Difference Between Protocol and Etiquette

Protocol vs Etiquette

Though protocol and etiquette are not uncommon terms a glance at the definitions of both terms tends to present some form of confusion, particularly when trying to identify the difference between the two. This is because the two terms are interpreted to mean a set of rules and norms governing the behaviour of people. Given the ambiguity in this interpretation, it is important to have a basic idea of the distinction between the two terms before proceeding to examine their definitions in detail. Thus, think of Etiquette as a set of norms and conventions governing social behaviour, in general. In contrast, Protocol refers to the code of conduct or behaviour prescribed for government and international officials. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Etiquette?

The term Etiquette is derived from the French language and is defined as the customary code of polite behaviour or the contemporary conventions, forms, manners, rules, or ceremonies governing social behaviour. This code or set of conventions and manners are recognised as acceptable and required in societal relations. Such rules or norms are not limited to society’s interactions in general but also includes relations within a social or professional group. Thus, for example, Etiquette also refers to the code of conduct or ethics prescribed in certain professions such as the medical or legal profession. This code of ethics will govern the practice and actions of such professionals in their interactions with each other. Keep in mind, however, that the purpose of Etiquette is not to simply prescribe the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of polite behaviour or good manners, such as how to sit at a table, how to eat or how to converse with other people. Instead, the underlying objective of Etiquette is to produce polite, respectful people who demonstrate a behaviour that is kind, polite, dignified, and respectful. Above all, Etiquette seeks to ensure that people are treated with and shown respect. An example of this is a conversation between two people. Etiquette requires that you wait till a person finishes his/her explanation, narration or expression of a view before expressing your own thoughts or opinion on that matter. Interrupting a person while he/she is still talking, in a rude and impolite manner, is not an accepted norm of Etiquette.

Difference Between Protocol and Etiquette

Not speaking until the other finishes is etiquette

What is Protocol?

As mentioned before, Protocol is like Etiquette but on a more official and international level. Traditionally, it is defined as the etiquette of diplomacy and affairs of the state. This means that Protocol constitutes the code of behaviour, ceremonial forms, courtesies, and procedure accepted and required for interactions between heads of states, government and/or diplomatic officials. Protocols take on a more serious nature in that they are rules detailing how certain activities should be carried out and how government and international officials must conduct themselves. As with Etiquette, a Protocol establishes the correct, formal and polite behaviour that should be maintained by the above-mentioned officials. However, unlike Etiquette, which governs the polite behaviour of society in general, Protocol focuses on the behaviour of government and/or diplomatic officials including heads of states.

Protocols facilitate the smooth interaction between such officials, the ultimate aim to avoid unnecessary confrontation or disharmony. Examples of such rules include the manner in which diplomatic ceremonies are conducted, demonstrating respect to a head of state and such others. This represents one interpretation of Protocol. The term Protocol also has a legal connotation. Thus, legally, it refers to an international agreement that amends or supplements a treaty or convention. Further, the term is also used to denote the first draft of a treaty or other diplomatic document.

 Protocol vs Etiquette

Protocol is the etiquette of diplomacy and affairs of the state

What is the difference between Protocol and Etiquette?

Collectively, the terms Etiquette and Protocol refer to a set of rules, conventions, and norms that govern the behaviour of people in general and in certain situations. They differ in terms of their sphere of influence and nature of the rules.

• Definition of Protocol and Etiquette:

• Etiquette refers to the customary code of social behaviour or rather, a system of accepted rules, conventions, and norms governing polite behaviour and interactions among society. It also includes the set of norms and ethics governing the behaviour of professional bodies such as the medical and/or legal profession.

• Protocol, on the other hand, refers to the code of conduct and behaviour governing diplomacy and affairs of the state. It constitutes a set of rules, forms, ceremonies, and procedures adhered to and adopted by diplomatic and government officials in their international relations with states.

• Other meanings of Protocol:

• A Protocol also refers to a legal document, more specifically, an international agreement that either supplements or amends a treaty or convention.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Talking by Ilya (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  2. Meeting by International Hydropower Association (CC BY 2.0)