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Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Does sarcasm work at the office?

There have been numerous mentions in the press and social media recently about using sarcasm to argue a point.

Let’s look at sarcasm from a communication standpoint (not a political one!), and consider whether it’s an effective way to connect with people in business.

First of all, what is sarcasm?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, sarcasm is “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”

The Cambridge dictionary has a similar definition: “remarks that mean the opposite of what they say, made to criticize something or someone in a way that is amusing to others but annoying to the person criticized.”

Adopting the first part of the definition – using sarcasm to insult someone – is not okay in the business world (or elsewhere). To use sarcasm to insult another person is rude and mean-spirited, and reflects poorly on the speaker. If you have difficulty with someone, be direct and confront that person on the issue. You want to build relationships with the people you work with and others in your network. Sarcasm can destroy those relationships.

Using sarcasm to be funny can be tricky.  Oscar Wilde said, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.” A good example would be a quote long attributed to Mark Twain: “I refused to attend his funeral. But I wrote a very nice letter explaining that I approved of it.” 

Very few of us have such literary talents. For the rest of us, it is easy for our sarcasm to become hurtful or tactless. As author Shannon L. Alder said, “If you have to explain your sense of humor, then you are performing for the wrong crowd.”
I admit, you can sometimes pull off sarcasm if you have a good relationship with your target. An example of this would be the exchange I saw on a poster: “Mom, what is it like to have the greatest daughter in the world?” The mom replies, “I don’t know, dear. You’ll have to ask Grandma.” 

I have used sarcasm successfully with my husband. But when I was sarcastic in a seminar, it fell flat. The participants didn’t know me well enough to get the intended humor.

Bottom line, it is generally best to avoid sarcasm.

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

And look for my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes, coming in December. You can pre-order your copy now.

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


Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Moving on? The etiquette for leaving a job

An article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago talked about a possible developing trend in the workplace – more workers are leaving their jobs without giving the traditional two weeks’ notice.

The reasons given for “quitting without notice” included frustration with their jobs (both younger and older employees) and not knowing the appropriate way to quit. One young woman mentioned that she had seen characters on the television drama “Suits” who quit and immediately walked out of the office, and assumed that was the way it was done.

Moving to a new position is not unusual in today’s workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the “quit rate” in May of this year was 2%, or 2.9 million workers. (“Quits” are generally voluntary separations initiated by the employee.) This number was up over the previous year’s May rate of 1.9%, or 2.7 million people.

Quitting without giving notice can be difficult for an employer who has to replace you, and may negatively affect your reputation. A prospective employer might question whether to hire you if it is known that you were willing to leave your previous employer in the lurch.

If you quit in a professional manner, however, you could enhance your reputation and your options for the future. One woman I coach told me that the last thing her former boss said to her was, “You are welcome to come back any time!”

Here are five key actions to take so the rude practice of “quitting without notice” doesn’t become a trend: 

1. Let your boss know. Have a conversation in person, or, if that is not possible, let the boss know via a phone call. Do not quit in text! Plan a quiet time for your meeting, and practice what you want to say. Get right to the point (“I am handing in my resignation...”) and explain why, such as “I received a fantastic offer,” or “The new position is the next step in my career development.”

2. Don’t burn your bridges. Be positive, though this may be a stretch if you disliked your boss. Find some reason to express appreciation – “This was a difficult decision for me, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to be part of your team.”  No matter how long you have fantasized about telling your boss off – don’t do it. It might make you feel wonderful for ten seconds, but later you probably would feel bad about it. And the only thing you would accomplish would be to lose a reference. Also, do not post any nasty or gloating comments on Facebook or other social media.

3. Let other people know. You also need to tell or email your subordinates, colleagues and clients/customers. A woman I mentored used the email below to tell a group of her clients at the same company that she was leaving. It could be adapted to fit a variety of situations.

Hello,
I wanted to reach out to everyone to share some news. This Friday will be my last day.

Over the past year, you have provided me with the opportunity to grow, have challenged and supported me, and have helped me to become a better account supervisor. I am grateful, and couldn't leave without expressing my appreciation for your many kindnesses.

I have enjoyed working with all of you. Although I am sad to leave, I will be moving on to a new opportunity to continue my growth and career development.

I hope to have a chance to see everyone to say goodbye in person.

All the best,


4. Thank people. Make a special effort to thank the people who have gone out of their way for you. One departing employee took his office manager to lunch as a special thank-you.

5. Make the transition easy for your replacement. Be as up-to-date as you can. Leave detailed notes. If possible, introduce the person replacing you to the key people with whom he or she will be working.


Additional information on career development 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  joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141. 


Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Do you agree with “No, I Agree”?

Why does my manager say “No, I agree” – when she agrees with me? It doesn’t make any sense to start with a “no.”

This question from a seminar participant reminded me that I have meant to discuss this communication conundrum for some time.

The above manager who confuses my seminar participant is using what I call a “contradictory phrase.” This is a term frequently used to describe an expression where the first part seems to contradict the second, as in “organized chaos” or “original copies.” This type of wording is sometimes called an oxymoron, and is often intentionally used for humor or to create rhetorical effect. Examples include “pretty ugly” or “sweet sorrow.”

However, this article is not about crafting such wording for literary effect. This is about the specific use of “no” as the first part of a phrase, followed by wording that seems contradictory. As illustrated above, this can occur when someone agrees with you by saying, “No, I agree.” It also pops up when someone tells you that you are correct by saying, “No, you’re right.” Other examples include, “No, I’m certain,” “No, you’re fine,” and “No, I’m sure.” 

This is a kind of verbal idiosyncrasy that many people don’t notice – but once they become aware of its use, it can drive them crazy.

So why do people use these types of phrases? Based upon my research, I have come up with three reasons:

Sometimes these phrases are said sarcastically, such as on this ecard that’s part of the humorous “rotten” series: No, you’re right. Let’s do it the dumbest way possible because it’s easier for you. 

Or, the person says “no” as part of an unspoken addition to a comment, such as “No, I don’t disagree with that. I agree.” The other person is supposed to know what was left unsaid and fill in the blanks. And sometimes in casual conversation that will happen. But not always.

And sometimes people just say “no” as a matter of course. There are some people who have a tendency to respond negatively to any comment or request – at least at first. I admit that I did that when my son was young. Saying “no” immediately gave me a second to evaluate what he wanted, before I (sometimes) agreed to his request. I found myself making comments such as, “No. [slight pause] You can sleep over at Max’s house.” When I realized how often I was saying things like that, I stopped saying “no” and replaced it with the phrase “Let me think about it.”

Other solutions to eliminating these types of contradictory phrases include:
  • Eliminate the “no.” Simply state your response. Instead of saying, “No, you’re right,” say, “You’re right.” It’s a more positive comment.
  • Explain the unspoken.  Instead of saying, “No, you’re fine,” you would clarify, “No, I don’t think you’re inappropriately dressed. You’re fine.”

Additional information on communication 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  joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141. 


Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

4 Polite Ways To Avoid Unwanted Conversations

In a seminar, a young man asked how he should have responded to his manager, who inquired about his break-up with his fiancée. He felt very awkward discussing the details of his relationship with his boss. 

The man brought up a communication concern that often arises: How do you avoid talking about something that you don’t want to discuss?

The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to answer every question asked of you. I am not telling you to be rude; I am suggesting that you politely extricate yourself from the discussion.

Here are some of your options:

Leave the group. Give some reason for leaving. For example, “Oh, I just remembered that I have a phone call coming in to my office in a few minutes. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Change the subject. Ignore the question and start talking about something else. You could say something like, “That reminds me, I wanted to talk to you about…”

Be polite and powerful. You could say, assertively, “I am uncomfortable discussing this. Thanks for your concern.”

Simply state the facts. In the above situation, the young man had brought his fiancée to company functions, so people naturally asked about her. He needed to say something. He could answer the question directly, but avoid all the details, and not get into the gloom and doom of it. For example, “I am no longer engaged to Anna. I’m okay. I believe things work out for the best.”


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  joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141. 


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  joyce@pachter.com 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  joyce@pachter.com 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  joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.