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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Avoiding Conflict: 10 Suggestions for the Holidays

After hosting one family celebration too many, a woman threw a cookbook at her sister-in-law and screamed: “Maybe now you can cook a holiday dinner for us sometime.”

One young man drank too much at his company’s holiday party, cursed out his boss, and was fired on the spot.


A woman did not respond to an invitation to a neighbor’s holiday celebration. She showed up at the party, but there were no gifts for her children as the host did not know they were coming.

With the holiday season here again, there are lots of opportunities for gift-giving, party-going, and joyful celebrating. But, as the above stories illustrate, there are also lots of opportunities for conflict and difficulties.

In my assertiveness seminars, I ask people to discuss their conflicts. Many concern the holidays, and these conflicts drive people crazy. Review this list and make sure you are aware of these “polite and powerful” ways to reduce the likelihood of holiday conflict:

1. Do your fair share.  One of the biggest complaints involves family members who are Holiday Meal Moochers. They don’t offer to host a meal, they don’t offer to help clean up, and they don’t bring anything to the meal.  Offer to help. Even if your sister loves hosting the holiday meal every year, make sure you find out how you can contribute.

2. Stay sober. Generally, a lot of liquor is served at celebrations during the holidays, and sometimes people can drink too much. That’s when they are likely to say and do things that cause problems for themselves and others. Limit your alcohol intake, and your holiday celebrating is less likely to be a problem.

3. Share family time graciously.  With divorce, remarriage, and families scattered across the country, sharing the holidays with family members can be a difficult juggling act. Divorced parents often fight over who is going to spend time with the kids, and when. If possible, be inclusive of others. If that is not possible, devise a fair rotation and keep to it.  

4. Respond to RSVPs.  Failing to respond to an invitation that requests “RSVP” and then showing up at the event, or saying that you will attend and then not showing up, are both inconsiderate behaviors that cause problems for the host. Always reply to an invitation, whether it is to accept or to decline. If you accept but then cannot attend because an unavoidable conflict develops at the last minute, telephone (do not text) the host and explain.

5. Don’t post inappropriate photos on social media. When people are celebrating, some of them may get carried away and post photos from parties or other events that are not public. Often, the people being tagged in those photos would prefer that the images remain private. To avoid online conflict, err on the side of caution. Ask the people in your photos if it’s okay to post them. And when in doubt, don’t put the photo out there! 

6. Avoid gift-giving gaffes.  Gifts are supposed to make people feel good, but unfortunately gift-giving can cause a lot of problems.  People who give inappropriate gifts to others – such as items that are too personal for co-workers – may cause conflict at work. Know what is appropriate for your workplace. Plus, make sure you show appreciation for any gift you receive. Say thank you, and also write thank-you notes.  

7. Don’t become a holiday slacker. Co-workers who take three-hour lunches to finish holiday shopping, or who call in sick to avoid working the holiday, make the holidays more stressful for their colleagues.  The old “golden rule” still applies – treat others as you would want to be treated.  

8. Participate. Don’t be the person who refuses to celebrate or get into the holiday spirit.  People who constantly complain about the holidays cause stress for everyone around them.  You don’t want to be labeled “Scrooge.” Attend the party hosted by your department, or your neighbor.  Participate in group gifts. Wish people happy holidays.

9. Be a courteous shopper. Most people have a lot of shopping to do during the holidays. Often, they are rushed, stressed, and surrounded by crowds – which means tempers can flare.  Before you “lose it” at the perfume counter, take a deep breath.  Ask yourself, “Is this really worth getting upset about?” or “Does this person really mean to be a jerk or is he just really stressed out, too?” This will help you to stay calm, and may help the other shopper, too.

10. Remember the true meaning of the holidays. With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, it’s easy to think that the holidays are all about material things.  People who focus on giving to others, being with family, and doing nice things for other people are the people who enjoy the holidays with the least amount of conflict. 



Additional information on avoiding conflict can be found in my books, The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Essentials of Business Etiquette. 

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Speak Up: 10 Ways to Get Your Voice Heard

Have you ever left a meeting or conference thinking, “I wish I had said something?”

You are not alone. People often come up to me and confess that they are hesitant to speak up at meetings. Others mention that when they do say something, no one responds.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Sharon Napier, CEO of Partners + Napier, stressed the importance of voicing your opinion when she said: “Don’t sit quietly and think about things and maybe whisper to somebody or tell people afterward. Put yourself out there, and get involved in the conversation.” 

Check your behavior against this list of 10 key assertiveness points to make sure your voice is heard. Do you:

1. Prepare ahead of time? It is easier to say something when you have practiced. Think about the meeting and what may be discussed. Familiarize yourself with what you want to say so that you can say it with confidence when the topic comes up.

2. Establish your presence? Walk into the room as though you belong there. Greet people. If you feel comfortable being in the room, you will feel more confident about saying something at the meeting.

3. Understand the consequences of not speaking up? You want your bosses, colleagues, and customers to view you as competent and credible. If you don’t speak up, they don’t know what you know, and you can become overlooked and irrelevant. Jenny Ming, chief executive of the clothing chain Charlotte Russe, was also quoted in the New York Times article. She said: “What I learned is that you can’t assume that people know what you’re thinking or what you want in your career. You have to speak up.” 

4. Speak early? The longer you wait to give your opinion, the harder it will be to speak up. Make a comment or ask a question near the beginning of the meeting.

5. Make your point without asking permission? Do you say, “May I make a point?” When you do, it’s easy for others to think, “No.” Either say, “I have a point,” or simply speak out with your comments.

6. Speak loudly enough to be heard? If you speak softly, your comments may not register with others. Practice increasing your volume. Initially, you may feel that you are shouting, but the chances are that you are finally speaking loudly enough to be heard. Additional information on verbal and nonverbal communication can be found in my latest two books, The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

7. Know how to interrupt? Yes, I know, interrupting is generally frowned upon. Yet, in some situations, if you don’t interrupt you won’t get to speak. The easiest way to interrupt is when the other person takes a breath. You then speak up quickly, acknowledge what the person said, and add your thoughts.

8. Avoid giving too much detail? If you belabor your points, people will tune out. Say what you need to say in as few words as necessary.

9. Control your body language? Do not wring your hands or play with paper clips or rubber bands. They become distractions, and take away from what you are saying. Make sure you look people in the eye. You appear more confident when you make eye contact.

10. Eliminate self-discounting statements? Don’t start your comments with, “It’s only my opinion,” or similar statements. Don’t conclude with, “I don’t know. What do you think?” If you discount yourself, it’s easy for others to discount you as well.

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Avoiding Blunders: 5 Tips for Ordering Wine at a Business Meal

A colleague of mine just sent me a news story about a man who ordered what he thought was a $37.50 bottle of wine, but, unfortunately for him, the cost of the wine was $3,750.  Big difference!

A few days later, that story was included in an article on MarketWatch, a website for business and finance news, about five wine-related blunders that turned out to be very costly. Here are some guidelines for ordering wine so you don’t end up on that list: 

1. Learn about wine. You will make a better choice, whether as host or guest, if you know something about the product. There are many books and websites with lots of information about wine. You can take a class at an adult-education school or wine store.  Visits to wineries also can be helpful. The general guideline is that white wine is served with fish and poultry and red wine with meat, but there are numerous exceptions.

2. If you are the host, you are in charge of the wine selection. As mentioned above, knowing a little about wine will make your decision easier. You can ask the wine steward, or sommelier, to recommend some wines. Most of them are very knowledgeable and will be happy to pair your food choices with wine. Just make sure you are clear about the price!

Participating in the wine-tasting process is also part of the host’s responsibility. The wine steward will present the bottle’s label for your review and then pour a small amount of wine into your glass. You should taste the wine and (usually) nod approval. Send wine back only if it is spoiled. Do not send the wine back because you do not like the taste. (The five wine-tasting steps are explained through my acronym LaCEST™, and can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.)

3. Check the wine list ahead of time. Many restaurants post their wine lists on their websites. Pick a few bottles and research those. Though not all restaurants have prices on their website wine list, your research will give you a general idea of the price range for a wine. Keep in mind, however, that restaurants mark up the price.

4. Know your budget. Have a general idea about what you want to spend before you go to the restaurant. There are many good, reasonably priced wines to be found. Look for wine that you have enjoyed before.  And remember that the most expensive bottle on the list is not always the best.  If you are celebrating a big occasion, or your guest loves a certain wine, you may choose to increase your budget.  You can give the sommelier your price range by pointing at a price – not a wine – and saying something like, “I was looking for something like this.”

5. Be cautious if you defer to your guest. He or she may order a bottle outside of your budget. Some salespeople have reported that when they have deferred to their guests, those guests sometimes ordered very expensive bottles of wine. But that’s not always a bad thing. One director told me, “My client just gave me two million dollars’ worth of business, so he can order whatever he likes!”

Regardless of the wine chosen, or whether you are the host or the guest, do not drink too much. You need to stay sober. It is easy to blunder when your faculties are impaired by alcohol. 

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







Tuesday, November 4, 2014

7 Steps to Eliminate a Harsh Tone in Your Emails

-- But, I didn't mean it that way.
--I don't understand why he responded so negatively.
--People always tell me I have a tone. I don't get it!


A common concern people have expressed in my writing classes is that they appear (inadvertently) harsh in their emails. As the above quotes indicate, they don't realize that their word choice and what they include in their emails affect how people interpret their comments.

In an email, you can't rely on nonverbal communication to soften harsh wording, since recipients don't see your face or hear your voice.  Following these seven suggestions will help you to eliminate any unpleasant tone in your writing.

1. Include a salutation. Though not technically required in an email, a salutation is a positive way to begin. It makes you sound friendlier.  A simple "Hi Sally” or Dear Sally" will start your message on a more pleasant note.  Also use a closing comment, such as “Best regards” or “Thanks.”

2. Use positive, not negative, wording. Many emails acquire a harsh tone simply based on the writer's choice of words. Avoid negative words such as failure, wrong, blame, or neglected. Use please and thank you. Emphasize the positive. Listen to the difference in these two statements: “We will be able to finish the work by December 1” versus “We won’t be able to finish the work until December 1.” The meaning is the same, but the second statement makes the information sound negative.

3. Don’t use all caps. Occasionally, I will have someone in my class who doesn't know that writing emails in all capital letters is the equivalent of shouting. People don't like to be yelled out. STOP DOING IT.

4. Go easy on emphasis techniques. Using bold or bright-colored fonts (red, purple, etc.), large fonts, or too many exclamation marks can make you appear aggressive.

5. Make your document easy to read. Do not include too much detail. Don’t keep repeating the same information – you may insult your reader. Use only as many words as necessary to convey your meaning. You want to maintain your reader’s interest so that he or she reads the whole document. Have margins. Use short paragraphs, and vary the length of your sentences. 

6. Eliminate any curse words. This is so obvious a point that I shouldn't have to mention it. Unfortunately, my experience has taught me otherwise.

7. Read the email out loud before you hit send. If what you have written sounds harsh to you, it will sound harsh to your reader. Review the above six items, and change whatever is necessary in your email to make it sound less severe. Make sure you do this step – it is important.

Numbers 2 and 6 also apply to eliminating a harsh tone when you speak. Additional information on “polite and powerful” wording can be found in my latest books, The Power of Positive Confrontation (Da Capo, 2014) and The Essentials of Business Etiquette (McGraw Hill, 2013).

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

 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Do You Talk Too Much? Let Me Count the Ways!

You talk too much, You worry me to death, You talk too much, You even worry my pet…

The above lyrics, from the song You Talk Too Much by Joe Jones, sum up a communication distraction that many people have in the workplace – not expressing themselves succinctly.

If you over-talk, you may limit your opportunities for advancement. Other consequences are that people may not want to work for you, or do business with you. 

Talking too much is not limited to individuals in any one profession. I have coached IT directors, chief financial officers, sales directors, and marketing managers who needed to learn how to express themselves in fewer words.

But you can’t eliminate what you don’t know you are doing. Pay attention to how you communicate. Do any of the following examples of over-talking apply to you?

1. Giving too much information. During a meeting, a supervisor was asked where he had bought his watch. Instead of saying something like, “At a great local store when I was on vacation in San Francisco,” he went into a five-minute monologue about searching six different stores to find the perfect watch. If people need more detail, they will ask you. One IT director eliminated a lot of the detail in his emails, but added a closing sentence: “If you need additional information, just let me know.” So far, no one has asked!

2. Using too many words. Instead of “Let’s get together next week,” the person might say, “I was just thinking that, you know, if you have some time and are not busy, we ought to get together next week.” Say what you need to say in as few words as necessary.

3. Repeating the same thing over and over. Make your comments, and then shut your mouth! Repeating your points can annoy others.

4. Repeating what someone said in different words. Some repetition can confirm to the other person that you have heard what he or she has said. But in a group meeting, too much repetition can be viewed as one-upmanship – the need to let everyone know that you also knew that information.

5. Offering your opinion when it’s not necessary. This can happen if you don’t read the cues from other meeting participants that no more discussion is needed; or if you insist on offering additional points at the end of a meeting when everyone else is ready to leave. 

 6. Correcting when it’s not necessary. Do you feel compelled to point out small mistakes in other people’s information? You can come off as a nit-picker when you correct things of little consequence.

Once you realize that you’re an over-talker, you can work to eliminate this habit. Ask a trusted colleague or coach to help. This person can point out when you are talking too much. You can also use your voicemail system. Listen to how you describe something on the messages you leave for others. If you are too wordy, redo the message. Or, come up with a unique solution that works for you. One manager puts the initials KIS at the top of his papers to remind himself to Keep It Short when he speaks at meetings.

Additional information on annoying communication habits 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 skills. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or joyce@pachter.com

Friday, September 26, 2014

Be Smart: Six Suggestions for Using Smartphones in Business

In a recent New York Times article, “Pass the Word: The Phone Call Is Back,” reporter Jenna Wortham wrote that her friends had started “…picking up their cellphones for an unusual purpose: They wanted to talk. And I started answering when they called.”

Her article highlights that the need for vocal contact is still alive and well. And for some of us, of course, the phone call never went away.

My favorite illustration of the importance of phone calls comes from the television show The Big Bang Theory. In one episode, the star character, Sheldon, is having trouble getting in contact with his girlfriend, and says to his roommate, “I’ve tried email, video chat, tweeting her, posting on her Facebook wall, texting her…nothing.”

 His roommate asks, “Did you try calling her on the telephone?

 Sheldon replies, “Ah, the telephone.”

 As he starts to dial her number, he says to his roommate, “In your own simple way, you may be the wisest of us all.”

Talking to someone on the phone is still an important way to communicate in business – you can get immediate feedback/acknowledgement, you can eliminate the back-and-forth aspects of texts or emails, and you can have the sound of your voice enhance your message.

You can also have more in-depth discussions. My former social media intern always calls me when she needs to discuss her next career move, although she usually emails or texts me with her regular communication updates.

 Here are six suggestions for using smartphones smartly in business:  

 1. Use a greeting, and give your name when answering the phone. Remember, it is a business call – you want to sound professional. Say “Hello” or “Good morning,” and then your full name, rather than just your first name.  You also need to include a verb – as in “Brittany Jones speaking,” or “This is Jake Jones.”  (Of course, if you know it is your colleague, you can simply say “Hi.”)


 2. Don’t place your phone on the table when meeting with someone. Since the smartphone has become so much a part of people’s lives, the phone is always “at the ready.” People put it on the table and don’t even think about it. This is rude. How does it look to the other person? It tells the person with whom you are meeting that you are so ready to drop him or her to talk with someone else, or to respond to an email or text! Research has shown that the presence of the phone inhibits conversation. (Additional guidelines for smartphones can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)

3. Do not use a Bluetooth headset in the office. It looks like a cockroach in your ear. (Yes, I do have strong opinions about this.) I am not talking about the hands-free headset that receptionists use. I am talking about headsets often used when people are walking and talking, making you think they are talking to themselves. Or even worse, you think they are talking to you, and may start to respond.  This thoughtless behavior by the headset-wearer is just rude. 

4. Use voicemail professionally. Many people don’t leave messages when making personal calls. They know that people will see that they called, and call them back. In business, people do leave messages. If you are the one leaving the message, make your points in as few words as necessary. If you ramble, people are likely to stop listening. Also, the outgoing message on your system – the one asking people to leave a message – needs to be appropriate. Saying, “Hey, you’ve reached me. You know the drill,” is not okay. Let people know the name of the person they have reached, and that you will call them back. 

5. Don’t speak too loudly. People still need to be reminded to speak in a quiet, conversational voice when they are on the phone.  If the people around you are giving you evil stares, chances are you need to lower your volume.

6. Do not make blanket excuses.  When sending emails from their smartphones, some people add a generic message at the end, such as: Please excuse typos and the brevity of this message. Sent from my mobile device. Mentioning possible mistakes only seems to highlight any that you have made. Take the time to proof and correct your messages before you send them.


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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Giving a Presentation? The 10 Things You Must Do!

The ability to make an effective presentation is an important business skill. As a presenter, you need to get your point across. And if you do so effectively, not only does your audience gain information, but you look good.

Yet many people, at all levels, are unsure how to appear confident and credible when speaking in front of others. Over the past few months, even seasoned professionals have been among those I have coached on presentation skills.

Whether you are a manager explaining new programs to your employees, a chief financial officer giving a financial update to the media, or a vice president speaking in front of your board of directors, following these 10 suggestions will help you achieve presentation success:

1. Know your audience. Learn as much as you can about your audience before the presentation. How much do they already know about your topic? What more do they want to know? If you address the needs and concerns of the people in your audience, they are more likely to listen to you.  

2. Practice out loud. You want to hear how the presentation sounds. Saying it in your head isn’t good enough. Is it structured logically? Are you using transitions between points? Does the presentation make sense? Hearing the speech as your audience will hear it helps you to clarify the areas you need to work on.

3. Dress for the presentation. Your attire can help you appear as a self-assured person. Think about your audience members and what they will be wearing. Dressing slightly better than your audience adds to your credibility.

4. Mingle before the presentation. When you can, meet the participants. Go up to people, shake hands, introduce yourself, and welcome these individuals to the presentation. This rapport-building helps people connect with you, and allows you to feel more comfortable with them.

5. Establish your credibility. Make sure the audience knows why you are qualified to talk about the subject. If you are not already known to the audience, or if nobody introduces you, give a self-introduction at the beginning of your presentation.

6. Pay attention to your nonverbal communication. Use good posture, and look at people in the audience. Remember that gestures bring your words to life, but avoid nervous fiddling, such as playing with a pen or rubber band. Speak loudly enough to be heard. (Additional information on communication can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)

7. Don’t discount yourself. Avoid comments that belittle you or your talk. These include such statements as, “I hope I don’t bore you, but I am going to talk about…” or “I know you didn’t come here to hear me.” Be careful with filler words. If the audience is counting the number of times you say um, they are not listening to what you have to say – and too many filler words make you appear unprepared and nervous, too.

8. Tell stories. Stories bring your presentation to life. When discussing a specific point, concept, product or service, tell a story about someone who proves your point or benefits from your service. Your audience will remember the story, and as a result your presentation. (See my previous blog, Tell Tale: Bring Your Presentation to Life, for additional information on using stories.)  

9. Use slides to enhance your presentation. Slides should supplement and support your talk, not supplant it. They are not your presentation! Limit the information on each slide. 

10. Anticipate the questions. Think about the questions that you may be asked, and know how you will respond. If you prepare ahead of time for every negative or harsh comment you can imagine, you are less likely to be caught off guard.

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