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Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


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.



3.03.2019

6 Tips To Remember When Evaluating Feedback

What do these three examples have in common?

• A young woman was told by an instructor that her giggle during her presentation was cute, and fit her personality.

 • A woman’s husband, after she asked him if her skirt was too short for an important business meeting, responded “No, your legs look great. Keep it short!”

 • A young man was told by a colleague to chew gum to help him overcome his nervousness when presenting.

I believe the above business professionals all received feedback that was flawed.

It is important to receive feedback, because it helps us to grow. After numerous years of giving seminars, I still pay attention to the comments I receive from my participants. But how do you decide which suggestions really can help you to grow as a professional, and which ones to ignore? I suggest asking yourself these 6 questions:

1. Who is giving the feedback? Is the person an expert? If so, the feedback is a gift, and I would seriously consider following the person’s suggestions. If the person is not an expert, I would put the comments on the back burner. But remember, when customers make suggestions, it is a good idea to implement them where appropriate.

2. Do you perceive a pattern in the feedback you get? A solitary criticism or observation may be just one person’s opinion, but if you notice a lot of similar comments, chances are there is some truth to the feedback – positive or negative.

3. Have you learned as much as you can about the comment? Engage with the person giving the feedback. You could say, “Tell me more” to gain additional information. Or, you can paraphrase what you have heard. Saying something like, “You’re suggesting that…” and putting the feedback into your own words will ensure that you have grasped the person’s points. The woman who was told it was okay to giggle could have asked, “Are you saying that it will be professional for me to giggle in the business world?” (The answer is no.)

4. Is the feedback emphasizing your sexuality? Workplace feedback should address your competency, not your sexuality. The woman’s husband in my example was flattering his wife, but not taking into consideration her corporate environment. He didn’t understand that “sexy is not a corporate look.” He’s not alone. Based on the attire of some newscasters, or the actors portraying professionals on television shows, it’s not surprising that many people come to believe that it is okay to dress provocatively in business situations. It isn’t.

5. Have you checked with other seasoned and successful professionals? The young man who was told to chew gum did check with another professional, who pointed out that the gum chewing would create another problem – his audience would be distracted. She then gave him other suggestions to overcome his nervousness, such as practicing out loud and telling yourself positive things. (Additional suggestions on presentation skills can be found in my book: The Communication Clinic.

6. Have you done research on your own? Read books on the topic. Read articles on the web. The internet makes it very easy to research any topic. Just make sure the authors of the articles are experts in whatever topic you are researching.

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

2.12.2019

Toot Your Own Horn

The woman was well educated, well groomed, and spoke like a professional. Yet when asked about herself, she did not speak of her accomplishments, and she was very self-deprecating. When asked why, she responded, “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.”

Many people don’t talk about or post their accomplishments, or they discount themselves and their achievements with statements like “Oh, what I did was no big deal.” When you put yourself down, you make it easy to others not to take you or your work seriously.

In the business world, you can limit your chances of success when others don’t know what you do or what you have accomplished. Skillful self-promotion is a business strength. You don’t want to sound like a braggart, but you do want to highlight your accomplishments,

Here are eight suggestions for promoting yourself successfully without being off-putting: 

1. Be visible. Get involved at your company. Join any company clubs or activities that interest you. Use the work gym, if there is one. Volunteer for assignments. Offer to make presentations, and volunteer to train others. If possible, write articles for your company publications. Run for office in your professional and community organizations.

2. Enter competitions and apply for awards. A lot of people avoid doing this—they say it’s too self-serving. Yet, winning awards is a way for people who know you, but especially those who don’t know you, to find out about your talents. It builds your credibility. And make sure you promote your successes. For instance, my selection as one of the Best 50 Women in Business in New Jersey by NJBIZ Magazine was highlighted on my website.

3. Post your accomplishments on your social-media sites. However, be careful not to mention the same accomplishment over and over. You can overdo it and make yourself sound like a braggart. There is a balance. You must speak of other things, not just about what you do well. This also can apply to forwarding good news about your team or your work to others via email.

4. Have a prepared self-introduction. You may find yourself in situations in which you have to introduce yourself. Being prepared will allow you to be comfortable speaking about yourself. Make sure you say your first and last name and add a few brief comments about yourself.

5. When asked, do tell. If someone asks you how you are doing at work, it is your opportunity to mention any new accomplishments. Without going into too much detail, tell the person about any recent promotions, unique projects, additional responsibilities, and so on. 

6. Weave your accomplishments into conversation, when appropriate. For example, when I talk in seminars about how men tend to interrupt more than women during meetings, I mention comments from my seminar participants in Oman, in the Middle East. These remarks add to the discussion, and they also highlight my international experience.

7. Use comparisons. I once coached a manager on how to use her experience preparing for the Boston Marathon as a way to answer questions about how she would prepare for a company’s market expansion. The comparisons were legitimate and helpful to her audience – and, of course, the higher-ups were quite impressed by the fact that she ran a marathon.

8. Speak well of others. You appear gracious when you speak of other peoples’ accomplishments, not just your own.


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

1.22.2019

Saying Goodbye: Suggestions for Closing Your Emails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Once emails become a back-and-forth conversation, you can drop the closing. It begins to sound repetitious and somewhat silly if you have a long string of emails all proclaiming, “Best regards, Mike.” Additional information on emails can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success.

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