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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

4 Points to Consider About Saying ‘I’m Sorry’

A colleague missed an appointment with a vendor. She called the vendor to apologize. Thinking about the conversation later, she realized that she had said “I’m sorry” numerous times. She called me to ask if you can say “I’m sorry” too much.

Surprisingly, I said “Yes.” Since I teach etiquette, I would never tell anyone to be rude. If you trip someone, spill coffee (or anything else) on someone, or inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, it is appropriate to say “I’m sorry.” If you work in customer service, saying you are sorry may be part of your job description. However, my friend touched on one of several areas where people (often women, but men as well) overuse “I’m sorry,” and, as a result, hurt their professional image.

Consider the following points, and ask yourself if you do any of these:

1. Repeat “I’m sorry” numerous times. If you say “I’m sorry,” say it only once. Are you any sorrier the sixth time than you were the first time? Of course not. A long time ago, I was a “serial apologizer.” I would repeat “I’m sorry” so often that my friends joked that on my gravestone they would put, “I’m sorry, I can’t apologize.”

2. Put yourself down. Using such phrases as “I’m sorry to bother you” or “I’m sorry to disturb you” can bring into question your self-esteem. Why are you a “bother”? Your work is valuable, also. Instead of apologizing, you can say assertively, “Excuse me. Do you have a minute?”

3. Take responsibility for something that isn’t your fault. If you say “I’m sorry,” you are implying that you are the one to blame. A man returned from lunch and said, “It’s raining outside.” His colleague responded, “I’m sorry,” as if the rain were her responsibility. If she wanted to say something, she could have made a neutral comment, such as “I hear the rain will continue all day.” In other situations, you can explain. Instead of, “I’m sorry I missed the meeting,” one manager said, “I had every intention of joining you, but my day took a different turn.” She then explained that she had been involved in a minor car accident. (Note that this was not a fabricated excuse, but the actual reason she had missed the meeting.)

4. Say “I’m sorry” when it is your fault. This occurs when you have done something that you shouldn’t have done, such as giving out the wrong information. Many of my seminar participants struggle with this issue.

Some believe strongly that saying “I’m sorry” is the polite thing to do. I like the way my husband, the lawyer, defends this stance. He believes that if you cause someone “adverse consequences,” you should say “I’m sorry.”

Others believe strongly that you need only acknowledge the mistake, and that it is not necessary to apologize. (Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the lead character of the popular TV show NCIS, has a series of rules to live by, one of which is, “Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness.”)

One CEO told me that when his employees say “I’m sorry,” he thinks they are asking him for forgiveness. He would much rather they admit the problem and tell him how they plan to fix it. Consider these two responses: “I’m so sorry I messed up,” or, “You are right. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.”           

I’m sorry (no, I’m not!) if you don’t like either of those choices. There is another alternative. According to author Rachel Vincent: “Chocolate says ‘I’m sorry’ so much better than words.”

Additional tips on effective communication and word choice can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on communication, assertiveness, business etiquette and presentation skills. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ Committed by Workers

A colleague told me that she had to fire one of her employees because he hadn’t shown any initiative in her fast-paced, creative work environment. I thought for a second and responded that he had committed one of the Workers’ Seven Deadly Sins – the work traits that cause employees to be ignored, not promoted, or even fired.  

In today’s workplace, you want to be seen as a valuable and vital employee. You want to become someone with whom others want to work.

Ask yourself if you exhibit any of the following traits, and resolve to eliminate them if you do.

1. Not showing initiative. Do you try new and possibly better ways to accomplish your work? Be proactive. Is your employer gaining anything extra from you? As my colleague’s employee found out, most employers want you to go above and beyond the basic requirements.

2. Not paying attention to details. Are there mistakes in your work? Do you notice the little things, proofread your writings, and double-check any numbers? There can be consequences if you don’t. One engineer wrote the wrong house number on a work order, and his employees ripped up the wrong driveway.

3. Not conveying enthusiasm for your job. Show interest in your work. Be eager to get the job done. Arrive on time, or early. Stay late when necessary. Avoid downbeat topics and stop complaining. Don’t criticize your employer, boss or co-workers on your social-media sites. If you are unhappy with your position, take action to change it – whether by talking to your boss, moving to a different department, or taking a position with a different company. The job market has improved, and according to a recent MarketWatch article, job openings are at a 14-year high.

4. Not staying current with changes in your profession. You don’t want to be left behind. Continue learning. Stay abreast of any trends in your field. Take advantage of any training your company offers. Stay up-to-date with technology, including social media.

5. Not offering to help. You need to do your work, but whenever possible you also should offer to help others. You come across as a team player when you do – somebody others want to work with. Plus, you learn new skills and meet new people. Added benefits!

6. Not having a professional demeanor. You want to convey a confident and credible image. Be aware of your verbal and nonverbal communication. Are you speaking too softly or too loudly? Are you dressing appropriately for your position? Do you use filler words (“okay,” “all right,” “like”) that take away from your comments? Additional information on professional presence can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success.

7. Not connecting with others. People don’t like to work with colleagues who ignore them. Be friendly. Smile. Make an effort to say “hello,” “good morning,” and so on, not only to people you know, but also to those you don’t know. Engage in a little small talk with others.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on career development, business etiquette and communication skills. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is Your Diction Affecting Your Professional Image?

A participant in a communication seminar told me about her experience in another training session, where the instructor used the phrase “All’s you gotta do.” After she heard that phrase, she stopped listening.

In the example above, the instructor’s use of language detracted from his message. 

I also have heard many people use substandard language that takes away from their professionalism. It may not be fair, but people often judge others on the quality of their diction. They may make negative assumptions about someone’s intelligence or education, based on that person’s word choice.

Consider the following phrases expressed during business conversations: 

-- Are youse finished with the project? Use just you. The word you is both singular and plural in the English language.

-- I'm gonna get it for you. Use I’m going to or I am going to.

-- Didja get to the meeting on time? Use did you.

-- All’s you gotta do. According to an article a number of years ago in the New York Times, all’s in this context started off as a contraction of all as, but generally it is considered a substandard word today. Instead of all’s, use all, and instead of gotta, use have to, so the phrase becomes All you have to do. 

-- Are you going with dem? Dem is not a word. Use them.

-- I attended the meetin. Make sure you pronounce the endings of your words. Say meeting.

And my favorite, although these words were said in a non-business setting: 

-- Jeet? No, didja? This should be expressed as: Did you eat? No, did you?

Sometimes, we may pick up the use of these nonstandard words from their use in marketing or creative fields. Think about the song I Gotta Feeling from the Black Eyed Peas, and its well-known line: I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night. Though I like the song, I would not encourage the use of gotta and gonna when speaking to others.

Monitor the way you speak. Do you use any of the above expressions? Years ago, I found out I was using gonna, and didn’t realize it until someone pointed it out to me.

Additional information on projecting a professional image can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill).

Pachter’s communication seminars and coaching sessions also empower professionals to use language to their advantage. Contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141 for more information.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Etiquette Request: Remember to Give Your Name

I have an etiquette request: Please remember to introduce yourself by name after someone has introduced himself or herself to you.

This may seem like a little thing, but it’s important.

Let me explain. Before most of my seminars begin, I shake hands with each participant and say, “Hi, I’m Barbara Pachter, your instructor. Welcome, and enjoy the day.” Many people respond appropriately and will introduce themselves, also.

This kind of etiquette give-and-take paves the way for a connection between the two people, and makes it easier for conversation to begin.

However, there are some participants who don’t give their names. They just shake hands, or shake hands and say “Hi.” An awkward silence usually follows, and I will often jump in and politely ask, “And, you are…?”

When people don’t volunteer their names without prompting, they appear shy, timid or standoffish. As a result, making a connection or starting a conversation can be more difficult.

It’s not just in my seminars that people fail to give their names. People tell me the same thing happens to them when they attend meetings and introduce themselves to the men or women sitting next to them.

Why do people do this?

In my classes, I know that some people are startled when I introduce myself to them. They are not expecting the instructor to practice this protocol. One woman sent me a thank-you note, emphasizing how much she enjoyed meeting me before the seminar started. She hadn’t experienced this with other instructors.

Other people may not give their names because they are preoccupied, or because they simply don’t know they should do so.

Monitor your own behavior. Pay attention when people introduce themselves, and please respond with your full name. You may be surprised at what a positive difference it makes in your interactions with others.

Additional information on greetings, introductions and conversation can be found in The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette and communication skills. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

He’s Still Talking! The Secrets to Managing Time When Presenting

Last week’s blog talked about how anyone giving a presentation could encourage questions from the audience. Participants in my presentation skills classes or coaching sessions also have a lot of interest in learning how to judge the timing of their presentations. I often hear comments along these lines:

My speech went over time. They hated me!

I panicked when I was told to add 20 minutes to my talk!

There seem to be two major concerns:

• How do you correctly calculate how long your talk will take? Many people misjudge their timing, and either go over their allotted time, or run out of things to say.

• How do you quickly adjust the length of your talk? What do you do if you are told, shortly before you are to begin, that you have either more time, or less, than you had anticipated?

Here are four suggestions that can help you address the problems of timing:

1. Prepare properly. If you have prepared what you want to say, you are less likely to ramble, which adds additional time to your talk, and you are less likely to forget material, which would shorten your presentation. In my training classes, participants use my Speech Organizer, which provides a visual representation of the parts of a speech, to structure their presentations and plan what they want to say.

2. Time yourself. Practice giving your presentation so you will know how much time your talk will take. Make it realistic. This needs to be done a couple of times so that you become comfortable with your material and your pacing. Timing your talk won’t be helpful if you are racing through it or stumbling over sections during your presentation.  

3. Know what to add or delete. Part of your preparation is anticipating time concerns, and knowing what material you can easily add to or eliminate from your talk. To add extra material, have at the ready additional research, statistics or stories that highlight your key points. The opposite approach is effective when you need to shorten your remarks. Know ahead of time what material is not crucial for your key points, and don’t discuss those items. Speaking faster is not a substitute for the elimination of material.

4. Get a signal. Arrange to have someone in your audience give you an unobtrusive signal to alert you that you have only a certain amount of time left.

If you like this post, check out the highly-acclaimed book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill). Additional information on presentation skills, effective communication, and etiquette can be found in this book.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

 --An earlier version of this blog appeared almost two years ago. However, there were so many questions prompted by last week’s blog on presentation skills that I decided to update and reprise this one, which is one of my most popular blogs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

6 Tips To Encourage Questions From Your Audience

How do I get people in my audience to ask questions?

Recently a vice president of a major healthcare company asked me this question during one of our coaching sessions on presentation skills.

No one had ever asked me that before! 

Often presenters want to avoid anything to do with the Q&A segment of a presentation, but he wanted questions so he would know whether his audience had grasped his concepts. This desire for feedback is just one reason to encourage questions. There are others.

For example, you seem more approachable as a speaker when you take questions. Plus, how you answer the questions, and participate in any discussion that follows, can help explain and/or enhance your ideas and clarify any misunderstandings. In addition, the types of questions asked may let you know your participants’ opinions of your suggestions.

Try these 6 suggestions to encourage people to ask questions:

1. Let the audience know when you will be taking questions. Don’t assume your audience knows; tell them at the beginning of your talk. In a more informal talk or training session, participants may be encouraged to ask questions throughout. (“I’m open for questions throughout my presentation.”). Or, if the presenter doesn’t want to interrupt the flow, he or she can ask the audience: “Please save your questions until the end of my talk.” 

2. Non-verbally encourage questions. Keep your body language open, and don’t cross your arms. Look at your audience. Move towards audience members when you can. Pause after you ask for questions – don’t rush to start talking. This gives the participants a few seconds to formulate their ideas.

3. Use an open-ended question. If you say to your audience, “What questions do you have?,” you are telling participants you assume that they have questions and, as a result, they’re more likely to speak up. If you say, “Do you have any questions?,” it is easy for people to say “No.”  

4. Request questions on a specific topic. You can expand on the above open-ended question and pinpoint a particular area of your presentation. For example, if you have discussed the budget, you can ask, “What questions do you have about the new budget items?” Also, asking about something you just discussed can help you transition from one part of your talk to another.

5. Have participants write their questions and submit them beforehand. This can be effective with large audiences or audiences at remote locations. You can answer some of the questions during your presentation, or refer to them at the end.

6. Be prepared with your own first question. When you ask for questions and no one speaks up, you can offer one of your own by saying, “A question I am often asked is… .” Hearing you answer a question often makes audience members feel more comfortable asking questions of their own. Or, you might consider coordinating with a participant before your presentation, and arrange for that person to get things started by asking a specific question.

This blog addresses how to encourage questions from your audience. There’s a lot more to discuss about handling questions, including how to prepare for difficult ones. But that’s a blog for another day.

You can find additional information on making presentations in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill, 2013).

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentations skills and business communication. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or               

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Avoiding Conflict: 10 Suggestions for the Holidays

After hosting one family celebration too many, a woman threw a cookbook at her sister-in-law and screamed: “Maybe now you can cook a holiday dinner for us sometime.”

One young man drank too much at his company’s holiday party, cursed out his boss, and was fired on the spot.

A woman did not respond to an invitation to a neighbor’s holiday celebration. She showed up at the party, but there were no gifts for her children as the host did not know they were coming.

With the holiday season here again, there are lots of opportunities for gift-giving, party-going, and joyful celebrating. But, as the above stories illustrate, there are also lots of opportunities for conflict and difficulties.

In my assertiveness seminars, I ask people to discuss their conflicts. Many concern the holidays, and these conflicts drive people crazy. Review this list and make sure you are aware of these “polite and powerful” ways to reduce the likelihood of holiday conflict:

1. Do your fair share.  One of the biggest complaints involves family members who are Holiday Meal Moochers. They don’t offer to host a meal, they don’t offer to help clean up, and they don’t bring anything to the meal.  Offer to help. Even if your sister loves hosting the holiday meal every year, make sure you find out how you can contribute.

2. Stay sober. Generally, a lot of liquor is served at celebrations during the holidays, and sometimes people can drink too much. That’s when they are likely to say and do things that cause problems for themselves and others. Limit your alcohol intake, and your holiday celebrating is less likely to be a problem.

3. Share family time graciously.  With divorce, remarriage, and families scattered across the country, sharing the holidays with family members can be a difficult juggling act. Divorced parents often fight over who is going to spend time with the kids, and when. If possible, be inclusive of others. If that is not possible, devise a fair rotation and keep to it.  

4. Respond to RSVPs.  Failing to respond to an invitation that requests “RSVP” and then showing up at the event, or saying that you will attend and then not showing up, are both inconsiderate behaviors that cause problems for the host. Always reply to an invitation, whether it is to accept or to decline. If you accept but then cannot attend because an unavoidable conflict develops at the last minute, telephone (do not text) the host and explain.

5. Don’t post inappropriate photos on social media. When people are celebrating, some of them may get carried away and post photos from parties or other events that are not public. Often, the people being tagged in those photos would prefer that the images remain private. To avoid online conflict, err on the side of caution. Ask the people in your photos if it’s okay to post them. And when in doubt, don’t put the photo out there! 

6. Avoid gift-giving gaffes.  Gifts are supposed to make people feel good, but unfortunately gift-giving can cause a lot of problems.  People who give inappropriate gifts to others – such as items that are too personal for co-workers – may cause conflict at work. Know what is appropriate for your workplace. Plus, make sure you show appreciation for any gift you receive. Say thank you, and also write thank-you notes.  

7. Don’t become a holiday slacker. Co-workers who take three-hour lunches to finish holiday shopping, or who call in sick to avoid working the holiday, make the holidays more stressful for their colleagues.  The old “golden rule” still applies – treat others as you would want to be treated.  

8. Participate. Don’t be the person who refuses to celebrate or get into the holiday spirit.  People who constantly complain about the holidays cause stress for everyone around them.  You don’t want to be labeled “Scrooge.” Attend the party hosted by your department, or your neighbor.  Participate in group gifts. Wish people happy holidays.

9. Be a courteous shopper. Most people have a lot of shopping to do during the holidays. Often, they are rushed, stressed, and surrounded by crowds – which means tempers can flare.  Before you “lose it” at the perfume counter, take a deep breath.  Ask yourself, “Is this really worth getting upset about?” or “Does this person really mean to be a jerk or is he just really stressed out, too?” This will help you to stay calm, and may help the other shopper, too.

10. Remember the true meaning of the holidays. With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, it’s easy to think that the holidays are all about material things.  People who focus on giving to others, being with family, and doing nice things for other people are the people who enjoy the holidays with the least amount of conflict. 

Additional information on avoiding conflict can be found in my books, The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Essentials of Business Etiquette. 

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on communication and etiquette. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff  at 856.751.6141 or joyce