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Etiquette in business: 101 #HeshDeSilva


Typically, good manners in business are a non factor to many Kenya youth. From my experience, I have found that many young people do not know the right way to address people, the appropriate time to call, or the correct way to phrase requests.

It is through my experiences that I base this piece. The list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point for young people looking for some pointers.

RESPECT: The belief that ‘respect is earned’ needs to be thrown out of the window. When you are asking something of someone ‘higher up’ than you, remember YOU are asking. That demands respect and therefore humility is required. There are times when a little pride can be shown; this is not one of those times. No matter your age, no matter how close you think you are to the person you’re addressing, respect will take you a lot further than suddenly believing you are on a first-name basis.

I encounter this quite often. Being a 25 year old, I often couldn’t care less if people call me Hesh. Mr de Silva is my father after all. But it is insulting to accompany a first name with a staggering request. Recently I saw a tweet sent to me. The young man had tweeted all the other 9 people who had appeared on the same Forbes list as I had. It was amusing to see the way he addressed each person. Ashish Thakkar and myself were addressed with ‘Hey bud’, while others were ‘Hallos zir’. Not surprising why he didn’t get a reply.

CORRECT GREETINGS: ‘Hae’ is not ‘Hello’. ‘Sema boss’ is not ‘Good morning’. I know somewhere along the line we have gotten used to a terrible version of shorthand and slang as an ‘acceptable’ form of communication. Maybe this comes from years of trying to fit all we have to say, while remaining ‘cool’, in one sms – or more recently – one tweet. Nevertheless, we must learn to differentiate between writing to our friends, and writing formally. You will find that people will pay a lot more attention to what you are saying if you say it correctly and save the messy shorthand for your close friends. ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening’ are pleasant, ‘Hae’ is not.

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USE THE CORRECT CHANNELS: Yes I understand that there is a work-hungry force out there just waiting to get a job. I was once that young person too. Today, however, Human Resource departments exist to deal with these issues. Tweeting the CEO asking for an opportunity unfortunately goes unread. While this may seem unfair and unreasonable, put yourself in their shoes. You’ve invested in a HR department, you try and remain accessible to the public through social media, and yet you still get bombarded with requests from people on a DAILY whole believe you owe them a job.

Your best bet is to know who to address through the correct channels. Your chances of getting a job through tweeting a CEO are less than 1/1000. You have a better chance of getting a job when correctly and professionally addressing the HR department.

ASKING FOR FREE THINGS: This is one that I seem to get inundated with. ‘Pls buy for me a new motorbike’ etc. It’s exhausting. I don’t know whether it’s down to a culture of getting things free from politicians during campaigns, NGOs and the such – but it has to stop. This world owes you NOTHING. It’s the biggest lesson I learned when starting out. Life is what you make of it, nothing else. If you don’t have what you’re trying to get, find a way to earn it. It’s a longer road, but it’s worth the journey.

THE WAY YOU DRESS: First impression is everything. Many CEOs believe in the mantra that the first 1 minute is crucial in shaping our perception of someone.

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Make sure your clothes are well fitting. It’s not more expensive to buy fitting clothes, and often it just means spending time with a tailor or learning to sew. A loose fitting suit is a bit of an eyesore, but is nowhere near as bad as showing up casually dressed for a meeting. Unless you own a multi-million company, you can’t just show up with a tee and a hoodie and expect to be taken seriously.You can always conform to the office dress code if it is more casual, but it’s always best to start off on a professional footing than having to play catch-up purely because you chose to dress casual.

And finally, CALLING TIMES: There are few things more irritating than getting a call on a Sunday afternoon from someone requesting a meeting. CEOs know that they have to be on call at any moment for their companies, but a phone call at night, late on weekends shows two things – a lack of respect and courtesy for the person being called, and that the call is more of an afterthought. A ‘hmmm, im not doing anything at the moment – let me call’.

Monday through Friday 9am-5pm are usually best. Anytime outside that and your pushing the boundaries. Yes it may take you longer to get through, but you won’t be greeted on the other end of the line by a grumpy person who’s upset at being called on a Sunday night.


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