly pressing, it’s not a crime to let it float a couple of days.
  3. Get to it whenever you can. If people really wanted to reach you, they would have called.

5. You’re scheduled to meet a business associate for a working lunch at 12:30 p.m. By 1 p.m., your lunch partner still hasn’t arrived. You should:

  1. Order the linguine and tuck in.
  2. Keep watching the clock while nursing your soda water. The guy has to show up soon.
  3. Take a powder, and leave your card with the head waiter with instructions to tell your associate that you couldn’t hang on all afternoon.

6. You’re invited to the hippest restaurant in town for a swanky business lunch. Who is expected to pay?

  1. All of you. The bill for a business meal should always be split equally, unless otherwise discussed.
  2. The inviter. An invitee, no matter how deeply he delved into the menu, is never obliged to cover the cheque.
  3. Whoever benefits from the business association more, regardless of who issued the invitation.

7. You’ve invited a client in for a tour of your plant. Just inside the doors, the foreman greets you. You should:

  1. Introduce the foreman to your client, as in, “Mr. Foreman, I’d like you to meet Mr. Important Client.”
  2. Introduce the client to your foreman, as in, “Mr. Important Client, I’d like you to meet Mr. Foreman.”
  3. Say “Hi, Mr. Foreman” and keep moving past.

8. You’ve scored an invitation to a golf match with a couple of big wheels from your industry. One of them is just setting up his shot. Where should you stand?

  1. Between him and the sun, to thoughtfully reduce the glare.
  2. Directly behind him.
  3. To the side, out of his sight.

9. You’ve been invited to a supplier’s social function. The invitation suggests “casual wear.” When you chat on the phone to a colleague from the other firm, she says that “everybody will probably just be in jeans.” Your best move:

  1. Go her one better and wear your chinos.
  2. Be like the Romans and show up in Levis.
  3. Get that taffeta thing back from the cleaners. You’ve always looked great in it, and it will probably only be a minor liability in a game of laser tag.

10. You’re enjoying a formal awards dinner when you chow down on something inedible. Do you?

  1. Simply swallow it.
  2. Remove the object with your fingers, and place it on your plate.
  3. Discreetly spit the offending food into your napkin.

11. You won a big contract and delivered the requested product on time. But after invoicing your clients twice, you still haven’t been paid. Should you:

  1. Send another invoice marked “urgent”.
  2. Contact your client representative.
  3. Appeal directly to the president or CEO of the company.


  1. B or C In today’s fast-paced environment, people expect calls to be returned the same day. If that’s not possible, you need to be clear on why not and make appropriate provisions to accommodate.
  2. B Do anything else and you’ll be toasting yourself. And that might burn you in the eyes of your peers.
  3. B According to TheGolfExpert.com, players should mentally mark the ball’s general whereabouts and begin a search lasting no more than two minutes. If you can’t find your ball by the deadline, drop a new one at the nearest point free of obstructions to where you believe the soldier fell.
  4. A It’s a tough gig. E-mail expectations are for a same-day response, says Roz Usheroff, president of Toronto-based image and communication firm The Usheroff Institute. If you’re away from the office, set up an automated reply notifying senders that you’re out and when they can expect a response.
  5. A You’ve waited a half-hour. Your delinquent lunchmate should expect nothing less.
  6. B or C Whoever does the inviting usually foots the bill, say Lew Bayer and Karen Mallett, whose Winnipeg-based firm In Good Company conducts etiquette training seminars across Canada. It’s a good idea to make this clear from the get-go, as in, “I’d like you to be my company’s guest at lunch.” Still there are exceptions. When one party clearly benefits from the meeting, he or she should pay the tab.
  7. B According to Etiquette International, a New York-based firm that provides etiquette coaching and workshops, business introductions are always based on power and hierarchy — and gender is never an issue. Simply, the person of lesser importance is always introduced to the person of greater importance. As in, Mr. Important Client, I’d like to you meet Mr. Lesser Importance.” And who holds a higher position in any organization than a client?
  8. C If you stand between him and the sun, you’ll cast a shadow into his shot. And it’s simply not kosher to stand behind him, out of eyeshot. Instead, stand to his side, visible but out of his personal space. And shut your pie-hole so he can concentrate.
  9. A Usheroff employs this motto: “Always dress one up from everybody else.”
  10. B or C The rule of thumb is that inedible food should go out the same way it went in, says Usheroff. An olive pit, for example, can be dropped into your hand. But remove a small chicken bone with your fork. The exception is fish bones. Likely eaten with a fork, these tiny bones can be discreetly removed with your hand. Use your napkin with caution. you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to your dilemma.
  11. B then C First follow up with the billing representative of the company. If your invoice remains unpaid, it’s acceptable to contact the company’s president or CEO to request payment.

How did you score?

Give yourself one point for each correct answer. For questions with more than one right answer, claim your point only if you got all possible answers.

9 to 11 Congratulations. Your impeccable manners will help you outclass your competition.

5 to 8 You could use some help. Your etiquette IQ could be jeopardizing your ability to get ahead.

4 or less You need serious help fast.

Polish your professional image with these sources:


Includes essential business etiquette guides to 36 foreign countries

Business Etiquette, by Ann Marie Sabath, Career Press, $20.95

The Etiquette Advantage: Personal Skills for Success in Business, by Peggy Post and Peter Post, Harper Resources, $52

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com