Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


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 recent 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 communication, career development, business writing, presentation skills, professional presence, and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141. (  

(This blog updates a previous one from a few years ago.)


Avoiding the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ Committed by Workers

I had to fire one of my employees because he hadn’t shown any initiative in my fast-paced, creative work environment.

A colleague made this comment to me, and I responded that her employee had committed one of the Workers’ Seven Deadly Sins – the work traits that lead to employees being ignored, not promoted, or even fired.

In today’s highly competitive workplace, you want to be seen as a helpful and vital employee. You want
to stand out, in a positive way. Ask yourself if you exhibit any of the negative traits below, and resolve to eliminate them if you do.

1. Not showing initiative. Are you trying new or better ways to accomplish your work? Be proactive. Is your employer gaining anything extra from you? As my colleague’s employee found out, most employers want you to go above and beyond.

2. Paying little attention to details. Are there mistakes in your work? Notice the little things, proof your writings, and double-check any numbers. There can be consequences if you don’t. One engineer wrote the wrong house number on a work order – and his employees ripped up the wrong driveway.

3. Not offering to help. You come across as a team player when you do offer help. Before she left for the day, one young woman always asked her boss, “Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave?” She quickly rose up the corporate ladder.

4. Not staying current with changes in your profession. You don’t want to be left behind. Continue learning. Stay abreast of any trends in your field. Take advantage of any training your company offers. Stay up-to-date with technology, including changes in social media.

5. Not having a professional demeanor. You want to convey a confident and credible image. Be aware of your verbal and nonverbal communication. Are you speaking too softly or loudly? Are you dressing appropriately for your position? Do you use filler words (“okay,” “all right,” “like”) that take away from your comments? Are you using profanity that destroys your credibility? Additional information on professional presence can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

6. Not conveying enthusiasm for your job. Show interest in your work. Be eager to get the job done, and done well. Arrive on time, or early. Stay late when necessary, without complaint. Give sincere compliments. Speak well of others, avoid downbeat topics, and stop complaining. Don’t criticize your employer, your boss, customers, or your co-workers on your social media sites.

7. Not being friendly. Nobody likes to work with people who ignore them. Smile. Make an effort to say “hello,” “good morning,” etc. to people you know – and to those you don’t know.
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, career development, business writing, presentation skills, professional presence, and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141. ( 


Dressing for a presentation? Choose your clothing wisely

I put on my jacket and immediately my shoulders went back and I stood up straight.

I think I need to practice in my suit. I feel more “on” when I do.

These comments, from participants in a recent class on presentation skills, demonstrate that your clothing choices can help you to project confidence and to come across as a credible person – one your audience wants to listen to. Yet attire is one of those little things that presenters often don’t think about, or plan.

You don’t want sloppy or inappropriate clothing to prevent people from really hearing and absorbing your message. Make sure to attend to the following 7 items as you prepare for your next presentation:

1. Dress slightly better than your audience. Think about who is going to be in the audience and what they are likely to be wearing, and then choose your clothing accordingly. Dressing slightly better than your audience adds to your credibility. And remember that wearing a jacket will usually elevate your appearance. (Additional information on the hierarchy of clothing can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

2. Make sure your clothing fits you properly. You can spend a fortune on an item, but if it is too big or too small, it is not going to look good. When you are in front of a group, all eyes are on you, and an ill-fitting item becomes a distraction. If your buttons are pulling, people will notice. If your pants are too short, people may fixate on them. When in doubt, take your clothing to a good tailor.

3. Pay attention to your color choices. Darker colors usually convey a stronger impression than lighter ones. Although lighter colors may not be as powerful, they can be very appropriate, especially in warmer climates. When possible, check the wall color in the meeting room before choosing your attire. You want to stand out from the background. Though most rooms have light-colored walls, that is not always the case. When I was presenting in Las Vegas, I checked the room ahead of time and saw that the stage had been draped in black. I had planned to wear a black suit. With my dark hair and black clothing, I would have looked like a talking head! I wore a suit of a lighter color.

4. Don’t dress provocatively. Low-cut tops that expose cleavage draw attention to your chest, and are not suitable for a presentation (or in the office!). Do not show too much leg, either. Short skirts draw attention to your legs. Is that where you want people to look when you are giving a presentation? The general guideline is that skirts should fall to the top of your knees, or just slightly above. 

5. Don’t ignore your accessories. Accessories can complete the outfit, but they also can become distractions and overpower you or your clothes. Don’t play with your accessories, including twirling rings or fiddling with neckties. Also, take your name tag off when you are making a presentation. It is not a fashion piece.

6. Attend to your grooming. You want people to focus on your presentation, not on distracting details. You don’t want your audience noticing dandruff on your shirt, smudges on your glasses, lipstick on your teeth, or chipped nail polish. These flaws are especially noticeable when you are presenting to a small group. And remember that people notice shoes. Your shoes should be clean, polished, and in good condition.

7. Pay attention to your posture. Stand tall. Keep your shoulders comfortably back. You can be wearing a great outfit, but if you are slouching you are doing a disservice to your clothes. 

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


Not for Men Only! The Etiquette of the Handshake

“When did women start shaking hands? It feels awkward.”

A very bright, talented, professional woman asked me that question. Initially, I was startled. Yet, as I thought about the question, I realized that many women in my seminars are reluctant to shake hands, and others do so incorrectly.

The topic is attracting attention beyond my seminars. The dos and don’ts of handshakes have been in the news lately, largely because of the widely publicized handshake between President Trump and French President Macron.

It seemed like a good time to revisit my blog on this important business greeting.

In today’s workplace, shaking hands is not for men only. Both men and women need to shake hands, and to do so correctly.

One woman told me she got her job because she shook hands at the beginning of the interview and again at the end. The manager told the woman that he chose her because she handled herself so professionally. Another woman realized that she had been the only one at her table who stood when she shook hands with her CEO.  As a result, she had a conversation with him; the other individuals did not.   

Why do women sometimes feel uncomfortable about shaking hands? The reasons vary:

1. Some women were never taught to shake hands. It is not that these women were told not to do so, it is that they were not taught to do so. One woman in an etiquette class was shocked when she realized that she was not teaching her four-year-old daughter to shake hands, but she had already started teaching her two-year-old son to shake hands.

2. Women bring the personal greeting of kissing friends on the cheek into the workplace. This can be awkward, since you will not want to kiss or hug everyone you meet at work, nor will everyone be comfortable with that greeting.

3. Many women were taught that they did not need to stand when shaking hands. Before each of my seminars, I walk around the room to introduce myself to my participants and extend my hand in a greeting. Approximately 70 to 75 percent of men, but only 30 to 35 percent of women, stand to shake my hand. You establish your presence when you stand. Both men and women should stand when shaking hands.

You will be judged by your handshake. Be honest: What do you think if someone gives you a limp handshake? Yes, you tend to think of that person as weak and unimpressive.

To shake hands properly:
•    Extend your hand with the thumb up. 

•    Touch thumb joint to thumb joint with the person you are greeting. Put your thumb down, and wrap your fingers around the palm of the other person. 

•    Make sure your grip is firm, but don’t break any bones – it’s not a competition. 

•    Don’t over-pump. Giving two to three pumps is enough. Face the person, and make eye contact.

And one more thing: It used to be that men needed to wait for a woman to extend her hand. Not anymore. Today’s guideline is to give the higher-ranking person a split second to extend his or her hand, and if he or she does not, you extend yours. The key is that the handshake needs to take place. 

Additional information on the handshake and greetings 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, communication, business writing, presentation skills, and professional presence. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141. (


Top 10 Smartphone Annoyances in the Workplace

I love smartphones. I really do. They make our lives easier in so many ways. In my presentation-skills seminars, for example, participants find it easy to use their phones to record their talks. And if you can’t remember the date of an event or the name of someone famous during a conversation, it’s so convenient to be able to look up the information on your smartphone.

But in the workplace, there are many ways people use their smartphones that are rude to others. After talking to many business professionals and observing the behavior of numerous attendees in meetings and in my seminars, I compiled this list of the “top 10” things people do with their phones that annoy others. Do you recognize any of these behaviors?

1. Placing your phone on the table when meeting with someone. Having your phone visible tells the other person, “I am so ready to drop you and connect with someone else.” Plus, research has shown that the presence of the phone inhibits conversation. (This is true for group meetings, also.)

2. Placing two phones on the table. Some people carry both a work phone and a personal phone. This doubles the insult! See above.

3. Using a cell-phone holder. When a phone is placed in a holder, the phone is upright on the table. People are no longer sneaking glances at their phones, they are directly looking at them while “listening” to others! This is just so rude. Read #1 again.

4. Using a Bluetooth headset. This looks like a cockroach in your ear.  (Yes, I do have strong opinions about this.)  I am not talking about the hands-free headsets that receptionists use. I am talking about the headsets worn all too often by people who chat away as they walk around the office, looking as though they are talking to themselves. Or, even worse, you think they are talking to you. 

5. Wearing a Bluetooth necklace. Though these necklaces may be more discreet initially, once you use those earbuds, it’s too easy to leave them in your ears or let the cords dangle on your chest.

6. Texting under the table. Texting under the table during a meeting is disrespectful to the speaker and to the other participants. You may think that your actions are not visible, but your body language gives you away. If you do not want people to text while you are speaking, don’t text when others are addressing the meeting. (Additional information about texting can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.)

7. Forgetting to put your phone on vibrate. This can happen to anyone. I know. I have forgotten. If this happens to you, say, “I’m sorry,” and turn the phone off immediately – and be especially apologetic if your phone continues to ring because you can’t find it quickly.

8. Answering your phone during a meeting – and then starting a conversation while walking out of the room. The reality of business today is that sometimes you must take a call during a meeting. But please wait until you are out of the room before talking. In some circumstances, you may need to answer and say, “I will be with you in a moment.” But again, wait until you are outside the room before you have your conversation.

9. Speaking too loudly. I have been talking about the need for people to lower their voices for years. Many people speak far too loudly when they are on their phones.  Speak in a quiet, conversational tone. If you don’t, others may overhear your conversations, including any sensitive or confidential information you discuss.

10. Using a ring tone that startles or scares people. You don’t want your colleagues or business associates to be shocked when your phone rings.

What annoying phone habits have you observed in the workplace that are not on this list? Please add your comments.  

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


Suggestions for women – and men – on what to do if interrupted

Barbara, you’re right. You can see the American men interrupt the American women on your TV shows that we get here.

This comment startled me.  

One of my students made the observation during a women’s seminar in Kuwait some years ago. We had been discussing interrupting, and I had commented that men interrupt women more than they interrupt other men. I was surprised that this gender bias was so obvious – but I really shouldn’t have been.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Female Supreme Court Justices are interrupted more by male justices and advocates, found that male justices interrupted female justices about three times as often as they interrupted each other during oral arguments.

The research also found that “there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough not to be interrupted.”

When a woman is interrupted regularly (anyone can be interrupted occasionally), she is being excluded from the conversation and her contributions are being ignored. Her influence almost certainly is minimized as a result.
So, what should you do when you are interrupted? You don’t want to respond rudely, as your credibility may be hurt if you do. But, you do want to respond. Consider various ways in which you might respond so you will be prepared when the situation arises. It is quite common for women to be interrupted, but men also may have this problem, so the options below apply to both genders: 
Continue speaking. If you do so, the person trying to interrupt you often will stop talking. You may need to raise your volume a little to make sure the person hears you, but don’t shout.

Ask yourself: Are you making it easy for people to interrupt you? Do you speak too slowly, which allows others to jump in? Or, do you ask permission to add your comments? The article cited above noted that female justices often started their questioning with phrases such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” or “Sorry.” This kind of wording gave the other justices the opportunity to interrupt them. (Additional information on your communication style can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.)

Say something to the person trying to interrupt. Try a polite but powerful response, such as: “I’ll get to that in a moment,” “Hold that thought,” “Excuse me – I wasn’t finished,” or “I’m still talking.” Deliver your line in a firm but neutral, not harsh, tone of voice.

Wait until the interrupter has finished speaking. You can then say, “As I was saying…” Make sure this doesn’t sound sarcastic.

Confront the person privately. If someone frequently interrupts you, talk to that person. Let him know that he has a tendency to interrupt you, and you want it to stop. The interrupter may not be aware of his (or her!) behavior.

Let it go. People occasionally interrupt one another, and you can choose to let it go – this time. 

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


Relying on your spell checker and other common email errors

I can’t believe I wrote ‘Dead John’ instead of ‘Dear John’ to my customer.

Have you ever made a mistake like this?

A woman in my business writing class said she typed ‘Dead’ instead of ‘Dear’ in the salutation of an email to an important customer, and her spell checker didn’t indicate that she had used the wrong word. She learned the hard way that spell checkers do not replace your good brain. You still need to proofread all you’re documents! (And yes, that’s a deliberate error to underscore the point that spell checkers won’t necessarily catch words that are spelled correctly but erroneously used.)

My seminar participant was embarrassed about the mistake, which is one of the lesser costs of having errors in your emails. Others can be loss of business, alienated clients, or a damaged reputation.  You don’t want any of these consequences affecting you and your career.

In addition to relying solely on your spell checker, here are other common mistakes to avoid:

1. Misspelling someone’s name. Many people are offended if you spell their name incorrectly in the salutation. 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 also can be helpful, as people’s first and/or last names are often in their addresses.

 2. Sending an email to the wrong person. When you start to type an address in the “To” box, your device may suggest names from your contact list.  Make sure you pay attention when using this feature (Auto-Complete List). It’s easy to click on the wrong person when names are similar. 

3. Not proofing the subject line. Errors in the subject line really stand out, yet it is easy to forget to check this section of an email because it’s not part of your message.

4. Typing numbers incorrectly. Misplacing a decimal point or transposing numbers can be very costly. In addition to double-checking any numbers, you need to check any phone numbers you have included in the body of the email.

5. Accidentally sending an email before you have finished checking the document. Remember my acronym AIL. AIL stands for Address In Last. You put the recipient’s address in the “To” box after you have finished writing and proofing the message. You can’t send an email without an address.

Additional information on writing and proofing emails can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes (McGraw Hill).

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