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Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


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.

7.21.2019

Use These Two Communication Secrets to Get What You Want

A mother said to her three-year-old daughter, “When you get a chance, can you please clean your room?”

The young girl responded, “Mom, no, I'm not gonna get a chance.”

A colleague told me this story about her daughter, and after I stopped laughing, I had to tell her that she hadn't used a little-recognized, yet powerful communication tool. Since she had hired me to teach assertiveness for her organization, I felt comfortable giving her this feedback.

Her stumbling block? My colleague had used a question instead of a direct assertive statement. Using a question (Can you please clean your room?) allows the other person to make the choice, and you may not get what you want. You are being less direct.

Using a direct statement, such as “Sweetie, I want you to clean your room before lunch,” makes it very clear what you expect, and as a result you are more likely to get it. Of course, there are no guarantees with three-year-olds, but even with children, you have a better chance of getting what you want when you are direct.

This “secret” can also work in the workplace. Listen to the difference: “Boss, I would like to go to the conference next week,” versus “Boss, may I go to the conference?” Both are polite, but which one sounds more likely to give the speaker what she wants? The direct statement usually has more success.

The second communication secret was summed up in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. In that movie, Yoda, the Jedi Master, proclaims: "Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try."  

Be cautious with the use of the word “try,” if you want others to be accountable for their action or inaction. If you say to your employee, “Please try to meet the deadline,” he or she can always say later, “Well, I tried, but something else came up.”

You can be polite and still use a straightforward statement, such as, “I need you to meet the deadline.” As mentioned above, when you are direct, you are more likely to get what you want.

Monitor yourself over the next few days. Is your word choice preventing you from getting what you want?

For additional tips on effective communication, check out my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.  

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

5.21.2019

What’s in a title? A lot! Six tips to avoid undermining women


Why are female doctors introduced by first name while men are called ‘Doctor’?

This provocative headline was on a Washington Post article over a year ago that featured two women physicians at the Mayo Clinic who had noticed that their male colleagues were usually introduced at conferences as “Doctor So-and-so.” But the two women and other female doctors were often introduced by their first names, when the person introducing them was a man.

Is this a big deal?  Yes, I believe it is. And it is still happening.   

On a recent weekend I was on a plane where the captain introduced himself to the passengers this way: “This is Captain Jones. And I’m assisted today by Erica.” It seemed clear from his introduction that “Erica” was the first officer on the flight, or the co-pilot. 

How people address you and what you call yourself really do matter. Names – and titles – have power. Names and titles may confer dignity, or take it away. They influence how you are perceived, and whether people take you seriously.

Though unequal introductions may not be on the same level as eliminating sexual harassment or the gender pay-gap, they do constitute a communication concern with negative implications for women. Denying professionals the prestige that a title conveys is a subtle way of undermining them, even if it is unintentional.

Which of these people would you take more seriously, or believe was more competent: “Dr. Tom Jones” or “Sally Smith”? It seems obvious that it would be the person with the title, because that testifies to his training and professionalism.

Both men and women can benefit from the following suggestions about names and titles. They will help you to stop negatively influencing others’ perceptions of women, even inadvertently. These tips also apply when you are writing emails.

1. Use a woman’s title. Some organizations are very informal with names, but if professional titles are typically used in your organization, refer to women by theirs, such as Dr. (Sally) Jones.

2. Be consistent with your use of titles. Use professional titles equally for both men and women. If you are mentioning a man by his title, such as Doctor Jones or Professor Smith, refer to a woman the same way. This is valid whether you are giving a speaker introduction, introducing someone to other people at the office or in social situations, or simply mentioning people in informal discussions.

3. Refer to friends and colleagues by their titles when in business settings. You may have a great relationship with Dr. Jones and use her first name when you are together. When you are with other people, however, you should refer to her by her title. You are recognizing her achievement in front of others. If you do not do this, you are establishing a norm that tells people it’s okay for them to call her by her first name. And that may not be the case. (This also applies to men.)

4. Be consistent with the honorific ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ This is similar to the second item. If you say or write, “Mr. Williams,” do the same for the woman, “Ms. Jones.” This conveys a level of respect for both parties. You do not want to say something like, “Mr. Williams and Karen went to the meeting.” In an informal setting you might also use first names for both, such as “Tom and Karen went to the meeting.”  

5. Refer to women in the workplace as ‘women.’ Businessmen aren’t referred to as boys; businesswomen shouldn’t be referred to as girls. The words “girls” and “boys” indicate children. I know, I know, you are going to say that it’s intended as a compliment, or it’s a way of expressing camaraderie, as in “girls’ night out” or “the girls I work with in the office.” But ultimately it fosters a less-professional image for women.  

6. Do not refer to a woman by a nickname or shorter form of her first name —unless you are asked to do so. Children are often called by nicknames. And many shortened names do not have the same standing as full names. My name is Barbara. Do not call me “Barb,” and definitely not “Barbie.” This situation can be tricky. Sometimes people, especially high-power people, will use their nicknames to seem friendly and more approachable. Christine Todd Whitman, the first woman governor of New Jersey and former head of the EPA, will often refer to herself as Christie Whitman. (Her current website is www.christiewhitman.com.)

Men also can be influenced by shortened names. According to a story about basketball legend Michael Jordan on the CBS show 60 Minutes some years ago, he went from being called “Mike Jordan” to “Michael Jordan” after he scored the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA championship game.

Start paying attention to your word choices. Though you may not be doing everything mentioned here, you may be surprised at how you refer to women. Additional information on communication can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

I post regularly on communication and etiquette.  We can connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and my website: www.pachter.com

About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence. (bpachter@pachter.com

3.24.2019

6 Tips To Enhance Your Presentation Skills…And Build Your Confidence

"I just spoke to 200 people; I can do anything!”

This comment was from a woman I had coached on presentation skills. She had been nervous about speaking during a fund-raising luncheon for her favorite charity, but felt “on top of the world” after giving the presentation.
                                             
She was experiencing one of the positive consequences of giving an effective speech – her confidence level increased considerably, and she felt good about herself.

This woman was an accomplished professional and needed only a few suggestions to fine-tune her skills. But anyone can benefit from some of the tips that I gave her. Why not try them out before your next presentation? You may be surprised at how good you feel about yourself as a result.   

1. Practice out loud. You want to hear how your presentation sounds. Saying it in your head isn’t good enough. Is it structured logically? Are you using transitions between points? Are the stories complete? Does the presentation make sense? Saying it aloud, and hearing the speech as your audience will hear it, helps to clarify any areas that need work.

2. Mingle before the presentation. When you can, go up to people, shake hands, introduce yourself, and welcome individuals to the presentation. This rapport-building helps people connect with you, and allows you to feel more comfortable with them once you are in front of the group.

3. Ask yourself: Does the audience know I am nervous? If you are not verbally or nonverbally conveying your nervousness to the audience, the people you are addressing will not know. And if the audience doesn’t know you’re nervous, why waste your energy being nervous? Interesting concept… and it has helped a lot of people overcome their nervousness.

4. Look at people. When you make eye contact with members of your audience, you appear confident and in control of the presentation and your audience. Presenters get nervous and tend to avoid looking at the people they are addressing. Make sure you look at everyone. People have a tendency to look only at the people who smile at them (and we do love these people!), but you don’t want to miss connecting with anyone. 
                                       
5. Manage the questions. In the beginning of your talk, let people know when you will be taking questions. You can often direct people to ask questions on a specific topic by saying, “What questions do you have about X?” Repeat each question before you answer it. This gives you a few seconds to compose your thoughts before you speak. You can also rephrase the question to eliminate any negativity in it. 

6. Take the applause. I am sure you have seen speakers who have almost run off the stage at the conclusion of a presentation, or they may say something like, “Whew, glad that is over!” Do not do this. You should acknowledge the applause, then walk off the stage or go back to your seat with your head held high.

Additional suggestions on presentation skills can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

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