Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fightin’ words: Questions to avoid asking (or answering) at work

I can’t believe he asked me who I was going to vote for.  We have a private ballot box for a reason!

It can be tempting to ask provocative, challenging or personal questions. What’s the harm in finding out who your colleagues think should win the election, or asking their opinions about the death penalty?

Don’t do it. I know that asking questions is one of the ways to engage with people. Yet, if you ask certain types of questions, you could embarrass people or get an answer you didn’t expect, or want.The discussion that follows can quickly escalate into an argument, and easily become heated. 

Avoid asking the following types of questions: 

1. Questions involving money. These include anything along these lines:
--“How can you afford that handbag (or those fancy shoes)?”
--“How much money do you make?”
--“What did you pay for your house?”

The answers to questions like these are not your business, and by asking them, you are likely to make the other person uncomfortable.

2. Political questions. These include, “For whom are you going to vote?” or “How can you vote for...?”  Your opinion of the person you’re questioning can be altered, often negatively, if he or she is not voting for your candidate. And the other person’s opinion of you may change, too.

3. Questions on controversial topics. These are similar to political questions. If you ask someone about his or her opinion on the death penalty, animal rights, abortion, etc., you may get an answer you weren’t expecting. You could subsequently get into an unpleasant exchange, as these are the kinds of topics on which people try to change other’s beliefs.

4. Very personal questions. These include, “What’s your sexual orientation?” “How old are you?” “Are you pregnant?” (Avoid this one at all costs!)  “Are you having an affair with_____?” If your colleague wanted you to know the answers to these questions, he or she would have told you.

5. Negative questions. These include such questions as: “How can you stand working with _____?”  “Don’t you think the boss’s position on ______ is outrageous?”  “Why did you cut your hair/shave your beard? I liked it better the other way.” These questions are really judgment statements, and can become fighting words.  

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Email Rules: 8 Tips So You Don’t Drive Your Readers to Distraction!

It drives me crazy when I email information to people – information that they requested – and they don’t acknowledge that they received the email, let alone thank me!

Have you ever felt a similar sentiment? Many have.

I believe strongly that people in the workplace should let you know they have received information you have sent them, and, if they requested that information, good manners requires that they thank you. 

One of my students followed my advice and sent an email to her professor, thanking him for his email answering several of her questions about an upcoming project. The professor was so pleased that the student had thanked him that he gave her two additional points on her project. No student had ever thanked him before. 
It is rude when people don’t acknowledge your time or effort to help them. Replying with a simple “Thanks” is all that is needed. You can, of course, write more, such as: “Thank you for the information. It will be helpful.”

Here are 7 additional suggestions so you don’t drive others crazy with your emails:

1. Remember that you are writing an email, not a text. Do not use text shortcuts. All too often, people forget and write “u” for “you” and “GR8” instead of “great,” and so on. Email is informal communication, but not that informal.  Also avoid text acronyms, such as BAU for “business as usual,” as in, I had a slow morning, but this afternoon it was BAU. It is also rare for emoticons or emoji to be appropriate for business email.

2. Use a descriptive subject line. Make the subject line informative and inviting. Often, people will not open an email unless the subject line indicates it’s something worth reading. Target the reader. Good lines may be something like “Question about your service,” “Suggestion for the meeting,” or “Good news about the project.” Think about what subject lines have caught your attention. You can often model yours after them.

3. Pay attention. You need to concentrate. If you don’t, you can easily send an email before you have finished editing your comments, or send the email to the wrong people. One senior manager wrote to me: “Feel free to use me as an example of why you never want to multi-task when it comes to emails.” She was interviewing a candidate for a leadership position and emailed a question to HR – or so she thought. It went to me instead!

Some email errors can have more serious implications. Consider what happened at the New York Times a few years ago, as the Associated Press reported:

The New York Times thought it was sending an email to a few hundred people who had recently canceled subscriptions, offering them a 50 percent discount for 16 weeks to lure them back. Instead, Wednesday's offer went to 8.6 million email addresses of people who had given them to the Times.

4. Include a signature block, providing your reader with some information about you. Generally, this would state your full name, title, the company name, and your contact information, including a phone number. People have said to me: Why is he making me search for his number? I hate that!  You also can add a little publicity for yourself, but don’t go overboard with any sayings or artwork. Use the same font, type size, and color as the rest of the email. One engineer wanted her name to stand out, so she used 24 point, bright blue type. The rest of the email was 12 point black type. Her name stood out, but not in a good way.  

5. Don’t overuse “reply all.” Too often, this only contributes to email overload. People don’t want to receive emails that they don’t need to see.  It wastes their time. Use “reply all” only when it is necessary for everyone on the list to see the email. 

6. Don’t send an email when you are angry. In angry mode, you are likely to write unkind or nasty comments. Before you hit the send button, consider what the consequences of your words might be. Put the email aside until you calm down. Then re-read what you have written, and decide whether you really want to send those comments.

7. Tell the sender if you received an email in error. Unless you do, the person who sent the email will believe it was delivered to the correct person. A simple reply to the writer is all that is needed, such as: I don’t think you intended to send this to me. Just wanted to let you know.   

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Don’t Whine About Your Job. Do Something!

My coworker hates her job. She keeps complaining to me. I have tried to talk to her about what she could do, but she is not listening.
My husband keeps threatening to quit his job. He only comments negatively about his job and the people who work with him. I wish he would just do something.

My friend was having difficulty with her schedule, but she didn’t go to her boss to discuss alternatives. She just quit. When I had a problem, my boss adjusted my schedule. My friend’s might have been adjusted, too, if she had said something.

As these comments from participants in my seminars indicate, tackling problems that affect our work lives can be difficult.

When some people become dissatisfied with their work, they do nothing. Perhaps they don’t know how to proceed, or maybe they don’t believe there is anything they can do to improve the situation. Usually, the only action they take is to whine about their bosses, their colleagues, or the work. Unfortunately, complaining doesn’t accomplish anything – except having your friends, colleagues and others stay clear of you.

Some, on the other hand, get so frustrated that they impulsively quit their jobs without having another lined up, or without even a plan for the future.

Both reactions can affect your career negatively. However, there is an alternative that can help people evaluate their work situations. Answering the following four questions encourages people to take action and decide their next steps.

 1. Ask yourself, what is the real issue? It is easy to say, “I hate my job,” but it is important to identify why. What is the real issue that is causing you to be unhappy? Be honest and be specific. Is it the type of work you do, or just one aspect of the job?  Is it the commute, the money, your boss, the people you work with, or any number of other causes?  One man I coached liked most of the facets of his job, but wanted to quit because he had to make frequent presentations. Another realized that her new position involved using unfamiliar technology, which made her feel uncomfortable and unqualified.

2. Can you solve the problem? Now that you have identified the issue, is there something that can be done? Is there a realistic solution? If so, what do you have to lose by asking for it? Make the case for your suggestion, including any benefits to your department or to the company. One woman realized that she liked her job, but it was the commute that was driving her crazy. She asked her boss if she could work from home two days a week. Once she assured her boss that her productivity wouldn’t be affected, she was successful in having her schedule changed. Remember that if you don’t speak up, chances are nothing will change.

 3. Are there advantages to this job? If you can’t solve the problem, think about what you are gaining from the position.  Don’t just quickly say, “Nothing.” Here are four possible things to consider:

--Is the job a stepping stone?  Will you need the skills you gain from this position to qualify for a job on the next rung of the ladder? One of my early jobs involved working for a horrible boss. Yet I stayed until I had gained the experience I needed, and then I left. 

--Is there any education or training perk to which you have access? Some companies will fund part or all of your ongoing education. This can be a major benefit for many people.

--Who are you meeting? Does the job allow you to interact with people and build your network? If so, it is possible that by having a strong network, additional job opportunities will come your way.

--Can you learn to manage your boss? Learning to work with difficult people is an important skill that almost certainly will be beneficial to you at some point in your career.

4. Is it time to start a job search? Depending on how you answer the above questions, you may decide that it is time to start looking for a new position. You may even decide to change careers. Any number of alternatives may now be available to you. This doesn’t mean you just quit your job. Generally, it is best to look for a new job (or career) while you are still working at the old one. Information on conducting a job search can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.

Whether you decide to stay at your current job or to look for a new one, feel good about your choice. You are doing something: You have taken charge of your career.

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Giving a Presentation? 9 Ways to Answer Questions Like a Pro

I won’t give a presentation because I’m petrified about answering questions.

I don’t like giving presentations, but I really dislike the Q&A session.

I never know what to say when asked a question, and end up rambling. 

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “Did you know that they say people fear public speaking more than they fear death? That means that more people would rather be inside the coffin than giving the eulogy!”

Many people fear giving presentations. Yet, as the above three quotes illustrate, there are people in my seminars who dislike the Q&A part of a presentation the most. They seem to dread losing control of the presentation, or being caught off guard.  

Effectively answering questions in front of your audience builds your credibility. Master the following points so you appear poised and confident during the Q&A:

1. Prepare for questions. As you prepare your presentation, you also need to prepare for the questions you may be asked.  Think about your topic and who is in your audience, and how they are likely to respond. Anticipate the questions and know how you will answer them.

2. Anticipate the tough questions. Think about what difficult, annoying or nasty questions you may be asked, and know how you will respond. Don’t just pray that someone won’t ask that question. Know how you will answer it.

3. Repeat the question before answering. This is hard to remember to do, but very important. You repeat the question for a number of reasons. The first is that when you repeat the question, it allows everyone to hear what was asked. You also gain a couple of seconds to get your thoughts together. And if the question is a hostile one, you can paraphrase the question and eliminate the hostility.  For example, if the question is, “How come you are spending so much money on transportation for...,” you could paraphrase and say something like, “The question concerns the transportation budget.”

4. Don’t be a puppet on your audience’s string. If the audience is shouting questions at you, make sure you repeat the question you are about to answer. If you don’t, you are being controlled by the audience as you quickly answer one question after another. When you take the time to repeat the question, you gain control of the Q&A, as you are deciding which questions to address and in what order. 

5. Look at the audience when answering the question. When you repeat the question, look at the person who asked it. But when you answer the question, look at the audience, to include them in the answer. 
6. Don’t know the answer? Admit it.
Even when you are well-prepared, there still may be times you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer. When that happens, you can usually say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” And make sure you do. 

7. Give your Best Educated Guess. Occasionally, there may be times when you don’t know the answer, but you have to respond. You can then give what I call your Best Educated Guess. This is not lying. It’s a general response without being specific. It is saying something like, “Based on my experience (or research, or knowledge of...), I assume the following would occur....”  (But make sure it is your best educated guess – don’t go beyond the boundaries of what is plausible.)

8. Defer answering, if the answer to the question will be explained later in your talk. Often, you can say, “I am going to hold off answering that question as I will be discussing that topic in a few minutes.” Of course, if the CEO asked the question, you may want to answer it right away!

9. Don’t end abruptly. When the Q&A segment is nearing its end, prepare the audience. You can say something like, “I have time for one more question.” And after you answer that question, move on to your closing.

Additional information on presentations can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business presentations, writing, professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

6 Suggestions for Closing Your Emails

If customers include a closing in their emails, it indicates to me that they are friendly, and so I will do their work first. 

A woman in one of my writing classes made the above comment when we were discussing how to end an email. Others joined in and added that they liked seeing closings in emails they received.

I agree. Emails that simply end without some kind of closing can seem too abrupt. 

During my classes, numerous questions surface about which closing is appropriate in our casual workplace. Deciding what to use can be confusing. When email first appeared in the workplace, salutations or closings were rarely used. Over time, we have added both to our emails. Though there has been some discussion in the media lately about whether we need to use closings, in my experience, the majority of people want to keep them.

I encourage businesspeople to use closings. Here are my six suggestions:

1. If you start with a salutation, end with a closing. It provides balance to the email. The correct punctuation after the closing is a comma.

2. Match the closing to the salutation. If you use an informal salutation, such as “Hi Amanda” or “Hello Gavin,” use “Regards,” “Best,” “Best regards,” or “Thanks” to close. If you use a more formal salutation, such as “Dear Ms. Jones,” use “Sincerely” or “Sincerely yours.” Only the first word of the closing is capitalized.

 3. With no disrespect intended, avoid using ‘Respectfully.’  This very formal closing is usually reserved for government officials and clergy.  Another closing to avoid is “Faithfully yours.” This wording comes from British English, and a woman from India who was in my class said that she was advised very quickly by her boss not to use that closing in the U.S.  

4. End with a “closing statement.” Since closings are more relaxed in emails than in letters, you can use a brief statement as your closing, such as “See you at the meeting” or “Thanks for your help.” 

5. Tell people what you want to be called. After the closing, on the next line, type your name the way you want to be addressed. If you want to be called “Mike” instead of “Michael,” you should sign “Mike.”  

6. Once emails become a back-and-forth conversation, you can drop the closing. It begins to sound repetitious and somewhat silly if you have a long string of emails all proclaiming, “Best regards, Mike.”

Additional information on emails can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing, professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Dining Error Continuum: What Type of Dining Errors Are You Making?

Do you find it stressful when you are required to attend a business meeting that includes dining? Are you concerned that your manners will cause you embarrassment in front of your boss, customer or potential employer?

You are not alone.

A participant became upset during a class I teach on dining etiquette, believing that he had made a faux pas. I had corrected the placement of his knife – the blade of his knife had been facing away from his plate instead of towards it. Before I could calm him down, another diner said, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s just a misdemeanor!”

I thought, “He’s right.” There is a continuum of severity with dining errors, from serious mistakes to minor ones. And when people understand that not every error has major consequences, it can help people relax a little when dining out for business.

A fatal flaw is a serious breach of dining etiquette that is easily noticed by others and can cause you to lose business, a relationship or a job offer. These mistakes include getting drunk before or during the meal, holding your fork like a pitchfork, or talking with your mouth full. One man I heard about lost a $30-million contract because he licked his knife during a meal with a potential client.

A minor gaffe is a less serious breach of dining etiquette that may or may not be noticed by others. If noticed, it is unlikely that it will be held against you unless you commit a number of minor gaffes during the meal. These gaffes include using your neighbor’s bread plate, putting on lipstick at the table, or eating soup by dipping your spoon into the bowl and moving it towards you instead of away from you.

Of course, what seems a minor gaffe to one person may be a fatal flaw to another. There are stories of a famous businessman – some say Henry Ford, others claim J.C. Penney – who decided not to hire someone because he salted his food before tasting it. Ford/Penney, so the story goes, thought this indicated that the man made assumptions without knowing all the facts.

You want to come across as a polished professional when you are dining for business. Learning as much as you can about dining etiquette makes you less likely to make fatal flaws, and more likely to navigate a business meal with success.

Additional information on dining can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business dining, professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Do You Want to be Noticed? The Power of Presence

I recently coached a woman who had flown in from Jamaica to meet with me about how she presented herself within her company. A couple of weeks after she returned home, she shared a story that highlights how her professional presence had improved.

“When I returned to work, I received many compliments on one of my outfits. I had worn that clothing to work 10 times in the past and no one had complimented me about it. No one! I believe what caused this difference was that after coaching, I was projecting myself with confidence and making my presence known!”

I was delighted, and my first thought was, what a great story to illustrate the power of that hard-to-define something we call presence.

What made the difference for her? There could be many things contributing, as Cary Grant, a former Hollywood leading man, once observed: “It takes 500 small details to add up to one favorable impression.” But I believe the following five items that we discussed were very important.  They gave her more self-confidence and increased her presence, resulting in others taking note of her – and her clothing – more favorably:

 1. Good posture. When you stand tall, you are more apt to be noticed.  It has little to do with how tall you actually are. You can stand tall regardless of your height.

2. Eye contact. When you look at people and make eye contact, they are more likely to engage with you. Many of us have a tendency to look away in an uncomfortable situation. By doing this, you are telling the other person that you are nervous. You don’t want to do that. Force yourself to look at the person – though you can occasionally glance away.    

3. Volume. You can usually add power to your presence by adding volume. When you speak loudly enough to be heard clearly, people are less likely to ignore your ideas.  Speaking too softly was a big area of concern for the business woman from Jamaica.

4. Offer your opinion. If you don’t express your opinion in meetings, people don’t know what you think. Preparing ahead of time for a meeting can help you to speak up with confidence.  Make sure you speak early in the meeting. The longer you wait to speak, the harder it becomes.

5. Confront others. Learning to confront others in what I call a “polite and powerful” manner allows you to speak up, express what’s bothering you, and feel good about it. Additional information on conflict can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, Online, and In Life. 

Which of these items do you need to add to your image to help you experience the power of presence? 
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.