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Professional grooming and etiquette for sailors

The Merchant Navy has been following the formal dressing for any official work. Be it going for up-gradation courses or visiting the shipping office for any personal or professional work.  I conduct workshops on grooming and etiquette, am dedicating an article on the topic for our sailors. Hope you like the pointers covered here. It can be used as a ready reckoner.

Good manners are cost effective. They not only increase the quality of life in the workplace, they contribute to employee morale, embellish the company image, and play a major role in generating profit. ~Letitia Baldrige

There is nothing more embarrassing for a young man or a woman than to be put into a new situation that requires etiquette and  professional decorum and not really knowing  what to do or how to behave. Etiquette or manners are described as good or bad to indicate whether or not a behavior is socially acceptable. Every culture adheres to a different set of manners, although a lot of manners are cross-culturally common. They are a subset of social norms which are informally enforced through self-regulation and social policing; hence they are publicly performed. Everyone is expected to adhere by them.

In today’s competitive business arena, it takes more than your educational qualification, updated CV or an up to date wardrobe to sail through smoothly. A study by Harvard University revealed that, to be successful in one’s career and personal life one needed to possess 15% of technical skills and 85% of people skills (Social, Business and Dining Etiquette). As businesses become socially-oriented, companies look increasingly to those who have what it takes to represent their organisation on a public platform. The class, style and the confidence that can individual showcases;  Etiquette are thus extremely important.

Why are etiquette important for the Shipping Fraternity?

The personnel working in the shipping industry work with multinational, multi cultural and multi linguistic teams. They also travel extensively around the globe. Being familiar with the ‘norms’ will definitely help them.

  • They need to sharpen their social and international skills.
  • They are professionals at all levels of the corporate ladder (working in the shipping offices).
  • They have aspirations for career advancement just like any other professional.
  • They meet high-value clients, who are well travelled.
  • They hold international positions.
  • They regularly attend to internal and external customers and stakeholders for business or social purposes.(applicable mostly to higher ranks)

What is the need of immaculate grooming and business etiquette?

Like all professionals in the corporate world, the shipping fraternity too needs to be abreast with the dos and the don’ts.

  • Creates awareness on the impact of soft skills and first impressions.
  • Sharpens employee’s professional image and etiquette.
  • Increases employee’s self-confidence, motivation, commitment and positive morale leading to greater performance and productivity.
  • Improves and reinforces corporate image and brand value.
  • Improves client relationships through employee’s professionalism.
  • Enhances corporate charisma.
  • Takes the Company ahead of it’s competition.

What will happen if you manage your skills of grooming and professional etiquette well?

Who doesn’t want to create a positive first impression? It is said that the first impression is the best one. The first 4 minutes are extremely important in any meeting or interaction, use the grooming and professional etiquette to make those 4 minutes count! Using these etiquette will:

  • Make positive impressions with or on clients.
  • Conduct business with a professional demeanor.
  • Demonstrate confidence through eye contact and a firm handshake.
  • Know the etiquette of dining and table manners.
  • Know who to introduce to whom and handle business cards correctly.
  • Deal with clients or colleagues with respect and courtesy.
  • Dress according to the dress code.
  • Express compatibility and respect to different cultures.
  • Cultivate professional working relationships.etiquette
  1. Importance of Impressions

It is much easier to make a good first impression than to correct a bad one! It takes a quick glance, may be just 4 seconds to evaluate you. With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person’s impression of you is formed. These first  encounters are extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follow.  Rule of 12 applies to the first impressions:

  • The first twelve inches from the shoulders up
  • The first twelve steps a person takes
  • The first twelve words a person speaks
  1. Making Proper Introductions

Look into the eye of the person you are speaking to and complete the introduction. Speak clearly, use courteous language and preferred names or titles. Shake hands if appropriate.  All rapport is built upon conversations; and most begin with small talks.

  • Approach with a smile and have an eye contact.
  • Open a conversation with a genuine compliment or an open ended question.
  • Whatever you do, don’t begin with a lecture about yourself, turn the spotlight on the person you are speaking with.

In today’s workplace, gender is removed from all etiquette

  • Whoever reaches the door first opens it and holds it for others.
  • Both men and women rise to meet and greet, especially when a handshake is involved.
  • It is not expected for a male business companion to seat a female associate. But it’s fine to show some chivalry.


  • Stand to meet someone
  • Extend your hand immediately
  • Shake from your elbow
  • Hold for 3-4 seconds
  • Maintain eye contact
  • A confident hand shake compliments the introduction
  1. Body Language

Your body language often reveals more about you than verbal communication. Be conscience of it, because it is always being observed. Have a positive and affirmative body language.

  • Good posture displays confidence.
  • Don’t slouch, stand and sit upright.
  • Don’t fidget; it’s annoying and a sign of boredom.
  • Keep hands away from your mouth when speaking.
  • Honor others’ personal space, don’t intrude or stand too close.
  • Break nervous habits, such as gum chewing, nail biting, drumming fingers, hair twirling, etc.
  • Body language decides the winner!
  1. Dress code

Your appearance impacts your mood and confidence. It’s important to be aware of dress codes and understand what they mean. Though dress may be a very personal matter, it becomes a very public or professional matter when on the job. Employees are expected to comply with company standards. Dress to fit your audience and yourself. Clothing should have a good fit and be well-maintained.

  • Dress for the occasion; considering the guests, location or the event.
  • When in doubt opt for overdressing.
  • Casual – appropriate jeans, shorts, etc.
  • Smart casual- Jeans, Shirt and shoes for instance.
  • Business Casual – Open collar, slacks, skirt.
  • Business Professional – Jacket, tie, ladies suit or dress
  • Semi Formal – Suit for men, cocktail dress for women
  • Formal – Suit or tuxedo for men, formal dress or gown for women
  • Dark colors compliment your shape and create the appearance of authority
  • Polish your shoes, they are noticed and they speak volumes about your personality.
  • Quality accessories are important; sling bag, briefcase, purse, an umbrella, file holder etc.

Dress code – Men

  • Ties should reach your belt buckle.
  • Socks should cover your shin when sitting.
  • Wear a long sleeve shirt with a suit.
  • Socks match either trousers or shoes.
  • Button suit or coat when standing
  • Two button coat – button top button
  • Three button coat – button top two buttons
  • Double breasted coat – button all buttons

 Dress code – Women

  • Use fragrances sparingly
  • Makeup and jewelry should be kept simple
  • If the men are wearing ties, you should be wearing hose(with short dress or skirt)
  • Avoid all clothing that is too revealing or too restrictive
  • Don’t wear heels so high that you are unsteady.
  • Nails should not be more than ¼” in length
  • Nails should not have chipped nail polish, keeping them clean is a better idea.
  1. Conversational Techniques

For engaging conversations in social gatherings, one must:

  • Be polite
  • Be a good listener
  • Puts others at ease
  • Be comfortable to discuss various issues
  • Asks good questions
  • Never interrupt
  • Graciously accept a compliment with a simple, ‘thank you’
  • Extend a compliment with sincerity
  • Learnto open and end conversations with grace
  • Pick up on nonverbal cues when to end a conversation with “It’s been a pleasure talking with you, please excuse me.” or “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, please excuse me.”

And a good way to walk away from a conversation that is getting boring is to never have your drink more than half full so if you are “stuck” you can say “excuse me, I’m going to refill my drink.”

  1. Telephone and Mobile Etiquette

A lot of work happens over the phone these days; hence it’s good to know the polite rules.

  • Smile and speak – clearly and at a comfortable pace.
  • Tone and voice clarity are more important than the words you use.
  • Never eat, drink or chew gum while talking
  • Always begin a call by introducing yourself, your company and with whom you wish to speak.
  • When answering a call immediately write down the caller’s name and repeat it during the conversation
  • Return all calls within 24 hours
  1. Dining etiquette

Business meeting or for that matter even dates happen over food. Following dining etiquettes help create great first impression that we have been talking about all the while. Learn the finer nuances and intricacies of

  • Napkin Use
  • Ordering
  • Reading the table setting
  • Use of silverware and glasses
  • When you have finished
  • Tipping

Putting these etiquette into practice can make a big difference in your social or professional life. You will make more friends, be invited to more parties and be considered when job opportunities arise. You are a complete winner!  


Laxmi Todiwan
Founder, Indian Women in Hospitality (IWH). She is a Professor, Corporate Trainer, Motivational Speaker and a Blogger. A multiple award winning hospitality professional with a career spanning over two decades; people engagement, training and development are close to her heart. She writes for hospitality journals, online platforms and columns in the local newspapers. Married to a Master Mariner, Capt. Rajesh Todiwan, she loves to write on the maritime industry as well as the lives and relationships of the fraternity. She expresses her thoughts on her blog and website

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