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Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


1.21.2018

I'm sorry, I can't apologize

A colleague missed an appointment with a vendor. She called the vendor to apologize. Thinking about the conversation later, she realized that she had said “I’m sorry” numerous times. She called me to ask if you can say “I’m sorry” too much.

Surprisingly, I said “Yes.” Since I teach etiquette, I would never tell anyone to be rude. If you trip someone, spill coffee (or anything else) on someone, or inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, it is appropriate to say “I’m sorry.” If you work in customer service, saying you are sorry may be part of your job description. However, my friend touched on one of several areas where people (often women, but men as well) overuse “I’m sorry,” and, as a result, hurt their professional image.

Consider the following points, and ask yourself if you do any of these:

1. Repeat “I’m sorry” numerous times. If you say “I’m sorry,” say it only once. Are you any sorrier the sixth time than you were the first time? Of course not. A long time ago, I was a “serial apologizer.” I would repeat “I’m sorry” so often that my friends joked that on my gravestone they would put, “I’m sorry, I can’t apologize.”

2. Put yourself down. Using such phrases as “I’m sorry to bother you” or “I’m sorry to disturb you” can bring into question your self-esteem. Why are you a “bother”? Your work is valuable, also. Instead of apologizing, you can say assertively, “Excuse me. Do you have a minute?”

3. Take responsibility for something that isn’t your fault. If you say “I’m sorry,” you are implying that you are the one to blame. A man returned from lunch and said, “It’s raining outside.” His colleague responded, “I’m sorry,” as if the rain were her responsibility. If she wanted to say something, she could have made a neutral comment, such as “I hear the rain will continue all day.” In other situations, you can explain. Instead of, “I’m sorry I missed the meeting,” one manager said, “I had every intention of joining you, but my day took a different turn.” She then explained that she had been involved in a minor car accident. (Note that this was not a fabricated excuse, but the actual reason she had missed the meeting.)

4. Say “I’m sorry” when it is your fault. This occurs when you have done something that you shouldn’t have done, such as giving out the wrong information. Many of my seminar participants struggle with this issue.

Some believe strongly that saying “I’m sorry” is the polite thing to do. I like the way my husband, the lawyer, defends this stance. He believes that if you cause someone “adverse consequences,” you should say “I’m sorry.”

Others believe strongly that you need only acknowledge the mistake, and that it is not necessary to apologize. (Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the lead character of the popular TV show NCIS, has a series of rules to live by, one of which is, “Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness.”)

One CEO told me that when his employees say “I’m sorry,” he thinks they are asking him for forgiveness. He would much rather they admit the problem and tell him how they plan to fix it. Consider these two responses: “I’m so sorry I messed up,” or, “You are right. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.” (Additional tips on word choice can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.)     

I’m sorry (no, I’m not!) if you don’t like either of those choices. There is another alternative. According to author Rachel Vincent: “Chocolate says ‘I’m sorry’ so much better than words.”

I post regularly on communication and etiquette. We can connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or my website: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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University. (bpachter@pachter.com) 

1.07.2018

What’s in a title? Six tips to help you stop undermining women

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

This provocative headline was on a Washington Post article a few months 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.

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, it is a communication concern with negative implications for women. Denying professionals the prestige that a title conveys is a subtle way of undermining them.

Whom 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’ perception 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/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 a few 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 new 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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University. (bpachter@pachter.com) 

11.30.2017

Fighting back – literally – against harassment

How does this assertiveness course apply to the sexual harassment concerns in our workplaces today?

I have tried to stay away from heated topics in this blog, but since I was asked the question above in my assertiveness class last week, I decided it was time to comment publicly.

I told the participants in my class that what we talk about in the seminar can be helpful – to a degree. Assertiveness means not presenting yourself as a victim – using your posture to stand tall, your words to speak out, and your voice to speak up loudly. But, ultimately, eliminating harassment in our workplaces requires numerous actions.

After her co-host Charlie Rose was accused of harassment recently, television journalist Norah O’Donnell said on her show, CBS This Morning: "This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. Let me be very clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive. ... This I know is true: women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility.”

Many things can be done to help women – and men – feel safe. Having a sexual harassment policy in the workplace and providing training to employees about sexual harassment are two important actions. I also believe that teaching women (and girls) to fight – encouraging them to learn how to defend themselves physically – can be a key component of empowering women and decreasing harassment, in the workplace and elsewhere.

I was sexually assaulted when I was 10 years old. 

During a camp trip to an amusement park, while I was walking through one of the attractions, a man came up behind me and grabbed both my breasts. I fought back, and then I ran away. But to this day, my loving husband cannot affectionately surprise me from behind without risking getting hit by me. The scars of assault aren’t forgotten, and I still react reflexively.

I believe I fought back against my attacker because I was used to fighting. My two sisters and I would fight like dogs and cats all the time. Physically fight. (Don’t worry, we are best friends today.)

I suggest that women (and girls) should take self-defense classes and/or practice martial arts. They need to know that they can defend themselves from harm. They need to know what fighting back feels like. I took Judo in college, and the Model Mugging self-defense class as an adult. And I made sure my only child learned self-defense, too – my son has his black belt in karate.

I am not advocating for violence – I am advocating for self-defense. I am suggesting that through these classes, women will gain confidence in their physical presence, and in their ability to defend themselves. They can gain a sense of their own power, which may help them not to be seen as potential victims, in the street or in the office.

Also, I am not saying that taking a self-defense class or teaching young girls that it’s okay to fight back will solve everything. It won’t. It is simply one possible response for some difficult situations. Many women who are harassed in the workplace are fearful that they will lose their jobs or careers. Make no mistake, this is a horrible position to be in, and a horrible choice to have to make. The current rash of allegations about harassment at work makes it clear that employers have much to do to make our workplaces safe for everyone.  

But, knowing that you can defend yourself provides an option for you, if your boundaries are crossed.  

As Nicole Sundine, a speaker and trainer in the field of personal safety, has said: “Feeling confident in your ability to protect yourself empowers you to live with less fear and more freedom.” 

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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.


11.14.2017

Speak up! We Can’t Hear You


As a young woman was leaving the office, her boss started giving her assignments. She replied, “But, I’m in training this afternoon.” He ignored her comments and continued to describe in more detail the tasks he wanted her to do. It dawned on her that he hadn’t heard her. (She had been in my class the week before.) She raised her volume and repeated, “I’m in training this afternoon.” He replied, “Oh, sure. You can do these tomorrow. Have a good class!”

Many men and women, especially women, do not speak loudly enough. And speaking too softly is a subtle nonverbal that can affect your professionalism.

Have you ever said something in a meeting and nobody responded? Yet 20 minutes later, somebody at the end of the table said exactly what you said, and that person was acknowledged for it?

It could be that by speaking softly you make it easy for people to ignore your comments. You are not being heard with what I call “substance” – so that what you say registers on others. One woman asked me for help because she had found out that she was speaking so softly her colleagues had started referring to her as Wendy Whispers. (Not a good nickname in the business world!)

Not speaking loudly enough can also invite errors. One soft-spoken supervisor was giving instructions involving numbers to two employees. One employee heard 3; the other heard 30. Big difference!

You can usually add power to your presence by adding volume. But you don’t want to shout, either. Follow these three suggestions so your professionalism is not hurt by your volume:

1. Monitor yourself. If you find yourself thinking, but I told him that the first time, it’s possible that you are not speaking with enough volume.

2. Learn your range. People who are soft-spoken usually believe that they only have their regular (soft) volume, and screaming. Not so. Everybody has a range of volume; you need to learn yours. Count slowly from one to five, and increase your volume with each number. One would be your softest volume and five would be screaming. Most people want to be between 2½ and 3½.  (Additional information on nonverbal communication can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.)

3. Gain an awareness of your volume. Listen to your voicemail messages before you send them. Then, assign a number to your volume, as described above. Many people find that they are barely reaching two. If that’s the case, redo the message and increase your volume. (If you don’t typically leave voicemail messages, record your voice during a phone call and listen to your volume that way.)


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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.

10.29.2017

Don’t Take Your Neighbor’s Bread…and Other Dining Suggestions


Is it okay to hit on the waitress during a business meal?

This week, I will be teaching a class on dining etiquette at the Rutgers Career Center in Camden, NJ.
 

As I prepared for this event, I thought about some of the questions I have been asked at other seminars on dining etiquette that I have taught to business professionals and university students around the country. 

The question above came from a young man at a fraternity dinner. It is one of many questions that my participants have asked about how to handle themselves at a business meal – though this one was a little more unusual than most.

The answer to the young man’s question was a pleasant, “No... The dinner is a business activity.” He smiled back and said, “I thought you would say that!”

Generally, the questions participants asked were more involved, with many requiring an understanding of the correct placement of dishes and utensils. They included:    


-Have I used the right water glass?

-What are those utensils at the top of my plate?

-Am I eating my neighbor’s bread?

-When is it okay to take my napkin off the table and place it on my lap?
 


Reading a place setting accurately during a business meal is important – you want to spend your time connecting with the other diners, not worrying whether you have used the correct bread plate.

Since place settings vary depending on which restaurant you visit, knowing some general guidelines can be helpful. Here are six suggestions, along with an illustration of a sample place setting:


1. Use the following memory tricks. They will help you remember the correct placement of plates, glasses and utensils.

-Think of the “BMW” (Bread, Meal, Water). It will remind you that your bread-and-butter plate is on the left, and your water glass is on the right.

-Remember your “Left” and “Right.” Food is placed to the left of the dinner plate. The words food and left both have four letters; if the table is set properly, your bread or salad or any other food dish will be placed to the left of your dinner plate. Similarly, drinks are placed to the right of the dinner plate, and the words glass (or drink) and right contain five letters. Any glass or drink will be placed to the right of the dinner plate.

Left and Right also work for your utensils. Your fork (four letters) goes to the left; your knife and spoon (five letters each) go to the right.

2. Learn the utensils. Don’t be like the great dramatist Oscar Wilde, who said: “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” The largest fork is generally the entrĂ©e fork. The salad fork is smaller, and, depending where in the world you are dining, the salad may be served before the main course or after. The largest spoon is usually the soup spoon. If you are having a fish course, you may see the fish knife and fork as part of the place setting. The utensils above the plate are the dessert fork and spoon, although these may sometimes be placed on either side of the plate, or brought in with the dessert.

3. Place your napkin on your lap when you sit down. The waiter sometimes does this for you. If there is an official host for the dinner, wait until she puts her napkin on her lap, and then do the same. 

4. As a general rule, navigate your place setting from the outside in. Each course should have its own utensils. Additional information on place settings and dining can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success. 


5. Don’t panic if you use the wrong utensil. When the course arrives for which you need that utensil, just ask the waiter for another. If a dinner companion uses your utensil, quietly ask the server for another.

6. Do what your host does. If you don’t know what to do, copy what your host is doing. You may not be right, but you are not wrong.


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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.







10.15.2017

60 Seconds to Better Emails

I don’t have time to write well.

Do you realize how many emails I get a day!

I often have to send a second email to clarify my first message. It’s aggravating.


The comments above, expressed by participants in my writing classes, are fairly common. Many people seem frustrated and complain that they don’t have time to write clearly and professionally. 

No one is perfect, and anyone can make a mistake occasionally, but if you make mistakes frequently, or have a number of them in any one email, your professional standing is likely to suffer, and the consequences could be serious. 

Following the three suggestions below will add only seconds to each email, but will help to ensure that you don’t make careless mistakes. This is not a lot of time to invest to enhance your writing – and your reputation.

• Read your documents out loud. And read slow-ly, otherwise you are reading what’s in your head, not what’s on the screen. You are now more likely to notice any missing words, wrong words, misspellings, and wrong tenses of verbs. You will also hear the tone of your message. If the wording sounds harsh to you, it will sound harsh to the reader. 
 
 • Remember my acronym AIL. AIL stands for Address In Last. This tip will ensure that you don’t accidentally email someone before you have finished writing and proofing the message. You can’t send an email without an address. Even when you are replying to a message, it’s a good precaution to delete the recipient’s address, and re-insert it only when you are sure the message is ready to be sent. 

 • Double-check the spelling of the person’s name. Many people are insulted if their name is misspelled. And if you offend someone in the first line, they may not read any further. Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block, if there is one. Copy and paste the name to make sure you are spelling it correctly. If you are initiating the email, the last thing to do before you hit the send button is to check the “To:” line. People’s first and/or last names are often in their addresses, which allows you to check the spelling of the person’s name against what you wrote in the salutation.  (Additional suggestions about salutations can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic.)

Of course, there is a lot more you can do to improve your writings. But these recommendations alone will catch many of your errors. Isn’t your reputation worth those few moments?


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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.

10.10.2017

Part 2: How You Speak – and Stand – Can Hurt You

As I discussed last week, I recently came across one of my old newsletter articles listing 25 behaviors women exhibit in the workplace that cause them to lose power and visibility. Unfortunately, many women today still practice those behavioral traits, and by doing so they handicap their own careers.

Part one of my blog about these behaviors, which was posted last week, talked about the first 11 items on that list, including how to present yourself in meetings and how to promote your achievements. The comments I received in response, from both men and women, were encouraging, and included such words as “interesting,” “fascinating,” and “good stuff.” The analytics from the posting showed that many people forwarded the blog to colleagues, and others posted it on their Facebook pages or tweeted it to their followers.

I believe that this week’s discussion will be equally helpful. Part two picks up mid-list, and offers suggestions (below) about several other areas in which you can increase your visibility and power, and help your own career.

SPEAK WITH POWER:

12. Don’t say, “I don’t know,” when you do know. These are the three little words that many women use towards the end of their comments that wipe out their credibility. A woman may outline her thoughts on a topic and then say, “Oh, I don’t know,” or “But I don’t know...what do you think?”

13. Watch out for “I think.”  If you say “I think,” you are indicating that you are unsure or don’t know. If that is true, then the use of “I think” is okay. But women have a tendency to use “I think” when they know. One vice president wanted to persuade a client that her company could meet the client’s deadline. During her presentation, she said, “I think we will meet your deadline.” The client went elsewhere.

14. Use direct statements instead of questions. When you use a question instead of a statement, you are giving the other person the opportunity to say “no.” Instead of giving away your power by asking, “Can I add something?” say, “I’d like to add to that.” Instead of asking, “Could you clarify that statement?” say, “I need additional information.” More information on assertiveness can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation. 

15. Speak loudly. If I could say just one thing to women, after 20 years of helping them to get and maintain the visibility they deserve, it would be: “Speak up!” Women often speak too softly, and make it easy for others to tune them out.

16. Eliminate the giggle. Many women giggle at the end of their sentences, and often don’t realize it. It makes them sound like little girls, and that’s a real power drain. Ask a trusted friend or colleague whether you have this tendency, or try to listen to yourself. One woman found out she had this habit when she heard her twin sister giggling at the end of her sentences.

ESTABLISH RAPPORT WITH OTHERS: 

17. Greet and acknowledge others. As you walk around, say hello to people – the ones you know and those you don’t know. Many employees judge the effectiveness of their managers on whether they greet and acknowledge others.

18. Enter a room confidently. Walk into a room as though you belong there. Keep your head up and your shoulders back. Have a deliberate stride. 

19. Make small talk. I hear lots of reasons from women why they don’t want to make small talk. Some women say it’s not their personality. Others say if they make small talk with men, the men will think they are flirting. Think again! Small talk is an important business tool. It breaks the ice with people, establishes common ground, and allows people to get to know one another better. And you can talk to men without your intentions being misunderstood. Just keep the talk professional and not too personal.

20. Be proactive. Go up to people at professional gatherings. Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Introduce yourself with a line like, “Hello, I’m Barbara Pachter. I’m one of the speakers for the meeting. And you are…?” Shake hands, also.

ESTABLISH YOUR PROFESSIONAL IMAGE: 

21. Pay attention to your body language. Don’t cross your ankles while standing. An amazing number of women still do this. It makes them look awkward and nervous. Stand assertively – no slouching, and feet shoulder-width apart. Don’t wring your hands or play with rubber bands, paperclips, or your hair. If you do, you are telling people you are nervous.

22. Shake hands correctly. Many women weren't taught to shake hands. Others are under the impression that women don’t have to shake hands. Wrong! And a limp handshake is almost worse than no handshake. To shake hands correctly, touch thumb joint to thumb joint. Your grip should be firm but not bone-breaking.

23. Stand up when shaking hands. Many women also were taught that they do not need to stand. I disagree. Women do need to stand, otherwise they are sending the message: “I’m not as important.” You are on more equal footing when you stand up. When I shake hands with the participants in my seminars, only 35% of the women stand; 75% percent of the men stand. 

24. Dress appropriately. A very bright and competent woman was told she wasn’t promoted because of her sexy dressing habits. In a professional situation, you don’t want to wear clothing that’s too low, too short, too sexy, or too anything. Think about the message you are sending when you wear short skirts. You’re not saying, “Look at me because I know what I’m doing.” You’re saying, “Look at me because I have great legs.” Additional information on business and business casual dress can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.

25. Don’t become the “mother.” Your role is not to “take care of” or “baby” others. After a coaching session with me, a woman cleared the table as we were leaving my office. When I asked her why she did this, she said, “I guess I feel like it’s my responsibility to clean up messes.”

Women who want successful careers can, and should, take a look at their own behavior in the workplace to make sure that they aren’t holding themselves back.


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. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.