4 Components to Ensure Leaders Communicate, and Do It Well

A senior executive once commented to me about the repetition of her messages. “I’m tired of sharing these same messages and stories,” she lamented after the umpteenth communication on a crucial topic.

My response – “I hear you. That’s progress. Since it means you’re being consistent across a myriad of audiences.”

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Excuses and Explanations – What’s the Difference?

For this week’s blog post, I thought I’d share a chapter, Chapter 15 to be exact, from my book “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.” EXPLANATIONS, NOT EXCUSES There are times when things go wrong, or when we know we can’t undo what’s been done, but we […]

7 Ways to Avoid Arguments During the Holiday Season

A woman threw a cookbook at her sister-in-law and screamed: “Maybe now you can cook a holiday dinner for us sometime.”

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

It’s easy for people to become stressed during the holidays, and as a result to become bothered by or blow up at another person’s behavior. Plus, we tend to have the same conflicts year after year with the same people – conflicts that are never resolved but simply pushed aside until they flare up again.

Here are 7 “polite and powerful” suggestions for handling holiday conflict:

1. Accept what you can influence and what you can’t. When you realize that you don’t have control over everything, it is much easier to accept things that are not within your power to manage. If your father has remarried, he will bring his wife to the New Year’s brunch.

2. Ask yourself: does it really matter? Can you let it go? If you see your great aunt only once a year, can you tolerate her behavior? Yes, I know you are hearing her stories for the tenth time, but listening to her recall a happier time in her life is a kindness to her.

3. Identify the real issue. When you get upset, it can be difficult to zero in on what truly is bothering you. Take time and think about the situation. It is easy to get upset about a current situation that masks a deeper concern. Is the issue that your brother arrives late to the holiday dinner, or that he doesn’t visit your mother in her retirement home?

4. Be clear about what you want from the person. We often get upset with someone, but we don’t always know what we want from the other person. Be specific. If you would like your sister-in-law to contribute to the holiday dinner, you can ask: “Janet, will you please bring a vegetable dish on Sunday?” Additional information on putting your words together for a positive confrontation can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation.

5. Use polite language. Practice saying the words out loud. Listen to how they sound.  Are they harsh or attacking? Don’t pounce on the other person with statements such as “You’re selfish…” or “You’re such a cheap-skate….” These types of accusations are counterproductive to resolving conflict, and can lead to more conflict.

6. Confront in private. If you do decide to say something, you don’t want others to hear the conversation. It can be embarrassing to the other person and to the people who hear the discussion. By extension, this means no posting any comments about the conversation on any social media sites. Also, make sure you are calm when you initiate this talk. If you are agitated, it is easy to blow up.

7. Listen to the other person’s response. He or she may offer a reasonable alternative point of view, or provide an explanation for the behavior. Perhaps your sister isn’t flying home for the holidays because of financial difficulties she is too embarrassed to discuss.

When you know how to confront politely on the major issues, it is easier to let the little ones go. Enjoy your time with family and friends. Happy holidays! 

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

What’s in a title? A lot! Six tips to avoid undermining women

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

This provocative headline was on a Washington Post article over a year 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. And it is still happening.   

On a recent weekend I was on a plane where the captain introduced himself to the passengers this way: “This is Captain Jones. And I’m assisted today by Erica.” It seemed clear from his introduction that “Erica” was the first officer on the flight, or the co-pilot. 

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

Which of these people 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’ perceptions 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 and 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 some 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 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. (bpachter@pachter.com

What’s in a title? A lot — especially for 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 years 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.

Last year, I heard the pilot of my flight introduce himself using his title of captain, but then introduce his co-pilot by her first name only.

And most recently a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Joseph Epstein made minimizing remarks about Jill Biden’s use of her title “Dr.”, including the comment: Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.

Is the use of titles 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 the problem of 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.

The following six suggestions on use of titles and names will help you stop negatively influencing others’ perception of women, even inadvertently. These tips apply for both men and women, and to writing emails.  

1. 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.

2. 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.

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 first 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. Don’t use a woman’s nickname or shorter form of her first name —unless you know it is okay to do so or 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.

(Note: At the beginning of my blog I didn’t refer to the author of the WSJ article as Joe or Joey Epstein. I used Joseph Epstein–giving him some measure of respect, which he seemingly didn’t want to give the First Lady-elect.)

Start paying attention to your word choices. You may be surprised at how you have been referring to women. Additional information on communication can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.

 

*This is a repost of a previous blog. It has been updated.

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, professional presence, and presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at joyce@pachter.com for more information (www.pachter.com)  

 

 

 

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

During a conversation with a colleague, I mentioned that my next blog was going to be on contractions. Most of her response I can’t repeat, but basically she said that when she was growing up, her teachers drilled into her brain that she should never use contractions in her writings. They were too informal and sloppy, her teachers maintained.

Many people in my writing seminars tell me similar stories.

A contraction, according to the Gregg Reference Manual, a respected writing resource, is “a shortened form of a word or phrase in which an apostrophe indicates the omitted letters or words: for example, don’t for do not.”

My response to my colleague and to the participants in my seminars is always the same: “Why can’t we use contractions? We use them when we speak, so why isn’t it okay to write with them?”

A primary goal of writing is to connect with your reader, and your choice of words helps to make that connection. There aren’t any non-verbal clues to help make your point when you email someone – the reader doesn’t see the smile on your face or hear the friendly tone of your voice. (Yes, I know there are emoticons, but I do not encourage their use in business writing.)

Using contractions helps you to convey a conversational tone. It makes the communication sound more personal and friendly, and less like a directive. Listen to the difference: “Let’s go to the conference on Monday,” or, “Let us go to the conference on Monday.” Don’t you think the second version sounds rather stilted?

Here are my suggestions for using contractions successfully in business writing:

1. Think about your use of contractions. It may not be first on your list of business concerns, but the quality of your writing is important. Do you use contractions? One of my interns had the courage to point out to me that I used contractions a lot. I hadn’t realized just how much until she said something. I really valued that feedback.

2. Do not overuse them.  Just because you can use contractions in your writing in today’s business world, doesn’t mean you should always use them. Read your documents out loud to hear how your use of contractions sounds. If your writings sound choppy, chances are you are using too many contractions.

3. Avoid excessively casual contractions. Some contractions sound sloppy. For example: “You’d” for “you would,” or “she’s” for “she has.” I recommend not using them in business writing. And please, don’t ever be tempted by double contractions, such as “shouldn’t’ve” for “should not have.”

4. Know what your boss prefers. If your boss does not want you to use contractions, don’t! This is not (isn’t) rocket science, and is not worth fighting over.

5. Understand the difference between it’s and its. A common mistake involves the difference between “it’s” – which is the contraction for “it is” – and the possessive “its.” The way to remember the difference between them is that the apostrophe in “it’s” means something is missing. If you aren’t sure, read your sentence aloud and then substitute the non-contraction form (in this case, “it is”) to see whether it still makes sense. (It’s time to put the pencil in its case, for example. If you had an erroneous apostrophe in the second its, the sentence wouldn’t make sense.) People often use the wrong form in their writings, and others love to point out their mistakes. Don’t give them the opportunity!

Your use of contractions may not seem like a big deal, but it is one of the many little things that can impact your writings, and therefore worthy of your attention. Additional information on business writing can be found in my  book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes (McGraw Hill).

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