Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


'Bossy' or Not…Part 2: How You Speak – and Stand – Can Hurt You

Last week, I talked about “Ban Bossy,” a campaign launched by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to persuade society to stop calling assertive young girls bossy, as it discourages them from becoming leaders. Similar behavior in boys, she points out, is applauded as leadership material.

But it’s not always outside influences that can handicap women’s careers. As I discussed last week, I came across one of my old newsletter articles that listed 25 behaviors women exhibit in the workplace that cause them to lose power and visibility. Unfortunately, many women still practice those behavioral traits today, and by doing so they handicap their own careers.

Part one of my blog about these behaviors 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 terrific, including “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 offers suggestions (below) about several other areas in which you can increase your visibility and power, and help your own career.

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 if 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.

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.

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 new 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.”  

Regardless of whether young girls hear the word “bossy” applied to them, 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.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on communication, business etiquette and professional image.  For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or


  1. Anonymous3/28/2014

    From a reader:
    Hello Barbara:

    I just finished reading Part 2 of your “Bossy or Not” post, and had to let you know that just yesterday, as my husband and I watched this week’s NCIS episode, I saw an illustration of #23 – “Stand up when shaking hands,” in the show! I don’t know if you are familiar with the show or its characters, but a new agent from New Orleans (a man in a position of authority) was being introduced to the members of the DC team, which consisted of two men and a woman. He was introduced first to the woman, who was seated at her desk and DID NOT STAND when shaking his hand! Both of the male agents – also seated at their desks – stood and shook hands with him. So there you are – the 35/75 rule played out on broadcast television. I immediately commented to my husband – “She just made a big mistake,” and explained what she did wrong and why. How funny!

  2. Anonymous4/01/2014

    From a reader:
    Excellent advice, Barbara, for women of all ages and all professional backgrounds. This also applies to women in their personal lives, who wait on their families and tend to put themselves last.

  3. Anonymous4/01/2014

    From a reader:
    Great points. The "I think..." suggestion is I hear from folks at all levels and frequently used by politicians.

  4. Anonymous4/01/2014

    From a reader:
    This is a great article. Thank you for posting this. I really believe quite a bit of this problem is the pervading sexism in our society. Subconsciously we still have these awkward tendencies that do nothing to help our position in any type of leadership role. Putting this information out there will help women take more notice of their actions, and improve on those key areas.

  5. Anonymous4/01/2014

    From a reader:
    This article has some excellent tips. As the old adage says 'Your attitude speaks so loud I cannot hear what you are saying''. Let our correct form and etiquette as discussed in this article speak for us in presenting a positive image on the job and in public.

  6. Anonymous4/15/2014

    From a reader:
    The whole issue about being bossy comes about due to semantics. If a man is assertive, it is viewed as strength. If a woman is assertive, it is called bossy. I agree, drop the 'bossy' word (it is such a juvenile judgement) and use the correct verbs. The fact is, no one needs to be aggressive or over bearing in business, regardless of gender. Bossy is nothing more than a label used by people who lack a good vocab.


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