Introducing Yourself to a New Colleague
Aim to: Welcome the new person as soon as you hear she has arrived. Don't wait until you've been in a meeting together or exchanged e-mails, says Jill Bremer, an executive image coach in Oak Park, Illinois.
If you are late: Apologize for being inconsiderate and then show interest in her background, ask how she likes the new job, or invite her to lunch.
Tip: As a company veteran, you'll have an easier time making the first move because the newcomer is probably overwhelmed and can't remember whom she has met.
Welcoming New Neighbors
Aim to: Stop by within a few weeks of their arrival, says Millie Downing, author of the Miss Conduct column in the Boston Globe Magazine. If they're busy unpacking, just say hello and visit later.
If you are late: It's never too late, but if the "new" neighbors have been around long enough to be heading up the block association and you still haven't met, you might ask a mutual friend to make the introductions.
Tip: Prepare a file of useful local information to bring over. Downing suggests delivery menus, area maps, event calendars, and the names and numbers of the best dry cleaner and plumber.
Sending a Get-Well Card or Flowers
Aim to: Send it as soon as you hear that the person is not well. If she is having surgery or some other short-term treatment, send your card after the procedure.
If you are late: Mail a card that says you've been thinking about the person, and apologize for not contacting her during the illness.
Tip: If you don't know what the person's condition is, try to contact friends or family before sending anything. If the person's health is deteriorating quickly, a get-well card might not be appropriate.
Sending a Condolence Note
Aim to: Get it there within a few days of the funeral. "You don't want to drag it out for the family," says Crane's Stationery spokesman Peter Hopkins. "People need to start recovering."
If you are late: If you're late writing the note, explain that you've had difficulty expressing your feelings on paper.
Tip: Flowers are not always welcome. The family might prefer a donation to a charity in the deceased's name. (Check with the funeral home.) If donations are requested, make one within two months.
Hosting a Bridal Shower
Aim to: Throw the shower about two months before the wedding, says Los Angeles wedding planner Mindy Weiss. This allows the bride to send thank-yous before the final wave of wedding preparations.
If you are late: Don't be. If you're not up to the responsibility of planning the shower, pass it off to someone who is.
Tip: Without burdening her with details, ask the bride-to-be about her expectations concerning gifts, games, food and drink, and whether men should be included.
Sending a Wedding Gift
Aim to: Send a gift to the bride's home before the wedding. "You do not have a year to send a wedding gift," says Peggy Post, author of Emily Post's Etiquette 17th Edition ($26.50, amazon.com). "That is a myth."
If you are late: Etiquette rules are rules. But, honestly, newlyweds (and even two-year-weds) are always pleasantly surprised by a thoughtful, albeit late, gift. And the bride has probably heard the one-year "rule," too.
Tip: If you send the wedding gift too early, it may be mistaken for an engagement or shower gift. Wait until you receive the wedding invitation.
Hosting a Baby Shower
Aim to: Host the shower four to six weeks before the due date. Consult with the mother-to-be about timing: Some women, due to health complications or religious custom, prefer to wait until after the child is born.
If you are late: If a shower is delayed so long that the baby is already teething, consider offering to help out with an open house for the newly enlarged family, or to host a first-birthday party.
Tip: In the past, baby showers were held for first babies only. Today showers for second- and third-borns are more common, with gifts often focusing more on the mother than on the practical needs of a newborn.
Sending a Gift for a New Baby
Aim to: Get a gift to the house within three weeks of the birth, or bring it over the first time you see the baby. If you already gave a baby-shower gift, you don't have to send a second present.
If you are late: "Select something that can be used by the growing child," says Downing. Or give a gift card that lets the parents choose exactly what they need and spares them the hassle of store returns.
Tip: Check in with the new parents around the five-week point. By this time, the phone calls have died down and reality (and shell-shocked exhaustion) is setting in. Talking to an adult may be a treat.
Sending a Birthday Card or Gift
Aim to: Get it there a few days before or after the birthday. Try to be timely with gifts for kids, who may be less understanding than adults about late gifts.
If you are late: Send the gift anyway. In your card, write something like "It took a lot longer than I thought to find the perfect present," suggests Hopkins.
Tip: When you jot down a birthday on your calendar, make a note to send the card or gift five days before, or set the alarm on your PDA.
Giving a Housewarming Gift
Aim to: Bring a gift the first time you're invited over, or send one when you receive the change-of-address mailing. If you know there will be a housewarming, you can wait to deliver your gift then.
If you are late: Don't worry about it. "Housewarming gifts are not obligatory," Post says.
Tip: "Don't give someone a gift before she moves," Post says. "That's one more thing she'll have to pack."
Returning a Phone Call
Aim to: Return a business call the same day. "Anything past 24 hours is too late for most people in business," Bremer says. Downing recommends that you return personal calls within two days.
If you are late: Apologize with a simple "I'm sorry." Avoid explanations unless you have a very good excuse.
Tip: If you don't have time for a long conversation with a friend who has left a message, send an e-mail saying when you will call back.
Returning an E-mail
Aim to: Respond to business e-mails within 48 hours. (Any later than that is bad for your image at work.) Try to show friends the same courtesy. Make sure to use the automatic out-of-office reply when you're away.
If you are late: "If you know you can't respond in a timely fashion, at least send an e-mail to say you're in a time crunch and will get back to the person as soon as you can," Bremer suggests.
Tip: Complex instructions―or anything that might trigger a lot of back-and-forth messages―may be better dealt with over the phone.
Staying at a Friend’s Home
Aim to: The "fish and guests stink after three days" rule is useful, but close friends may want you for a longer time. Stick to the original dates, even if they insist you stay longer, says Downing.
If you are late: If unavoidable events prevent your leaving on time, offer to take your hosts to dinner so you can relieve them of cooking duties.
Tip: Don't show up with unexpected guests. If you're not sure who's invited, ask politely.
Sending a Thank-You Note
Aim to: Mail it within two days of receiving a gift, being a guest at someone's home, or enjoying any other act of kindness. Notes for holiday and wedding gifts can wait until the frenzy of the event ends.
If you are late: "Write a thinking-of-you note instead," says Hopkins. Mention that you still recall the wonderful dinner or that you've been enjoying their gift.
Tip: A job-interview thank-you note should be mailed the same day, Bremer says.
photo above by Joe Scafuro