navbar

Home | Seminars | Train-the-Trainer | Coaching | Keynotes | The Team | Buy Books & More | Client List | In the Media

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Imperfect Writing for Perfect Results: First Things First

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 above comments 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 mistakenly think that what they type should not need any correcting or rewriting.

Yet 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

The first draft is a skeleton ... just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising. --author Judy Blume

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

I describe the making of the 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 draft 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.

 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 revising on paper literally had to cut up their written phrases 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 a page and a half. 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 have 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 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.

There are other blogs on my blog site that provide suggestions on how to revise. But just for now, know that you are on your way!

Additional information on business writing can be found in my new book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success. (McGraw Hill).  Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business writing and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at jhoff@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

10 Ways To Toot Your Own Horn At Work

A vice president recently told me that when he acknowledges his employees’ accomplishments, many of them belittle their success with such comments as “Oh, that was no big deal” or “What a fluke.”

Many business professionals negate compliments, often because they don’t want to be perceived as braggarts or as suffering from too big an ego.

Bragging is obnoxious boasting, and is usually done by people who want to let you know how great they think they are. This includes the technique known as “humblebrag” – its practitioners still brag, but try to disguise it as being humble or mildly self-deprecating. This is usually achieved by admitting to a minor flaw while really drawing attention to the big-brag item. (My favorite example: “I am such a klutz. I just spilled wine on my new book contract.”)

Bragging of any kind is not the way to impress colleagues, or bosses. However, I do believe that tactful and appropriate self-promotion is a business skill. Learning when and how to speak well of yourself is a key to getting and staying ahead.

Listed below are 10 ways to toot your own horn, including accepting compliments, without being insufferable:

1. Accept compliments. When I complimented a vice president on his handwriting, he responded, “Oh, that’s my pen!”  When you negate a compliment (like the employees mentioned in the opening paragraph), you are putting yourself down. Instead, simply say “Thank you,” or “Thank you, I appreciate that” – and then shut your mouth.

2. Be visible. Get involved. Join organizations and volunteer for their committees. Participate in office activities. Volunteer to make presentations. If possible, write articles for your company’s publications. You need to make yourself known.

3. Be prepared. You may find yourself in situations where you have to tell others about yourself, such as when you are a new member of a group, or during a meeting when everyone in the room introduces him- or herself. Prepare such a self-introduction, and practice delivering it, so that you will be comfortable speaking about yourself. Keep it simple but positive, such as: “I’m Tom Smith, the new director in sales. John Jones brought me in to start the new field service project. I’m very excited about that, and expect it will take up a lot of my time for a while. But in my spare time, I enjoy being a Big Brother to my little buddy, Freddie.”

4. When asked, do tell.  Someone asks you “How are things at work?” Don’t just say “Fine, thanks,” and move on. This is your opportunity to mention your accomplishments – and express genuine pleasure when you do. When I was asked that question recently, I responded, “I have great news. I was just interviewed by a national business magazine!”

5. Do not use superlatives about your own activities, unless, like Muhammad Ali, you can justify saying “I am the greatest!” Simply describe what you did, such as, “Using the new numbers from our field offices, I was able to cut our costs by a quarter.”

6. 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.

7. Enter competitions and apply for awards. 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.

8. Weave your accomplishments into conversation, when appropriate. I sometimes use my experiences to illustrate key teaching points in my classes, and by doing so I highlight my accomplishments. For example, when discussing how important it is to prepare for an overseas assignment, I will mention how I prepared for my trip before I spoke at a ground-breaking women’s seminar in Kuwait.

9. 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 this will make you sound like a braggart. Remember, there is a balance: You also must speak of other things, not just about what you do well.  

10. Speak well of others, too. This is a gracious thing to do, and is usually appreciated by the other people involved. Plus, when you praise others’ achievements, your comments about yourself won’t seem out of place.  (But don’t praise someone if it isn’t warranted. Others will know, and you will appear phony.)

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

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







Tuesday, July 1, 2014

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

During a recent 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 new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (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.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

9 Guidelines for Posting Your Photograph on Social Media Sites

I couldn't make out his face.
She looks completely different from her photo.
I couldn't believe she had sunglasses on her head!

The comments above were made about photographs accompanying profiles on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, many businesspeople post photographs of themselves on LinkedIn and other social media sites that detract from their professionalism.

I have written about this before, but it’s a message that bears repeating: Your professional image is conveyed through your photograph. It’s part of the first impression you make on others. You should post a photograph that is professionally appropriate, and makes you look like a credible, approachable person – not like someone who just came from the beach.

In another life, I was a professional photographer – the first woman photographer at what was then one of the largest ten newspapers in the country – so I offer the following as my recommended guidelines for photographs used in any professional context:

1. Post a headshot. This type of photograph highlights your head/face, but often shows your shoulders and part of your chest. People can see you clearly in this type of shot. Avoid posting an environmental portrait, one that places you in a setting that relates to your profession, as your face is usually a smaller part of such a photograph. These pictures are often used as additional photos on a website, and are not recommended for headshot postings.

2. Choose a photo that flatters you. Sounds obvious, but people don’t always pay attention to their choices. I am not suggesting you need a glamour shot, but you should look like a competent professional in the photograph.

3. Use a clear, uncluttered background that is well lit. There shouldn't be any dark shadows obscuring your face. People must be able to see you clearly.

4. Make sure your face is in focus. The background may be slightly out of focus, but your features need to be sharp, not blurred. Let people see your eyes. Wearing dark glass hides them.

5. Wear appropriate professional or business-casual attire. Appear as you usually would in a business situation. This may mean that you are freshly shaven, or wearing make-up and jewelry. Do not let your accessories (earrings, necklace, glasses) overpower your headshot. Additional information on business dress can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw-Hill).

6. Look at the camera and keep your head straight. Women have a tendency to tilt their heads. Why? I don’t know. But I do believe they look less self-assured when they do.

7. Have a pleasant facial expression. If you are frowning or scowling, why would I want to hire or work with you?

8. Look like your photograph. If your photo is more than 8 to 10 years old, people may be very surprised when they meet you. If you had long hair in your photo and now have short hair, people may not recognize you.

9. Hire a professional photographer. If all of this seems overwhelming, hire someone who takes photos for a living. It’s worth the investment.

It had been almost 10 years since my last corporate headshot was taken, so I decided to practice what I preach – I hired a professional photographer (Maria Martins of Unique Imagery) to take my new photograph. Let me know what you think.

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


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You Too Polite? Learn the Three Faces of Communication

Can you be too nice?

A woman in one of my seminars asked if it were possible for her to be “too nice” when interacting with her employees. She told me that she often felt invisible with them. Since I teach etiquette, some of you may be surprised that I answered “Yes, you can be too nice.” Let me explain.

A few years ago I created The Three Faces of Communication model to help people understand their communication style. Everyone falls somewhere along the spectrum of Too Nice, Polite and Powerful, and The Tough One. 

Do you know where you are on this continuum?
Discovering your style of communicating with others can help you gain awareness of your behavior, and encourage you to move towards the “polite and powerful” middle. As you review the descriptions below, you probably won’t identify with all of the characteristics of any one style, but you most likely have more of one style than another. (Although I discuss boss-employee relationships throughout this blog, the styles outlined apply to all types of interactions.)

Too Nice: Much like the woman in my seminar, you are overly friendly with your employees, and as a result they don’t take you as seriously as they should. You find it difficult to reprimand others when their performance is unacceptable, so you postpone any discussion, sugarcoat it, or pretend there is no problem. Since you are so friendly and unassertive, you have to ask again and again to get things done. You have a tendency to smile too much, beat around the bush, use passive language (I was just wondering… Would you perhaps...), and apologize for things that aren't your fault, such as “I’m so sorry that you had a difficult time with the project.”

The Tough One: You are not friendly at all with your employees, and seldom socialize or make any small talk with them. You rarely bother to say “hello” or “goodbye.” You’re incredibly demanding, and problems can go unresolved because your employees avoid talking to you or telling you the truth. You rarely smile, yet you interrupt others, speak loudly, and curse when angry. You’re aggressive in your language, and say such things as, “Don’t bother me with your questions!” or “Find a way to do it, damn it!” (Learn the power of greetings in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)

Polite and Powerful: You are polite – you don’t yell or swear. You’re powerful – you speak clearly, calmly and directly. You don’t love conflict, but you know how to handle and resolve it. You are available to your employees, and spend some time getting to know them. You are not wishy-washy with your language, and will use assertive statements when appropriate, such as, “I need this by 3 p.m.” You want your employees to work hard, yet you are fair, and will recognize them for a job well done.

Spend some time reviewing your interactions with others. Knowing how to communicate successfully is key to your career success. Additional information can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation. Other actions to take if you want to adapt your style include taking an assertiveness class, and listening to the messages you leave on others’ voicemail (before you send them) to learn your word choices.

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on assertive communication and conflict. Contact Joyce Hoff for more information: (joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141)


Monday, May 12, 2014

Don’t Write That! 3 Tips to Avoid Yelling at Your Reader

A woman in one of my writing seminars sent the email below to her teammates:
She said that she had chosen to use a bold font in 30-point red type to get people’s attention. She did – but not in a good way. Her teammates didn't like that her chosen techniques for emphasis – the large type, use of a bright color, and bold font style – made her appear to be screaming at them. As a result, her boss sent her to my class! 

Before computers, when business communicators used typewriters to compose letters, they could emphasize words either by typing in all capital letters or by underlining the words. 

Word-processing changed all that. Writers now have a variety of options to highlight words or to visually enhance a document, including bold, italic, underline, different fonts, and color. 

Having so many choices can be confusing, or even inhibiting. To be effective, and to make your documents easy to read, follow these three guidelines: 

1. Avoid having your documents look like “The Ransom Note Style of Letter.” 
That is, you don’t want your correspondence to look as though you cut words and phrases out of different magazines. Use emphasis techniques sparingly. All of these techniques have a role to play – but not all at once. Generally, bold type is used for headings, subheads, and bullet points in a list. Though italics usually is the preferred choice, both italics and underlining may be used for specific emphasis of a word or phrase, and to denote titles of literary and artistic works. (Check an up-to-date style manual for expanded guidelines.) 

2.  Choose an easy-to-read font style, type size, and color. Using large type sizes, very small type, and different colors make it difficult for people to read your message quickly. Generally, it is best to use 10- or 12-point type and an easy to read font, such as Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman, Verdana or Georgia.  Black or dark blue type color is best for email.  

3. Avoid writing text in all capital letters. Using all capital letters is the written equivalent of shouting. What’s more, it is difficult to read. Don’t use all lowercase letters, either; that, too, is hard to read. All caps may be used for headings, or the occasional word for emphasis.

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

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on communication and business etiquette. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com or 856.751.6141.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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 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 use 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?

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

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