Voice Mail: Not the Villain You Think

A holdover from before the age of email, voice mail is perhaps the most loathed (and disused) communications tool at our disposal in 2017. Consider sentiments such as these:

“I never listen to my voicemails. It’s too time-consuming.”

“I don’t bother leaving voicemails. No one listens to them anyway.”

“I haven’t set up my voice mailbox. I wouldn’t even know how.”

Companies including Coca-Cola, Bloomberg and JPMorgan Chase have largely eliminated voice mail for their employees, typically to great acclaim. The argument, of course, is that voice mail is prehistoric and that email and text messaging have eliminated the need for it. Voice mail, with its cumbersome access numbers and passcodes, not to mention its linear method for listening to messages, is simply a time-waster. And while one could argue that replacing a fax machine with email is an upgrade with zero downsides, suggestions that email is a comparable substitute for voicemail are inaccurate.

What does voicemail have that email and texting do not? Tone. And I don’t mean dial tone. I mean vocal tone. In the business-etiquette training workshops I offer around the U.S., one of the consistent complaints I hear from my students is that they regularly receive emails that come across as rude. Often, this perception of lack of politeness is the result of a misunderstanding. What is meant to be concise comes off as curt. What is meant to be a question comes off as a demand. What is meant to be a rationale comes off as an excuse. And in each of these cases, the missing element is the human voice…something that would help bridge the digital gap easily and effectively. Consider the following one-line email:

We missed you at the meeting today.

How would you interpret that statement? As a thoughtful check-in? A perplexed inquiry? A gentle chastisement of someone’s absence? A frustrated observation?

I challenge you to answer that question definitively. I don’t think you can. Now try saying the line aloud, using as many different intonations as you can. How many versions of that statement can you create? Your voice inflection gives the listener keys to gauging your state of mind. Could you accomplish the equivalent via email? With effort, yes. Does everyone make the time to write thoughtful, nuanced emails that remove all possibility for misinterpretation? Based on the responses I receive in my training classes, absolutely not.

Is there subtext to your message? Is there an opportunity for the recipient to perceive your meaning incorrectly? Is a face-to-face conversation out of the question due to your being in different locations? If so, voicemail is clearly the superior option to email or texting. The takeaway here? Don’t be afraid to leave them—and listen to them.

What do you think? Are there instances where you would use voicemail as your preferred means of communication versus email? Let me know! And in my next post, I’ll discuss the art of perfect voicemail—both incoming and outgoing.

 

The Business of Gratitude in Business

networking_gratitude

Good networking in business is about give and take. And the best networkers give more than they take. Sadly, there are far too many who practice the exact opposite.

I could fill a book with the names of people who have asked me to review their résumés, write them recommendation letters, serve as a reference, grant informational interviews or make introductions on their behalf. In nearly all cases* I’m happy to oblige, even when to do so impinges on my own workload. I also delight in being a connector—fixing up my acquaintances (often unsolicited) when I think there could be a mutual benefit from their knowing one another.

Which is why I struggle with personalities who are not shy about asking for favors but neglect to express their thanks after the fact. No matter how busy you are, you have zero excuse not to thank someone who has gone out of the way to grant you a solid. Like walking through a door a stranger has held for you and not saying “thank you,” accepting another’s goodwill and then forgetting all about it has wide-ranging repercussions. As in: The giver is going to think twice about repeating such generosity in the future. Whether for you or for someone else.

With that in mind, here are my best practices for asking for (and accepting) the benevolence of others in business:

1) Don’t Be Pushy
Just because a person has the ability to grant your request does not equal obligation to do so. If the other party is too busy, unwilling or unable to comply, you can’t allow that fact to tarnish your relationship.

2) Offer More than You Ask
Requesting big favors and never offering any of your own will quickly earn you a reputation as a taker. (And perhaps even a friendship faker.) Be a giver…think of it as building your credit score. The higher your score, the more likely it is you’ll get “loan offers,” i.e.—connection opportunities—without even asking.

3) Make it Easy
If you want contacts to write you a letter of recommendation, provide them with any background information they need to do so. Give them plenty of time, too. Asking for favors at the last-minute is inconsiderate, and will likely deliver inferior results. Also, if you’re offering up someone’s name as a reference, be sure you have cleared it with the individual before passing along any contact info.

4) Be Thankful
Not every favor granted calls for a flower arrangement, a cookie basket or a thank-you dinner, but at the very least, it calls for an expression of genuine thanks. (And no, a text message that reads “Thx” does not cut it.) Be certain you don’t leave your contact in the dark! If the connection has resulted in something positive for you (a business deal, a job, a foot in the door), keep the favor-granter posted. What greater joy than to know the efforts have borne fruit.

5) Pay it Forward
With apologies to Taylor Swift, the “Takers gonna take, take, take, take, take.” So last but not least, don’t be a taker; aim to give twice as much as you request. After all, tis better to give than to receive.

*There are instances when I decline providing a recommendation or connection, such as when I don’t believe in the abilities of the person doing the asking or when I don’t think the connection would spell mutual benefit for both parties. I work hard to build a trusted network of contacts, and I know you do, too. Maintain the integrity of your list by respecting that sometimes, a connection is simply not meant to be.

The Business Etiquette of Saying No

Business Etiquette of Saying No

“Can I ask you a favor?”

Do you get a rush of adrenaline when you hear this question…or do you feel a pang of dread?

For many of us, the chance to provide a career-related kindness is an opportunity to savor, the business etiquette equivalent of helping jump start the battery of a friend’s stuck car.

On the other hand, in business, we also encounter scenarios when we simply cannot (or would prefer not) to assist.

There are perfectly legitimate reasons for feeling this way and yet, for someone who’s a giver, saying “no” can be far more difficult than saying “um, okay.”

Have you ever been asked for a reference by a former employee whose abilities you don’t hold in high regard? Or for an introduction to a valued connection by someone you barely know (or trust)? What would you do with a request to pass along the résumé of a candidate whose abilities you know to be subpar?

It’s human nature to want to help, and yet when assisting also means ignoring our own best instincts, an uncomfortable paradox is typically the result. Having been in all of the situations above, here is my best personal manners and business etiquette advice:

The Recommendation Request
You detract from your own credibility when you provide a glowing reference for a former employee whose work performance was anything but. Difficult though it may be, professional ethics dictate you decline this request—gracefully, of course. I suggest responding along these lines:

“I’m honored you’ve asked me to recommend you and would be happy to confirm your position and dates of employment. With respect to a recommendation, it’s probably best for you to seek one from someone who can better represent your skills than I can.”

Your honest but sensitive reply should serve to prevent a similar request from this individual in the future.

My Daughter’s Roommate’s Boyfriend Needs a Job
“You know lots of influential people, right? Can you help him?” More often than not, this sort of ask comes from an acquaintance who saved your business card from a chance meeting at a trade conference eight years ago. You barely recall the acquaintance and of course, know less than zero about his daughter’s roommate’s boyfriend.

I’m a big believer in karma and doing good things for others without any expectation of reciprocation. And yet, your network of contacts, a coterie of individuals you’ve likely spent years establishing, is not something to treat cavalierly. The response to this request should also be a graceful “no.” I recommend a variation on:

“Much as I’d like to assist your daughter’s roommate’s boyfriend, I make it a policy only to connect individuals I’ve met and can unequivocally recommend. I hope you understand.” Leave it at that; no further elaboration is necessary.

The Résumé Referral
“Could you pass my C.V. along to your human resources department?” Although in your eyes an acquaintance may not be suited for a particular position, in this case, you can leave it to the hiring manager to make this determination. Don’t promise a glowing referral, and certainly don’t make one if you are not feeling it. I propose:

“Of course I can pass your résumé along.” (A true statement of fact.)

and

“I’ve been asked to forward this résumé for your consideration.” Full stop. Where it goes from there is out of your hands.

Bottom line? Tough as it may be not to go out of your way for those who ask for your business help, for others to continue to trust you, you must trust your own gut. Adhere to that standard and your network of contacts will continue to value your referrals, knowing they are heartfelt, genuine and truly worthy.

Emoji Etiquette

The world’s love affair with emojis is undeniable. From their humble beginnings among Japanese anime fans in the late 1990s up to the present, they have become a ubiquitous part of our communications. In Tweets and text messages, Facebook posts and Snapchat exchanges, advertising campaigns and apparel, blink and you’ll miss an emoji (or four).

What is so appealing about these simple-faced icons and their pictographic kin such as pizza slices and flamenco dancers? For starters, they provide an emotional context to text-based messages. In an age where a thoughtlessly deployed punctuation mark can imply sarcasm, gratitude or confusion (witness: “Thanks a lot.”/”Thanks a lot!/Thanks a lot?”), emojis provide a more precise shorthand to grasping our state of mind. They are an easy way to convey frustration, affection, exhaustion and more. Which means fewer misunderstood messages—with just a tap of a button. Who wouldn’t be a fan of that?

With the impending arrival of 72 new emojis later this month, including ones for “Rolling on the Floor Laughing” and “Shrugging,” these adorable creature characters are clearly here to stay. So what are some best practices for emoji use? I spoke on that topic this morning on the Today show. Here are some of my tips for employing emojis considerately:

1. Make sure you’ve selected the right one for the job
Since they are tiny, it’s easy to mistake a crying emoji for a tears of joy emoji, a relieved emoji for a sleepy emoji. The face you use should reinforce your message…not muddy it.

2. Remember that emojis appear different on different platforms
Apple emojis look like distant cousins of Android emojis; Facebook emojis are radically distinct from LG’s; Twitter’s are not the same as HTC’s. When in doubt, stick to the simpler emojis to ensure there will be no confusion of meaning. Case in point is the “Grinning Face, Smiling Eyes” emoji as seen below in various interpretations on multiple platforms.

IMAGE: COURTESY, GroupLens Research at the University of Minnesota
3. Avoid emoji overuse…a little goes a long way
Endless strings of emojis with seemingly no meaning but nonsense, or emojis posing as rebus puzzles are best left to children’s workbooks. In short, if it doesn’t strengthen your meaning, take it out.

4. Use caution with emojis in business
Practicing good business etiquette means keeping an appropriate level of formality—particularly when dealing with a client or the boss. Even with colleagues, exercise emoji restraint, using an emoji only with work associates you know will appreciate the time-savings. If a picture paints a thousand words, go for it.

5. Continue using words
Language exists to be harnessed and let loose, driven and explored. The Oxford Dictionary may have admitted the emoji at the top of this post (“Tears of Joy”) as 2015’s “word of the year,” but civilization moved past hieroglyphics for a reason. Emojis provide us with a marvelous tool for quick chats, but they are no substitute for smart conversation, whether written or face-to-face. 🙂

The Worst Behaved of 2012

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As Congress not-so-hopefully stares down the ominously named "fiscal cliff," we can also report that 2012 was a year that saw good manners take their own cliff dive. From a romping royal to a brash billionaire, precocious pop stars to cheating competitors, for many, this was an annus horribilis that many boldface names would just as soon forget.

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Captain Crunch: Francesco Schettino

So much for going down with the ship. In January, the captain of the Costa Concordia abandoned the vessel he had just run aground in the Western Mediterranean, leaving 300 frightened and befuddled passengers still aboard. If it weren't for the strident insistence of a local coast guard official, Schettino would not have returned to complete the evacuation.

Postscript: Thirty-two passengers and crew died during the disaster. Schettino is currently awaiting trial for manslaughter.

Takeaway: An emergency often brings out the best of humanity. Unfortunately, Schettino proved just the opposite.

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Half-Wit: Angus T. Jones

The star of TV sitcom Two and a Half Men, television's highest paid teen, angered his cast mates and fans when he posted a video on the web in which he slammed the show as "filth" and encouraged viewers not to tune in.

Postscript: Jones offered a mea culpa after the incident, saying--somewhat hollowly--"I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and direspect of my colleagues." Um. Yes.

Takeaway: Don't bite the hand that feeds you. (The actor's chances of ever nabbing another gig where he earns $350,000 per episode were slim to none even before his outburst.)

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Camelot Crasher: Taylor Swift

In the midst of a summer romance that is now but a memory, singer Taylor Swift and her beau,

Conor Richardson Kennedy (grandson of Bobby Kennedy) failed to RSVP to his cousin's wedding until hours beforehand and then, after being asked to stay away by the mother of the bride, showed up anyway. (Did I mention the RSVP was sent via text message?)

Postscript: Swift's people denied the incident as much ado about nothing, but Vicki Kennedy, the bride's mother, gave an interview to the Boston Globe that indicated otherwise, as did comments by attendee (and stepmother to Vicki Kennedy) Kathie Lee Gifford.

Takeaway: If you're invited to a wedding, you must RSVP. And not on the day of.

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No More Mr. Nice Guy: Pete Wells

In a restaurant review that will likely go down as one of the meanest ever written, New York Times critic Pete Wells derided TV chef Guy Fieri's new Times Square eatery, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, with a screed that oozed with biting lines that compared the watermelon margarita to “a combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde” and posed a series of snarky interrogatives such as: "When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?" The article quickly went viral, with many relishing its bite; others questioned its brutality.

Postscript: The review spurred curiosity-seekers to book tables at the restaurant to see if the food and the service were indeed as awful as Wells complained it to be. Fieri appeared on the Today show to state his case.

Takeaway: "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say it at all," can't ever apply to a critic, but this reviewer seemed to gorge on massive helpings of his own cruelty.

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The Naked Truth: Prince Harry

What happened in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas for Britain's young Prince Harry. On a wild weekend at the Wynn Hotel, he cavorted in the nude with friends while playing billiards in a pricey suite. It wasn't the first behavioral transgression for the ginger-haired royal, and most likely will not be the last.

Postscript: Although cell-phone pics of the prince made the rounds on the Internet, Britons largely shrugged off the incident, with nearly 70-percent of those surveyed indicating that his antics were completely acceptable for a young single man on holiday.

Takeaway: When you live in the public eye, don't ever presume that you can escape the camera lens. Then again, if you're young and charming, the public may let you off the hook.

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Twitter Takedown: Chris Brown and Jenny Johnson

Comedienne Jenny Johnson found herself at the center of a media maelstrom when she baited mercurial R&B star Chris Brown on Twitter, with the two engaging in a tit-for-tat, profanity-laced social media insult-fest that carried on for several hours.

Postscript: Brown quit Twitter; until he didn't, reinstating his account about 10 days later. His first Tweet? #CarpeDiem. For her part, Johnson wrote about the incident for GQ, beginning, "This is not an apology." And indeed, it wasn't.

Takeaway: If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't Tweet it.

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Not Very Presidential: Donald Trump

Demonstrating his continued disdain for President Barack Obama, the billionaire real estate developer spent much of election evening blasting cranky Tweets to his followers about the way the night was going down. Among his petulant (and not always well spell-checked) Tweets included the following plaints: "This election is a total sham and travesty. We are not a democracy!" "Lets [sic] fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us." and "The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one [sic]. The prior month, Trump had offered the president $5 million to be given to a charity of the chief executive's choosing in exchange for the release of the president's college transcripts.

Postscript: Trump still believes the President's school records might help prove his long-held assertion that the commander-in-chief might have been born outside the U.S. "Only a very stupid person would believe otherwise,” said The Donald, who insists that someday people will say: 'Donald Trump was 100% correct.'"

Takeaway: If you decide to share your political beliefs via social media, make sure you fact-check, spell-check and reality-check beforehand.

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Man in the Mirror: Justin Bieber

So much for modesty. When teen mega sensation Justin Bieber was pulled over by the West Hollywood police for making a turn the cops deemed unsafe, the young star (who, by the way, was in a white Ferrari) couldn't resist taking to social media. Snapping a picture of the patrol car's lights in his sideview mirror, the Biebs quickly posted the photo to Instagram. Justin, who has a mind-blowing 32 million followers on Twitter, clearly believes that an unexamined (and unshared) life is simply not worth living--even when you're sitting in the hot seat.

Postscript: The pop sensation's career is none the worse for his run-in with the law.

Takeaway: If you're rich and famous, moving violations are no great cause for concern. (See: Paris HiltonLindsay Lohan, et al.) As for the rest of America, make sure you remember your manners in traffic court.

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Watch the Birdie: Women's Olympic Badminton

Eight women's badminton players (four from South Korea, two from China and two from Indonesia) were disqualified during the summer Olympics in London when it became apparent they were trying to throw matches in an attempt to game the rankings for later matches. Included amongst those tossed out of the Games were world doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China. "Sport is competitive," International Olympic Committee Vice President Craig Reedie told the Associated Press. "If you lose the competitive element, then the whole thing becomes a nonsense."

Aftermath: Even without their star players, China took home five gold medals and a total of eight in the sport.

Takeaway: No one likes a sore loser, but even worse is a deliberate loser.

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Pregnant Pause: Michael Christian and Mel Greig

Posting as Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, Australian radio DJsMichael Christian and Mel Greig of 2Day FM pulled a sophomoric prank and successfully talked their way through to the attending nurse for pregnant Kate Middleton, who'd been taken in to King Edward VII Hospital for dehydration. Sharing their recorded phone call for all of their Aussie countryfolk (and the rest of the world) to hear, the two DJs divulged privileged medical information about the princess over the airwaves.

Postscript: The DJs' actions took on new (and unexpected) gravity when the nurse who answered and forwarded their phone call was found hanged in her home, the result of a tragic suicide.

Takeaway: A goofy impersonation is one thing; a reckless violation of privacy is another.