Business Communication (2019)
Communication can make or break business relationships, careers, and even companies. Effective communication provides you with opportunities to expand networks, raise profiles, showcase skills, and engender confidence. Despite all these benefits, developing good communication skills is still an intimidating prospect for many.
Conversation, especially spontaneous, unscripted small talk, is particularly problematic. Millennials would rather do anything than engage in simple conversation, finding it superficial, boring, pointless, and altogether too much work. Chatting, unless it’s via electronic devices, is just not their thing.
Truth be told, older generations are not too crazy about small talk either. But it’s very important, because substantive conversations, crucial to professional success, emerge from small talk.
Communicate everything you can to your partners. The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there is no stopping them. Listen to everyone in your company.
And figure out ways to get them talking. To push responsibility down within your organization, and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.
Opportunities for conversation are everywhere, and the professionally savvy take advantage of as many as possible as often as possible. The chances to promote one’s personal brand through conversation are endless: on public transportation, while waiting in line for coffee, walking down a hallway, or riding an elevator, and at business meetings, lunches, dinners, events, parties, or conferences.
Liam needs advice from his boss. The 33-year-old biotech engineer is not sure how to proceed with the new project he’s been assigned. He approaches his boss’s office and peering through the window, sees him hunched over his computer screen in deep concentration, frowning intently.
The thought quickly flits through Liam’s mind that his boss is probably working on the quarterly reports due later today. He quickly brushes that thought aside and says to himself, “This will just take a second.”
When Liam tentatively knocks, his boss looks up with an impatient “this had better be important” expression on his face—an expression lost on Liam. He clears his throat and asks his question. His boss, incredulous as well as annoyed, shakes his head and says, “You interrupted me for that?”
The ability to read and send nonverbal cues is critical in the professional arena. In face-to-face interactions, studies tell us that approximately 60 percent of communication is nonverbal, 30 percent is the tone of voice, and only 10 percent is the words we say.
Nonverbal communication governs how we think about ourselves, according to Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School.
In her TED talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” she says, “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviors, our behaviors change our outcomes.”
Ms. Cuddy says to convey high power—and conceivably change our minds in the process—we should lean in, stand with our heads high, our arms open, our legs uncrossed, and our hands on our hips or clasped behind our necks.
Conversely, we would avoid the appearance of low power by refraining from looking down, having our hands in our pockets, crossing our arms and legs, or slouching.
Ms. Cuddy recommends that we not only “fake it ’til we make it” with our nonverbal communication, but fake it until we actually become as strong and confident as our body language conveys.
There is not complete agreement that nonverbal communication changes minds, but there is virtually universal agreement that nonverbal communication affects the perceptions others have of us.
Nonverbal communication can be obvious or subtle. Body language experts Patryk and Kasia Wesolowski say people convey unconscious emotions through “micro-expressions” and that true feeling can be transmitted in as little as half a second.
Through nonverbal cues, we express feelings, disseminate information, reinforce messages, provide feedback, and exert control. We encode the information we send and decode the information sent back to us through body language.
In the U.S., it is generally agreed that hands clasped behind the back show confidence, clenched fists show the firmness of resolve, a hand on the heart indicates a desire to be believed, and finger-pointing conveys aggressiveness or arrogance. Rubbing one's hands together equal anticipation, steepling fingers shows confidence, and hands in pockets indicate mistrust or reluctance.
Hands folded in front indicate vulnerability, arms across the chest show the person feels threatened and talking with palms open suggests honesty. Smiles, laughter, and frequent eye contact signal friendliness and courteousness, head nodding shows empathy, and eye contact transmits credibility.
Note that nonverbal communication has different meanings around the world. Among the Japanese, smiles may indicate embarrassment, confusion, or discomfort.
The A-okay sign means a variety of things in different countries—virtually none of them good. Unless we make a point to understand the meanings of nonverbal communication in other cultures, it is better to refrain from gesturing among international colleagues and clients.
Striking up a pleasant conversation is easier and less threatening if we first learn how to read others’ nonverbal cues. It enables us to know when to approach others, when to keep talking and when to let others talk, how others are responding emotionally to what we’re saying, and when to end conversations.
If we see that someone is otherwise engaged in conversation, concentrating on a task, reading, eating, or praying, it’s clearly not a good time to begin a conversation. However, if they smile, make eye contact, stand, nod their heads, look interested, or speak, they are conveying that they are open to exchange.
READ THE CUES
An If someone doesn’t want to talk, she will look away, frown, sigh, crossing her arms, offer a quick furtive smile, keep her eyes on her device, or put up a physical barrier.
An If someone is bored, he will look around the room, check his phone, fidget, slouch, stand at an angle, avoid eye contact, sigh, roll his eyes, or have a vacant look.
An If someone is angry, she will narrow her eyes, lower her chin, purse her lips, raise a corner of her mouth, place her hands on her hips, glare, or point or wag a finger.
How close we stand to others is another means of nonverbal communication that is culture-specific. Americans feel most comfortable sitting or standing at an arm’s length, but this distance would be considered too far apart among Middle Easterners and South Americans and too close among the Japanese.
According to the life skills website, the skills you need. com, Westerners recognize four categories of distance: intimate, personal, social, and public. When you violate those norms, knowingly or not, you make others feel uncomfortable.
KNOW THE DISTANCES
An Intimate distance ranges from touching to about 1.5 feet. This distance is reserved for close personal relationships, where eye contact and other nonverbal cues are not necessarily critical. This distance is too close for professional interactions as most will feel their space is being violated.
A Personal distance is somewhere between 1.5 feet and 3.8 feet. This distance is good for shaking hands or conversing with a friend or colleague. Depending upon the relationship, people may start at a lesser distance and move farther apart after introductions have been made. They may also move closer as the conversation progresses. This distance allows for observation of important nonverbal cues.
A Social or professional distance is anywhere from 3.8 to 11 feet. In this setting, the situation determines the distance at which to position yourself. If working on a project, you would be at the closer end of the range. If presenting at a meeting, the farther end is more appropriate.
A Public distance of 11 to 14 feet is used mainly by public speakers. At this distance, the subtlety of facial expressions is lost, which is why many public speakers rely on expansive gestures to underscore their messages. In conversation, note how far others stand from you.
If you lessen or increase the space they will unconsciously move until their comfort level is restored. If you aren’t sure how close to stand to someone, keep to the closer end of the social/professional distance range.
The Eyes Have It
Margot, new to the IT team, has outstanding credentials but her six-month performance review was mixed. There were no complaints about her work, but there were many about how she interacts with her team members. Margot, her team claims, is unapproachable, prickly, and dismissive.
Teammates are afraid to interrupt her when she is on the phone or computer, and she is always on one or the other. This is a problem because they need to work together as a team.
So Margot is called into a meeting with Josephine, the HR manager, to discuss the matter. Josephine plans to ask Margot to assess her relationship with the team, thinking that if she recognizes her disconnect with her colleagues, the issue could be more easily rectified. Margot arrives, plops down in a chair, keeps her eyes glued to her phone, and says, “Okay, what’s this all about?”
Josephine tells her about the concerns voiced by her colleagues. She asks Margot if she can think of any areas in which she could improve her communication. Without taking her eyes off of her phone, Margot says, “That’s ridiculous. I treat everyone respectfully. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Josephine realizes this is going to be a much harder problem to solve than she had hoped.
When it looks like we are not listening, relationships may be at risk. We always need to decide what is more important at a given moment: connecting with the person in front of us or connecting with others virtually.
When we make eye contact with others, we not only show respect and attention, we connect, build trust, and bond. Doctors, attorneys, and coaches use it to comfort, persuade, influence, encourage, and control. Without eye contact, they could not effectively do their jobs.
The extent and implications of eye contact vary from culture to culture. Among Asians, subordinates do not initiate direct eye contact with superiors, as it could be construed as disrespectful. In African and Latin American cultures, looking someone in the eye may be interpreted as aggressive or confrontational.
In the Arab world, men engage in a high degree of eye contact but consider it inappropriate between men and women. Britons engage in less eye contact than Americans, and Southern Europeans, more. When interacting with international business partners, it is important to remember these differences to avoid giving or taking unintended offense.
Eye contact does not come easily for everyone. Some find it threatening and others just find it uncomfortable. But in the U.S. and many other cultures, making eye contact is critical.
Keep eyes up. Do not look at other parts of the body. Gazes should be reflective of professional, not personal or intimate, relationships.
A Make direct eye contact. Hold someone’s eyes for about five to seven seconds in conversation, look away for a few seconds, and then look back. He will know you are engaged without feeling under a microscope. If direct eye contact feels intimidating, look at the bridge of someone’s nose or lower forehead.
An Aim for eye contact 50 percent of the time. It can be more when listening and less when speaking. Too much eye contact comes across as aggressive and too little, timid.
A Practice, practice, practice! Start with comfortable relationships, gradually moving on to acquaintances, passersby, cashiers, and wait staff. TV newscasters and even pets provide great opportunities to become more comfortable in making eye contact.
The Good Conversationalist
Good conversationalists are polite. They know how to approach and join existing conversation groups. They know how to make smooth introductions and include everyone in conversations. They arm themselves with appropriate topics and steer clear of any that might be divisive or offensive.
Good conversationalists know how to make seamless transitions from one topic to another, when to interject humor, and how to handle tricky situations such as conversational lulls or mistakes.
They are good listeners and show interest in others. They do not argue, interrupt, or correct. Finally, good conversationalists know when it’s time to leave a conversation group and gracefully move on.
THE COMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONALIST
A Be polite! Focus on others, not on your electronic device. Be present at the moment; don’t look around to see who might be more important or interesting to talk to.
A Join the group. It’s always easier when someone invites you into a conversation group, but feel comfortable joining one on your own. Never stand by yourself looking bored or texting.
Catch someone’s eye, smile, extend your hand, and say, “Hello, I’m Joan Smith.” Do not apologize for approaching a person or group at an event to which you were invited. It’s your job!
A Make introductions. A good conversationalist is not shy about introducing herself. When making your introduction, offer a genuine smile, a warm, dry hand, full eye contact, and say your first and last name.
In the social arena, age and gender determine the order of the introduction. Men are traditionally introduced to women and younger persons to older persons.
In a social setting, you would say, “Mrs. Adams, may I introduce Mr. Phillips?” In a professional setting, rank is the determining factor, not gender or age.
Persons of lower rank or power are introduced to persons of higher rank or power. You would say, using their real names, “John Client, I would like to introduce Ann Boss. Ann Boss, this is John Client.”
This order is followed because a client of any level outranks fellow employees of any level, even bosses and company presidents. After all, without clients, there are no companies!
A Include everyone. Make eye contact with everyone, even those who are not talking. They will feel part of the group and may be encouraged to join in. Ask for their opinions about the topic at hand or what brought them to this event.
A Be prepared. An experienced conversationalist knows the few seconds after an introduction can be awkward. Be ready with conversation topics to smooth the transition.
When one-on-one, always be prepared to hold up at least 50 percent of a conversation. Tried and true topics like the weather, sports, or observations about the venue are always good icebreakers.
Steer clear of risky topics such as religion or politics, or anything of a personal nature. Be creative! Eleanor Roosevelt would use the alphabet to get a conversation started. “Are you an art enthusiast?” or “Do you like baseball?” (Or cars, dogs, etc.) These will allow you, if need be, to break an awkward pause.
A Cover up mistakes. Ignore the mistake if you can: if you can’t, downplay it. Say, “I do that all the time!” The person who made the mistake will be grateful, and you can immediately move on.
If you made the mistake and it goes unnoticed, keep it that way. Otherwise, apologize or laugh it off and let it go.
A Squelch inappropriate remarks or topics. Tricky situations need someone to take control and smooth things over without causing embarrassment for the person who introduced the topic or for others in the group. If possible, pretend you didn’t hear the comment, and change the subject.
If necessary, be more direct, and say, “Can we talk about something else?” or “I’m sorry, I don’t agree,” or “I don’t think that’s appropriate.” Then move on to a new subject—or a new conversation group.
A Know how to move on. Never monopolize others. The actual length of time you are in a conversation depends upon what you are talking about and with whom, but generally, be prepared to move on after about five to seven minutes.
Say, “It was lovely speaking with you,” or “Enjoy the evening,” or “I hope we meet again!” Better to have ended a conversation with someone wishing it had lasted longer than having him regret he had to talk to you for so long!
The road to becoming a good conversationalist is bound to include some speed bumps. Keep trying. Most people won’t even notice if you get a name wrong or mispronounce words. They’ll be too concerned with the impressions they are making upon you!
The Power of Speech
Charlotte’s organizational skills were unmatched. As executive assistant to the managing partner at an international law firm, she meticulously kept her boss’s calendar, prioritized matters that needed his attention, scheduled his meetings, arranged his travel, maintained his correspondence, and screened his visitors.
Charlotte researched information for her boss, as well as prepared spreadsheets, took meeting minutes, organized expense reports, reconciled charge card statements, made reservations, and bought and sent business gifts.
When asked, she offered her perspective and gave advice. And on top of all of these responsibilities, she supervised the entire administrative staff.
Charlotte was perfect except for one thing. She had a dreadful telephone manner. She was abrupt with callers, including clients and board members, dismissive of staff, argumentative with vendors and service providers, and rude to solicitors.
At best she had an imperious tone, at worst she raised her voice in anger to callers she thought had wasted her valuable time. But she never did any of these things within her boss’s earshot.
And then one day, he unexpectedly walked into the office and heard her on the telephone. That was Charlotte’s last day as executive assistant to the managing partner. She wasn’t fired, but was immediately relieved of her responsibilities and demoted.
In front of the whole staff, she had treated so disrespectfully, she emptied her desk of her personal belongings into a box and carried that box out of the executive suite to a cubicle at the far end of the building.
The way you say something is far more important than the words themselves. The tone of voice conveys confidence, enthusiasm, respect, and interest, or the lack thereof.
Pay attention to the delivery of your messages, because they can be easily misinterpreted and tarnish your brand in the process. Speaking patterns matter, too. Are you a high talker?
A low talker? A fast, slow, loud, or close talker? Do you wander from the point or supply unnecessary detail and take too long to finish what you are saying? If you have ever gotten feedback about your speech, consider it a gift and take it seriously.
Keep in mind that it’s possible you’re getting feedback without realizing it. Do others often ask you to slow down, speak up, or repeat what you’ve said?
Do they sometimes finish your sentences or supply words? Are you ever asked to lower your voice, either verbally or with a “keep it down” gesture? These are signals that indicate you may want to work on your speech.
Speaking too softly can make you come across as timid or unsure of your message. Speaking too loudly can make you seem aggressive.
A very rapid rate of speech may indicate to others nervousness, overexcitement, or impatience. Taking too long to make a point may come across as someone who likes to hear himself talk.
Any of these speech patterns may annoy, frustrate, or cause concern to others. As such, it makes sense to try and modify them. Some characteristics are easier to change than others. But since strong communication skills are important for success, improvements are worth the effort.
A Speak louder. Think about what you want to say before you say it! Breathe from the diaphragm, and speak at an even, measured pace. Practice by reading aloud, and ask for feedback. Tune in to nonverbal cues. If others appear to be straining to hear, raise your voice, but do not shout.
A Speak more softly. Record yourself in conversation to determine your volume relative to others. Practice speaking more quietly. Strive for warmth and resonance in your voice. Speak less. Use nonverbal cues to relay your message instead of words alone.
A Slow down your pace. Enunciate each syllable. Have a clear message in mind, and speak in full sentences. Insert pauses, or “commas,” into your speech. Control emotions.
A Speed up your pace. Read aloud and time yourself to get to a pace of about 150 words per minute. Introduce emotion into your voice.
A Speak succinctly. Employ an economy of words, and be as concise as possible. Make sure conversations are not sermons. Use appropriate vocabulary, not fancy words.
Professional resources are available to help you. Investing in voice coaching, improv lessons, or public speaking courses, such as those offered by Toastmasters, could quickly get your speaking skills up to par.
Pulitzer Prize-winning American public affairs columnist William Raspberry said, “Good English, well spoken and well written, will open more doors for you than a college degree. Bad English, poorly written, will slam doors that you didn’t even know existed.”
Words still matter. Polite expressions that used to be commonplace and much appreciated are too often missing from many modern vocabularies.
“You’re welcome” has been replaced by “No problem,” “Yup,” or “Uh-huh.” “I’m sorry” is now a shrug of the shoulders, an “Oh well,” or a “What ev.” “Hello” and “Good morning”is now “Hey,” “How’s it goin’?” or “S’up?”
As always, the culture of the group dictates the norm, and if you are among coworkers who speak in a certain way, by all means, feel free to join in.
But generally, professional settings require more formal speech, especially if relationships are new, are one-time-only encounters, or involve persons from other countries.
It is the best to err on the side of traditional politeness and offer a full-throated “Hello,” “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry.”
When conversing with someone from another country, it is important to remember that the meaning of even a seemingly unambiguous word like yes is not universal. In some cultures, such as the Japanese, it is considered rude to say no. You may get an hai to something you say, but that only means someone hears or understands you, not necessarily that he agrees.
Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Choose your words carefully, and use only those you can truly own.
Know what the words mean, how they are pronounced, and the right context in which to use them. My friend mixes up common sayings so much that we’ve actually come to welcome and delight in them.
The words you use are an important element of your brands. Ban annoying terms, words, and clichés such as “touch base,” “circle back,” “deep dive,” “value-add,” “deliverable,” “bandwidth,” “synergize,” “killing it,” “socialize,” and “low-hanging fruit.” Resist peppering conversations with the latest slang.
These words and terms can come across as unprofessional and exclusionary and are often dated within months. However, sites like The Online Slang Dictionary will keep you up on the latest, and allow you to understand the jargon.
Avoid saying “utilize” or “signage” when “use” or “sign” work just as well. Steer clear of using words and phrases that made Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway’s annual list of the “worst corporate guff.” She said, “2015 broke all records for obfuscation, euphemism, and ugliness.”
Examples included nouns used as verbs such as “to effort,” “to language,” and “to front burner,” and euphemisms such as “ventilate” underperformers (fire), “bilateral telephonic meeting” (phone call), and “be careful of the optics of your personal brand” (tuck your shirts in).
We all need to use good grammar. Saying “Me and Jim” instead of “Jim and I” will make colleagues who speak correctly wonder how someone managed to graduate from school and get a job without learning the basics of grammar.
In an article in CNN iReport, “Decline in Grammatical and Writing Skills of the New Generation Due to Techspeak,”
Fran Alston says the language, structure, punctuation, tone, and format used in communicating via electronic means, or “techspeak,” is having a bad effect upon grammar. “There is a growing concern . . . among scholars who fret that the wide use of ‘techspeak’ is a real threat to the structure and real essence of languages.”
Electronic communication suffers most from the increase of “techspeak,” but it has also crept into verbal communication. Commonly used terms and acronyms among millennials can leave older workers clueless.
A useful resource for anyone who wants to learn or confirm the meanings of technical terms is “The Top 30 Internet Terms for Beginners, 2016” by Internet basics expert Paul Gil. People can also consult sites such as http://connexin.net, and Slang.org. for help.
Understanding the language of today’s workplace will give digital immigrants more confidence in their interactions with younger coworkers. Digital natives need to be patient and helpful with older peers as they become conversant with new terms and acronyms.
Hearing an authentic Boston accent is, for me, comforting because it means home. But to people from other places, a strong Boston accent may sound provincial. If others can’t understand you or tease you about your accent, try to minimize or even lose it if you can—or risk being seen as unsophisticated or unintelligent.
How do you lose a regional accent? Listen to newscasters! Their job is to disseminate information and build trust with the widest possible audience. To accomplish this, they must deliver news without a hint of regionalized accents. Try to emulate their speaking style by repeating their words with the same enunciation.
It goes without saying, using foul language or making disparaging remarks about others reflects badly on those using or making them. It could also cost promotions or jobs. Swearing raises red flags about an individual’s maturity, self-control, and even intelligence.
Foul language is offensive to many and can become an HR issue, especially if it is deemed offensive from gender, religious, or cultural perspectives. Swearing is tolerated in some industries more than others, but in general, using foul language does not enhance one’s brand and may impact one’s future.
The Good Listener
It’s 8:00 Wednesday morning in Atlanta, and Zoe has arrived at her desk. There is an incoming call from her boss, MaryAnn, who is on an extended business trip to Tokyo. “Why is she calling at this hour? It’s 9:00 P.M. Tokyo time!” Zoe says under her breath.
Then, like a ton of bricks, it hits Zoe: her boss is checking on the materials for this Friday’s meeting—the materials Zoe hasn’t sent! Before she left last week, MaryAnn had instructed her to FedEx to Tokyo 10 bound hard copies of the comprehensive proposal she would need for the client meeting, along with small gifts for each of the attendees.
Originally, MaryAnn was going to carry them with her in her luggage, but with 10 days until the meeting, she decided it would be easier to have them shipped.
In her haste to get all of the predeparture travel details buttoned up, Zoe had only been half-listening to MaryAnn’s laundry list of post-departure instructions, thinking she’d deal with them later. Now, just two days before the meeting, there is not enough time to get the shipment to Tokyo.
She braces herself and takes the call. She knows, too late, she should have listened more carefully. What could she possibly say to her boss now? She is filled with dread as she picks up the phone.
Listening is a great and rare gift you give to others. It shows respect and validates feelings. It allows them to vent emotions, gain perspective, clarify thinking, and develop trust.
Listeners benefit, too. Greater understanding, fewer mistakes, improved morale, saved time, solved problems and increased productivity are the results of good listening. Listening boosts reputations and strengthens career prospects. Listening is the magic bullet. So why don’t people listen?
In part, it is because human beings have a limited attention span, estimated at just eight seconds. People are also so consumed by content on the Internet that they can barely remember their own birthdays, let alone the details of what others are telling them. It seems that an increase in the use of technology is met with a commensurate decrease in attention span.
The myth of multitasking is another barrier. Many people think they can effectively listen and engage in other activities at the same time. But there is zero evidence to confirm that.
John Medina, the author of the book Brain Rules, says, “The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time . . . to put it bluntly, research shows that we cannot multitask.”
Ryan Weaver, the marketing analyst at Mentor Works Ltd., the financing consultancy, says “the proper word for what is commonly referred to as multitasking is ‘task-switching,’ and it is an imaginary skill.”
No matter what it’s called, studies point out that it doesn’t work. When people try to perform multiple tasks at once, they decrease their productivity and increase their errors. And relationships suffer.
Short attention spans, multitasking, and a scarcity of time combine to make listening to a challenging undertaking at best. Add to this the fact that most people are not all that interested in issues that do not directly impact them, and listening takes a hit. But listen we must! And it requires real effort.
Listening well means putting aside our own feelings and thoughts to absorb the speakers’ thoughts and feelings. It does not necessarily mean agreeing with what others say, only that we hear what they say.
Listening well means giving undivided attention, tuning into and mirroring others’ emotions, relating as best we can to what is being said, encouraging speakers to say more, and paraphrasing often so speakers know they are understood.
Good listeners don’t push conversations in particular directions. Instead, they immerse themselves in what others are saying and feeling and then, if appropriate, share insights, answer questions, or offer solutions.
THE CAREFUL LISTENER
Remove distractions. Give the person you are listening to your undivided attention. Turn away from your computer screen. Mute your phone. Look directly at the person speaking. And perhaps take the conversation to a private room to minimize interruptions.
A Be receptive. Don’t judge what is being said, finish sentences, supply words, change the subject, or commandeer the conversation.
Provide feedback and convey empathy. Emotionally connect with the person you are listening to and let them know you are interested and understand. Offer conversational “door openers” such as “That’s interesting, please go on” or “I’m glad you said that!”
Tune in to their emotions by saying, “That sounds exciting!” (Or frustrating, confusing, overwhelming, etc.) Use nonverbal cues: nods, smiles, furrowed brows, or looks of surprise or delight.
A Maintain discretion. Loose lips sink more than ships. They can sink your business, your career, and your finances. They can even land you in jail. Gossip breeds ill will, poor morale, lost productivity, and permanently damaged relationships.
Betray confidence and people will see you as untrustworthy, unprofessional, insecure, or just plain mean. Conversely, the person who demonstrates she can be trusted wins friends and allies and gains a reputation as someone who is mature and professional.
As you advance in your career, the need for clear, sensitive communication will grow. Without strong communication skills, there may not be an advancement.
Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey have followed different paths to success, but all are exceptional communicators. Each in their own way has learned how to engage in conversation, read and send nonverbal cues, and listen well.
A Nonverbal communication says volumes. Read and use nonverbal cues to your advantage.
Eye contact has enormous power. It shows respect, engenders trust, and helps strengthen brands.
Good things come to good conversationalists. Practice your skills until the conversation is one of your strongest skills.
A Listening well reaps great rewards. Use the knowledge and trust that respectful listening creates to become an exemplary employee, colleague, and business partner.
Smart Rules for Smart Devices
Josh cannot live without his devices. What if a client emails him? What if his buddy texts him with playoff tickets? What if a cancellation gets him a table at that new Thai restaurant?
What if his apartment application is approved? He’s got to stay connected. Period.
But now, he is at this important meeting and they have all been instructed to close their laptops and put away their phones. Everyone quietly complies, including Josh, who tries not to show his irritation.
While the meeting drones on, Josh itches to look at his phone. He’s been waiting all morning for a client’s final decision on an important contract. “I’ll just take a quick peek under the table,” he thinks.
Moments have passed, and now Josh lost in reading all his messages, suddenly become aware of the dead silence in the room. He glances up to see all eyes on him. Josh quickly realizes that he has been called on to answer some question and that he never even heard his name called.
Red-faced, he sheepishly asks, “Could you repeat the question?”
Now that we have mastered the art of face-to-face communication, we can exhale a sigh of relief and go back to the comfortable, controlled world of electronic communication. In the digital world, we’re in charge.
We communicate with whom we want, when we want, for how long we want, and by what means we want. In the digital world, we do not need to concern ourselves with the unpredictability inherent in in-person interactions.
Digital communication is, by great margins, the mode of choice for younger generations. Traditionalists still tend to favor face-to-face conversations when possible.
Baby boomers like in-person encounters but do engage via telephone, email, and text. Generation X prefers email or text communication. Generation Y almost exclusively prefers text or social media. And Generation Z, the next on the workplace horizon, wants FaceTime.
These generalizations can sometimes be helpful, but it is a mistake to assume everyone in a category conforms to their generation’s predominant communication style. My 90-year-old mother, a remarkably savvy digital communicator, regularly Skypes with her children and grandchildren, one of whom is her Navy pilot grandson in Okinawa.
You need to determine the best mode of communication for a given set of circumstances and then undertake it skillfully. Consider the means by which others prefer to communicate, and adapt to their preferred style. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and then decide whether face-to-face, voice-to-voice, or text-based communication is the way to go.
Electronic communication disseminates information with speed, accuracy, and efficiency, but it is less effective in building relationships than face-to-face conversation. In his article, “Technology vs. Face to Face,” Barry Siskind cites a report prepared by the Harvard Business Review comparing face-to-face communication with electronic communication.
He concludes that in a number of key areas, including developing new relationships, negotiating, maintaining relationships, and overcoming cultural barriers, face-to-face communication beats electronic by overwhelming percentages.
Mark has worked very hard to land his new position at a highly regarded graphic design agency, after graduating from one of New York’s top schools. But now that he is on the job, some grim realities have settled in.
Mark presumed that work on actual projects would take up at least 90 percent of his time. He had failed to anticipate the incredible number of meetings, emails, and telephone calls every workday would include and the impact these would have on his project work. He is especially bothered by the lengthy, rambling email and phone messages he gets.
Mark was reminded of his college days when his mother would call and leave him long, detailed messages. Mark, most often, did not even listen to them and almost never called back. He had too much work to do.
One day he got a call from his father, who told him that if he did not start returning his mother’s calls, he would have to pay for his own phone plan. That got Mark’s attention.
Mark’s boss, a respected and tenured VP in the company, was now coming down the hallway. And he did not look pleased. His boss says to Mark, “I left you two urgent voicemail messages this morning about a client deadline that has been moved up. Why haven’t you responded?”
Mark was going to admit that he hadn’t even listened to the messages, when his boss said, “In the future, I expect you to respond promptly. I would rather not have to walk to your office to get your attention.” Mark starts to apologize, but his boss turns and walks away.
Mark now knows that listening to messages and returning calls is important, not just to his mother—it’s important to him if he wants to keep his job.
Millennials would rather do anything—anything—than talk on the telephone. Or leave or listen to voicemail messages. They consider phone calls to be invasive, time-consuming, impractical, and “old school.” Millennials so strongly prefer communicating through text and social media that many are not even sure how to leave voicemail messages.
In his New York Times article, “At the Tone, Leave a What?” Teddy Wayne says, “Having grown up in a text-friendly culture, with unmediated cellphone access to friends, they [millennials] have had little formative experience leaving spoken or relayed messages over the phone.”
Many millennials just don’t see the point of leaving voicemail messages. If a number shows up on someone’s phone, that means that person should call back, right? The problem is, not everyone realizes this is an expectation.
And even if they do, they are reluctant to return a call with no attendant message, thinking it could have been a misdial or “pocket dial.” They may also not recognize the number.
It’s not just millennials who have an aversion to talking on the phone; many of their older colleagues feel the same way. Once, the telephone was the only technology available, but now they too like the freedom and flexibility of text-based communication. Boomers and traditionalists will still usually answer the phone, but not always.
Leaving a voicemail message was once second nature for them, but today even they do not necessarily like to do so. Like their younger colleagues, this generation has begun to experience a kind of performance anxiety and vulnerability. They feel a lack of control over how their messages will be judged—and whether or not their calls will be returned.
Despite all the talk about the lack of actual talk, telephone conversations may be experiencing a resurgence. People have begun to miss the sound of a human voice, the subtle nuances of tone, the intimacy, the clarity, and the immediacy.
According to Jenna Wortham’s New York Times article, “Pass the Word: The Phone Call Is Back,” tech companies and entrepreneurs are introducing voice-centered mobile application services that strive to marry voice and convenience, the best of both worlds. The reassurance of a human voice, however and whenever it is heard, is once again in demand.
Collaboration is the predominant concept in today’s workplace. Even as the tools of collaborative technology become more sophisticated, the seemingly old-fashioned methods of e-communication—telephone and email—are not going away. Industries such as financial services and insurance, among many others, still rely heavily on cold calling to conduct and solicit business.
Companies also rely on the well-honed telephone skills of employees in call centers to attract and retain business and to guard the reputations of their brands. Even the largest e-commerce companies in the world, including Amazon and eBay, need telephone representatives to step in when technology falls short in meeting their customers’ needs.
Remember switchboard operators? Those cheery-voiced humans who knew how to quickly and correctly route calls and actually made callers feel that they appreciated their interest in their organizations? They still exist but in rapidly declining numbers.
The position of a switchboard operator, or company telephone operator (actual switchboards haven’t been used since the 1960s), may soon be extinct. Now direct-dial extensions, automated systems, and the occasional receptionist handle all incoming calls.
Still, it’s trickier than ever to actually get someone on the phone. If callers can even find a company’s phone number, they will often reach a recording encouraging them to visit the company’s website because “we are experiencing heavier than normal call volume.”
A caller is required to navigate a maze of recorded options, all with further options of their own, to finally get to the right person or department. Those making business calls increasingly find people won’t answer unless the calls were agreed to and scheduled in advance. An impromptu call is now often considered inconvenient, intrusive, and even inconsiderate.
When answering or placing a business call, you have one chance to set the tone for a relationship. Since up to 70 percent of a second ring.
The ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION phone message is conveyed in the tone of voice, it’s not what you say—it’s how you say it.
An Answer professionally and enthusiastically, ideally by the Offer a greeting, “Hello” or “Good morning,” followed by the company or department name and your full name. Put a smile in your voice. If callers identify themselves, refer to them by their name and add “Mr.” or “Ms.” Use first names only if invited.
A Use good grammar, speak clearly, listen well, and give the call your undivided attention. Others will know if you are reading, typing, or otherwise distracted. Do not eat, drink, or chew gum while on the call.
Be aware of background noises. A Ask permission before placing someone on hold and wait for an answer. If it is a lengthy hold, come back within a minute to update the caller on the status of your behind-the-scenes efforts.
Show politeness, patience, and respect unfailingly, regardless of the caller’s demeanor. A call is often precipitated by a problem. If a caller is upset, let him speak. Apologize for his inconvenience.
This does not mean you are necessarily accepting responsibility for the problem but simply acknowledging he is upset. Often, this is all that is needed to diffuse emotion and get the conversation on a positive track.
A Treat every call as important. Sometimes you won’t know until after the fact just how important a call or caller was. Placing calls reflects on your brand and your company’s brand, too. When initiating calls:
A Organize your thoughts before the call. Make sure you identify yourself. If the person was not expecting your call, assess her tone of voice. It will convey her openness to speaking with you.
Asking if your call is convenient at this point allows the person the choice of continuing the conversation. This, on its own, often relaxes the recipient enough to continue. If it is not a good time, ask when would be a better time.
A Leave enough, but not too much, information on voicemail. Speak clearly and slowly. Leave your name and number at the beginning of the message and at the end. Do not leave ambiguous or personal messages or bad news on voice-mail.
Have you noticed that virtually no one returns calls anymore? If a call is not a cold sales call, the reasons are myriad. It could be that the caller failed to leave a recognizable name or intelligible number. It could be that the recipient is away, consumed by work, or never listens to messages.
It could be that whatever precipitated the call, such as following up on an inquiry or proposal, has been put on the back burner by the recipient. It could also be that someone is no longer interested in pursuing the conversation or business relationship and, rather than being upfront about this, just hopes the caller will give up and go away.
Whatever the reason, it is confusing and disheartening when a call is not returned, especially if there is a preexisting business relationship or the other person initiated the dialogue. Try not to take it personally. You may follow up once and maybe even twice, but after that, it is better to let it go.
Relentlessly pursuing someone not interested in communicating at that moment does not generally strengthen a relationship. Instead, focus on other projects. Oftentimes, the person will circle back to you when the timing is right.
If you are the one who initiated a dialogue or requested a quote, proposal, or information, it is courteous to return follow-up calls or emails. Even if your answer is “no” or “not now,” you will have respected the other person’s time and preserved a relationship that you may need or want again in the future.
There are officially more mobile devices in the world than there are people, now numbering upwards of 7 billion. As mobile phones—cell phones, satellite phones, and smartphones— continue to proliferate, the opportunities to bother others while using them do too, at an equal pace.
We have all probably been guilty of a mobile phone faux pas at some point. If so, it may be time for a phone self-intervention.
CELL PHONE SELF-INTERVENTION
Keep mobile phones off of meeting tables. Otherwise, others will presume that it is only a matter of time before the conversation is superseded by an incoming call or text. Known as “phubbing,” short for phone snubbing, this practice bothers people.
Kelly McGonigal, the author of the New York Times article “The Willpower Instinct,” says, “Research shows just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting enough to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation.”
Among business or social peers, keeping your phone out may be acceptable, but among clients or higher-ups, it is better to put it away.
A Do not use a mobile phone at a business, social, or family meal. Excusing yourself to the restroom every 10 minutes or texting under the table are obvious tactics to circumvent this rule.
In some circles, phone use at restaurants has been drastically curtailed by dining companions who agree to put their phones in the center of the table: Whoever answers a call or text first pays the bill!
A Use a phone in social situations only if it benefits the group.
If you need to get directions, make reservations, call a cab, clarify a point, or get a sports score in which everyone is interested, use your phone. If your group’s culture allows for phone use, feel free. But do not be the first, as a domino effect will quickly take hold.
A Do not use a mobile phone in a church or a synagogue, or at any solemn occasion such as a wake or memorial service. Do not use a phone in a doctor’s office, at the movies, at the gym, in a locker room, at parties, or while ordering or checking out.
And of course, no texting while driving or walking. In 2015, a woman was hit when she walked into the path of a freight train while texting. Miraculously, she survived.
Take photos only with permission and never with unsuspecting persons in the background. These may end up on a public feed, which would be an invasion of their privacy.
Andrew would have preferred the Quiet Car on his Amtrak trip from New York to Boston. But since he will probably need to answer a couple of calls, he chooses Business Class.
This way, he can take any necessary calls and still enjoy the relative tranquility Business Class typically affords. When Connor boards in New Haven, Andrew quickly realizes today’s trip would not be typical.
Once seated, Connor, a guy with cockiness to spare, immediately gets on his devices and puts his phone on speaker so he can have both hands free to type.
At a decibel level, the entire car can hear, Connor’s conversations include a litany of complaints about his demanding employer, his difficult client, and his complicated love life, replete with individual and company names.
Andrew is uncomfortable. And from the body language, the other riders are exhibiting, he knows they are as well.
So he decides to ask Connor if he would please lower his voice and take the call off the speaker. Connor looks at Andrew. “If you want quiet, go to the Quiet Car,” he says, making a dismissive gesture as he continues his loud conversation.
Speakerphones are great for hands-free phone conversations, but they can be uncomfortable for those at the other end. If a conversation is between just two people, a headset is a better option, as it allows for both convenience and privacy.
However, once you are hands-free, the temptation to multitask can be overwhelming. If you are prone to this temptation, it may be better to pick up a handset.
At work, a respectful, productive speakerphone meeting follows a pattern. After securing a private room, the meeting leader begins the call by asking permission to put someone on speaker.
She then introduces others in the room or asks them to introduce themselves. Throughout the call, participants identify themselves before speaking and speak at normal decibel levels.
If anyone leaves or joins the call midway, the person on the speaker is always advised. The call is given undivided attention by all participants, who refrain from holding side conversations, eating, or using other electronic devices. The meeting leader wraps up the call and thanks to everyone for attending.
Conference Calls and Videoconferences
All of the guidelines for speakerphone calls apply to conference calls. Because conference calls are generally more formal and involve more people, they require some additional guidelines as well.
Conference call organizers send invitations with all pertinent call-in information and agendas in advance and reminder notices the day before and/or the morning of the call.
If there is a service provider, they test all technology beforehand so there are no problems on the big day. Agendas include all items that will be covered and who will be responsible for addressing them. If there are primary speakers on the call, it will include their bios.
Attendees prepare for the call by completing any assignments or reading indicated, and by jotting down questions and points they would like to raise. Participants call in at least three minutes before the scheduled start time, using reliable phones to avoid dropped calls.
When the organizer has not muted the call, attendees mute their phones and check to be sure they have actually done so. This is an especially important point for those working from home offices, where distractions abound.
Participants stay focused, adhere to the agenda, and bring ancillary matters up after the call. It is tempting to do any number of other things during a conference call, from answering email to running to the restroom. But that is to be avoided, as invariably that will be the very moment the call participant is asked for his input.
Videoconferencing, or real-time audio/visual communication between or among individuals or groups, is the technology of choice for companies wanting a solution for cost-effective collaboration.
Videoconferencing requires all of the preparations and precautions of speakerphone and conference calls, but since participants are now seen, attention to nonverbal cues becomes important as well.
Whether they are sitting in a conference room or a home office, participants will take great care with their attire. Since everything is on display, they will make sure furnishings and décor reflect professionalism.
Spaces will be uncluttered, the artwork will be tasteful, accouterments will be appropriate. Overflowing wastebaskets, crammed bookshelves, and bobblehead figures will be out of sight.
Annabelle has her hands full. As assistant athletics director for a Division One college, she is responsible for special programs for student-athletes.
She also meets with a fair number at the behest of their coaches for individual instruction. There are more than 30 teams, and with an otherwise full schedule, Annabelle’s calendar is jammed every day of the week. Still, she is happy to give of her time to those who need extra guidance.
What makes Annabelle less happy are some of the attitudes she encounters. Even though their coaches have required them to meet with Annabelle, she sometimes feels like they think they are doing her a favor.
She received an email from a student-athlete with the subject line empty, no salutation, no closing, and no context. In its entirety, it read, “Hi when do you want to do this.”
Complaints about email are deafening and universal. In-boxes full of messages with missing subject lines misspelled words, improper grammar, inappropriate language, and indecipherable acronyms are just some of the grievances.
A succession of “Reply All” messages is the biggest complaint. In some organizations, real-time group messaging apps such as Slack, which eliminate the dreaded “Reply All,” are replacing internal email.
Group-messaging apps are quickly catching on and may eventually become standard for internal communication. But they will still require adherence to guidelines for professionally written email.
According to the Radicati Group, the technology market research firm, email is still the go-to form of business communication. Email Statistics Report indicates:
The number of business email accounts will reach 1.1 billion by the end of 2017.
A The number of business emails sent and received per user per day will increase from 122 in 2015 to 126 in 2019.
Email addresses are still required to access IM and social networking sites and are also needed for online transactions such as banking and shopping.
Despite all of the other ways to communicate, work email is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
This is not good news for many millennials, who look at email much like voicemail: something to be tolerated until it finally dies. Millennials are often perceived as being unable or unwilling to write professional emails; indeed, many have not written a full sentence since they were in school.
As a result, the quality of millennials’ writing skills is considered one of their biggest impediments in getting jobs, and once on the job, in getting ahead.
All generations are at the mercy of carelessly crafted, hastily sent emails. Nancy Flynn, founder, and director of the electronic policy training and consulting firm ePolicy Institute says a lot of people don’t realize that “email creates the electronic equivalent of DNA. There’s a really good chance of emails being retained in a workplace’s archives, and in case of a lawsuit, they could be subpoenaed.”
A lot is at stake as seemingly bright people learn the hard way every day. Professionals at the highest levels in their fields have lost their jobs, ruined their reputations, and suffered extreme personal, financial, and health consequences as a result of carelessly crafted, hastily sent emails.
You can avoid these problems by, first of all, never ever emailing when angry. It may feel good for a moment, but remorse and all its ugly ramifications will quickly set in.
If you simply must vent, do so with a trusted companion—your dog or cat maybe—or write your complaint out in longhand and then throw it away. Do absolutely anything but electronically communicate anger. It will become part of your permanent digital dossier.
Unless there is no other way, do not use email for highly personal messages such as those about illness, death, divorce, or pregnancy. These are emotionally charged messages, better-shared face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice. Be extremely careful of the content of professional emails.
If your company is ever sued, your emails could become part of e-discovery, the process of gathering ESI (electronically stored information) for legal purposes. Apply the standard of “if you would not say it face-to-face, do not write it in an email.”
Studies show that people are much braver when communicating from behind a screen and that the lack of nonverbal cues makes typewritten messages sound much more aggressive than intended.
A Use the subject line to summarize the focus of the message. Incorporating “URG,” “REQ,” or “FYI” lets recipients know if the email requires immediate attention, a request is being made, or information is simply being conveyed.
Double-check email addresses before hitting the send button. Send only relevant emails to those who need to receive them.
A Do not send “Reply All” or “CC All” messages unless absolutely necessary. Use the CC field if someone needs to be privy to an email but does not need to respond. Use the To field if a response is requested from the recipient.
Use BCC (blind carbon copy) ethically, and not to mislead that email exchange is confidential. Protect others’ email addresses, contact information, and messages by not forwarding them without their permission.
A Read through email threads completely before responding or forwarding. Once our names are attached, it is a tacit admission that we have read them.
Before writing, determine how formal the email should be based upon the relationship with the recipient. Greater formality is in order with clients, company executives, persons from cultures where formality is valued, and those we do not know well.
Apply business letter–writing standards by including an appropriate salutation and closing. Make sure sentences are properly structured and words are correctly spelled. Observe the rules of capitalization and punctuation.
A Allow words to convey their meaning and emotion. Steer clear of emoticons and emojis in professional emails. Avoid using all capital letters, no capital letters, multiple exclamation points, bold typeface, bright colors, or flashing text. Also, avoid marking every email “high-priority” or using RR (Read Receipt). Recipients find these annoying.
A Proofread all emails. Use but do not rely solely upon grammar check and spell-check. Read emails aloud to be sure they reflect the intended tone. Do not send or forward jokes, chain mail, political or religious messages, virus warnings, fund-raising appeals, or inspirational sayings.
If forwarding an email, edit out all extraneous information and include a brief personal note. Be concise and brief and make one main point. I know of one executive who on principle will not read past two lines in an email. Use bullets.
A Respond to emails promptly. If you cannot respond at least by the end of the day, have an “out of office” message automatically sent back to the recipient.
Freelance marketing consultant Evelyn loves the flexibility and comfort of her home office. And she is thrilled she no longer needs to fight the rush hour traffic that made her commute so grindingly stressful, a commute she had made for years. Still, it can be lonely.
That’s why the nearby coffee shop Evelyn discovered came to be a sanctuary for her. Perfect for freelancers like herself, it was never too crowded or noisy and always had friendly, familiar faces behind the counter and at the tables, too.
Evelyn could get her work done while enjoying freshly brewed coffee and low-key fellowship with others whose workdays were organized similarly to hers.
This truly was, for her, a little piece of heaven. But lately, a new clientele has upset the welcoming feel of the shop. There is a man whose music is so loud that even with his earphones on, Evelyn cannot concentrate. Another man watches movies at full volume, compounding the situation.
Then there is a college student who takes up two tables and four chairs for her coat, papers, and all her electronic devices. Finally, there is the woman who purposely overhears Evelyn’s conversations and then comments upon them! It’s just not the same anymore.
Evelyn is reluctant to give up the coffee shop, but already several of her acquaintances have stopped coming. Evelyn is pretty sure she will be next. In public places, consideration for live human beings always takes precedence. When listening to audio on a laptop or tablet in a public place, use headphones to avoid disturbing others.
Sometimes it is okay to physically spread out a little, but during busy times, be aware of space constraints and adhere to the rule of one chair and one electronic device on a table per customer.
With regard to public Wi-Fi, remember that public bandwidth may be limited; save the downloading of huge files or the watching of movies for home. Also, remember that public networks are by definition less secure. Use a virtual private network (VPN) service for a secure Internet connection.
Barbara realizes that things have changed considerably in the nearly 25 years since she joined the hospital as an X-ray technician. She still loves her work and welcomes the advances in technology that help her do her job better.
And she delights in mentoring new hires as they come through the department, even though she could, now, be their mother. Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious and keep her on her toes.
One thing Barbara is having a hard time getting used to is the way younger folks communicate. It’s like they are speaking a foreign language.
Take today’s text from a new employee,
Not wanting to admit she is completely lost, Barbara goes online to research the meaning in the message. Aha! Ava just wants to let Barbara know that she will be late as she is stuck in traffic, which she hates! But when she gets to work, can they have a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible?
The project Ava is working on is fouled up beyond all recognition, and Ava would be very grateful for Barbara’s help. She will see her soon!
Acronyms and Abbreviations
Since the essence of text-based communication is brevity, some acronyms and abbreviations may be okay as long as the reader readily understands what the writer intends and the message is appropriate. In business emails, they should be rarely used, as such shorthand could come across as unprofessional.
But professionals still want to be familiar with the most often used communication shortcuts. There are a number of excellent sources for Internet jargon, including netlingo.com and the Internet Slang Dictionary.
A visit to one of these sites will get you up to speed with ICYMI, EOBD, TL;DR, AFK, and NSFW (especially) in no time!
Despite its foibles—wretched autocorrect and messages that go astray, get sent too soon, or are indecipherable—text messaging, or SMS (short messaging service), is still immensely popular.
Yes, it has lost ground among the 18–24 age group to apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat, but texting is still the go-to among business professionals.
When communicating by text, the urgency of the message should be taken into consideration. Some people see and read their texts immediately, others not for hours or even days. If in doubt, it’s safer to call.
A Consider whether a text is the best mode of communication with a particular person. Even if you have your boss’s number, a text might not be her preference. However, if she texted you in the past, and the information is appropriate, then feel comfortable using this medium.
If someone sends you a text, reply in kind, instead of with a phone call. When a text exchange gets lengthy, it is appropriate to suggest a phone conversation to speed things up. With group texts, include only those who really need to see them.
A Spell words out in professional texts. Use punctuation even if it seems laborious and unnecessary. If using the voice-to-text feature, carefully review the text before sending it, as it may read nothing like what you intended. Tone, humor, and sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted via text; use these sparingly.
A Do not walk and text; never drive and text. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that each day 9 people die from distracted driving and more than 1,000 are injured.
A Allow others to respond as they can. Do not send successive follow-up texts or a snarky “Anyone there??” Be aware of the timing of your text. On the West Coast, you may still be at work at 8:00 P.M., but your East Coast business partner who sleeps with his phone next to him will be awakened by your text.
Instant messaging is real-time communication between individuals via the Internet, similar to a private chat room. IMs are practical for internal communication, especially when collaboration is desired. But it is not a perfect solution for everyone.
Many find IM intrusive yet do not want to disable it for fear of missing important messages. The rules of good grammar, tone, professionalism, and brevity apply to IMs as they do for all text-based communication.
A Do not, generally, send IMs to strangers. Some people do not mind and actually solicit them, but others consider them presumptuous. Ask how someone wishes to be contacted. Use a greeting before launching into your message, and ask if the IM recipient has time to chat.
A Use and respect status messages. If someone has set her status as “Do Not Disturb,” then do not disturb her!
Use acronyms carefully. Acronyms are slightly more acceptable with internal IMs, but when in doubt, spell it out.
An End an IM exchange with a sign-off. Rather than run the risk of leaving someone hanging, end with a “Thank you” or “It was nice talking with you” message.
An Address one point at a time. Wait for a response before moving on to the next point. If your message must be divided into multiple thoughts for the sake of clarity, insert a line break between each thought. For a lengthy exchange, it may be better to ask if the person has time to talk.
The Company Intranet
When used respectfully and thoughtfully, the company intranet provides an efficient platform for internal communication and collaboration. Employees use the intranet to internally crowd-source ideas and gain feedback on initiatives.
Used effectively, the company intranet supports a corporate culture, disseminates information, and enhances productivity.
A Learn your organization’s intranet “Dos and Don’ts.” The system administrator may have a formal document and colleagues can also quickly get you up to speed.
A Determine if you are ready to have a document reviewed or commented on. In some organizations, once a document is saved on a shared platform, it is fair game for anyone’s comments and edits. Never pass off someone else’s content as your own.
A Keep your username and password secure. Do not store sensitive information, including pin numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers on the intranet.
The ways in which you can communicate and collaborate will only become more sophisticated over time. It won’t be long before holographic telepresence technology allows for in-room communication with real-time, full-motion, 3-D images of colleagues continents away.
As technology continues to develop at a breakneck speed, it can seem overwhelming. If you remember to practice the Platinum Rule, you will be just fine.
Text communication will never equal the power of the human voice. Developing telephone skills is time well spent.
An Email continues to be the go-to means of business communication. Professionals are judged by their email practices and the content and tone of their messages.
Human beings take precedence over electronic devices.
Attached as we are to them, we must look up from and put down our devices.
A Professionalism never takes a holiday. Appreciate the speed and convenience of a text and instant messaging, but never forget that text-based communication lives forever.
Your Digital Footprint
A social media devotee since its beginning, Sarah keeps up with her numerous friends, some going all the way back to junior high school.
All through her 20s and now early 30s, Sarah has shared the big moments of her life online—her college graduation, engagement, wedding, travels, jobs, and the most cherished news of all, the arrival of her children.
She has loved learning about all of her friends’ milestones as well. Sarah can’t imagine her world without social media and wonders how her parents’ generation survived without it.
Now, with family, work, and volunteering, Sarah is busier than ever before. It occurs to her that she has lost track of all of her sites and her activities on them, especially those from years ago.
She’s always been careful with what she shares, but now that she is in management, she wonders if there is possibly something lurking in her past posts that would not fit her image today. She doesn’t think so but decides it’s better to be safe. Tomorrow, she will do a thorough social media review.
Personal and organizational digital footprints are growing larger by the second. With every post, visit, share, tag, like, snap, and forward, social media users leave traces of digital DNA that can never be erased.
The chilling implications of this fact have resulted in an increased interest in the “right to be forgotten,” a controversial topic involving the removal of Internet search results containing incriminatory information about one’s past.
It is a complicated issue with freedom of speech, information integrity, and censoring implications that will likely not be resolved any time soon.
In 2014, Google lost a battle with the European Court of Justice over failing to comply with their ruling on this matter. Regardless of how the issue is ultimately resolved, you would be wise to heed Jeffrey Rosen’s warning.
In his New York Times article, “The End of Forgetting,” he says, “It’s not just that the web and social networking threaten your privacy. It’s that there is no way in the digital age to move on, to start over—to erase your digital past.”
There is a lot at stake in your use of digital technology, including your safety, security, reputation, relationships, finances, creditworthiness, insurability, and employment. In real life, if you are lucky, the mistakes you make may be forgotten. Online, mistakes live forever.
There is no way to reset your reputation, no way to declare “digital bankruptcy,” no way to start over. And transparency, a good thing in relationships and business dealings, has a price online. The worst thing you’ve done will be the first thing someone finds when they search your name.
The list of bright, successful people who have gotten into trouble on social media is very long. All we need to do is read or watch the news on any day via any medium to learn of yet another prominent person going down in flames due to ill-considered online activities. These missteps often cost them everything. Others survive them, but only after offering public apologies.
Companies are also not immune to social media gaffes, and many highly regarded organizations have had to do extensive online damage control. With so many cautionary tales and the widely held feeling that by now we should know better, it is a wonder that this is still happening. Still, for many, the temptation to vent online is irresistible.
Social media also pose serious potential dangers for companies. Data loss, security breaches, compliance violations, reputation damage, compromised intellectual property, and leaked strategy initiatives are some of the risks.
CNBC’s Mark Fahey says one of the most costly consequences of social media misuse is lost productivity. In his article, “Time Wasted on Facebook Could Be Costing Us Trillions of Dollars,” he wrote that time spent on Facebook alone is costing employers $3.5 trillion in squandered productivity.
Realization of the potential impact of online transgressions is increasing. To help manage their online brands, some individuals and organizations are hiring reputation repair and management companies, often for a hefty fee.
These companies try to bury, not remove, unsavory online articles and references. They also monitor social media for new problematic items that might pop up.
It is possible to fix a less-than-perfect digital dossier without investing enormous amounts of time and money. And a great deal can be done for free. First, start with an online audit. Even if you’ve done one in the past, content constantly changes without your knowledge, consent, or control.
If any new questionable tweets, photos, or videos are discovered, delete them, and ask friends to do the same. Second, consistently add new content to bury potentially damaging items.
According to Dorrie Clarke, a marketing strategy consultant, “No one but your worst enemy will bother to visit page 20 on a Google search; most will stick to the first page or two.”
Videos rank high on Google searches, so she advises including a video blog to ensure that people see what you want them to see. She also recommends a traditional blog and a robust social media presence, including profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Keep in mind that it is far easier to make a good impression online than it is to unmake a bad one. Protect yourself by not airing personal grievances or angry opinions, no matter how justified you might feel, or posting anything that could be considered racist, sexist, or any other “ist” you can imagine.
Never engage in online shaming, a dreadful practice often equated with cyberbullying. Make sure all of your online content is relevant and useful, and apply the same standards for virtual communication that you use in real life.
This means listen more than talk, respect others’ opinions, apologize for mistakes, avoid arguments, express appreciation, and always be accountable.
Businesses are very much aware of the reach and power of social media. With upbeat stories and positive news items, they seek to attract followers and build relationships through “social selling.”
Their ultimate goal is to convert leads into clients, and clients into brand advocates. But like personal users, businesses are not immune to costly social media failures.
Companies that have tried to disguise online promotions with “sympathy” for national tragedies and natural disasters have paid dearly for their greed and insensitivity. Human error is also an ever-present risk.
Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, wrote about a particularly embarrassing tweet sent by a major international brand when an employee unknowingly linked an X-rated photo to a response to an unhappy customer.
It went to the company’s entire Twitter following and stayed up a full hour before someone noticed and took it down.
To expand their reach, companies are increasingly tapping into their employees’ social media networks, positioning themselves to take advantage of the enormous marketing potential this offer. Studies show that millennials especially are far more influenced by online endorsements made by their friends than they are by direct marketing from brands.
Companies that use their employees as brand ambassadors must be careful because they are at risk by association. Many are implementing social media training programs to help employees understand their organization’s social media strategies, online best practices, and the benefits to them of being brand ambassadors.
Companies need to avoid heavy-handed approaches. Employees cannot be coerced into offering up their networks, nor can there be any infringement on their rights to free speech under the National Labor Relations Act.
Even as professionals learn the basics of social media, they will continue to educate themselves in their use.
When Jon Thomas, director of the strategy for advertising agency TracyLocke, is asked why a pristine social media presence is so important for professionals;
he says, “As publishing becomes increasingly ubiquitous, where anyone can share their thoughts on their own blog, on Medium, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, or even in 140 characters on Twitter, the idea of a résumé encapsulating the identity of a professional is rapidly becoming outdated.”
He added, “Sure, I can dig through your résumé and listen to your answers in an interview, but if I can understand how you think and approach your profession from what you publish online, I can get a much clearer picture of your approach to our business, and more importantly, what your impact might be on our business.”
Esta Singer, digital media specialist and founder of the social media consulting firm, s.h.e. CONSULTING, says a “social media presence means you don’t need to work at being found online.
You’ve built a positive reputation by building strong relationships, posting timely and relevant information, engaging followers, and demonstrating integrity. Having an online presence means you are able to demonstrate and share value.”
There is still a percentage of the working population that, for reasons of privacy, safety, personal preference, or the risks described, chooses not to use social media.
But if a professional is not searchable, especially on LinkedIn, it immediately begs the question “Why not?” or “What is he trying to hide?” Today, social media is where the business conversation takes place, with or without us. We need to be part of the conversation.
The Cyber Citizen
In a moment of self-reflection, Edward wonders how he got so mean and judgmental. The 55-year-old senior executive at Class A Spaces, a leading commercial real estate firm, has mentored countless young folks over the years.
He was always happy to do so and has taken great pride in their accomplishments. Edward credits his own success to his mentors and the amazing network he built over 25 years in the business.
Things are so different now from when he started. Back then, networking was done face-to-face over business meals and after-hours drinks and at conferences and sporting events.
Edward has always loved those in-person connections and knows the relationships he developed from them are largely responsible for his success.
Today, networking is almost all electronic. Edward understands the time-saving appeal of mass-networking but is not as sold on the value or quality of some of the relationships that come from it.
Take LinkedIn. On any given day, Edward receives multiple invitations to connect, the majority of which come from people he doesn’t know. Most of the invitations are impersonal and seem hastily sent. All are blatantly self-promotional, about what he can do for them. To be honest, he isn’t inclined to do anything for them.
It’s difficult to endorse people who have unprofessional profiles or share strong political or social views. His credibility is at stake. It’s hard for him to reject these invitations even though that is his inclination. Edward again wonders just how and when he became so mean and judgmental.
The ever-changing and ever-growing number of social media platforms makes it unfeasible to learn the individual best practices for every one of them. The good news is you do not need to. Adhering to basic guidelines for use with all media is almost all that is required to keep your brand intact.
It is important, however, to learn the differences between the major platforms, as each has its distinct purpose and personality. When you want to clearly understand what should be shared on a specific site, think first of the three Ps: whether the information is suitable for public, private, or professional audiences.
Even when using platforms as intended, you need to discern the fine line between being appropriately social and inappropriately annoying. We all have the “friend” who cannot go one day without posting yet another cloying platitude, a detailed description of her awesome life, or cat video.
Observe what happens on the various platforms. Social media offer swift, often stinging feedback. Sometimes just not doing as others do is all that is required.
We have identified respect as the basis for all personal and professional success. There is no place where respect, or the lack of it, is more starkly displayed than on social media.
The reach, speed, and permanency of behavior on social media can literally make or break a career. Online respect is not only a good thing, but it is also imperative for workplace survival.
On social media, respect starts with adopting the attributes of a good cyber citizen. In his book, Unmarketing, Scott Stratton describes the concept of “social currency.”
He says if one wants value from social media, one has to first build currency. Once someone has proven to be helpful, his network will be more willing to help in return. Like a bank, you can’t make a withdrawal until you have made a deposit!
Respect your privacy and others’ privacy. A teacher was fired simply because someone else posted a photo of her having a beer at a bar while on vacation. Be considerate about what you share on your own and on your friends’ pages and feeds. If a message is at all personal, send it to the person directly.
Very important: Never post anything that could jeopardize the safety or personal property of yourself or others. This means you do not share anyone’s home address, current location, or travel plans. It is estimated that 80 percent of burglars glean information from social media to plan their activities.
Criminals employ Google Street View to stalk homes, view Facebook to monitor check-ins at hotels and airport lounges, and use location data garnered from posted pictures to know when someone is not at home.
Users themselves often openly advertise and chronicle their comings and goings via posts and photos, giving thieves extremely useful information.
You can avoid being a victim of “cyber casing” by not sharing upcoming travel plans online, not checking in from remote locations, and not posting photos until you are home. Keep your phone from giving away your location by disabling geotags and GPS tracking and by not publishing photos directly from your phone.
Online best practices require that you consider how your friends’ posts reflect on you. If their posts often include inappropriate language, photos, or humor, it may be time to rethink these connections. Some worry that to “unfriend” someone on Facebook, especially if he is a family member or longtime friend, will do irreparable harm to that relationship.
Luckily, privacy settings allow for stealth ways to limit what people see without having to blatantly unfriend them.
These include “hiding” people from your feed, using privacy features to customize what others see, and turning off chat features with particular friends or blocking them. You can, of course, actually unfriend people, too. They won’t be notified, but will probably figure it out.
All major social media platforms have privacy settings and sharing features. These differ from site to site and seem to constantly change, making it hard to keep up. Staying current with and using sites’ privacy settings are the best ways to protect your brand and relationships.
First impressions matter online, as they always do in life in general. Regardless of the platform, always introduce yourself; don’t assume others will know who you are. When inviting someone to join your network, including a brief, warm, personalized note, not the generic message provided by the platform.
In completing your professional profile pages, use an actual photo of yourself at the age you are now. Your baby photo, however cute, can be confusing and possibly seen as inauthentic or unprofessional. On all sites, use good grammar and check your spelling.
Just as in real life, you choose your friends in cyberspace and they choose you. Sometimes you receive connection requests from people you do not know or from people you do know but do not wish to connect with.
You do not need to accept every request nor will all of your requests be accepted. Many people have strict guidelines for themselves about whom they will accept as connections.
Some will just connect with immediate family, others with extended family and close actual friends and others with anyone who invites them! Don’t take it personally if your request is not accepted.
Some think it is rude to ignore friend or connection requests; others think it more humane to let them sit in pending mode rather than reject them outright. Who knows? In the future, you may want to connect with this person. It may be better not to burn a bridge.
The intervals at which you post may also reflect upon your social media savvy. SumAll, a data analytics company, offers these posting guidelines: Facebook, two times a day (more than that, and likes and comments will drop off); LinkedIn, one time a weekday;
Google+, three times a day; Twitter, three times a day; Instagram, up to two times a day; Pinterest, up to five times a day; and a blog, up to two times a week.
But social media guru Esta Singer says there is no magic number and that the “frequency depends upon your audience and relevance of the information you are posting.”
Your posting intervals will likely vary depending on what’s happening at any given moment in your life or in your connections’ lives. The bottom line: Good judgment is key, as you may be judged by your posting frequency.
The Social Network
At 65 years old, Stephen is a Facebook novice. For years, his out-of-state daughters had been asking him to set up an account so they could share photos and videos of his grandchildren and generally stay up on one another’s lives.
Stephen used to think Facebook was for kids, but now most of his friends have accounts. So he finally decided he would take the plunge.
But it’s been hard for him to get the hang of it. Wall posts, status updates, timelines, messages, lists, privacy settings—it’s all overwhelming. And boy, is he making mistakes.
Yesterday, he sent a long message to an old friend he recently reconnected with, catching him up on 20 years of his life: relationships, work, health—it was all there.
Stephen soon got a private message back from his friend. “Did you really intend to post on my timeline?” his friend asked. “I don’t know . . . I think so . . . why?” Stephen wrote back.
His friend explained that timeline messages are visible to all of his friends and that in the future, he might want to share these messages privately. Lesson learned—the hard way, thinks Stephen.
A scenario like this is unthinkable to digital natives, but to those just getting their feet wet in social media waters, it happens all the time. Digital natives have an edge over their older colleagues with regard to social media etiquette, mostly because they wrote the rules!
As this technology evolved, they learned which behaviors were acceptable and welcomed on the various platforms and which were not. Now that guidelines have been widely agreed on and adopted, later social media entrants can quickly get up to speed with a little research and a lot of good judgment.
As a card-carrying digital immigrant, I reached out to my network, which includes some folks who make they're living in social media. These experts vetted my advice and shared their own best practices for the most popular social media sites.
Meant to be a primer, the following may be brand new information for digital immigrants or a review for digital natives. For those who live and breathe social media, it will serve as a simple reminder of the importance of practicing good habits.
Fifty-eight-year-old Christine, CEO of a large apparel company, has so far resisted the pressure. Christine has heard from her executive team how important it is for her to have a social media presence and about the benefits to the company of a CEO who is seen as accessible, transparent, and responsive.
But the few spare moments she has after the typical 80-hour workweek she wants to spend with her family, not tweeting or posting updates on LinkedIn. Besides, it just seems complicated and too risky.
Christine has seen other executives get into big trouble and have to apologize for their online mistakes. And although she would never tell this to her team, in her opinion all of this “sharing” is a bit beneath the dignity of a CEO.
Still, she pays her executive team to give her this kind of advice, whether she likes it or not. She asks her assistant to arrange some time with the PR Department to get her set up. She is going to need their help.
Facebook is a social networking website that enables users to join networks of friends, family, and people with similar interests. A Facebook profile is one’s personal account on Facebook.
Here, people can “friend” others, post photos, and videos, “like” and share others’ posts, send messages and provide updates. Depending upon privacy settings, a user’s friends may see a user’s posts on his “wall” and have the ability to comment on his posts.
Only one Facebook profile can be associated with a name. While not a business-oriented site, Facebook has implemented a feature that allows users to add professional skills to their profiles, increasingly leveraging its users’ vast social connections to compete in the job search market.
In his article for Yahoo Tech, “11 Brutal Reminders That You Can and Will Get Fired for What You Post on Facebook,” Dan Bean shares these stories:
An employee posts, “I hate my boss,” and gets the comment, “You do realize we’re friends on FB, right?”
A young intern says he cannot come to work due to a family emergency. He shows up the same day on Facebook in a photo at a Halloween party, dressed as a wand-wielding fairy.
An employee posts “ . . . so happy to be listening to T4F, while pretending to work,” and gets the comment, “We are the people who pay you while you pretend to work. Please come and see me.”
An A young man posts a photo of himself doing drugs and gets the comment, “ . . . give me a good reason not to fire you first thing Monday morning.”
In contrast to a profile, a Facebook page is a business account through which brands ask customers and prospects to like their pages to follow their brands. Here, they can also advertise with Facebook ads. To have a Facebook page, one must first have a Facebook profile. However, one can then have as many pages as he desires.
It’s important to keep personal and business connections and profiles separate. One reason is that use of a personal account to promote a business is against Facebook’s terms of service, which may result in Facebook deleting the account.
Equally important is that content shared on personal and business accounts is or at least should be, meant for distinctly different audiences.
A Facebook page is a great way for a business to grow a following, establish credibility, and measure engagement results. It’s important to take time to learn the best practices for this medium and to remember that it’s a two-way conversation. All comments, both positive and negative, require a response.
When using your personal Facebook account, it is recommended that you “friend” only people you actually know and like. But for many users, younger people especially, it is still a “more friends the merrier” scenario. On average, those in the 18–24 age range have 649 Facebook friends.
Interestingly, U.S. News and World Report cite an Oxford University study that says of all our Facebook friends, only four are actual friends—the same number we have in real life.
When deciding upon how many Facebook friends you want to have, it is wise to remember that the greater the number of Facebook friends, the greater the risk of information falling into the wrong hands.
A Spamming. Soliciting, promoting, or selling of any kind is considered spam. On Facebook, most people are fine with requests for donations to charities or personal causes, but draw the line at crowdfunding requests for leisure travel, a sabbatical in Provence, or a new boat!
A “Vague booking.” Posting intentionally ambiguous updates can come across as narcissistic or passive aggressive. Posts like “NEVER again . . .” or “This can’t go on . . .” cause concern and/or irritation among friends.
Providing TMI. Too much information includes photos of recent surgery scars, 50 vacation photos, or a baby’s naked behind. If you must share, be extremely selective about who sees these posts.
A Jeopardizing others’ privacy. As proud as parents are of their children, by posting their photos and activities, they are making privacy and safety decisions that could have lifetime implications for those too young to consent.
The advice is to think carefully about what and how often you post about others, especially children. In France, parents can now be sued by their adult children and possibly jailed for having posted their photos on social media without their permission.
A “Humblebragging.” The practice of packaging good news as though it’s actually an inconvenience is both obvious and insufferable. “Our Billy just got accepted at Harvard and Yale. Poor thing, now he has to decide between his dad’s alma mater and his mom’s!”
Actual bragging gets old, too. Facebook is for sharing one’s happy news among real friends and family members, as long as such posts do not dominate and self-congratulation is kept at bay.
Promoting friends’ good news is great, provided it’s someone you actually have a relationship with in real life. Otherwise, it can seem creepy. But if the good news is about you or an immediate family member, allowing friends to share it whenever possible has a much nicer ring!
There are some everyday Facebook practices that can help us avoid potentially sticky situations.
They include making sure we send private messages for two-way communication, refraining from posting status changes unless all affected parties have been notified (a young man learned his parents were divorcing when he saw that his mother had changed her status to single), and being careful about checking in from Starbucks when we are supposed to be homesick!
But perhaps the easiest way to make sure our Facebook friends actually stay our friends is to subject our posts to these three filters: Is it interesting? Is it helpful? Is it entertaining? If our posts meet these criteria, we’ll stay a welcome Facebook connection.
A LinkedIn user recently garnered an extraordinary number of comments when she posted a picture of herself in a bikini, admittedly and purposely to gain attention. It worked but judging from many of the comments, not in an entirely favorable way.
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking website for professional summaries, industry-related groups, networking events, and career marketing.
It also has messaging functions that allow users to post status updates and to share or like content posted by others. As of August 2016, LinkedIn had 450 million members worldwide.
In June 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion. Said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “Think about it: how people find jobs, build skills, sell, market, and get work done and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world.”
While there are now networking sites that cater to professionals of all stripes and at all stages of their careers, LinkedIn is still very much the premier destination.
With newer features that seem to have a distinct social slant to them, many users are beginning to lament what they consider the “Facebookification” of LinkedIn.
An increasing number of non business-related posts including the sharing of personal stories, political views, and even one’s availability for dating is putting the site’s professional status at risk.
Some see this evolution as a sign of the times, a reflection of the melding of personal and professional lives, and not necessarily a bad thing. Why wouldn’t individuals want to take full advantage of their entire networks?
As features of the largest social media sites become more commonly shared and the major sites themselves increasingly indistinguishable, this cross-pollination may indeed be the way of the future. But for now, most feel drawing a distinction between how personal and professional sites are used is a good thing.
To protect the value and integrity of your relationships on LinkedIn, most say to connect only with people you have actually met. Others say it’s okay to connect with people you do not actually know if you have other people in common or share professional interests.
If you do not know someone personally, request an introduction or explain who you are and why you want to connect. Referencing that you heard someone speak, or your fellow LinkedIn members. read and enjoy her blog, or share an alma mater may just garner you a new connection.
Take advantage of vanity URLs. They are easier to remember and more personal. Write a professional summary/bio. Be honest in your profile. Former colleagues and bosses will note embellishments and inconsistencies. Complete your LinkedIn page, and update it regularly. An old or abandoned page raises red flags.
A Ask for recommendations only of people who are familiar with you and your work. Reciprocate recommendations whenever possible. Endorse others for their skills as you see fit and thank others for their endorsements.
A Accept invitations promptly. Unless you have a good reason not to accept an invitation (you do not know someone, or you do—but think he would not reflect well upon you), accept an invitation when it is received.
Join groups and associations to harness the expertise of
Be sure to read and then follow the group’s rules. You can certainly start your own group but make sure you are able to commit to it.
A Avoid excessive self-promotion. Examples include using groups or associations to promote your services or content or posing a problem and then answering it with the promotion of you or your company.
Susie Poppick of Money shared a story about a city clerk in California’s Bay Area who she said was asked to resign for “allegedly tweeting during council meetings when she was supposed to be taking down meeting minutes.” The woman resigned, writing in her letter that it was a “mind-numbingly inane experience I would not wish upon anyone.”
Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as “tweets.” Tweets are text-based posts limited to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers, who are known as followers.
Other Twitter users may also view tweets unless the author specifically elects to limit dissemination of tweets to followers only. As of June 2016, Twitter users could also post 140-second videos.
Twitter is different from other social media in that there is no acceptance process for followers of your feed. It is possible to protect your tweets, but that will limit the business and networking benefits you seek.
Some people argue that you should follow everyone who follows you and use lists to keep track of those you truly care to follow. You are under no obligation to follow someone who tweets content that is of no interest to you or is obviously self-promotional, regardless of whether they follow you or not.
Esta Singer offers her perspective on the importance of this site to professionals: “Twitter is akin to a worldwide social gathering. You’re meeting and mingling among people you know, have met, or will meet. You’re having conversations, and sharing ideas or information you think could benefit others. Most importantly, you are building relationships.
Be authentic. Be transparent.” She adds, “There is an etiquette to Twitter most of us have already learned: extend a virtual hand, offer something of value, say ‘thank you’ when someone shares or re-tweets your tweet.
While the Twittersphere is ever-expanding and endless, always be mindful, it is not about the number of followers you amass, it’s about the quality of the connections you create.”
A Remember this is a two-way personal communication tool.
Add more value than you request. Social media guru Chris Brogan offers this guideline: “Promote other people 12 times to every 1 self-promotional tweet.” Don’t ask for re-tweets. Contribute relevant and interesting content and it will be re-tweeted.
A Create a list of Twitter accounts you truly care about. Too many, and it’s hard to keep up. Make sure your bio is complete with a photo, full description, and link to further information about you. An incomplete bio is a sign of a spammer.
A Keep Twitter exchanges brief, not more than three each way. After that, use a more practical means for communicating, such as email or telephone. Use the @ symbol for talking directly to individuals in moderation. Following long @ exchanges can quickly become tedious for the others not involved in the exchange.
A Use the hashtag (#) sign to make content, conversations, and trends searchable. Long a staple on Twitter, it is used to categorize subjects, find related content, and gain wider audiences.
The hashtag has been criticized for its overuse and, as such, should be used thoughtfully. This means not overloading posts so the subject itself is indecipherable and not using long, cryptic hashtags.
A Be extremely careful of the messages you post. If you must address a private matter, do so via direct message (DM), not in front of your entire Twitter audience.
As you traverse the ever-changing, the tricky terrain of social media, commit to learning as much as you can about the unique characteristics of the various sites.
Do take the social media plunge even at the risk of making mistakes. Keeping in mind the basics of authenticity, transparency, respect, and relevancy will keep you on the right track.
Social media has changed the world. Engage in ways that favorably burnish your brand, and you will be considered credible, competent, and current. Be consistent on platforms.
Digital footprints are forever. Personal reputations and company brands are at risk through social media misuse.
Take precautions to mitigate these risks.
Social media benefits are incalculable. It’s a matter of making the decision to join the online conversation.
Observing the Formalities author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive
For a month, Miguel had been planning what he hoped would be the perfect visit to Boston for his biggest client and his wife. He arranged for them to be picked up in a limousine at the airport and whisked off to the exclusive Boston Harbor Hotel, to a luxury suite with a view overlooking the Boston skyline.
Knowing his client loved lobster, Miguel made reservations for the best table at the famous Legal Harborside on Boston’s waterfront. To cap off the evening, Miguel arranged for a private harbor cruise.
Miguel planned their next day with the same meticulous attention to detail. He knew his client’s wife loved Asian art and arranged for a private docent tour of the Asian art collection at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Afterward, they made their way to historic Fenway Park for a Red Sox game. The special day ended with a late dinner at Mistral and a box of Montecristo #2 cigars for his cigar-loving client.
Miguel’s preparation paid off. Everything came together to create an impeccable experience. Impressed, his client told Miguel it was “the best weekend he and his wife have ever had” and that he looked forward to a long, mutually beneficial partnership. It was a perfect ending to the perfect weekend, just as Miguel had hoped for.
Alas, Miguel’s business dining and entertaining experience were ones that few ever actually experience. Because there are so many moving parts with client entertainment, something is bound to go wrong and almost always does. Guests arrive late or not at all. Reservations go astray. Crowded, noisy dining rooms hinder conversations. Kitchens get backed up.
Service is slow. Wrong or incorrectly cooked meals arrive at the table. Servers are surly. Glasses topple, silverware falls, and food flies. Guests argue or over-imbibe.
And all of this happens before the credit card is declined. And these are just the business meals. Every other client entertainment vehicle has its own inherent potential perils.
Business dining is rife with risk, but it is a risk the serious professional wants to take as often as possible. You can expand opportunities, acquire information, garner advice, gain introductions, and strengthen bonds, all for a pittance in the investment of time and money.
Business dining is the perfect vehicle for welcoming business partners, celebrating good news, rewarding major milestones, showing gratitude, delivering apologies, and sharing the important or difficult news.
The savvy professional knows a business meal is not about the food. In calm and comfortable surroundings, away from the frantic pace of the office, a guest is far more likely to let her genuine persona emerge, laying the groundwork to establish true rapport.
The Business of Hospitality
Jack, head of sales for a financial organization, had been looking forward to his company acquiring a significant piece of business.
They had had serious competition but, still, he was confident they would ultimately win the deal. So, after months of pursuit, it came as something of a shock when he learned they did not.
When Jack asked the president what the decision had rested on, he was assured that the problem was not his company’s proposal, which was very competitive in all areas.
“It was a tough call,” he told Jack. In the end, it was the social relationship the other company had created and the pleasant, easy rapport they had established.
The climax was a magnificent formal dinner they arranged for his company’s entire executive team and their spouses. “They not only wined and dined us,” he said, “they made us feel like family.”
Every detail of the dinner had been meticulously planned. The spectacular view from the top floor allowed guests to see a setting sun as it melted into the evening twilight and intermingled with the candle-lit tables, all reflected off of floor-to-ceiling windows. And then there were the quietly beautiful place cards—minor works of art, with each attendee’s name handwritten by a calligrapher.
The president believed that if this was the level of preparation and respect he and his company could expect as clients, this was the place for them. “Those place cards closed the deal,” he told Jack.
Breaking bread in business has always been about strengthening relationships. And it is as important today as it’s ever been. But a dedicated dining experience outside of the office for the purposes of building a relationship is out of sync with the way millennials do things.
It makes no sense to them, especially when they can grab fruit, yogurt, or a Kind bar from the office kitchen and keep on task.
Why pay for food and drinks when their employers offer them for free? Relationship building for this cohort is done across the open-plan office or via social media, not at formal place settings. Traditional business entertaining is becoming less of a priority to older generations as well.
This is shortsighted. The significance of hospitality has a long history, dating back to the first recorded writings some 5,000 years ago. One reference of this was found in the Teachings of Khety, c. 2100 BCE:
“Give the stranger olive oil from your jar, And double the income of your household. The divine assembly desires respect for the poor More than an honor for the powerful.” Throughout history, hospitality was the means through which generosity, honor, and respect were shown. It serves the same purpose in the 21st century.
Globally, the significance of business dining and entertaining cannot be overstated. A critical component of establishing trust, business dining in the international arena determines whether or not there will be a subsequent business relationship.
The Financial Times has a wonderful, semi-regular column in its magazine, How to Spend It, called “The Captain’s Table.” In this column, they interview extraordinarily successful businesspeople about where in the world they most like to dine and their thoughts on the business dining experience itself.
Richie Nanda, executive chairman of the international security firm Topsgrup India said, “I would say that 80 percent of my business is, in some way, conducted over lunch and dinner.
I am very much into relationships, and believe that to form good ones and conduct successful business you need to be relaxed— and that often comes as a result of enjoying a good meal on a one-to-one basis.”
Joseph Sitt, president and CEO of Thor Equities, a global portfolio and development pipeline, says, “My mentor, an Egyptian businessman called Joseph Chehebar, once told me ‘If you don’t have a meeting set up over a meal that day, then don’t come to work.’”
In the U.S., entertaining of clients often follows successful business dealings, but around the world, they are integral throughout the entire process.
International dining customs vary widely, and serious professionals go to great lengths to prepare themselves accordingly. They know that when dining with Japanese clients, you never pour alcohol for yourself. Among Arabs, you do not use your left hand to eat, as that hand is considered unclean.
Attire, introductions, gift-giving, conversation, dining etiquette, the significance of alcohol, toasting, and after-hours entertainment are just some of the important elements that are carefully researched before dining with international business partners.
In the U.S., if we entertain at all, it is often for practical reasons. We are busy and our clients and colleagues are busy, but we want to meet, and we have to eat. So we opt for the “two birds with one stone” approach and convene over a meal.
This may seem an effective tactic, but may also leave a great deal of potential on the table. Working breakfasts and luncheons are perfectly fine if billed as such up front.
And, of course, if clients want to talk business over meals, we are happy to comply. But if stronger alliances are what we are after, we need to let the balance of conversation be about nonbusiness items.
While you are learning about your dining companion over a business meal, you too are under the microscope. Your guest is on the lookout for clues about you—your personality, your integrity, and how much you value this relationship. The amount of thought you give to the choice of venue, the invitation, the greeting, and the seating of your guest are also under evaluation.
How you interact with the server, order wine, steer the conversation, deal with the unforeseen, and pay the bill are, too. At a business meal, your grace, generosity, and personal characteristics are on display and contribute to your guest’s evaluation of you and your overall suitability as a business partner.
Business dining opportunities involve more than just those with clients and prospects. Coworkers, employees, and bosses get to see us eat every day. And the people who hold our professional futures in their hands notice us as we wolf down our overstuffed Italian subs, our chins dripping with olive oil.
Business dining is also a big part of the interview process, especially if the job will include face-to-face client interactions. A prospective boss does not invite a candidate to lunch or dinner because she thinks he is hungry.
Her concern is how this person would fare in an unscripted and unpredictable social situation that may require any combination of good judgment, flexibility, humor, kindness, and consideration.
Walt Bettinger, CEO of Charles Schwab, the brokerage and banking company, uses the business dining experience to evaluate how well job candidates deal with adversity.
In an interview with Adam Bryant of The New York Times, he said he takes candidates to breakfast, arrives early, and asks the server to deliberately mess up the candidate’s order.
“That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset? Are they frustrated? Or are they understanding? Life is like that and business is like that.” He says it gives him a window into their hearts, not just their heads.
Prospective employers are also carefully observing how comfortable candidates are in sophisticated surroundings, how appropriate are their choices of food, drink, and conversation, how aptly they display dining skills, and whether they glance at their electronic devices.
A false step in any of these areas could cost an otherwise qualified candidate a job offer.
One might agree that dining skills are important, but question whether the lack of them is an issue. It is. We have mentioned that one of the biggest obstacles millennials face in the workplace is their perceived lack of social skills, dining skills among them.
Many think that the decline in teaching manners, traditionally done at home, began in the 1970s as women began to enter the workplace in greater numbers.
Scheduling demands put the family dinner on the back burner, so to speak. As a result, the basics of how to use silverware and engage in respectful conversations, and why the telephone is not answered during the meal, went untaught.
But if this theory is correct, it is not only millennials who missed out on these important lessons—a fair share of their older colleagues may have as well.
Hosts and Guests
Bill didn’t really mind that his guest had picked out the restaurant. It was his city after all, and he knew the best places. And Bill thought as long as his prospect was happy, the better the chances their relationship would get off to a great start.
When Bill gets to the restaurant, he takes a peek at the menu. The prices are eye-popping! Still, that was okay because this guy seemed like the real deal. His guest arrives and, after a bit of small talk, Bill invites him to order.
“Okay,” he says to Bill. Then, to the server, he says, “I’ll start with a dozen oysters, then the Caesar salad, and the prime rib, rare.” After a momentary pause to mentally calculate the bill so far, Bill asks his guest if he’d like wine. “Sure,” he says, asking the server to “bring us your best bottle of Cabernet.”
Bill tries in vain over dinner to engage his prospect in conversation, each time only to be met by the man chewing a mouthful of food and gulping his wine.
When dinner is finished and dessert offered, the client asks for the menu once again. He orders not just dessert, coffee, and an after-dinner drink for himself but, to Bill’s astonishment—dinner and dessert to take home to his wife!
The long evening finally nears its end and the check comes. As Bill reaches for his wallet, the client crumples his napkin into a ball and says to Bill, “Great dinner—thanks! My wives gonna love this,” holding up his wife’s take-home dinner order.
In delving into the subject of business entertaining, a good place to start is with the responsibilities of hosts and guests. Unlike the social arena in which such roles are not always defined, in business they generally are. And both factions need to know their responsibilities to play their parts accordingly.
Before an invitation is extended, a host must know why she is extending it. Being clear on what a host hopes to accomplish will inform all decisions to follow. Next is the choice of venue. Perhaps the occasion is a quick introductory or information-sharing meeting, where coffee at a local cafe or even the company cafeteria works well.
Maybe it is a more leisurely get-to-know-you luncheon, where a quiet venue is the best choice. It could be a celebratory dinner, where nothing short of a five-star restaurant with an excellent wine list will do.
When selecting a venue, the host considers her guest’s convenience, comfort, and taste. If the guest’s food preferences are not known, the host opts for a restaurant with a wide assortment of popular foods.
Most restaurants that cater to business clientele have selections that appeal to all comers, including vegetarians, pescatarians, carnivores, vegans, and the gluten-free.
Some quick online menu research will reassure a host that her guest’s preferences, whatever they are, will be accommodated. A host does not, however, ask the guest to choose the restaurant.
This puts undue pressure on the guest to discern what level of hospitality the host has in mind and what her own food preferences might be. But the host can suggest different kinds of food, for example, Japanese, Italian, seafood, steak, etc., to get a sense of what her guest might like.
It’s always a good idea for a host to scope out the prospective establishment before taking a valued client or prospect there. Are the food and service top-notch? Is the noise level acceptable?
Does the table spacing allow for a private conversation? Is the décor tasteful? Is the menu understandable? Knowing that the venue will be suitable in all regards gives host confidence and allows her to focus on the building of the relationship.
Once a venue is selected, an invitation is extended. Usually, a telephone or email invitation will suffice, but for a formal event such as a ceremony or banquet, a printed or engraved invitation may be in order.
The formality of the event also dictates how far in advance an invitation is extended. For casual meals, it can be as short as a few days; for special occasions, it should be at least three weeks before, perhaps preceded by a “save the date” announcement.
On the day, the host arrives early, ready to greet her guest. If the guest gets there first and does not see his host, he may be concerned about having gotten the day, time, or place correctly.
Or he may just wonder why the host isn’t there—not a question a host wants a guest to ask. A host checks her guest’s coat and keeps the ticket to retrieve it later.
The maître d’ escorts the guest to the table, and the host follows the guest. Once at the table, the host invites the guest to be seated in the best seat, which could be the one with the beautiful view or the most comfortable-looking chair. The guest sits to the right of the host at a table for four. If it is a table for two, they sit across from one another.
Immediately upon sitting, the host removes her napkin from the table and puts it in her lap. Menus will be presented after which the server, or ideally the host, invites the guest to have something to drink.
If the guest accepts and chooses a drink containing alcohol, the host also orders a drink, although it does not need to be alcoholic. Having familiarity with the menu, the host makes suggestions to the guest, including some selections from the high end of the menu’s price range.
This allows the guest to feel comfortable ordering without concern for price. If the guest does order lobster or Kobe beef at the host’s suggestion, she is prepared to order something commensurately expensive to relieve him of any concerns about being extravagant. Once the meals have been selected, the host offers the guest wine to accompany the meal.
If there are two people dining and only one drinking wine, or if different kinds of wine are preferred, it is perfectly acceptable for diners to order wine by the glass. Otherwise, it is up to the host to order wine by the bottle.
After the drinks arrive and the meals have been ordered, it’s time to get down to the business. The business of building a relationship, that is.
Throughout the meal, the host stays in complete control. She interacts with the server as needed, keeps the conversation going, handles any difficult situations that might arise, constantly anticipates her guest’s needs, and ends the meal gracefully.
She has already made arrangements with the server or maître d’ to hold the check rather than present it at the table, sidestepping any possible awkward discussion about splitting the tab or leaving the tip.
The meal over, the host escorts her guest from the restaurant, retrieves his coat, tips the coat-check person, and walks the guest to the front door. There, if a cab is needed, the host either hails one or tips the doorman for doing so.
When the host is a woman and the guest a man, or the guest is considerably older than the host, complications can arise. This is because some men and some older people feel more comfortable in the role of host.
Both men and women want to guard against behaviors that hint at gender distinctions, and all want to avoid presuming that the older person automatically pays the bill.
To ensure there is no question about who is hosting, one lets the server or maître d’ know upon her arrival that she is the host. The staff will then proceed accordingly, referring to the host and guest as appropriate in their respective roles.
There are many things over which we have no control at business meals. Preparing for the inevitable hiccups, literal or otherwise, that is just part of the dining experience allows us to go with the flow.
Staying calm, ignoring what we can, tactfully handling what we must, and laughing off the rest is the best approach. No matter what happens, it is truly never the end of the world. And who knows? It may even end up being a bonding moment!
What has the guest been up to while the host has been orchestrating this impeccable dining experience? Ideally, he has been displaying exemplary dining skills and enjoying this wonderful hospitality. A good guest knows this is his host’s show and does not usurp her responsibilities in any way.
The Mechanics of a Meal
Frank is ravenous. He comes to this business conference every year, mostly because they always host dinner at the best steakhouse in the city. He looks forward to this big, delicious dinner more than any other part of the conference.
Seated at the table, he grabs his napkin and gives it a big flap before tucking it under his chin. Now ready, he orders a gargantuan steak, to be broiled to his specifications, and a double order of thick-cut fries, golden and crisp, just the way he loves them! He holds his knife and fork, clenched in each fist, as though he were going to carve the beast himself.
In his mind, there is nothing better than this. Except, darn it, they always ruin things by bringing broccoli. Frank sure as heck is not going to let this broccoli get in the way of his perfect steak dinner.
So he takes the bread off of his bread plate and puts it on the tablecloth. He then tips his dinner plate and pushes all the broccoli florets on to the empty bread plate.
There, problem solved.
First impressions always begin with limited information. There is a tendency to think that if someone is skilled in one area, say quantum physics, they are also skilled in another, say basic utensil-holding. If the person is not skilled at holding a fork, the thinking goes, how can he possibly be trusted with subatomic particles?
When there is a large group of attendees at an event or formal dinner, there may be a receiving line to allow attendees to meet the host and guest of honor. Since all eyes are on the VIPs in a receiving line, it is important to avoid boisterous behavior in line. Keep your right hand free for a handshake, and move quickly through the line. Next, it is time to meet and mingle.
Savvy professionals take full advantage of this opportunity because they know it may be the only chance they have to talk with certain people.
Once seated, they are primarily responsible for talking with the persons to their right and left. It is inconsiderate to ignore one’s immediate dining partners in favor of those one deems more interesting or important across the table.
At the table, diners wait until all—or at least most—table companions are ready to sit down before they sit down themselves.
They allow the host to indicate where they should sit, or if there are place cards, they sit accordingly. Diners enter their chairs from the chair’s right side to avoid colliding with persons seated to their left.
In the business arena, where the focus is not on gender distinctions, men do not pull out women’s chairs or rise when they rise. However, if a woman (or a man) receives such treatment, she (or he) accepts it gracefully.
Once everyone is seated, guests wait for the host to remove his napkin from the table before doing so themselves. If the host neglects to do so once everyone is seated, diners may discreetly place their napkins in their laps. At fine restaurants, guests take in stride that servers may drape their napkins across their laps for them.
The request for a dark-colored napkin may seem reasonable to avoid lint on one’s clothes or lipstick or food stains on one’s napkin, but it is not advised. The restaurant may not be able to accommodate the request, and it could come across as a bit persnickety.
Posture at the table is important. Sit up straight, but not stiffly, with both feet on the floor. When engaging in conversation, turn your head, not your whole body, to the person with whom you are speaking.
Keep elbows and forearms off the table, and control nervous habits such as drumming fingers, tapping utensils against glasses, and excessively stirring drinks.
When drinks or food arrive, wait until the host lifts his glass or a utensil before lifting yours. The host may offer a welcoming toast, and often glasses are clinked, but this is not necessary at business meals.
A napkin, of course, goes in the lap. If it is a largely folded napkin, the crease goes toward the waist. A smaller napkin may lay flat in the lap. Never flap your napkin in midair to unfold it. During the course of a meal, if you wish to take a sip of a drink after having taken a bite of food, dab the corners of your mouth with your napkin first.
This avoids the possibility of errant crumbs landing in or on the rim of the glass. Never tuck your napkin into your collar or belt or hoist your tie over your shoulder or tuck it into your shirt to protect it.
If you must leave the table for a moment, your napkin is placed on the seat of your chair, which indicates you are returning.
Some people do not like the thought of placing a napkin where they and others have sat, and this is understandable. However, a soiled napkin placed back on the table can be unsightly for other guests.
The server may also infer from this place that you have left and proceed to clear your place setting. At an upscale restaurant, a napkin left on the chair will be quickly refolded by the server and replaced to the left of the plate or draped over the arm of the chair.
The most important thing to remember about napkins is to please use them! Licking your fingers or using the tablecloth to wipe them off is simply uncivilized behavior. Once the meal is finished, the host will place his napkin loosely folded to the left of the plate. Guests then do the same.
There are many different styles of eating around the world, but the styles encountered most often in the U.S. are the American and Continental. In the American style, the fork is held in the nondominant hand, which for most is the left hand, and the knife is held in the dominant hand.
The diner cuts his food, places the knife on the right side of the plate, blade facing in, and switches the fork to the other hand to eat. Food is scooped with the tines of the fork up.
Only one kind of food, such as meat, vegetable, or potato, is eaten at a time. The American style calls for the hands to be placed in the lap when not holding silverware
In the Continental style of eating, the utensils are held in the same fashion as in the American style, but after cutting, the food is speared or pushed onto the fork with the knife and is immediately brought to the mouth, tines of the fork down.
More than one kind of food can be on the fork, although the bite itself should not be too big. When resting between bites of food, the Continental style allows for the wrists to rest on the edge of the table.
The question about which style is preferred in the U.S.— American or Continental—comes up often. The answer is the style with which one is most comfortable. Many people like the Continental style because it seems elegant and efficient.
Others like the American style because the angle of the fork allows for greater ease in eating some foods, especially those that lend themselves to being scooped such as peas, rice, and corn. Either style is perfectly acceptable, as is alternating between the styles, depending on the food.
The order of the use of silverware is simple: Start with the utensil farthest from the plate. If the table has been set incorrectly, use the utensil you know is correct.
If you are missing a utensil, it is appropriate to ask for it. You can tell from the way the table has been set how many courses will be offered and in what order they will arrive.
For a three-course meal of soup, entrée, and dessert, you will find a soup spoon to the far right of your setting, a knife next to the soup spoon (to the soupspoon’s left but to the right of the plate), and a fork to the left of the plate.
Above the plate will be a dessert spoon with its handle to the right and directly below it, a dessert fork with its handle to the left. If you are ordering your own courses, the correct utensils will be brought to you for each course.
One of the most mentioned dining pet peeves is the way in which people hold their utensils. It is difficult to ignore someone holding a fork in a clenched fist or encircling its handle as if it were a flute.
Spoons are often held in similarly inappropriate manners, and some diners use their knives like saws. It may be challenging to overcome lifelong bad habits, but with practice, it can be done.
A spoon is held properly by placing the thumb on top of the handle at its widest part and placing the handle of the spoon between the first and second fingers. This allows one to spoon soup away and sip from the side of the spoon.
A fork starts out in the nondominant hand, tines down, with the forefinger on the back of the handle and the tip of the finger no farther down the handle than to where the handle and tines meet. If the fork is switched to the dominant hand, as in the American style, the tines are up, and the utensil is held as one would hold a pencil.
A knife starts out in the dominant hand for cutting. Similar to the way in which the fork is held, the forefinger comes down the back of the handle to no farther down than where the handle and the blade meet.
In the Continental style of eating, the knife is used to help secure food onto the fork. In the American style, the knife is placed down on the plate, blade facing in, and the fork is switched to the dominant hand to eat.
Once silverware is picked up from the table, no portion of it rests on the table again. If a diner wishes to rest between bites of food, the silverware is placed in a resting position. I favor a resting position of the inverted “V” with the tines of the fork facing right, tines down, and the blade of the knife facing left, blade in, as if to form a tent.
Some employ the resting style of the fork on the lower portion of the plate facing left, at about the 5 o’clock–8 o’clock position, and the knife on the upper portion, facing the same way at about the 2 o’clock–11 o’clock position.
Either position is fine as long as the server and other diners have a clue as to what someone is trying to signal with his silverware.
When you are finished eating, make this clear by placing the fork and knife next to each other, knife above the fork, with the blade facing in, in a 10 o’clock-4 o’clock position. The tines of the fork may be up or down. Most importantly, do not strew the silverware haphazardly about the plate.
The most important thing to remember about crystal is that if it has a stem, it is held by the stem. If it doesn’t have a stem, it is held by the glass, or bowl, in the middle to the bottom area, not near the rim.
A large-stemmed red wine glass may certainly be held near the base of the bowl to make sure it is steady, but a white wine glass is held in the middle of the stem to avoid warming the wine with the heat of the hand. Do not hold the wine glass by its base or cupped in the hand as you would a brandy snifter.
Rich can’t wait to share his success. And the annual meeting of the retail sales managers of the national chain Yardley Auto Parts is just the place to do it! Rich’s store is beating sales records by huge amounts.
He decides this is the perfect chance to tell the new company president all about it. He will stand out from the sea of 150 managers while the president is still getting to know the staff.
Rich makes his rounds, chatting with other attendees, all the while searching the tables to see where he is seated. Sure enough, his place card puts him at a table at the opposite end of the room from the president’s table.
Confident the meeting planner placed the cards randomly, Rich decides he will surreptitiously switch his place card with one at the president’s table. Rich can’t help but smile, pleased with this brilliant plan.
The meal is about to begin, and Rich sits down at the head table with the president. Just as he starts his conversation with his fellow diners, he feels a tap on his shoulder. It is the meeting planner.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “You are seated at table 10. You have to move.” His cheeks burning red hot with embarrassment, Rich stumbles to stand up and quickly walks to his seat at the far end of the room.
Rich stood out, all right, in a way neither he nor the new president would ever forget.
Seating and Conversation
The guest of honor, if there is one, is seated to the host’s immediate right. The second-ranking guest is to the host’s left. If there is a cohost, he sits at the opposite end of the table from the host, with third- and fourth-ranking guests to his right and left, respectively. All other diners are seated in the middle of the table.
The host speaks with the guest of honor first and at some point during the meal, “turns the table” to speak with the second-ranking guest. All other diners follow suit as well as they can, speaking with the available persons on either side of them.
While conversations between two people work best, there will occasionally be an uneven number of diners or odd seating configuration at the table. Sometimes several people will be involved in one discussion. If everyone remembers their primary conversation responsibilities, no one will be ignored or excluded.
Appropriate conversation topics over business meals are the same as they are for all business encounters. This means avoiding any that are potentially divisive or personal.
If you are upbeat, show genuine interest, listen well, and interject humor whenever possible, you will be a sought-after dining companion. Laughter, interest, and enthusiasm are all welcome at business meals. Boredom, negativity, and fatigue are not. You must “sing for your supper” or stay home.
If done well, toasting is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Unfortunately, business professionals miss countless opportunities to honor clients and colleagues with words of praise or thanks. Toasting is actually easier than you might think. It simply involves sharing a sentiment that is well thought-out, sincerely and briefly.
That’s it. Some people avoid making toasts because of the enormous pressure they feel it puts on them to be at once brilliant, original, and hysterically funny.
Even professional comedians and speakers can’t always hit that high a mark. Just remember to keep the spotlight squarely on the honoree when making the toast and you will relieve yourself of a great deal of pressure.
A The host makes the toast. It occurs after the main course has been cleared, during the dessert course. The host stands and says, “May I have your attention, please?
We are here tonight in honor of . . .” At a small gathering, the host may stay seated. For a short toast, the host may hold his glass throughout; for a longer one, he may pick it up at the end.
A The host invites attendees to raise their glasses. In the U.S., it is appropriate to toast with wine, champagne, or water. All raise their glasses in the direction of the guest of honor and do not clink their glasses among themselves. The honoree is the only person who does not raise a glass; it is incorrect to drink to oneself.
A The honoree reciprocates. A toast of thanks is offered to the host and to everyone who has attended by the honoree. All join in, raising their glasses to the host.
Challenging situations come up at every meal, and savvy diners handle them deftly. You should call as little attention to them as possible and ignore them if you can. Never embarrass a dining companion by belaboring an incident.
THE PROPER RESPONSE
An If you drop something on the floor, leave it there—whether
food, silverware, or a napkin. If the item is a hazard, such as a fork in the main traffic area, place it under the table. Do not use it or place it on the table again.
An If you find something inedible in your food, such as an olive pit, bone, or gristle, or worse, a bug or strand of hair, quietly bring it to the server’s attention. Do not upset dining companions by sharing this information.
An If you have food stuck in your teeth, take a sip of water or quietly excuse yourself and tend to it in the restroom. If you see something on another’s lip, chin, or tooth, address discreetly. Point to your mouth with raised eyebrows or whisper the information.
An If you must cough or sneeze, turn away and down toward your elbow or over your shoulder. You needn’t leave the table unless you have a prolonged attack or need to blow your nose. Never use a napkin as a handkerchief, but if unavoidable, ask for a replacement.
An If you spill a beverage, right the glass, blot the spill, and ask for a clean napkin. Pick up spilled food with a clean spoon or knife, or fingers if necessary, and put it on the plate. Leave crumbs on the table; the server will attend to them.
An If your guest drinks too much alcohol, be discreet. Quietly arrange with the server to not offer or pour any more alcohol. If you are not sure your guest can safely drive, insist on driving him home or call a cab.
Dining Do's and Don’ts
There are a number of telling behaviors in business dining situations that distinguish those who have taken the time to learn the intricacies from those who have not. Here are some important tips.
Remember, your bread plate is to the left of your plate, and your drinks are to the right. The acronym BMW, for bread, meal, and water, is a great way to remember this.
A Cut no more than one or two bites of food at a time. Take small bites and swallow any food in your mouth before taking a sip of a drink. Chew with your mouth closed. Once the food is on your utensil, put it immediately into your mouth.
A Check coats and umbrellas when possible. Purses, briefcases, papers, eyeglasses, mobile phones, and medication should be kept off of tables.
A Avoid food choices that may be problematic to eat. Save lobster, ribs, and tacos for dining with friends and family. Familiarize yourself with the ways in which to eat various foods.
A Pay with a credit card or a standing account. Do not pay with cash.
Treat restaurant servers or staff disrespectfully. Executives often take prospective employees out to meals not to see how they treat them, but to see how they treat the servers.
A Use your fingers to push food. Don’t slurp, burp, or smack your lips.
A Announce your food likes, dislikes, allergies, or latest diet.
Never complain about the venue, the food, or the service, especially if you are a guest. Do not comment on food choice, offer dietary advice, or monitor consumption. Do not ask to taste others’ food.
A Move or rearrange a place setting for your ease in eating.
Do not wipe off spotty silverware or crystal, rotate your plate, or push your plate away at the end of the meal.
A Ask for a doggie bag, whether host or guest, even if the server mention it.
Throughout the meal, diners carefully and silently monitor the tempo and tenor of the meal to make good judgments about what to do next. If they notice that everyone has finished a course, they put their utensils in the finished position as well. If everyone else orders a drink, first course, and dessert, they do, too.
Of course, they do not have to order exactly what others order, but participating in all courses and drinks keeps the pace of the meal even and allows others to enjoy what they wish without fear of rushing or holding others up. the social side of the business
Knowing the Basics for Every Situation
Jared had it made in the shade. A top student in a prestigious MBA program, he had just landed a coveted summer internship at a prominent financial services company. Jared knew all he had to do was ace this internship and a six-figure job the offer was guaranteed him upon graduation.
All the interns were invited to a welcome-to-the-firm dinner in the luxurious, usually off-limits, executive dining room. Jared ordered a glass of fine Merlot, even though the hosts had preordered wine for the dinner. He enjoyed the wine thoroughly, ordering two more glasses before the main course arrived.
When Jared’s meal came, it was not cooked to his specifications— he’d ordered his steak medium-rare, not the medium, he curtly reminded the server—so he sent it back. While he waited, he asked for another glass of wine.
Now confidently holding court at his end of the table, Jared proudly shared his achievements with whoever was within earshot. With a barely detectable slur in his words, he spared no detail about the numerous awards he’d received and the work he’d put into achieving his stellar GPA.
Throughout the dinner, Jared jumped into conversations when they interested him, always relating the topic to his accomplishments, and checked texts when he was not interested.
Toward the end of the meal, Jared noticed many eyes were on him. Terrific, he thought. They’re impressed! That they were appalled was completely lost on him. If the executives had any doubts about offering him a future full-time position, this dinner put that question to rest. Jared had miserably and, unknowingly, failed this crucial test.
The social side of business encompasses everything from a cup of coffee to a five-course meal, and savvy business professionals are comfortable in all of these social situations.
Regardless of the formality of the event, the same guidelines for hosts and guests apply, as do all of the dos and don’ts of dining: Arrive early, do not use electronic devices, and correctly handle the silverware, crystal, and napkin. The only thing that changes is the venue.
Advertising executive Emily often entertained clients at breakfasts, taking them to her elegant city club with its beautifully appointed dining room with fresh flowers, immaculate white tablecloths, attentive service, and magnificent panoramic views of the city below from the 36th floor. Her guests were always impressed. But today, she was in her new prospect’s city.
It had taken her months to get on her calendar, and her prospect had made it clear that her schedule was very tight. When she suggested breakfast, Emily quickly and happily agreed. She’s always had great luck at business breakfasts! But where?
It had to be distinctive, convenient, and suitable for a business conversation. Emily knew she had one chance to impress this prospect and had to get it right. She did some online reconnaissance and found a charming bistro close to her client’s office. The website showed off its lovely décor and people in business suits engaged in conversations. It looked ideal!
Emily arrived early but was immediately told there was a 15-minute wait—and her prospect was already on her way. When they were finally seated, it took another 10 minutes to get coffee and menus.
The server was rushed, telling them that they were shorthanded. Thirty minutes after they sat down, their orders arrived, eggs cold and toast overdone and rock hard. Their water glasses and coffee cups remained empty as Emily tried in vain to get the server’s attention.
Her prospect announced she really had to get back. She gathered her things, thanked her host, and left. Emily could not even walk her to the door, never mind back to her office, as she waited for the bill.
Emily left glum, realizing she had accomplished nothing but wasting her prospect’s valuable time. Lesson learned: A pretty website does not ensure a great experience. Emily had failed to do enough due diligence and lost out on promising business in the process.
Meeting a client or prospect for coffee is a modest investment of time and money and a great way to make introductions, further relationships, or discuss ideas in an informal setting.
Once, coffee was almost exclusively associated with the morning, but now virtually any time of day that works for your client is appropriate for coffee.
You can make this mode of entertainment special from the very beginning by picking your guest up at her office. You eliminate potential issues of transportation or traffic, which could affect arrival times, parking, and seating, and the bonus is that your guest will feel valued.
If you use your own car instead of a hired car, make sure it is spotlessly clean and odor-free. An additional nice touch is to have bottled water and possibly mints or hard candy available. A friend of mine in real estate does this and tells me that these small gestures are noticed and appreciated every time.
If picking your guest up is not feasible, ask her in advance what you can order for her. This saves time when schedules are tight. Arrive early to scope out a table.
In a self-serve environment, invite your guest to sit, then place and pay for your orders. Offer your guest both something to eat and drink and follow suit so she feels comfortable in partaking.
Choose a venue that is conducive to a business conversation. Meeting at a private club or café where the staff knows you, where good service is guaranteed, and where you can handle the bill out of sight is ideal. Engage in small talk until the coffee arrives, then introduce the business topic you want to discuss. Keep your voice low in places where you might be overheard.
Coffee is, of course, meant to be quick and casual. Ask your guest how much time she has, keep an eye on the clock, and let her know when the time for her departure approaches.
If the conversation is going well, she may extend it. If not, your guest will appreciate that you have been respectful of her schedule. As always, thank your guest for joining you.
More formal than coffee, breakfast is a great way to secure valuable in-person time with clients and prospects in a cost-effective, time-sensitive way. Clients are often more relaxed at breakfast, the challenges of the day not yet having consumed their attention.
And if your client happens to work on billable hours or has a hard stop at the end of the day, breakfast may be the only time you can see him. Breakfast is quieter and more personal than later meals, and the service is usually swift.
Breakfast meetings can begin as early as 6:30 A.M. and go as late as 8:30 A.M. If your guest orders something to eat, follow suit, but order foods that are manageable, quick, and healthful.
It will not go unnoticed if your guest has a nonfat yogurt with fruit and you have a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and home fries, with a tall stack of pancakes on the side!
Engage in small talk until the coffee comes, then switch to business. When the food arrives, either reintroduce casual conversation or keep the business topic going. Time is of the essence at breakfast meetings, and it is not incorrect to talk business throughout.
Lunch meetings are meant for relationship-building and business talk in equal measure. Lunch, more formal and more social than coffee or breakfast, is also more expensive and takes more time. It is a greater investment on the part of your client as well, a testament that you are worth the time!
Midday meals differ in other ways as well. Over lunch, a host offers his guest a cocktail or wine, although in the U.S. this offer will generally be declined.
The days of the three-martini lunch are long gone, and it is rare, but not unheard of, to drink alcohol at lunch. Still, in some parts of the country, and at some venues, the offer of beer or wine at lunch may be welcomed.
In cultures where drinking at lunch is customary, guests may also take you up on this invitation. Generally, it is best to make the offer, recognizing that you do not need to join in unless you want to. Never drink alcohol at lunch if your guest is not drinking.
Another way lunch differs from coffee or breakfast is the point at which the topic of business is broached. The host begins by engaging in small talk, transitioning to business talk after the meals are ordered and prior to their arrival.
Once the meal arrives, he reverts to lighter topics of conversation. Business talks may be picked up again after the main course over coffee.
When business talk is the main purpose of getting together, lunch in the boardroom, the executive dining room, or even the company cafeteria can make good sense.
Savvy hosts know that even these venues present golden opportunities for them to make great impressions on their guests. If food is delivered to a meeting room, having real glasses, plates, silverware, and napkins available make hosts stand out.
Guests notice and appreciate not having to grapple with plastic forks, flimsy paper plates, cracking plastic cups, and barely useable napkins. If lunch is in a cafeteria, a host walks through the food lines with her guest or meets him at the cashier to pay for their food.
A very nice touch is to arrange to have a company higher-up stop by the table to greet a special guest. A host would make the introduction and facilitate a brief conversation. It is one more chance to let a guest know how valued he is by the organization at all levels.
One of the best-kept secrets among business entertaining cognoscenti is afternoon tea. The ambiance of an elegant dining room overlooking a beautiful vista, with white linens on the table and gleaming silver tea service at the ready, is hard to beat.
Warm scones, crustless tea sandwiches, assorted sweets, and a reviving cup of freshly brewed tea form a welcome scenario for many a harried businessperson. Tea has all of the elements of a lavish entertainment experience, including sophisticated surroundings, superior service, and excellent food, but little of the expense.
Entertaining over tea reaps great personal branding rewards for hosts who are seen as creative, cultured, and respectful of others’ time. Afternoon tea is offered at venerable hotels and restaurants in almost all big cities, and most do a splendid job.
Hosts can make the most of the relatively brief time they have with clients over after-hours drinks by giving a great deal of thought to the venue. A good choice is a high-end restaurant where you are known to the staff.
There, you will be greeted and welcomed by name at the door and can introduce your guest to the restaurant captain. Your party can then be seated at a reserved table where complimentary cocktail accompaniments such as nuts and olives are often served and drink orders swiftly taken.
If your guest orders alcohol, you as host would follow suit but would limit your consumption to one drink. Sometimes a host may offer his guest another cocktail, but only after acknowledging the guest’s presumed time constraints.
If the guest is in no hurry and the host’s schedule allows, he may suggest dinner, for both hospitality and safety reasons. Too much alcohol on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, a scenario with which the host does not want to be associated.
The superb service, ambiance, and drinks in this setting make your guest feel honored and set the stage for a wonderful, enduring relationship.
Dinner is the most social of business experiences. It is also the one that involves the greatest investment of time and money. In the U.S., dinner with a client usually comes after a business relationship is well underway. But there is still a great deal to learn about business partners over dinners—their histories, their personal lives, and their goals.
There may be even more to learn that a host bargained for if alcohol is involved and inhibitions are lowered. Bonds are either cemented over business dinners—or permanently fractured. It makes sense to treat this opportunity with the kid gloves it deserves.
In addition to all of his other host responsibilities, at dinners, the host has one more: the ordering of wine.
This is a responsibility he undertakes not only because it’s his job, but also because there are risks associated with relinquishing the wine list. Countless sales reps have had to pay exorbitant bills after having trustingly invited their guests to choose the wine.
A host also orders the wine because he does not want to put undue pressure on his guest, who may be embarrassed to admit he knows little about wine.
A host should always be aware that when alcohol is involved, people often do and say things they regret or, worse, driving under the influence. A host must be keenly attuned to his guest’s condition and do all he can to allow him to save face without contributing to his intoxication.
This could mean quietly working with the server to stop offering alcohol or engaging in a lengthy dessert course with lots of coffee.
Dinners are an especially important part of entertaining international guests, who consider them the perfect opportunities to evaluate potential business partners.
However, among locally based associates, clients, or prospects, it’s important to remember that business dinners can cut into the precious family and personal time. If you are meeting a client on her home turf and it is anything but a working dinner, it is considerate to invite her spouse as well.
At a famous French restaurant in Boston, my host, a wine collector, ordered a $300 bottle of wine per the sommelier’s suggestion. The sommelier decanted the wine and, when it was time, poured a small amount in my host’s glass for him to taste. When the sommelier asked how the wine was, my host told him he thought the wine had turned.
The sommelier then tasted it and announced that my host was mistaken, that the wine was perfectly good. What ensued was a polite yet tense exchange between two individuals both highly knowledgeable on the subject of wine.
Ultimately, the sommelier took the wine back, and my host ordered another bottle at the same price point, which turned out to be fine. The experience for me was a somewhat unnerving joust between two experts. It was the first time I had witnessed the high stakes of the world of fine wine.
One of the most pleasurable aspects of business dinners and life, in general, is wine. Widely enjoyed, wine is still intimidating to many.
Lengthy wines lists, confusing terminology, vastly divergent prices, and the not-so-vague feeling that everyone knows more about the subject can send an otherwise confident business professional straight to the beer list.
While the knowledge of wine can be passionately pursued, you needn’t become a Master of Wine to do just fine with any wine list you encounter. This is very good news because this designation is very hard to come by.
According to the Institute of Masters of Wine, there are currently only 342 people in the world who have achieved Master of Wine status.
Of those who meet the arduous qualifications to sit for the grueling exam, only 10 percent pass. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, who achieved the designation in 1984, said, “Master of Wine exams were for masochists when I took them . . . what is stunning is how popular this form of torture is today.”
Take heart, no one knows all there is to know about wine. Unencumbered by this pressure, you can instead educate yourself about wine and then blissfully enjoy it to your heart’s content. You can read books, take courses, and learn about wine categories. You can attend wine tastings, download apps, and subscribe to wine publications.
You can also ask to speak with a professional, as I did with Ashley Waugh, sommelier and general manager of the award-winning No. 9 Park restaurant in Boston, who kindly gave her imprimatur on the advice that follows.
These steps will enable you to know as much about wine, if not more, than the vast majority. And they will ensure you are never cowed by a restaurant’s wine list again.
A WINE PRIMER
A Table wine. Known as still wines, they contain only the juice of grapes. Table wines are bottled after fermentation, the process that converts the sugar of juices to alcohol. In the U.S., table wines, which are drunk with foods, are 7 percent to 14 percent alcohol.
In Europe, table wine is defined as the most generic type of wine, sourcing grapes from all around the country. This type of wine cannot carry with it a varietal or region of origin on its label. Alcohol by volume (ABV) can range from 5 percent to 17 percent.
A Fortified wine. This wine is strengthened with brandy or a spirit during its fermentation and is popularly consumed as an accompaniment to dessert. Fortified wines are 16 percent to 23 percent alcohol.
A Aperitifs. These are flavored wines such as vermouth or Dubonnet. Aperitifs are often served before meals. Herbs, barks, roots, and other flavorings give aperitifs their distinctive flavors. Aperitifs are 15 percent to 20 percent alcohol.
Excellent wines are found throughout the world. The most well-known regions include:
A France. French wines are named for the regions from which they come. Bordeaux comes from Bordeaux, Burgundy from Burgundy, and Champagne from Champagne. Other regions include the Rhône River Valley for red wines and the Loire Valley and Alsace region for white wines.
A Germany. German wines come from the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Rhine wines, which come in brown bottles are full-bodied. Moselle wines, which come in green bottles, are light and off-dry.
An Italy. Italian wines may come from Tuscany, Piedmont, or Sicily. Italian red wines include Chianti, Valpolicella, and Bardolino. Italian white wines include Soave and Orvieto.
The United States. American wines are named either for the grape (varietal) or the European wine they resemble.
Most American wine is made in California, although today wine is produced in all 50 states. Other well-known wine producing regions include Austria, Australia, Chile, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Switzerland, and Portugal.
White wines are usually ready to drink as soon as they are bottled. Exceptions include great wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Red wines require time to age properly, with the exception of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Wines from Spain, Portugal, and Italy may be ready to be consumed within a year or two, but fine French wines may need 10 years. Champagne is best when consumed between 10 and 15 years of bottling.
When ordering wine at a restaurant, always ask for the server or sommelier’s suggestions, regardless of your level of knowledge about wine. They will (or should) know which wines pair best with their menu selections. This way, you will get an excellent suggestion within your price range.
To do this, point directly to a wine on the list, and ask the server what she thinks of that particular wine with the meals that have been chosen. She now knows your price range. Even if she has a different suggestion, she will offer you one close in price to the one you pointed out.
Making sure the wine you are about to serve your guests is good requires you to take some steps. When the unopened bottle is presented to you at your table, first look at the label to ensure it is the wine and vintage you ordered.
Once opened, look at the cork. Be sure it is neither soaked through nor crumbling, as either could indicate an issue with the wine.
Once a small amount is poured for you to taste, swirl the wine with the base of the glass on the table, sniffing the wine, and then taste it. If all is well, the server will pour first for your guests and then for you.
How necessary are all these steps? The chance that the wine you ordered is bad is perhaps greater than you think. It is estimated that for wines with corks, anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent have been “corked” or tainted.
This means they have been contaminated by a chemical compound known as TCA, created by fungi that infected the cork and seeped into the wine. You will know if a wine is corked by its musty or moldy smell. Wine can also be oxidized, or exposed to air, which gives it a vinegary smell.
It can be “cooked,” or exposed to heat, which makes it taste like stewed prunes. It can be refermented or could have undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, which leaves it fizzy or bubbly.
The proliferation of wines in bottles with screw tops and plastic stoppers have eliminated the chances they are corked, but these bottles can still be affected by improper handling and storage.
Screw tops and plastic stoppers do not imply inferior wine. Good wine is also found in boxes, although, as far as I know, boxes of wine have not yet found their way to the business dining table.
Do taste the wine, but put affectations aside. At a business dinner, don’t “chew” the wine or make audible noises or contorted facial expressions. If you suspect something is wrong with the bottle, politely ask the server, not your guest, to taste it.
At a reputable establishment, the server will take the bottle back without further ado even if he disagrees with your assessment.
However, you are not allowed to return a perfectly good bottle you chose on your own simply because you didn’t like the taste, especially if that bottle is half empty!
But if the server suggested it, and you truly do not like it, it is perfectly acceptable to let him know. A restaurant’s primary concern is its customers’ happiness. Besides, if it’s good, the wine will not go to waste.
White wine does not need to breathe and is best served chilled. Young red wines, those under eight years old, are strong in tannic acid and need to breathe or be exposed to air for an hour or more. Mature red wines need no more than 30 minutes to breathe, and very old reds may not need to breathe at all.
However, some sommeliers believe in advance decanting of some Burgundies and Barolos to allow them to “wake up” after long aging.
Red wine is served at cellar temperature. White wines are served before red wines; dry wines are served before sweet wines. Champagne may be served at any time before, during, or after the meal.
Wine pours vary from three to six ounces, and the size of the glass will have a bearing on how high it is filled. A red wine glass, which is usually larger than a white wine glass, is filled no more than halfway.
This allows the wine “nose,” or fragrance, to be captured in the empty space. A white glass may be filled one-third to two-thirds full, depending upon its size.
Traditionally, white wines were served with fish, chicken, pork, and veal, and red wines were served with meat, heavier dishes, and cheese. These rules have been relaxed to accommodate personal preferences. But as you educate yourself about wine, learning about tried and true food and wine pairings will be helpful.
Of course, not everyone drinks wine. If you happen to be one of those individuals and are hosting a business meal, still offer your guest wine, but suggest she order it by the glass or employ the server to make a recommendation.
You need never explain nor apologize for not drinking alcohol, whether for health, religious, or personal reasons. Instead, order what you’d like. If you would prefer not to have to fend off questions, have sparkling water with lime. No one will know it’s not a gin and tonic.
If you do drink wine, familiarize yourself with wine terminology: vintage, varietal, acid, tannins, balance, body, nose, legs, etc. Know what dry, fruity, chewy, oaky, earthy, buttery, and velvety mean. Learn how to pronounce wine names.
All of this information will allow you to ask intelligent questions about the wine and to understand the descriptions the server offers. There are a number of online resources to help you, including a website by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, http://jancis-robinson.com.
Not a wine drinker? Not to worry. Drinking beer is fine at many restaurants, especially casual venues that serve burgers, ribs, or pizza. If this is your choice, drink your beer from a glass that is filled in one pour, not from a bottle or can that is left on the table.
But at fine restaurants when everyone else is drinking wine or alcohol, you may decide to sip sparkling water instead of standing out from the group by drinking a beer.
Activities and Events
Larry is reluctant to accept a golf invitation from a prospective vendor. He loves golf and would be thrilled to get out on this course, but there is something about the guy that rubs him wrong.
Maybe it’s the not-so-subtle digs he takes at his competitors, or the “special” pricing he offers Larry that no other client gets or the borderline inappropriate way he talks to Larry’s administrative assistant.
Still, Larry likes the service this vendor’s company offers. He realizes he may be rushing to judgment and decides four hours on the golf course will give him an insight into the man’s character one way or the other.
And so he accepts.
Two hours into the game, Larry has all the information he needs. He knows as well as anyone how frustrating golf can be but has never seen such poor sportsmanship. When this would-be vendor is not whining, cursing, or throwing his clubs, he is giving other golfers advice and even talking on his cell phone.
And although Larry can’t prove it, he is pretty sure the guy is cheating. Larry is glad he accepted the invitation because it has made his decision crystal clear—he will never do business with a company who employs this kind of person.
A sporting event is a wonderful way to further a relationship with a client, whether you and your guests are participants or spectators. These events are entertaining and relaxing and offer the opportunity to develop common interests and bonds.
Additionally, sporting events usually last at least two hours and sometimes the better part of a day, afternoon, or evening, providing rare uninterrupted time with valued clients or prospects.
HANDLING THE BASICS
If you are a participant, strictly adhere to the guidelines for attire and play for the event. Your good sportsmanship will be under the microscope.
If your guest is a participant, let him know ahead of time what equipment he will need, what to wear, who else might be accompanying you, and how long the event will take.
If you and your guest are arriving separately, deliver your guest’s ticket to his office on the day of the event or meet at a designated time and place and hand the prepaid ticket to your guest. Do not pay for any fees or tickets in your guest’s presence.
If talking business, take your guest’s lead. She may just want to enjoy the event and save business discussions for another time.
The Private Box
Entertaining guests in a private box lets them know that they are held in high esteem. It is critical that the hosts take great care with their duties and that guests also do their part.
Hosts arrive early to greet guests, appropriately attired in either high-end business casual or suits if they are coming directly from the office. They offer guests refreshments, introduce them to others in the box, and facilitate small talk.
Boxes are divided into two spaces: one, an enclosed area for mingling and partaking of refreshments, and the other, actual seats for viewing the game.
In this intimate gathering, hosts and guests talk with everyone, much as they would at a party. It is acceptable to let others know who you are and what you do, but do not engage in heavy business discussions or obvious sales tactics.
Once in the seats, talk business only if your guest initiates it. In this close setting, boisterous behavior or overindulging in alcohol will be noticed and will not be forgotten.
If you know your guest particularly enjoys cultural events, selecting a concert, a play, a symphony, or an opera will boost you into the business entertainer hall of fame. Scoring hard-to-find tickets demonstrate your thoughtfulness and generosity, and also your ingenuity and influence.
Arrange for dinner beforehand, and attend to your guest’s comfort throughout the event to create an experience—and relationship— for the ages.
A manager due to speak at an employee awards dinner had had, unbeknownst to her boss, too much to drink. When she was called to the stage to recount the accomplishments of one of the award recipients, she stumbled up the stairs, seeming to barely make it to the podium.
There, she immediately launched into a roast of the honoree with rambling, inappropriate remarks, laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes. When no one laughed with her, she told the assemblage to “lighten up.”
The manager then abruptly shifted her tone and began to engage in an overly emotional tribute to the award winner, choking up tearfully as she described his character and accomplishments.
After thoroughly embarrassing herself and her audience, she was escorted off the stage. All eyes were on her as she walked out of the event, her grim-faced boss beside her. She was not fired on the spot, but her position was eliminated a relatively short time afterward.
THE SOCIAL SIDE OF BUSINESS
You’ve outdone yourself in the business entertainment arena. Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy yourself with your colleagues. After a long week, quarter, or year, you look forward to meeting up at a local watering hole or attending a company-sponsored party or event.
You’ve earned this chance to let your hair down with team members and possibly even take advantage of face time with company higher-ups. What could possibly go wrong?
Whenever we are with our colleagues, our brands are on display. And whenever alcohol is served, our good judgment and professionalism are on display, too. Socializing with colleagues in a setting that sounds, tastes, looks, and feels like a party lulls employees into thinking it is a party. In fact, it is the most treacherous professional terrain they will ever encounter.
The boss who hits on his subordinate, the employee who complains about his salary, the employee who spreads gossip to sabotage a coworker, the employee who belligerently argues his political views, the two teammates who conspicuous flirt then mysteriously disappear—none of this goes unnoticed.
At formal company events, employees who accept an invitation and don’t attend, or don’t formally accept and do attend (sometimes with uninvited guests), are as problematic as those who come too early, too late, or dressed inappropriately— or who spend the entire evening on their electronic devices.
A Respond promptly to an invitation. Go if you have accepted.
A great deal of time, effort, and expense are involved in any event. To cancel at the last minute or to skip the party entirely (except in the case of an emergency) is extremely inconsiderate.
Do not ask to bring a guest. If you are invited to bring a guest and do, his behavior and dress reflect on you. A preparty briefing about who’s who and what you hope to accomplish is time well spent.
A Greet hosts and senior persons. Do not involve them in lengthy conversations, however, as they need to circulate among all of the guests. Take the opportunity to talk with those you may not see on a daily basis.
A Be enthusiastic! Participate in the event’s activities, and encourage others to do so as well. But remember, it is not your job to be the “life of the party.” Email or send a note of thanks to the host the next day. It will be appreciated and perhaps the only one he receives.
Many times impromptu social events will pop up such as drinks with colleagues, casual dinners, and activities such as shopping, walks, and bike rides. The advice is to consider going to as many of these as you can without impacting your work-life balance.
They represent terrific ways to bond with coworkers, glean useful information, and generally keep up with what’s happening within the organization.
Expenses associated with such occasions are not normally covered by the company, so be prepared to pay an equal share, even if you are not drinking alcohol.
Never become the company freeloader. At after-hours drinks with their team, one colleague was always the first to grab the check and divvy up the amount due per person.
All contributed their fair shares, no questions asked, until one day someone noticed that the “banker” was the only one who did not contribute to the bill. He also kept the change for himself! Needless to say, this was the last time he was in charge of the bill. No word on whether he was invited for drinks again.
We’ve learned how much skill is associated with business dining and entertaining. We may have been swayed to consider that there could be life outside of cyberspace and that interacting face-to-face might actually be enjoyable.
In fact, we may just be encouraged enough to put our electronic devices down, at least for a moment, and bask in the warmth of real-life smiles.