Find out how to deal with situations in this section titled Tips on Etiquette.

Q: My colleague gossips on the phone or via emails about other colleagues with a friend from an affiliated company. I'm not so sure this is even legal. Is it professional to talk about personal problems over emails?

Using Company’s time to gossip on the phone or through emails about other colleagues is not right. You’re paid to do a job, not gossip or send personal emails.The IT administrator has a right to check the emails being sent out or received, so you risk getting caught spreading rumors or talking about others! If the gossip or rumor gets out of hand, the “victim” may even sue the company for allowing such a defamatory email to circulate in the office.

Unless the company has an email policy in place and adds an email disclaimer to every mail that states that employees are expressly required not to make defamatory statements; it may be held liable for damages.

Q. Is it alright for your male boss to call you 'dear' and 'honey' and even touching your knee mid-conversation? So far I've smiled or shrugged it off, but it's getting annoying, and he does it only to the female colleagues.

Calling female colleagues by intimate names or touching the knee during a conversation is unprofessional. The employer is not behaving correctly.

The next time it happens again, tell your boss you’d like to be addressed by your first name. I would sit in a manner where he is unable to touch your knee, e.g. discuss matters over the table where the legs are below it. This is an instant signal that you want to be treated professionally – he cannot fault you for that.

Q. Office Romance - yes or no? What if it's with a man in a different department and in a 'junior' position to yours? Won't tongues wag?

Office romance is not encouraged by many companies. Not only does it affect work attitude, performance and productivity, it sometimes affects the morale of other workers. For you to stabilize the relationship, you would have spent several weeks and months nurturing it, going through the usual ups and downs, mood swings, etc. hence affecting your work.

If it works out, well and good. If it doesn’t work out, it will be awkward for both to face each other in the office and eventually, one may even be forced to go to another department or resign!

Q. I read in an etiquette guidebook that when you're at a job interview, you do not extend your hand for a handshake unless the interviewer offers his/her. Is this true and does it apply to the business context?

It is always polite to offer a handshake. In fact, the person who extends the hand first has a distinct advantage. He/She is being direct, is taking the initiative and is establishing control. In any business setting, gender does not play a role. Hence, either a woman or a man can extend the hand first, including the interviewee.

Q. What is the proper way to handle bread? Is it OK to break it with your hands?

There is specific “bread etiquette” you may be interested to know about. First, it would be the responsibility of the person closest to the bread basket to take the basket and first help themselves. Then, they would hold the basket and offer to the person on their left and then their right, and then pass to the right.

Regarding your concern about handling the bread, it is perfectly acceptable to take the bread with your hands and delicately separate it. Then break off a very small bite size piece, one at a time — butter/oil (if desired) and eat, one at a time. Small pieces — do not break off an amount which you find yourself eating two or three bites from. You always want to be ready to respond to a question and contribute to table talk.

Q. When you are at a business dinner, what do you wear?

French nails are a lovely touch. The classic little “black dress” is always appropriate, with sheer black hose and moderate height pumps – suede is a notch above leather; patent traditionally in the spring and summer months.

Don’t forget accessories: the little black purse, which of course, will never rest on the table – if the dinner is at someone’s home you would either leave it with your coat or carry it with you-never to be seen on the table. If you are at a restaurant, again, never, on the table but rather behind you on the seat or, on the floor (for security purposes).

Q. If one is dining at a restaurant and encounters a negative situation caused by the restaurant that forces one to lose one's appetite, what should one do? I refer to the clichéd situation in which one finds a hair in one's food. Or, as is more common today, the sight of the waitress playing with her spike that has pierced her tongue.

Most restaurateurs are more than accommodating when a customer encounters something like a hair or a bug in one’s food/glass. They usually try to compensate guests by i.e. replacing the entire item and “comp” the meal or, if one’s appetite is truly “ruined” might offer a gift certificate, etc. to return at another time.

In the case of the waitress playing with the spike which has pierced her tongue, I probably would avoid being seated in this restaurant to begin with if I noticed such a waitron… there are lot’s and lot’s of other restaurants!

Q. A colleague of mine put on her lipstick at the end of a recent business lunch. Was this OK?

It is NOT OK nor is it appropriate for a woman to apply lipstick in a restaurant or at the dining table. This should be done in the restroom.

The only possible exception might be a “ladies luncheon” — totally unrelated to business of any kind.

Q. Should I write a thank-you note for an annual bonus I recently received?

If the bonus was part of the compensation package, a thank you note would NOT be necessary.

If the bonus was discretionary, a thank you note would not be REQUIRED; however, a simple walk into the person(s) office with a verbal thank you would suffice.

Two things to remember in general:

it is never inappropriate to send a thank you note (unless you are thanking someone for a particularly extravagant “thank you”). The home is not the place to send a company related (thank you) note.

Q. Can you inform me of the proper way to use the utensils laid out on the dining table. Do you start from the outside and work your way in?

You read your place setting just like a map. The map will tell you where to go and what to expect next.

Start from the outside and work your way in. Dessert fork and spoon are above your dinner plate. Solids on the left; (solids: salad, bread, butter, etc.) and liquids on your right; (liquids: water, wine, coffee, tea, etc.)

Q. I am meeting a new client at their office, what should I do in the lobby when I first arrive?

When calling on a client, announce yourself and who you are there to see, time of appointment and present your business card to the receptionist to avoid confusion, name repetition, mispronunciation, etc.

Never be caught sitting, browsing through a magazine when your host greets you in the lobby; be standing, right hand free to shake hands; make eye contact.

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