Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Manners Monday" - Language Barriers

When I work with clients, we always begin with the first impression and I explain to them that how we sound and how we look are the primary criteria people use to form their initial opinions about us. How we sound, in fact, is a very big part of who we are, where we were born and the environment in which we lived. For example, a person raised in Fargo, North Dakota sounds completely different from another person born and bred in Brooklyn, New York or Macon, Georgia for that matter. Everyone has an accent whether it is easily detectable or not and in some cases it can become a barrier to our expression.

While it would be wonderful for everyone to sound like Julie Andrews straight out of “The Sound of Music,” that is not reality. Many are inhibited by the way they sound and others use the way they sound to their advantage. Some even make an entire career out of it! In thinking more about this subject, I realized that how we sound conjures up very vivid images of people, some stereotypical, with characteristics that the person may or may not feel is truly representative of them. For instance, why do we assume that people from Britain are intelligent or that people from the south are friendly or that Italian gentleman are suave? Let's take a look at some of the more common accents and stereotypes, as well as how accents are perceived in the work environment.

The British Accent. When we look at the character of Julie Andrews above, every word uttered out of her mouth is like music to our ears, whether she’s playing the character of a governess, a magic nanny, a Queen of Genovia or anyone else. In each of her on-screen roles, she is seen as competent, fastidious, intelligent and capable, all positive attributes that have served her well. Most people associate a British accent with professionalism, intelligence and class. It’s no surprise that businesses interested in putting their best foot forward will hire a British person to record their company message or do voice overs for their advertising campaigns. We see this frequently in films. Just look at the character, Pippi, the professional assistant portrayed in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Her British accent coupled with her extreme resourcefulness made her out to be the world’s greatest assistant. Even in my profession, I have often wondered if it is easier for someone who is British to teach manners because the material lends itself to images of white lace, high tea and sophistication.

The Southern Accent. When I hear a southern accent, I immediately assume the person is going to be warm, polite and accommodating. I think of big toothy smiles and friendly greetings. My mind immediately goes to Matthew McConaughey in a cowboy hat and matching boots or Reese Witherspoon sitting on her grandmother’s porch drinking a mint julep. A perfect example is the character, Kenneth, on “30 Rock” who is portrayed as the hard-working, country boy who will bend over backwards to please the crazy mix of personalities that inhabit his office.

The New York Accent. I’m from New York originally and I do not think I have an accent as I left the city at a young age and was raised in Florida and California, but some people still detect the New Yorker in me. Most people would agree that a New York accent is often perceived as brash, working class and abrupt. People automatically think that if you are from New York, the concrete jungle, you are going to be impatient and rude. New York icons from Robert “you talkin’ to me” DeNiro to Barbra Streisand and even Nanny Fine present us with very clear stereotypical images of the city and its inhabitants.

The Midwestern Accent. Some folks in this part of the country suffer the worst stereotypes because they are unfortunately seen as unsophisticated and provincial. We can’t help but think of the movie “Fargo” and the mundane conversations spoken between lead character, Marge and her husband Norm Gunderson, whose heavy Minnesota accents offer a backdrop of hilarity to the entire film.

The Latin Accent. Fiery, steamy, sultry, sexy - these are the words generally associated with the Latin accent. From Don Juan to Ricky Ricardo and Javier Bardem, when these men open their mouths to speak, women just fall at their feet. The Latin accent has always been thought of as the language of love whether French, Spanish or Italian. Women too fall into this category with Sophia Loren and Penelope Cruz ranked high on the scale.

The Everyman Accent. Then there’s the quintessential everyman himself, Tom Bodett, spokesperson for Motel 6, reminding us that he’ll “leave the light on” if we need a convenient and inexpensive place to stay. Advertising firms search long and wide for the perfect voice that sounds warm, welcoming and inviting. Celebrities like Allison Janney have built second careers doing voice over work for national companies. She is well known as the trustworthy, comforting voice for Kaiser Permanente’s THRIVE campaign.

Accents in the Workplace. Depending on the nature of your work, your regional or national accent, may either be helpful or a hindrance to your career. Think about the person on the front lines answering the telephones dealing with customers and clients. Studies have shown that people with regional accents are actually perceived to be more trustworthy than other sounding accents. It is always wise to determine whether your accent has a positive or negative affect on your career advancement. A gentle toning down of an accent in certain circumstances can make all the difference. The bottom line is, whether you have a detectable accent or not, what may be far more damaging, is what you say and how you say it.

Emphasize Your Speech. Regardless of your accent, following these simple tips for good speech will help: (1) Breath - practice deep breathing, (2) Volume - adjust your volume to increase or decrease emphasis, (3) Pitch-is it high or low, low sounds more confident and powerful; (4) Rate - do you speak fast or slow, vary it, (5) Intonation and Inflection - this refers to the melody of your voice, show excitement, monotone is boring, (6) articulation and pronunciation, be precise, speak slowly and clearly; (8) Junk Words – stay away from lazy words such as “like,” “huh,” “nah,” “yeah,” “you know.” They make us sound unintelligent.

Do you have a thick accent you feel is helping or hindering you in your personal or professional life? Please share, we'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Father's Day & The Tie"

Earlier this week, my oldest daughter was in panic to find an old tie of my husband’s to use for a Father’s Day art project she was completing at school just in time for the holiday. My youngest daughter was also working on an art project that involved a paper tie. The tie has become the unofficial symbol of “father” and all of his wonderful attributes. I haven’t researched it officially, but I am assuming that the tie was also a symbol of breadwinner as it conjured up images of dad leaving the house early each day off to work in his suit and tie. That was then and times have changed.

In today’s day and age, men wear ties less frequently and mostly in traditional businesses. In the internet world,, for example, no one would be caught dead wearing a tie to work. My husband, who is an entertainment attorney here in Beverly Hills hasn’t worn a tie to work or to meet clients in ages! I think the only time he wears a tie is to very formal occasions like in which it is mandatory.

Having grown up with a sister and now having two daughters of my own, I can’t say I’ve had much personal experience in this area and I’ve often thought about walking into Brooks Brothers and getting an official lesson. I think it’s an important skill that every boy and man should know, like changing a tire or unclogging the sink.

So in honor of Father’s Day and all of the dads and husbands out there who may still be wearing ties or may have an opportunity to wear a tie in the future, I thought we’d take a moment to go over some of the basics courtesy of Tie-a-Tie.net.

The Four-in-Hand Knot. This simple knot is the most classic and best suited for a standard button-down dress shirt. To tie the Four-in-Hand, select a necktie of your choice and stand in front of a mirror. (1) start with the wide end of the tie hanging a foot below the narrow end, (2) bring the wide end up and through the hold at the neck, then thread it through the knot, and finally (3) pull the knot up to the neck to tighten. Still having trouble? Go to the source http://www.brooksbrothers.com/tieknots/4inhand.tem for step by step details.

How to Properly Untie Your Tie. Instead of hastily tearing and yanking a tie from your neck, repeat all of the steps you followed to tie your tie initially, but now do so in reverse order! This will help to preserve your precious tie for years to come.

How to Get Rid Of Tie Wrinkles. After untying your tie, wrap the tie around your hand, then put it onto a table or into a drawer and let it rest for a while. To quickly get rid of tie wrinkles, hold the narrow end of your tie with your thumb, wrap the wide end around your hand and then place the wrapped-up tie on a flat surface for a couple of hours! In no time you will discover that all of the wrinkles are gone and your tie looks as fresh and new as if you had just purchased it at a store!

How to Treat Tie Stains. Every guy wonders how to successfully remove food or beverage stains from their favorite tie. This is because the majority of ties are made of silk which is a very unforgiving type of cloth. Rather than try to apply stain-removers, a safer remedy is to take your stained tie to the dry cleaners and ask them for help. The only downside to this is that once a tie is chemically treated, it may lose its original shiny look and feel. Ultimately, the best advice is to dine carefully and make every effort to protect your tie during meals.

Happy Father's Day to my husband whom I still love despite his preference to go most days without a tie!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Manners Monday" - Business Cards - Still Useful After All These Years

Years ago when I was contemplating the design of my business card, I thought long and hard about the logo, the colors and the card stock I wanted to use to represent my company. I came up with the above card displaying a mansion which I thought was representative of many of the homes in Beverly Hills and utilizing a moss green and mauve pink (seen on the back of my card with all of my contact info) to page homage to one of my city's most famous landmarks, the Beverly Hills Hotel.

I take pride in presenting my business card and it is usually met with favorable comments which always makes me feel good. Not until I started learning more about business etiquette did I truly understand the value of the business card and the care and respect with which it should be treated. Like George Costanza, I would just stuff a new card into my already full wallet letting it bend and fold with the rest of the contents and never really giving it the complete attention it deserved.

Nowadays, it seems that the passing out of traditional business cards has gone the way of the land line telephone and handwritten thank you notes. Cards that once contained a street address, phone number and fax now display an email address and Twitter handle. Rather than shake someone's hand and exchange a paper business card, acquaintances are using smartphone applications or quick emails to exchange contact information.

I am a champion of the traditional business card as I am the handwritten thank you note and thankfully, a recent article in the New York Times pointed out that, "the business card does have a logistical advantage though: the universal ease of exchange. Swapping information mid-conversation or in a noisy crowd can be more cumbersome than pressing paper to palm. And not everyone owns a smartphone, or has the same applications for sharing."

Since it appears that traditional business cards have maintained a few useful attributes, let's take a moment to review some tips for purpose, presentation and storing.

1. A Valuable Tool. The business card is a valuable tool that should be utilized in all of your business dealings. Business cards are a representation of a company’s brand and corporate culture. They are also used as an effective way to communicate one’s position within a company.

2. Status Symbol. There is a certain status attached to the company business card. It is instant credibility and shows others that you are employed and official.

3. Have Plenty on Hand. Make sure to have plenty of cards available, especially if you will be networking, and keep them organized in an attractive card case. You don't want to be caught digging in your purse or wallet to find one. I use a beautiful silver antique looking cigarette case which holds my cards perfectly and also allows me a separate compartment to hold any new cards I may receive.

3. Present Them Properly. Always present your card with your right hand or both hands with the print facing the recipient. Never present your card with only your left hand as this is disrespectful in certain cultures.

4. Show Your Respect. When you receive a business card, take the time to view the card, place it in an appropriate and respectful place and refrain from writing on the card.

5. Don't Be Bashful. If you would like to offer your business card to someone who has not asked for it, simply ask for theirs first.

6. Transfer Information Immediately. After an event or dinner in which I've received business cards, the first thing I do is transfer the information to my computer (which I regularly sync with my Blackberry) so that I have an online version and then I tuck the card into my desk drawer for safe-keeping. This way I have something I can physically see and touch should I need to refer to it in the future.

7. Virtual Business Cards. Still want to go virtual? Newer sites like Hashable.com, Contxts.com and About.me allow users to create and share virtual business cards. There are also smart cards with QR codes (quick response) that can be scanned using an application like CardMunch.com and some smart phones can exchange contact information simply by holding the phones together!

Do you prefer paper or virtual? Do you think the business card still holds credence? Share with us, we'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Manners Monday" - Handbag Etiquette

Talk about dream bags, this Kelly croc would be it for me! The navy is classic and timeless, chic and fashionable.

I just received my summer copy of Bergdorf Magazine in the mail this week and I always look forward to reading it, not because it will show me the latest in fashion, but for the imaginative selection of essays and interviews. In this particular issue, there was a wonderful essay entitled, "A Man Looks Into Handbags" by David Coggins, on the mystery of a woman's purse. It was perfect timing because I happened to read it just after purchasing a new handbag (technically a tote) that I had had my eye on for some time and I was feeling a little bit guilty. I think reading the piece provided me with just the validation I needed to turn my shame into sureness.

They say you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes and I feel the same way about a woman and her handbag. Is she the laid back and casual type? Does she shun upscale designer bags in favor of affordable, sensible ones? Is she over the top and has the Hermes store on her speed dial? No matter what the style, the price or the preference, a woman's handbag is sacred and it's contents supreme. Let's take a look at some popular bag types, where they should rest and what they should contain.

Most Popular Bag Styles: The Handbag, The Tote & The Clutch

A well-groomed woman finds it virtually impossible to own just one bag for all occasions and ensembles which is why there are three main categories of bag: the handbag, the tote and the clutch to choose from. She notices the craftsmanship and understands that one quality-made handbag will outlast three or four mediocre ones. Personally, I look at a handbag purchase as an investment especially if I choose one that is classic over trendy.

Size Matters

The size of the bag should be directly in proportion with your own. At my height, there is no way for me to rock a gargantuan tote, it would look ridiculous, but some of my taller friends, no problem! The most elegant bag is minuscule in size and is reserved for the most formal of occasions as compared to the larger tote model which is often used for everyday.

A Bag for Every Season

Since bags come in all shapes and sizes, it is wise to have an assortment in your arsenal for all seasons and occasions. (1) a large tote bag for travel or casual wear, (2) a practical leather handbag in neutral tones of either black, brown or beige to wear with urban ensembles, (3) a fine evening purse of silk, satin or velvet in black or dyed to match a cocktail party dress or coat, and a (4) straw handbag to accessorize an outfit for summer.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

For those that own the most multitasking shoulder bag of all, a/k/a the tote, there is the big question of how much is too much? Haven't we all witnessed friends digging for hidden treasure in their bags only to get insanely frustrated because they can't find what they've been searching for! Michelle Pfeiffer portrayed it best in one of my favorite movies, "One Fine Day," when she pulled out a selection of items that ranged from snacks and Band Aids to pantyhose and enough crazy items to put together a last minute Halloween costume. Just because a bag is big doesn't obligate us to throw our entire lives in there before leaving the house.

The Essentials

So what are the must haves? The bare minimum: keys, wallet and cell phone. Keeping up appearances: lipstick or gloss, small comb, compact mirror, tissues, hand creme, chewing gum or mints and perhaps a small perfume sample. When inspiration strikes: a notepad and pen (b/c you don't want to reach for the lip pencil), agenda/calendar if separate from your phone. For the professional: business cards. As a special treat: I like to keep a couple of emergency lollipops (Tootsie or Blow Pops are the best!) on hand. You never know when you'll be stuck in traffic. Just a clutch: lipstick, cell phone, cash, credit card, ID & keys.

Where to Place Your Handbag

When walking: your handbag should be situated in your left hand in the crook of your left elbow, or on your left shoulder. Your clutch should also be held in your left hand. The reason for the placement on the left side is so that if you are socializing you may easily offer your right hand to greet someone without having to move your bag out of the way.

When dining: the most important thing to remember is that your bag should never sit on top of the table. It is considered incredibly rude. No matter how beautiful or special it is, unless it's a centerpiece it does not belong there. All shoulder bags, handbags and totes should also never be hung or slung over your chair. The only time you can hang a purse on the back of your chair is if your back is to the wall. The proper placement for these bags is either on a vacant chair or stool (if one is available) or placed on the floor at your feet to the left. Since the clutch is considerably smaller, it may simply rest it in your lap underneath the napkin and hidden under the table.

For Good Luck

There is an old Chinese proverb that states “a purse on the floor is money out the door." If you follow Feng Shui, you may want to refrain from putting your purse on the floor. The Chinese believe that putting your purse on the floor shows disrespect for the order of things, as well as disregard for your wealth and money. If you don't care about the Feng Shui, but are not okay with collecting germs, dirt or bacteria on your purse from a dirty floor, then a good solution to both of these problems is to purchase a purse hook. A purse hook slips easily onto the edge of the table and has a hook on the other end for your purse to hang by its strap. It's a bit tacky, but it does the trick!

Where do you put your purse? What are your essential items? In need of a purse hook? This site has a great selection http://www.pursehook.net.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"Manners Monday" - Giving Consumers a Place to Vent

Against my better judgment, I found myself at Sears in Santa Monica shopping for a new dishwasher over Memorial Day Weekend (I wanted to take advantage of the special holiday sale.) After my horrific customer service experience with them last summer, I swore I would never step foot back in the store.

I remember it like it was yesterday. My then 5 year old dishwasher decided to go on the fritz. The red lights were all blinking at the same time and I knew something was majorly wrong. I called Sears to schedule a service appointment at the earliest possible date. The technician arrived about a week later, took apart my entire dishwasher and then said he needed to order parts. "Fine," I agreed. He promised to order them RUSH and then scheduled a second appointment. Two separate parts arrived by mail within the week and a then new technician came out to install them, and guess what? The first technician neglected to order the necessarythird part! Losing my already thin patience because it had been a week without my dishwasher and now I was in for at least another week of hand washing, the new tech ordered the third part. Yet another week goes by and, I kid you not, the third part arrives, but the technician cannot install it because it is defective!! He says he is SO sorry, but there is nothing he can do other than to order a replacement part, and so he does.

At my total wits end, I called customer service to explain my extremely frustrating situation and hopefully receive some validation in the process, but no such luck. I got bupkis for my trouble, for the hours and hours of waiting at home for the techs to arrive and sitting through their futile attempts to fix my dishwasher. Instead, I got a canned script from the customer service relations department that was as utterly exasperating as it was completely ineffectual.

To add to my ongoing frustration, I kept seeing commercials for Sears with their tag line which read, Life Well Spent. I joked with my husband that their tag line should have been, Life Spent Waiting! At the same time last year, I had also picked up a copy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's book, Delivering Happiness. This tome was a #1 bestseller for weeks and touted customer service as the key to everything, the heartbeat of a company. Delivering WOW through service is their motto and they aren't joking. Every time I order from Zappos, the process is painless and my items arrive within a day or two tops! Problems are virtually non-existent, but if a one arises, their reps are ready and able to satisfy my every need.

Thankfully now, instead of grief, we have Gripe. Gripe is a new App that allows consumers to get their complaints heard and resolved. It works particularly well if you have a decent sized Facebook and Twitter following and thus are able through social media to spread the word to your circle of influence. Mine is fairly decent with about 1000+ followers on FB and 1500ish on Twitter and growing, but they suffer largely in comparison to Heather Armstrong's, founder of Dooce, who has over 1 million followers and who had a similar infuriating experience with her Maytag washing machine last year. She wound up going on a Twitter tirade and released a series of blasphemous remarks about her Maytag which caused quite a stir with the company.

Now I'm not suggesting that we go unnecessarily crazy, I'm just advocating our consumer right to excellent customer service! I am thrilled there is finally a place for consumers to vent their grievances other than the Better Business Bureau. In my opinion, this is a wake up call to all brands that they simply need to make customer service relations their highest priority, especially for fear that if they don't, word on the street (or worse on the web) will spread like wildfire.

A year later, all of my frustration has basically dissipated and, like giving birth, I forgot how painful the previous experience had been and so I was back again in the trenches and taking my chances on a new Sears purchase. So far, I have to admit it looks like they have smoothed out their service kinks. They even delivered my new dishwasher one day ahead of schedule. I purchased the warranty and am crossing my fingers that I won't be calling a tech to come to the house anytime soon. However, if things become crazy again, at least I can seek solace by venting on Gripe to the 2500+ of my closest friends.

Do you have any crazy customer service nightmares to share? Any unresolved grievances? Would love to hear your stories!