Earlier this month, Forbes asked me to name my choices for the five friendliest and five most mannerly cities in America.

As a frequent business traveler, I have the opportunity to visit dozens of destinations throughout the year and I have the good fortune to meet terrific individuals anywhere I go. You can imagine, then, the task was daunting to say the least.

For me, impressions of a new place are forged by the interactions I have with taxi drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant workers and everyday residents. All it takes is a few rude exchanges and I’ll return home with a less than favorable perception of the locale. Conversely, after a few friendly conversations, chances are good I’ll be longing to return.

Although it wasn’t easy narrowing down my list to just five, my choices are below. For the full Forbes article and my reasons for nominating each, please see here.

Let me know what you think…next time I think I’d prefer to list the top fifty rather than the top five!


FRIENDLIEST

1. Dallas, TX
2. Nashville, TN
3. New York City
4. Boulder, CO
5. Washington, DC

MOST MANNERLY
1. Palm Beach, FL
2. Minneapolis, MN
3. Lancaster, PA
4. Charlotte, NC
5. New Orleans, LA


Army Sergeant La David Johnson - Condolence Call From Trump

 

For most of us, finding appropriate words of sympathy for a grieving friend, colleague or family member can be particularly challenging. At such times, many of us default to: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

The sheer innocuous-ness of that phrase sometimes makes it feel trite—or worse, not heartfelt. And yet, its simplicity sums up what courses through our minds as we offer comfort to someone going through the unimaginable. How much more difficult, then, are condolences for a fallen soldier.

The tragic death of Army Sergeant La David Johnson and the subsequent condolence call made by President Donald Trump is under great scrutiny today, and rightly so. The fallen serviceman, who was killed in an ISIS attack in Niger earlier this month, is survived by his wife, Myeshia—who is six months pregnant—and their two young children.  He was 25.

As conveyed firsthand yesterday by Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was with Mrs. Johnson at the time she received the commander-in-chief’s call, the president’s attempt at sympathy included mentioning the soldier “knew what he was getting into” when he enlisted. If accurate, the Florida represntative’s report of the conversation, provides echoes of “I like people who weren’t captured,”—the tone-deaf statement of then-candidate Donald Trump in speaking about longtime prisoner-of-war Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Comforting the family members of a fallen soldier may well rank up there as one of the hardest calls a commander-in-chief must ever make. It is of the utmost importance that every syllable convey sympathy, concern, tact and support. To come off as callous—or even jocular—is worse than offering no comfort whatsoever.

Being president is not easy. Sometimes there are perfect words. Sometimes there are no words at all.


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.

 


infertility_etiquette“When are you having a baby?” “Don’t you want kids?” “Have you thought about adoption?”

With one in eight couples in America struggling with issues of infertility, these are questions far too many couples and single people have likely heard from well-meaning friends and family members.

In observance of National Infertility Awareness Week, I recently sat down with relationships expert Andrea Syrtash on “Good Morning Washington” to discuss the delicate manner in which all of us should approach conversations of family planning.

My first tip for the inquisitive among us: Take a pregnant pause. More specifically, if you’re thinking of asking a woman if she is now pregnant–or hopes to be in the future–don’t. The sting of these questions is anything but innocuous.

For more tips, check out the segment below: