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Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


4.18.2020

Meeting online? Don’t become "Eye-roll Ruby" or "Angry Andy"


With almost the entire business world operating under the restrictions of a coronavirus pandemic, many of us are becoming all too familiar with meetings conducted online instead of in a conference room or office.
 
But, as a woman I coached via Zoom recently observed,

“Since your colleagues aren’t in the room with you, it’s easy to forget that they are still observing you!”

Her comment highlights a key pitfall about online meetings – not paying attention to how others see you during a videoconference. 

This is especially true if you are not accustomed to presenting yourself professionally online, but now find yourself working from home and using videoconferencing apps to meet with colleagues, bosses, customers, clients, vendors, or even friends and family. It can lead to distracting behaviors that I’ve attributed to such characters as Eye-roll Ruby, Angry Andy, and so on.

These eight examples of what not to do will help you to be mindful of how you are presenting yourself when video chatting:

1.    Too-close Cody.  We don’t want to see your nose hairs! Position yourself far
enough from the camera so you don’t show a tight shot of your face – that is, from forehead to chin. In most instances, you want to show your head, shoulders, and part of your chest.

2.    Who knew, Nell? Your background for a videoconference can be a simple wall or a
section of a room in your home. Be aware of what others will be able to see behind you. The paintings or artwork on the wall, items on your tables, or books on your bookshelves will reveal aspects of your personality that your colleagues may not know. For example: Who knew Nell collected trumpets! This may be a good thing, as colleagues will discover more about her – or they may learn way too much about her!   

3.    In the dark, Daniel. Make sure your location has good lighting. You want to be seen
clearly, without any shadows hiding your appearance. Be careful if you have a window behind you. If it is bright outside, you will appear as a dark silhouette.   

4.    Interrupting Isabella. These are unusual times. People know that kids, pets, or
grandparents may be roaming around your house during business hours. Your dog coming up to you occasionally might be fine, but being interrupted constantly by your kids or pets will disrupt the meeting. To the degree that you can, manage these interruptions.

5.    Eye-roll Ruby. One woman I coached recently complained that her colleague kept
rolling her eyes whenever my client spoke. Such behavior is distracting and rude. And speaking of eyes, look at and talk to the camera, not the image on the screen. If are looking at your computer screen, you may appear to be looking down. If you look directly at the camera – usually positioned in the center of the frame above the screen – you will appear to be looking the other person in the eye.  

6.    Angry Andy. This is the person who has a very stern Standard Facial Expression,
which is what I call the expression your face assumes when you are in neutral mode. Your SFE is what people see when you are looking at them, listening to them, or just not talking. Many people have stern facial expressions and don’t even realize it. What message is your face conveying about you?  (See my suggestion below; additional information about facial expressions can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.) 

7.    Gesturing George. You don’t want to gesture too much. Waving your arms around
can become a distraction. Resist the urge to twist your hair, play with rubber bands, or click your pen. These are all distractions that make you appear nervous. Resting your head on your hand makes you look bored. And, as many people know, crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or “closed.”

8.    I’m still in PJs, Poppy. One woman I coached via Zoom looked like she was
wearing her pajamas. Working from home is more casual than working in the office, but not that casual! Match your clothing choice to the purpose of the meeting. If you are seeing your CEO, dress more professionally. If you are meeting with your team, you may want to dress more casually. But remember, it’s still business. “Casual” does not mean sloppy. And yes, you do need to wear the entire outfit, not just the top that shows above the table. You never know when something might happen that requires you to stand up suddenly. Need I say more?

Suggestion: A practice session can help you to become aware of the image you are conveying to others. Situate yourself in the same location you will use for online meetings, and then connect with a friend to analyze how you appear on camera – and make any adjustments necessary.  

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

4.02.2020

WHO MOVES? SIDEWALK ETIQUETTE IN A SOCIAL-DISTANCING WORLD


Etiquette rules for the sidewalk? I know that sounds strange, so let me explain. 

A colleague recently called me and wanted some help. She said that she had been out walking and saw a couple approaching her on the sidewalk. She wanted to follow today’s social-distancing guidelines, and she realized that the other people were going to be too close to her if everyone continued walking straight. Her question: “Who should have moved over?” 

This question highlights an etiquette dilemma in our coronavirus-dominated world —to ensure adequate space between people outdoors, who moves out of the way when two or more people are sharing a walkway? 

This situation may arise more frequently as people are being encouraged to exercise. David Pogue, a correspondent for the television show Sunday Morning on CBS News, did a segment this week on How to live AND work at home without going stir crazy. His fifth rule was “Go Outside.” His suggestion was to take walks with people who live with you, but steer clear of others.

Obviously, etiquette concerns are nowhere near as critical as getting needed masks and respirators to hospitals, but having answers for day-to-day situations can help people to stay safe, and also give them a sense of having some control in our uncertain world.

Below are guidelines to help you safely navigate sidewalks and walkways shared with other people: 

1. Pay attention. Notice your surroundings and anticipate. If you are talking on the phone or texting, it’s easy to become distracted and not notice someone coming your way. If your view is obscured for any reason – such as when you are approaching a corner – you may be unable to see someone walking directly toward you. Be aware of that possibility, and proceed cautiously until you can see what’s ahead. You don’t want to bump into people!  

2. Who moves? If someone is approaching and you realize you’ll be too close when passing each other, what are you to do?  Generally, it is the responsibility of each walker to move to the right when passing so that there is at least six feet between you. If the person approaching you is walking with a cane, pushing a baby stroller, or struggling with agility issues, you are the one who should move out of the way. Bottom line: Don’t stand on ceremony. If you believe that someone will be too close to you, move over!   

3.  Walk single file. If you are walking side by side with someone – even if you are several feet apart – go to single file when passing others. If you don’t, you put the person approaching you in the awkward position of deciding whether to go around one of you or to go between the two of you. 

4. Don’t hog the sidewalk. If you block the walkway when you stop to chat with someone – from a safe distance! – or to let your dog do his business, it’s your responsibility to move aside and let other people pass.

5. Pass people carefully. If you want to pass someone, make your presence known. You can call out “behind you” or “on your left” so you don’t startle the person. You then move to the left, keeping your social distance. The other person can also move to the right, making it easier for the person who wants to pass.  

6. Greet others. People can hear a “good morning” or see a wave from six feet away. Even though we are social-distancing, we still want to be social. (See my blog on Greeting Others In A Social-Distancing World.) And remember, if someone says “hello” to you, good manners require that you say “hello” back.  

7.  Wash your hands when you return home. You don’t know what you might have touched while you were out. Frequent hand-washing is high on the list of recommendations for fighting this coronavirus. 

Additional information about etiquette and your career can be found in Barbara Pachter's book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill). Other books by Pachter include The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Communication Clinic

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




3.20.2020

GREETING OTHERS IN A SOCIAL-DISTANCING WORLD

I taught people the correct way to shake hands in my etiquette classes for over 25 years.

Not anymore. 

In a world of coronavirus, our ways of interacting with others must change. The animated video of the burning matches by Spanish graphic designer Juan Delcan illustrates how social distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from everyone else – can help stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus.  

I love the handshake. It allows you to connect with and touch someone in a non-sexual way that establishes a bond and an element of trust. It promotes equality, too, as both men and women shake hands. But there is no touching in a social-distancing world.

Yet eliminating the handshake from our world does not mean it’s time to stop connecting. Today, relating to others is more important than ever, as many of us are working from home and feeling isolated from colleagues and friends.  

During this crisis, I encourage you to use other greetings. In my international etiquette class, I teach that there are four key greetings around the world. The two that involved touching clearly should not be used: the handshake, and hugs and kisses. The other two are the bow, and the namaste (hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, with a slight bow). Either of these can be used to acknowledge others if you are taking a walk for exercise, or video-chatting with colleagues or friends.

You could also wave. Acknowledging someone with a wave can go a long way in letting people know you are pleased to see them. Plus, it’s important to smile. I know that these are tough times, and right now it may not seem like there is a lot to smile about, but connecting with others is one way we will get through this crisis. (In Italy, residents gathered on their balconies to publicly praise and thank their medical caregivers, and then joined in singing popular songs that echoed from building to building across the city! It was such an uplifting sight, videos of it were shown around the world.)

I don’t know when social distancing will end. Soon, I hope. And when it does, I look forward to shaking your hand!

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

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


10.06.2019

Don’t Kill Your Career With Your Fork

My girlfriend showed me how to use my utensils, but I’m not sure she is correct. I have a job interview at a fancy restaurant coming up. Help. 

My colleague never puts his knife down when eating. Is that correct?

I read that there is a “finished position” for utensils. What is that? 

I have received a number of questions about correct behavior during a business meal, especially concerning the use of utensils.

People can get nervous when dining for business. And with good reason. You don’t want to blow a deal or a job offer based on your dining manners. To help people in my corporate classes remember what not to do with their utensils, I created these four examples:

1. Waving William: You wave your hands around with your utensils in them when you are talking at the table. Beware – the food on the utensils may go flying toward your neighbor! It’s best not to do much gesturing at all while you are dining, and never with a utensil in hand.

2. Finger-Pusher Fran: You want to eat every last bite, so you use your finger to help push food onto your fork. The days of the “clean plate club” are over. If you can’t get the food onto your fork without using your finger, leave it on the plate. Or, eat Continental style. In this style, the knife is used to push food onto the back of the fork.

3. Pitchfork Pete: You make a fist around your fork when cutting your meat. You look like you are holding a pitchfork! You should hold a fork with the handle inside the palm of your hand, and use your thumb and index finger to manipulate it.

4. Split-Personality Susan: You employ both the American and Continental styles of using utensils during one meal. When eating in the American style, you cut your meat using both knife and fork, then place your knife at the top of the plate and switch the fork to the dominant hand to eat. When eating in the Continental style, you still cut your food with both knife and fork, but then you eat the meal without putting the knife down or switching the fork to the opposite hand. As mentioned above, you use the knife to guide food onto the back of the fork. It’s generally best to use just one style.

 Other Suggestions for Your Utensils:

•  Do not use your knife to cut your bread rolls. Break your roll in half, then tear off one piece at a time, and butter each piece as you are ready to eat it.

•  Place your knife and fork in the rest position (knife on top of plate, fork across middle of plate) to let the waiter know you are resting but not done with your meal. Use the finished position (knife and fork together diagonally across the plate, knife on top) to indicate that you have finished eating.

Additional information about business meals and your career can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill).


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

9.15.2019

Salutations are NOT required in emails!

Is the title of this blog a true or false statement? 

If you said “true,” you are correct. Email doesn’t technically require a salutation as it is considered to be memo format. (This is different from a business letter, which does require a salutation.)

When email first appeared, many people did not use salutations. Eventually, people started adding salutations to seem friendlier, and to soften the tone of their writings.

Although salutations are not required, they are highly recommended. This is especially true when you are writing an email to someone for the first time, writing the first email in what is likely to become a string, or dealing with a difficult or awkward situation. 

But how should you address the person to whom you are writing? Since you don’t want to offend someone with your choice of salutation, here are five suggestions:

1. Spell the recipient’s name correctly. Let me repeat this: Spell the recipient’s name correctly. It may not bother you, but I want to impress upon you that many people are insulted if their name is misspelled. Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block. Copy and paste the name to make sure you are spelling it correctly. Checking the “To:” line is also a good idea, as people’s first and/or last names are often in their email addresses.

2. Don’t shorten a person’s name or use a nickname unless you know it is okay. Use the person’s full name (“Hi, Jacob”) unless you know it is okay to use the shortened version (Jake). My name is Barbara, but please don’t start your emails to me using “Hi Barb.” (And the only people who may refer to me as Babz are my son and his friends!)

3. Know when to stop using a salutation. After two or three emails have gone back and forth on the same email string, the salutations can be dropped.

4. Use a greeting. There is a hierarchy of greetings, from informal to formal, and you should match the salutation to the relationship you have with the recipient. The hierarchy follows this format:

                         Hi Anna, / Hello Julianna, / Dear Justin, / Dear Mr. Jones,

If the person you are writing to is a colleague, “Hi Anna,” should be fine. If you don’t know the person, or the person has significantly higher rank than you have, you may want to use the more formal greeting: “Dear Justin,” or “Dear Mr. Jones.”

Hey is a very informal salutation (“Hey Josh,”), and generally should not be used in the workplace. Opening with Yo is definitely not okay, no matter how informal your relationship with the recipient. Use Hi or Hello instead.

5. Avoid “Dear Sir/Ms.” This salutation tells your reader that you have no idea who that person is. Why then should the reader be interested in what you have to say?

Additional information on business writing and emails can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes. 

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

9.08.2019

Imperfect Writing for Perfect Results

I write a couple of sentences and then delete them. Write a few more and delete them. It’s a constant, incredibly annoying process.

I always have to rewrite. Is there something wrong with me?

I was afraid to apply for a new position because it involved a lot of writing.   

The comments above, from participants in my writing seminars, illustrate the frustration business people often feel when tackling writing assignments. But it’s not just participants in such classes who suffer from fear of writing. Putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – can be daunting for many people.

I believe that, to a large degree, the frustration comes from people trying to create a perfect piece of writing the first time they sit down to do an assignment, whether it’s a business email or a complicated report. They think that what they type should not need any correcting or rewriting.

They are wrong.

Creating an imperfect piece of writing – a draft – is part of the normal process of writing. Yes, I said normal.

Once you have a draft, you can set about revising it. Most people find it easier to correct their writing than to create the exact wording they want the first time they try. Many well-known people, including professional writers, have expressed their understanding of the importance of writing… and rewriting.

• There is no great writing, only great rewriting. – the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

• I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. – author James Michener

I describe the making of a draft as “open writing.” This term is easy to remember, as you basically open yourself up and let the words flow. Here are six guidelines to help you with open writing:

1. Relax. People have a tendency to get nervous and then agonize over their writing assignments. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect… yet. One seminar participant told me that once the pressure was off to create a perfect document on her first attempt, she was able to write.

2. Put the email address in last. If you are using open writing in an email, you don’t want to send the email before you have revised it, so leave the “To” line blank until you are satisfied with your message. If you are responding to an email, erase the address and add it when you are finished. (Additional suggestions on email can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes, McGraw Hill, 2017.)

3. Write the way you speak. Most of us have no difficulty speaking coherently and clearly. When you write the way you speak, you are writing in a conversational tone, which helps you connect with your reader. Another advantage is that this approach often helps you to write quickly.

4. Don't stop writing. No crossing out or back-spacing. You don't want to disrupt the flow of your thoughts. If you find yourself going off in the wrong direction, write yourself out of it. You will rearrange your wording later. Computers make it very easy to cut-and-paste. (This term survives from a time when writers or editors revising drafts written on typewriters would literally cut up their written paragraphs and paste them in the order they preferred. See how much easier we have it!)

5. Set a time limit. When you sit down to write, allocate a certain amount of time. It doesn't need to be a lot of time. In my classes, my writing assignments are only five minutes in duration, but all the participants write between half a page and one and a half pages. That’s a lot of writing in just a few minutes. After my students have finished their open-writing assignments, I tell them that in the past, most of them probably stared at a blank computer screen for longer than five minutes. Now consider how much they’ve been able to write in the same time in class. That is when the light bulb usually goes on for them, and they realize the value of open writing.

6. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar… for now. You will correct your grammar and spelling before you hit the send button or mail that document. For now, you just want to write.

Once you have followed these six steps, you are not done. Let me say that again: You are not done. Now it is time to revise your writings – but now you have something to work on, instead of a blank screen.

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

8.18.2019

Do Not Use Contractions. (Don’t Worry, I Didn’t Mean It!)

During a conversation with a colleague, I mentioned that my next blog was going to be on contractions. Most of her response I can’t repeat, but basically she said that when she was growing up, her teachers drilled into her brain that she should never use contractions in her writings. They were too informal and sloppy, her teachers maintained.

Many people in my writing seminars tell me similar stories.

A contraction, according to the Gregg Reference Manual, a respected writing resource, is “a shortened form of a word or phrase in which an apostrophe indicates the omitted letters or words: for example, don’t for do not.”

My response to my colleague and to the participants in my seminars is always the same: "Why can't we use contractions? We use them when we speak, so why isn't it okay to write with them?”

A primary goal of writing is to connect with your reader, and your choice of words helps to make that connection. There aren't any non-verbal clues to help make your point when you email someone – the reader doesn't see the smile on your face or hear the friendly tone of your voice. (Yes, I know there are emoticons, but I do not encourage their use in business writing.)

Using contractions helps you to convey a conversational tone. It makes the communication sound more personal and friendly, and less like a directive. Listen to the difference: “Let's go to the conference on Monday,” or, “Let us go to the conference on Monday.” Don’t you think the second version sounds rather stilted?

Here are my suggestions for using contractions successfully in business writing:

1. Think about your use of contractions. It may not be first on your list of business concerns, but the quality of your writing is important. Do you use contractions? One of my interns had the courage to point out to me that I used contractions a lot. I hadn't realized just how much until she said something. I really valued that feedback.

2. Do not overuse them.  Just because you can use contractions in your writing in today's business world, doesn't mean you should always use them. Read your documents out loud to hear how your use of contractions sounds. If your writings sound choppy, chances are you are using too many contractions.

3. Avoid excessively casual contractions. Some contractions sound sloppy. For example: "You'd" for "you would," or “she’s” for “she has.” I recommend not using them in business writing. And please, don’t ever be tempted by double contractions, such as "shouldn’t’ve" for "should not have."

4. Know what your boss prefers. If your boss does not want you to use contractions, don't! This is not (isn't) rocket science, and is not worth fighting over.

5. Understand the difference between it's and its. A common mistake involves the difference between "it's" – which is the contraction for "it is" – and the possessive "its." The way to remember the difference between them is that the apostrophe in "it's" means something is missing. If you aren’t sure, read your sentence aloud and then substitute the non-contraction form (in this case, “it is”) to see whether it still makes sense. (It’s time to put the pencil in its case, for example. If you had an erroneous apostrophe in the second its, the sentence wouldn’t make sense.) People often use the wrong form in their writings, and others love to point out their mistakes. Don't give them the opportunity!

Your use of contractions may not seem like a big deal, but it is one of the many little things that can impact your writings, and therefore worthy of your attention. Additional information on business writing can be found in my  book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes (McGraw Hill).

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business writing and communication. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or joyce@pachter.com.