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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Empowering Women in the Workplace: Help Yourself

Many of my seminars and coaching sessions over the past 25 years have focused on empowering women – especially helping them to gain an awareness of how they present themselves to others. This requires women to understand the ways in which they communicate, both verbally and nonverbally.

Listed below are my top 10 suggestions to help women be professional, get their voices heard, and enhance their credibility.

1. Speak loudly enough to be heard. If I could say just one thing to women, it would be: “Speak up!”  Women often speak too softly, and make it easy for others to tune them out. Practice increasing your volume. Initially, you may feel that you are shouting, but the chances are that you are finally speaking loudly enough to be heard.

2. Learn to interrupt. Interrupting can be an annoying speaking habit, but sometimes it’s vital for women to put aside the niceties to create an opportunity to speak. In some situations, if you don’t interrupt, you won’t get to speak. When interrupting, you can say, “To build on what you are saying…” or “We also need to discuss….”

3. Don’t ask permission to speak. Women often ask, “May I say something?” Others raise a hand to “request” permission to speak.   Instead, say something like, “The question remaining is…,” or just start talking to add your point.

4. Dress professionally, not seductively. In a professional situation, you don’t want to wear clothing that’s too low, too short, too sexy, or too anything. Think about the message you are sending when you wear short skirts. You’re not saying, “Look at me because I know what I’m doing.” You’re saying, “Look at me because I have great legs.”

5. Command the room.  Walk into the room as though you belong there. Go up to people. Shake hands correctly. Stand assertively – no slouching – and don’t cross your ankles while standing. (An amazing number of women still do this.) Look people in the eye. Don’t wring your hands or play with your hair. Take a seat at the table. Do not sit on one of those chairs that are often arranged against the wall. You want to be part of the discussion, not an observer. Additional information on professional presence can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

6. Eliminate self-discounting statements. Don’t start your comments with, “It’s only my opinion,” or similar statements. Don’t conclude with, “I don’t know. What do you think?” If you discount yourself, it’s easy for others to discount you as well.

7. Use direct statements instead of questions. When you use a question instead of a statement, you are giving the person you’re talking with the opportunity to say “no.” Instead of giving away your power by asking, “Can I add something?” say, “I’d like to add to that.” Instead of asking, “Could you clarify that statement?” say, “I need additional information.” 

8. Be cautious about using the words “I’m sorry.” Women have a tendency to apologize too much, or to use the words inappropriately. When you say “I’m sorry,” you may be undermining your own standing (“I’m sorry to bother you...”), or taking responsibility for something that is not your fault.  (“I’m sorry the project is behind schedule.”) 

9. Stop complaining and learn to confront. Complainers don’t confront, but gripe to others about their situations. Unfortunately, lots of women complain. You can learn to speak up and ask for what you want in a 'polite and powerful' manner. Additional information on confronting can be found in my book The Power of Positive Confrontation.

10. Be visible. Get involved. Join organizations and volunteer for their committees. Participate in office activities. Volunteer to make presentations. Develop yourself--take additional training, get certified or obtain a degree. Use social media to comment positively on your company. Enter competitions and apply for awards.

Start paying attention to how you present yourself. What items do you need to work on? There are many more items that could be added to this list, but these 10 are a good start.

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


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Not for Men Only! The Etiquette of the Handshake

“When did women start shaking hands? It feels awkward.”

A very bright, talented, professional woman asked me that question. Initially, I was startled. Yet, as I thought about the question, I realized that many women in my seminars are reluctant to shake hands, and others do so incorrectly.

In today’s workplace, shaking hands is not for men only. The handshake is the business greeting: Both men and women need to shake hands, and to do so correctly.

One woman told me she got her job because she shook hands at the beginning of the interview and again at the end. The manager told the woman that he chose her because she handled herself so professionally. Another woman realized that she had been the only one at her table who stood when she shook hands with her CEO.  As a result, she had a conversation with him; the other individuals did not.  

Why do women sometimes feel uncomfortable about shaking hands? The reasons vary:

1. Some women were never taught to shake hands. It is not that these women were told not to do so, it is that they were not taught to do so. One woman in an etiquette class was shocked when she realized that she was not teaching her four-year-old daughter to shake hands, but she had already started teaching her two-year-old son to shake hands.

2. Women bring the personal greeting of kissing friends on the cheek into the workplace. This can be awkward, since you will not want to kiss or hug everyone you meet at work, nor will everyone be comfortable with that greeting.

3. Many women were taught that they did not need to stand when shaking hands. Before each of my seminars, I walk around the room to introduce myself to my participants and extend my hand in a greeting. Approximately 70 to 75 percent of men, but only 30 to 35 percent of women, stand to shake my hand. You establish your presence when you stand. Both men and women should stand when shaking hands.

You will be judged by your handshake. Be honest: What do you think if someone gives you a limp handshake? Yes, you tend to think of that person as weak and unimpressive.

To shake hands properly:
  • Extend your hand with the thumb up. 
  • Touch thumb joint to thumb joint with the person you are greeting. Put your thumb down, and wrap your fingers around the palm of the other person. 
  • Make sure your grip is firm, but don’t break any bones – it’s not a competition. 
  • Don’t over-pump. Two to three pumps is enough. Face the person, and make eye contact.
And one more thing: It used to be that men needed to wait for a woman to extend her hand. Not anymore. The new guideline is to give the higher-ranking person a split second to extend his or her hand, and if he or she does not, you extend yours. The key is that the handshake needs to take place.

Additional information on the handshake and greetings can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw-Hill).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

No Pouting: 7 Polite Ways to Handle Criticism

As you advance in your career you are bound to get feedback on your work. No doubt you will hear a lot of positive comments, but you also are likely to hear negative ones. This is normal – no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Yet how you receive this feedback is important to your career. 

Follow these 7 steps so you handle criticism professionally:

1. Don’t get defensive. You want to be open to the other person’s comments. Make sure you look at the person, and don’t frown, pout or cross your arms. It is easy to think the person criticizing your work is a jerk, and brush aside the comments. If you do this, you may miss the opportunity to learn from the feedback.

2. Listen attentively.  As hard as it may be, do not interrupt. You don’t want to cut short the comments. You really have to hear what the person has to say.

3. Ask for clarification. If the person is not specific, you can ask him or her to explain the comments. Responses like, “What exactly do you mean by unprofessional?” or “Why did you say the report was terrible?” can help you gain information, and also buy you some time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

4. Explain what happened. Do not make excuses. However, if there were reasons for the difficulty that truly were beyond your control, calmly give the details.

5. If you did mess up, accept responsibility. Saying, “You’re right. It won’t happen again” can help to defuse a negative situation. You also may want to let the person know what you will do differently in the future.

6. Ask for more. Before the conversation is over, ask for more feedback. Saying, “Tell me more….” or “What else?” demonstrates that doing a good job is important to you. (If you believe that the person is just dumping on you, you may want to ignore this step.)

7. Thank the person. Handling feedback effectively is an opportunity for you to improve your skills or to make your business better. It also helps you to maintain your relationship with the person. Whether your critic’s comments are positive or negative, at the end of the conversation, make sure you say “Thank you” or “Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.”

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on conflict, assertive communication and business etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141856.751.6141 or

Monday, April 13, 2015

Offended by a Comment? Try 3 Simple but Powerful Responses

A young woman quit her job after her boss made a disparaging remark about her. She didn’t confront him about the comment, but sent an email to her boss and her coworkers that contained a series of photographs of herself holding a dry eraser board. In each photo, the board displayed a different negative comment about her boss.

Many people in my seminars have told me similar stories about their clever ways of quitting a job or ending a relationship after they were offended by comments made by bosses, friends, or coworkers.

Using such a novel approach to resign from a job or to end a relationship may or may not be clever … but it is definitely passive. You are failing to act in your own best interest by not confronting the person. You can learn to be assertive and respond to offensive comments without attacking the person.

Try using one of the following comments when someone makes a distasteful remark. You may be surprised at the response:

 -Why are you saying that?

 -Help me to understand what you mean by … stupid/silly/dumb/whatever disparaging word was used.

 -I’m offended by your comment.

It is possible that the person will feel some remorse. I once asked a colleague, “Why are you saying that?” after he made a negative comment about another colleague. He thought for a second and then responded, “I guess I’m just being a jerk.” And that was the end of that.

If you confront someone directly, that person may stop making negative comments, or may regard you differently. Your relationship with the person may improve.

Of course, there is the chance that nothing you say will make a difference. But, as I discuss in my book The Power of Positive Confrontation, what do you have to lose by trying?

Unfortunately, many people will never know.  They quit their jobs or end relationships before they find out what might have happened.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on conflict, assertive communication and business etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141856.751.6141 or

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Public-Speaking Challenge: Someone Is Sleeping During Your Talk!

What do you do when someone falls asleep during your presentation?

My first thought after being asked that question during a presentation-skills seminar was to recall the scene in the romantic-comedy film, Larry Crowne, where Julia Roberts throws an eraser at her sleeping student.

My second thought was, “You can’t do that in the business world!” However, since I have been asked about sleeping/daydreaming participants a number of times over the last few years, here are some alternative suggestions:

1. Don’t take it personally; sometimes people just need to sleep. A number of years ago, I had a woman sleeping in the first row of my seminar. I admit that it was a little unnerving. But she came up to me at break and said, “I am loving your seminar, but I had a migraine this morning and took my medicine, and I know at times it makes me drowsy. But I’m learning so much I want to stay, and I wanted you to know that.” I responded with a gracious, and heartfelt, “Thank you!”

2. Ask yourself: Are you making it too easy for people to doze off? Are you speaking in a monotone? Too softly? Is the room too hot? Too dark? Are your slides difficult to read? If any of these scenarios describe your presentation, some of your audience may fall asleep.

3. Walk around or near the sleeper. When you walk around your room, your activity may wake the person. Sometimes a participant sitting next to the dozing person will tap the sleeper.

4. Have you added any stories? Do not just hand out a collection of related data. Adding stories that support your information can enliven your presentation and keep your audience’s attention. To highlight the importance of the speaker’s making eye contact with the audience, I often tell the story of a judge instructing a witness to remove his dark glasses so the jury could see his eyes.

5. Call a break or have the group do an exercise. These options usually are possible during an informal presentation. Make sure you talk to the sleeper during this time to engage him or her. Additional information on presentation skills can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success.

6. Ask the person a question. This can be risky. Do this very cautiously because you do not want to put someone on the spot. But if a person is just beginning to nod off or daydream, you may want to try it. Say the person’s name and then ask a question or ask for a comment, such as “Tom, you are the expert on budgeting; would you please add your comments on _____________.”

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

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