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Freeze The Keys! My Top 3 Hints for a Safe and Civil New Year’s Eve Party

December 31, 2013

Can you believe it’s New Year’s Eve? 2013 has flown by for me. Now we’re preparing to kiss the Old Year goodbye and ring in the New Year with enthusiasm…and accountability!

Hosting a party comes with so many responsibilities, including making sure your guests are well taken care of.  A little too much cheer doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Here are my top 3 hints to help you create a safe and civil celebration.

  1. Freeze the keys. The last thing you want as a result of your party is a catastrophe. As we all know, allowing anyone to drink and drive is not an option. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if people are in a position to get behind the wheel safely. So here’s my best advice: freeze the keys of everyone who drives to your party. All you need is a box of small, sealable freezer bags and a few permanent markers. When your guests arrive, have them write their name and license plate number on the outside of the bag with a permanent marker. Then, place their car keys in the freezer bag, seal it, and put the bags in the freezer. When it’s time for someone to leave, they’ll have to ask you where their keys are. As the host (who will remain sober enough to keep a close eye on things, right?), you can assess if it’s safe for them to drive. Portable breathalyzer devices can come in handy here, but they aren’t always reliable, and suggesting their use can tick people off. Too bad, so sad. You are responsible for your guests. If someone insists on taking their keys and driving, you now have their license plate number on the baggie and can immediately call law enforcement and report the dangerous party-goer-turned-driver to the police.
  2. Set the tone. Alcohol can create so much drama! One guest may start bawling while another becomes belligerent. And it’s your job to deal with both.  No matter what emotion the booze brings out, the first thing you need to do is try to change the tone. If someone starts crying and sharing their “woe is me” story, listen attentively, give them a hug, and do what you can to lighten things up. If a few too many drinks brings out the animal in a guest, intervene by actively adjusting the focus of the conversation. If you can’t change the tone, change the topic. Find ways to naturally segue to a fresh subject by saying something like, “You’re getting a little worked up about this, Bob. Let’s move off this point and find something more fun to discuss.” If you can’t change the topic, change the location. Sometimes a change of scenery is all that’s needed to divert difficult people. Asking your emotionally charged friend to help you in the kitchen, take out the trash, or lead others in a game might be all it takes to neutralize their nastiness.
  3. Have a tag team. The host with the most doesn’t work alone; they have a support squad.  Prearrange for other guests to help you co-host. The ideal number is three. You can put one person or team in charge of dooring (greeting guests and seeing them out), another in charge of pouring (measuring and monitoring drinks), and the third in charge of snoring (making sure people get home safely or have a bed to sleep in at your home).  There is no safe way of ignoring any of these responsibilities.

In the end, your primary role when hosting this evening’s gathering is to have fun! And, while you don’t want to be a “helicopter host,” you do want to ensure everyone’s safety. Preparation is the key. Now get out there and have a Happy New Year!

Corporate Conundrum: Who Pays For Lunch?

December 10, 2013

Knowing if, when, and how to pay for a business meal will enhance your level of professionalism, and it all begins with the invitation.

I’ll alQuestion markways remember being at a corporate luncheon when the host whipped out his calculator at the end of the meal and proceeded to compute – to the penny – how much each person at the table owed. Which was no big deal, except for the fact that he had invited each of us to be his guest that day. Or so we thought. Talk about a dining dilemma!

Business meals can be awkward at the best of times, but things can get particularly uncomfortable when it’s time to pay the bill. I was recently asked by an audience member if there’s a foolproof way to determine whose responsibility it is to take care of paying for a business meal. She said, “A client contacted me to say he’d like to meet for lunch to discuss next steps. Should I pay for the meal because he’s my client, or should he pay because he’s the one who brought it up?”

Old-fashioned business etiquette would dictate that the person who extends the invitation always pays for the meal. Period. But things have changed, and that rule no longer applies in every circumstance.

Let’s look at this question from both sides of the table. Here are suggestions for dealing with seven standard scenarios:

1. You’re inviting someone to join you for lunch and you plan to pay: In this case, clarify your intention to treat someone to a meal by using words like “be my guest” or “it’s on me” when you extend the invitation. You could say something like, “I’d love it if you would be my guest for lunch next week. Which day works for you?” or, “Are you available to meet me for lunch on Wednesday? It’s on me.”
2. You’ve been invited for a meal but you don’t know who’s paying: A straightforward phrase to use in this situation is, “Shall we arrange for separate bills?” Consider asking this question after the menu has been delivered and before you order anything.
3. You intend to pay but find out your guest can’t accept anything that’s free:Sound strange? It’s not. Some companies have strict corporate policies about what their employees can and cannot accept, including meals. If your dining companion is in this position, simply ask your server to divide the meal costs.
4. You don’t want the bill to come to the table: You can avoid this one altogether by prearranging payment. To do this, either arrive early to let your server know you’ll be paying and ask them to bring the bill to you, or excuse yourself from the table near the end of the meal to discreetly take care of payment. You could also give your credit card to the Maître d’ or server when you arrive and ask them to add the appropriate gratuity and present the processed bill to you when the meal is over. This tactic doesn’t work as smoothly as it once did, however, now that portable payment devices have entered the scene and credit card fraud is on the rise.
5. You want to share the bill 50/50: This guideline is often established between people who meet regularly for a meal. For example, I meet a business associate for a monthly midday confab, and we alternate who pays for lunch. Another colleague and I agreed long ago that we would each pay for our own lunch whenever we get together. Both procedures work like a charm.
6. Your dining companion snuck away from the table and paid: Even though you planned on paying, they beat you to it. This is where professional poise comes in. There’s no point in getting upset; a gracious “Thank you” is all you need to say. Send them a note of gratitude when you get back to your office, and follow suggestion #4 the next time.
7. Your guest wants to argue about who pays: “No, no, no! Put your money away. You paid last time, it’s my turn.” Sound familiar? Now what? Do what you can to avoid getting into a debate about the bill. Some people are really touchy about this; they can become irritated and may even insist on giving you cash after you’ve already paid (which can be embarrassing). You can try to reason with them by saying, “It would mean a lot to me if you’d allow me to treat you to lunch today. How about you get it next time? ” If they just won’t let up after a couple of attempts to convince them you’re paying, it may be in your best interest to let it go.

What advice did I give the woman who asked if she should pay for her client’s lunch? I said yes. Her client simply indicated that he’d like to get together over lunch to discuss things. He didn’t actually invite her, though. Now it’s her responsibility to arrange – and pay for – a mealtime meeting to develop their dialogue.

If you have a corporate conundrum, please let me know at: conundrums@TheCivilityCEO.com. Your question could be featured in an upcoming post!

Corporate Conundrum: To Text Or Not To Text

September 10, 2013
Image 123RF

Image: 123RF

Eye contact is quickly being replaced by Wi-Fi contact. But are “text-versations” the best way to communicate?

I’ve been asked for advice about Corporate Conundrums™ by clients, journalists, and audience members for years, and I’m always happy to provide my point of view.

Recently I heard from Steve, who said, “The text messaging phenomenon has changed the way we communicate because it’s fast, easy, and non-interruptive. But is it professional? Does texting enable us to develop the same kind of business relationships we cultivate through face-to-face conversations?

Great questions, Steve. Do you remember when your fingers used to do the walking? Well, now they do the talking. And that’s not always a good thing. Because as much as portable electronic devices save time, money, and paper, they lose their value when we allow them to constantly interrupt, abbreviate, and minimize our discussions.

Interactions have changed dramatically with the evolution of “text-versations,” those increasingly frenetic non-verbal exchanges we have with our thumbs rather than our tongues. It’s fair to say that hi-tech advances have both helped and hindered our ability to communicate respectfully.

The way you express yourself is a critical factor in how others relate to you, especially at work. After all, the quality of your business relationships and the level of your success depend on what you say . . . and how you say it.

Here are 5 ways to balance your e-time with your we-time at work:

1.     Diminish digital distractions. Be honest; is your constant electronic availability a self-imposed habit or an actual requirement of your job? Track the number of electronic interruptions you deal with on a daily basis, and establish how many fires you’re putting out on the personal front while you’re being paid to work. You may need to put some boundaries around how accessible you’ve allowed yourself to become.

2.     Finish what you started. It’s common to get distracted and lose track of discussion threads, so always bring your text-versations to a conclusion. Recipients can easily misinterpret the sudden termination of correspondence, just like they can misunderstand a cryptic text message that’s composed and sent without thinking. Resultant rapid-fire responses often lead to major miscommunication maelstroms.

3.     Pay Attention. Whether you’re in the same room with them or not, people deserve your undivided attention. That requires focus. Texting during a meeting, for example, is not only insulting, it’s unprofessional. Plus, when we text, others can’t hear our tone of voice or sense our body language, so they tend to inject their interpretation into our words. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings.

4.     Think before you connect. Before tapping your fingers on the screen, contemplate your options. Is a text message the most appropriate method of communication in this case, or would a phone conversation or face-to-face meeting be more efficient? Choose the most powerful way to get your message across.

5.     Maintain accuracy. The brevity and convenience of text messaging has turned us into a society of deplorable spellers. Always remember that business communication is formal correspondence, no matter how it’s sent. Aim for accuracy.

Texting can give us a sense of false confidence and inflated bravado. And despite the fact you may get tongue-tied when it’s time for a sensitive discussion, being fully present for a conversation trumps being all thumbs for a text-versation.

If you have a corporate conundrum, please let me know at: conundrums@TheCivilityCEO.com. Your question could be featured in an upcoming post!

FLOODIQUETTE: 7 Civil Suggestions for Dealing with the Deluge

June 23, 2013

ladder in water

Alberta is about to mop up a massive mess. Mother Nature has shown us, in no uncertain terms, who the boss is.

The ferocity of the floods we are facing is mind-boggling. Tens of thousands of people are displaced, countless homes and businesses are damaged, and an infinite number of dreams, plans, and schedules have been washed away.

It is devastating.

Even if the flood hasn’t directly affected you, no doubt some of your friends, relatives, colleagues, or service providers are living out of a suitcase, walking around in a daze, and wondering how on earth they’re ever going to recover.

Dealing with a disaster of this degree is unprecedented for us. And, like with any sudden and scary change, it helps to have guidelines for managing the magnitude of what we’re up against.

Here are 7 suggestions to help you wade through this mess with respect, grace, and civility:

1. Follow the leader: When this tragedy began to unfold authorities immediately stepped up, banded together, and calmly shared pertinent information at regular intervals via multiple means. Since then, strong teams of leaders from all levels of government have consistently updated us. The media, both traditional and social, has stood tirelessly by their sides to help spread the word. Collectively they are demonstrating a great deal of respect for us, and we owe it to them to return the favour. Let’s agree to honour their instructions and do what they ask us to do. When they say, “Stay away from the river,” they mean STAY AWAY FROM THE RIVER!
2. Lend a hand – or an ear: It is heartwarming to see how many individuals and organizations have offered their help from the moment this catastrophe started. Thousands of professionals, volunteers and bystanders have, and will continue to, put their lives in peril to save people, rescue animals and mitigate damage. Some have literally moved mountains. From supporting pop-up and formal fundraisers to simply listening to someone who needs to share their story, there are endless ways to keep up the good work others so selflessly started.
3. Don’t be a looky-loo: The astonishing post-flood sights in our cities, towns and municipalities are undeniably eye-catching. They can also be dangerous. Don’t risk harming yourself and others by taking unnecessary risks just to get a good look at something or snap the perfect picture. If you see caution tape, roadblocks, or even a hand-scrawled Do Not Enter sign, observe the request.
4. Be patient: It’s going to take a long, long time to recover from this. Many people will be simultaneously sorting through paperwork, arranging repairs, comforting loved ones, and reorganizing their entire lives – all while trying to work and tend to their families. As a result, they are bound to be late, distracted and emotional. Businesses of all sizes will need time to regroup, reschedule, and in some cases, relocate. You can show your support by cutting everyone, including yourself, some slack.
5. Ask for help: This experience has been remarkably humbling. It can be hard to seek assistance, especially when you’re used to being self-sufficient. Ask for what you need, whether it’s physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual support. There are plenty of people and resources to help.
6. Don’t take advantage of the situation: As much as a disaster brings out the best in us, it can also bring out the worst. Sadly, there are some individuals who will use this situation to get out of their responsibilities. Don’t be one of those people.
7. Learn from it: We hear about the benefits of simplifying our lives all the time. My home rests on the bank of The Mighty Bow. As I was running up and down the stairs, transferring our family treasures from the basement to the top floor, I had no choice but to become selective. It hit me how so many of the things we keep really are superfluous. Most of us can stand to lose a few pounds of extraneous stuff. Think about donating what you don’t need to someone who can use it, and try to view this experience as a life lesson in decluttering, camaraderie, and provincial pride.

It is indisputable is that Albertans are resilient. We will recover. Our leadership is strong, our hearts are huge, and our capabilities are endless. Let’s join together and show the world, and Mother Nature, just how nicely we clean up.

Has Politeness Become Passé?

April 27, 2013

deadlineAt a Washington, DC conference I recently attended I approached another participant – a 20-something digital native – and asked him a technical question about a computer glitch I couldn’t resolve. He sighed and patiently explained what I needed to do. Then he surprised me by saying, “Please don’t ask me another question unless you GTS it first.”

GTS? WTF does that mean?

Seeing the quizzical look on my face, the uber-hip dude took a moment to decipher the acronym for me. Turns out GTS is digital speak for “Google That Sh*t.” Who knew?

At first I felt like a boomer who didn’t get the memo that it’s not cool to seek advice these days, and for the next little while I didn’t dare ask anybody anything without researching every aspect of it to avoid annoying them. But then I thought about it some more, and realized that young man was right – to a degree.

With so much information available at our fingertips, not doing our homework can be, well, lazy. Yet, even though it’s more efficient to look things up on our own, I can’t help but wonder if doing so all the time is having a negative impact on our ability to share information and have meaningful conversations.

This discussion isn’t new. I remember meeting an executive at a corporate reception a couple of years ago who was bemoaning the fact that he’s just too busy to deal with what he called “the niceties” of peer-to-peer communication. According to him, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to swap insignificant comments of courtesy. When he said, “I wish people would just get to the point” it struck such a chord in me that I Tweeted about it, suggesting that maybe he’s missing the point:

The fact that we’re even having a conversation about the basics of social intercourse is disturbing. Yes, times have changed, and so have our methods of communication. But have we gotten to the point where we have to worry about the appropriateness of saying thank you? Has it become necessary for us to walk on eggshells because asking a genuine question could potentially aggravate someone? Do we really live in a world where prefacing a request with the word please is considered going over-the-top?

The answers to those questions can be found in two words: perspective and sincerity. It’s common to get frustrated when the same person asks us the same question for the umpteenth time, and most of us can relate to the rolling of eyes or shrugging of shoulders when we lose patience with someone’s unwillingness to figure things out on their own. That’s where perspective comes in. You’ve been there and done that, so before airing your exasperation, take a second to consider where the other person is coming from.

It’s a short leap from curt to courteous, and I urge you to take it. You have every right to express your sincere gratitude, ask for clarification and exchange pleasantries, despite how other people may respond.

And for those of you who are disturbed by discourse, please understand that most of us don’t say “nice” things to take up your valuable time; we say them because we mean them. Before you blow people off due to your schedule, consider how you’ll feel when a person who’s guidance you need doesn’t have time for you or someone you went out of your way to help can’t be bothered to say thanks.

Getting too caught up in busyness may mean losing out on business. Civility is the new currency, so if you want to succeed, please continue to punctuate your conversations with politeness. Thank you!

Knowing How to Say No

January 29, 2013

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Like many of us, I used to be a Yes-person, agreeing to do things I knew were either out of my realm, a strain on my schedule, or of absolutely no interest to me. All that changed after a recent experience that led to an epiphany about another way to say no.

It started with an invitation to speak at a corporate event, and it was all wrong from the get-go. The date was inconvenient, the location was out of the way and the pay was lousy. But the meeting planner presented such a convincing case that I just didn’t have the heart to turn her down. So, despite my better judgment, I agreed to do something that my gut was nudging me to dodge.

From the second I said yes I knew Id made the wrong decision. Things went from bad to worse on the day of the event; turnout was poor, people were late and even the meeting organizer was a no-show. To top it off, her stand-in – who ran through the door at the last minute to greet the professionally clad audience – was inexplicably wearing pyjama bottoms. Despite all that we got the program underway on time, and the event was a success.

When all was said and done, that awkward experience ended up being one of the most valuable of my career. As I walked to my car following the event I realized that if I’d paid attention to the messages my soul was sending at the very beginning, I would have easily avoided getting involved in something that wasn’t a good fit.

It can be hard to forego an invitation or opportunity, even when things feel out of sync. We often say yes to commitments that feel more like burdens than benefits only because we have no idea how not to. We may think we’ll be disappointing someone if we say no or that saying yes will make us more likeable or accepted. Either way, the time we subsequently spend doing things we’d prefer not to can never be recovered.

That’s where a new way of saying no comes in. This unique perspective will make it easy for you to make firm decisions from now on, and it’s easy to do. Simply listen to your instincts when making choices, and whenever you hear that little voice inside you screaming, “Don’t do it!” replace the word no with the word know.

It may sound the same to them, but its coming from a completely different part of you. Your inner voice always knows what is best for you, and honouring it empowers you to say no with confidence. So, the next time you’re asked to participate in something you’re not interested in, reply with, “I appreciate your invitation. My answer is know.” If you feel obligated to say yes to yet another committee position or unnecessary meeting, say, “My schedule is full right now. I’m going to say know.”

Looking at the word know is revealing, because it actually contains the word no within it. It’s like the letters on either end are parentheses, pillows if you will, to soften the blow of no. Think of the K on one end representing Knowledge and the W on the other end representing Wisdom. From that angle, saying no actually becomes easy.

Give it a try…you never know what might happen. Just last week I was invited to a corporate function that I knew I didn’t have time to attend, and this time I wasn’t even tempted to say yes. Instead, I listened to myself, smiled and effortlessly said, “Know, thank you!”

____________________________________________________________

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a speaker, writer, professionalism coach and executive consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures.

www.TheCivilityCEO.com

©Copyright 2013 Sue Jacques ~ The Civility CEO™. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share as long as the message is intact and the writer is credited. Thank you.

Grief at Work

September 20, 2012

What to do when you hear about the unexpected death of a colleague

Though it is upsetting to even think about, there may come a time in your career when you receive news that a person you work with has suddenly died. Whether it’s a client or a co-worker, and whether you worked side-by-side or in different cities, the tragedy of an unanticipated death will naturally cause intense emotions and lead to a multitude of previously unthinkable questions. This is, after all, not a topic that normally comes up at the water cooler.

I was recently approached by a tearful young woman who quietly asked me for advice following my presentation at a corporate conference.  Taking a deep breath and a long look around, she shared with me that she was notified the night before that one of her colleagues had been killed in a car accident. She was shocked, and confided that she didn’t know what to do when she returned to work or what to say to her co-worker’s family members – none of whom she had ever met – at the upcoming memorial service. Like a lot of people, she had never attended a funeral before.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to deal with very many deaths in our lifetime. My experience is different. During my former career at the Medical Examiner’s Office I investigated thousands of sudden deaths and notified hundreds of people of the unexpected, often violent, death of a loved one. For almost two decades I was the person you never wanted to see on the other side of your front door.

Of the countless life lessons I learned from that experience, this one stands out: There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘normal’ way to deal with the sudden passing of someone we know. How we grieve is as individual as who we are, and our cultural, personal and religious backgrounds all play a role in our response. With that in mind, here are 6 suggestions that my help you cope with the confusion of learning that a person you work with has passed away:

1.   Sit down.  Hearing this kind of news can literally take your breath away. You may find it helpful to sit or lie down for a few minutes to absorb the shock. If you are in the position of having to announce the news to other people at work, either in person or over the phone, ask them to have a seat before telling them what has happened.

2.   Collect your thoughts. Whether you’re alone or with a group of colleagues under these circumstances, it will take time to begin thinking clearly again. Allow yourself a private or communal moment of grace to let the disbelief sink in. Clarity will reappear for different people at different times, and may come in and out of focus.

3.     Reach out.   You may want to call or visit another co-worker, a friend, family member or spiritual mentor to help you deal with the unexpected emotions that arise. It is perfectly acceptable to want to talk, cry, ask questions or feel an overwhelming need to be held.  If you are in a supervisory position, do whatever you can to provide support for your staff.

4.     Write it down. Time and time again people have told me how much they value and treasure the sentiments expressed about their loved one in sympathy cards. Don’t be afraid to send a thoughtful, personalized note to the family, even though you may not know them.

 5.    Introduce yourself.   If there is a public memorial service and you are able to attend, try to do so. Being there will provide you with an opportunity to honour your late colleague and learn more about their life. If you have a chance to meet the family, tell them about your connection and share a special memory.

6.     Remember.  Grief doesn’t end when the funeral is over. Returning to work may be difficult, and a period of adjustment can be expected. Continue to reflect with your workmates; many charities have been founded or helped by the joint efforts of a group of co-workers who have lost a valued member of their professional family.

Hopefully you will never have to use this advice. But if you do, like the distraught young lady who came to me at the conference, I hope these points help ease your pain.

____________________________________________________________

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a speaker, writer and executive consultant whose mission is to reverse rudeness and create courteous cultures. Sue helps individuals and businesses gain confidence and earn respect.

www.TheCivilityCEO.com

©Copyright 2012 Sue Jacques ~ The Civility CEO™. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share as long as the message is intact and the writer is credited. Thank you.

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