Covid: Conversation Killer?

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It was almost two years ago to the day that we experienced our initial “stay-at-home” mandates as a result of Covid-19. California was the first to issue such an order on March 19, 2020. One by one most states fell in line, and our lives changed forever. Who could have predicted how different our professional and personal lives would be in just two years?

One thing that has stood out for me has been the loss of our conversation skills. Covid has kept us more than six feet apart. The Internet has become our primary means of communication. While Zoom, FaceTime and other online platforms have allowed us to see each other’s faces, they do not offer the kind of connection we have when we are in the same room or space with others.

We are so accustomed to being apart that rather than pick up the phone, we text. Talking directly to someone else is uncomfortable. When we receive an invitation to an event or an in-person meeting, we try to find reasons not to go. The barriers to one-on-one conversation keep building.

Engaging with others is a must in the business world if you want to build relationships with clients and colleagues. This might be the time to revisit the do’s and don’ts of the art of conversation.

The Conversation Creator

Like so much in life, good conversation is a matter of maintaining balance. It is a blend of speaking and listening. Paying attention to and following up on what other people are saying is crucial to keeping a natural flow.

The person who speaks less and listens more is a “Conversation Creator.”  The Creator remembers starter words like “who,” “what,” “when,” “why,” and “how.” The best phrase of all in conversation is “tell me about ….”

The Conversation Killer

On the other hand, people with the best intentions can kill a conversation without realizing it. There are a few classic types who have earned the title “Conversation Killer.” Try not to land on this list.

The Bore: The person who talks on and on about himself and shows no interest in others.

The Interrogator:  The person who read that asking questions is the secret to good dialogue so that is all he does until he has worn the other person down to a nub.

The Interrupter:  The person who does not take time to hear you out. Instead, he continually jumps in to finish your sentences. Pauses make the interrupter uncomfortable.

The Advisor:  The person who feels obligated to give advice on whatever you say even though you never asked for it. Keep your opinions to yourself unless you hear, “What would you do?” or “What do you think?”

Chatty Cathy: The person who talks way too much. She does not realize that people seldom regret what they left unsaid.

Your conversation skills may be rusty, but you have not lost them. Take advantage of every opportunity to engage with others in this new world. There are good questions you can ask to get a post-pandemic conversation flowing. Ask what people did to survive stay-at-home. Ask what the most challenging part of working from home was. Ask what they liked the best working on their own. Ask how Covid has affected their lives. You get the picture.

Sometimes making conversation feels like work, but you are trying to establish relationships, grow your business and be more profitable. Being a conversation creator is part of the job.

Workplace Ghosting—Another Bequest from Covid

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We have been living with the merciless Covid virus for over two years. Our personal lives have changed in ways we could never have imagined. Our professional lives have changed, and our interactions with others have changed. We do not communicate as we used to. In many cases, we do not communicate at all. This has led to a behavior known as “workplace ghosting.” If you are not sure what it means, it is just as it seems. Ghosts are invisible. Ghosts are silent. Ghosts are simply not there.

During the pandemic ghosts have emerged—so to speak. Perfectly normal healthy people have become ghosts. Businesses and corporations have become ghosts. You know them:

  • Ghosts do not return your calls.
  • Ghosts do not answer email.
  • Ghosts do not show up for meetings.
  • Ghosts do not answer the phone.
  • Ghost cannot take you call “due to higher-than-normal call volume.”
  • Ghosts hide behind technology.
  • Ghost use automation where the non-human on the other end of the phone says, “You can talk to me like a real person.”

Real people do not seem to exist anymore. And if they do exist, they have gone into hiding.

When the real people emerge from their hiding places and come back to the traditional workplace, their former office or the new one, they are going to have to dust off their people skills and start practicing effective communication and relationship building.

So, what can you do to facilitate courteous communication and build stronger professional relationships? For starters, put an end to workplace ghosting.

  • If you drop the ball, acknowledge your error. You accidently deleted the voice mail before you listened to it. The email got buried in your inbox. You forgot to check your calendar. Things happen, but the way you deal with them is what makes the difference.
  • You dread having to deliver unwelcome news. It’s your jo so do it and do it person. If it makes you uncomfortable, consider this: most people would rather hear the bad news than nothing at all.
  • Do not use technology to relay complicated or sensitive information. Email, texting and instant messaging are no substitute for in person communication. Pick up the phone or arrange to meet.
  • Use every opportunity you can to have personal interaction with your coworkers, colleagues and clients. It’s time to go back in the water. (Thank you, Jaws.)

The return to work is exciting for many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity for people and organizations to sharpen their communication and relationship-building skills.

***The inspiration for this article came from reading one written by Patrick Galvin, professional speaker and author of The Way series of popular business parables. He is also the chief galvanizer of The Galvanizing Group, a learning and development company.

The Handwritten Note of Gratitude

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As I write this article, we have just celebrated one of our favorite and most meaningful holidays. Thanksgiving is in the rear-view mirror, but surely we maintain the attitude of gratitude from that day. Even in this difficult time of Covid, we have much to be thankful for. As we approach Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanza, we look forward to sharing meals, parties and gifts with our friends, families and coworkers.

Now is the time to consider how and when you will express your thanks to those who have brought joy to your life. Maybe it was something special that you received during the year—a gift, a favor, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or an encouraging word when you needed it most. Let those people who matter to you know how much you appreciate them.

How do you do this? By a simple act. You send them a handwritten note with words that come from your heart. Not surprisingly this is challenging for many of us. As a result, we don’t do it or we put it off for an embarrassingly long time.

Let me suggest a few things that will help you write those notes.

  1. Start with a list of those whom you want to thank.
  2. Keep your list close by so it stays not only on your desk but on your mind.
  3. Purchase your stationery, either fold over notes or correspondence cards.
  4. Buy several pens that write easily.
  5. You’ll need to have stamps at the ready.
  6. Keep all your supplies where they are easily accessible.
  7. Set aside a time every day to write a few notes.
  8. Then do it.

Thank you notes need not be lengthy. A few sentences are enough if you are feeling challenged.

  • Mention specifically what you are grateful for.
  • If you have received a gift, say what you will do with it.
  • If someone has been kind or thoughtful, let them know what their kindness meant to you.
  • Perhaps look to the future as you close. Mention how you want to connect with or stay in touch with that person.
  • Select a closing that you are comfortable with. It could be “Gratefully”, “With sincere gratitude” or even “Thank you again”.
  • Sign your name and you’re done.

I want to leave you with a quote from my dear friend and colleague, Elizabeth Herbert Cottrell, whose book HEARTSPOKEN: How to Write Notes that Connect, Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire is soon to be published.

“Some say the handwritten note is a dying art, yet in both professional and personal life, it is still one of the most powerful tools we have for connecting meaningfully with others. A well-written note can give voice to the stirrings of your most heartfelt sentiments and can be read, saved, and treasured forever.”

Thanksgiving Guest Etiquette

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This week as we celebrate that fun-filled food-filled holiday Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a guest post from my friend, colleague, and etiquette expert, Karen Hickman. I hope you enjoy her words of wisdom on how to conduct yourself when you are a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn’t have said better so thank you to Karen Hickman.

Thanksgiving starts off with the holiday gatherings in earnest. It’s the time we eat drink and make merry and share good times with family and friends. It is also the time we gather at the dining room table for special meals. So if you have been invited for dinner at someone else’s house, there are some things to keep in mind so you can be the perfect guest. So, here’s some guest Thanksgiving etiquette.

Arrive on time.

Showing up late and keeping everyone waiting or causing the turkey to dry out
doesn’t win any points with your hostess.

Don’t come empty-handed.

Even if your hostess has the meal all taken care of be sure you bring some sort of hostess gift. This is a good time to bring wine or a gourmet food item that the host can use at another time.

If you are assigned a dish, be sure you bring what you signed up for. Make sure it is ready to go in the oven or be served. This can eliminate needless confusion in the kitchen.

Sit where you are assigned.

If place cards are on the table don’t move them around to sit by someone of your choice.

Bring your best manners to the table.

If need be, brush up on your dining etiquette.

Don’t bring your technology to the table!

Bringing your phone to the table is saying that the people you are with aren’t as important as what’s coming through on your phone. Be in the moment!

Make sure your children are supervised and polite.

Holiday time is a good time to review or teach some good manners to your children, especially table manners.

Try a little of everything served.

You may find out that you like that oyster dressing.

Offer to help with the dishes.

Some hosts and hostesses want help cleaning up and some don’t, but it’s important to offer.

Send a thank you

A handwritten note or make a thank-you call to your host and hostess. A lot goes into planning and hosting a big holiday meal. Make sure you acknowledge that.

Most of all…

Be sure and bring your good humor and be tolerant of those who may make you a little crazy at other times of the year. Be of good cheer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

About Karen

Since 1999, Karen Hickman has developed and offered seminars that include: Basic Business Etiquette, Dining Skills, and Succeeding Internationally, to name a few. With a nursing background, she has designed training programs specifically for the medical/dental office and hospital practices called “Professional Courtesy Essentials in Healthcare.”

Recognized nationally for her speaking, training and writing for business and medical publications, she was also a major contributor to the publication, Dishing Up Smiles, for the Alliance of the American Dental Association. Karen wrote a Q&A column for the Fort Wayne News Sentinel called “Contemporary Courtesies” for over 7 years.

Professionalcourtesyllc.com

Airplane Etiquette: Flying the Not-So-Friendly Skies

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You may remember a time when plane travel was something you enjoyed. Airplane etiquette prevailed. People dressed appropriately. Passengers didn’t bite, claw and scratch their way through lines. Seats were spacious and comfortable. Flight attendants were friendly. Airlines served real food. There were skycaps to help you with your luggage, which arrived at your destination when you did.

The “good ole days” are long gone. Flying has become an ordeal. We worry if our flight will be on time, if we will make our connections, if we will ever see our luggage again, if our flight will be canceled or worse yet we worry that there will be one of those out-of-control unruly passengers on our flight.

About 4.2 million travelers are expected to fly during this holiday season. The majority will happily be looking forward to spending the holidays with family and friends. Sadly, a few of them will be in something akin to combat mode. You can’t control what others do, but you can control your own behavior. Let me suggest ten rules of flying etiquette that, when observed by all, could transform the travel experience.

Pack your patience and good manners. If things go awry, be ready to take it in stride.

Don’t hog the overhead bin. Although you are allowed one carry-on plus a handbag or laptop bag, you should only put one of those in the overhead.

Middle seat gets the armrest. That seems fair since the people on either side can lean right or left for more room.

Be considerate when reclining your seat. Notice if the person behind you is using the tray table and alert them that you plan to recline so neither their laptop nor snack ends up in their lap.

Resist the urge to chat. Everyone should acknowledge their seatmates with a smile and a greeting. Once you do, you’re done. Let your seatmate fly in peace.

Don’t be a jack-in-the-box. That’s the passenger who hops up and down during the flight, crawling over everyone in their path.

Control your kids. Noisy, whiny, loud children ruin the flight for everyone except the parents—or so it seems. Anyone who has ever had the child behind them kick their seat understands the urge to kill.

Move as quickly as you can through the security line. Be prepared to remove your shoes, take out your laptop and toiletries and shed your jacket or sweater. Don’t wait until the last minute when you place your carry-on bag on the conveyor belt.

Be considerate of people with close connections when the flight has landed. How often have you heard a flight attendant on a late-arriving flight request that people with time to spare remain in their seats and let others with close connections disembark first? Few people honor that request.

Wear your mask as required. We are still in the midst of a pandemic. The airlines did not come up with the rule so don’t take out your frustration on the flight attendants.

Good manners won’t make planes any less crowded, seats any more comfortable or security checks any less stressful; but they can help you and your fellow passengers arrive at your destinations in a much better frame of mind—ready to enjoy the holidays.

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Covid Kindness

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“These are the times that try men’s souls” or so it seems. As we struggle to live with Covid and all that has changed about the way we live our lives, we tend to wonder, “Where have all the good times gone?” They are still with us. Even though I have identified a behavior that I call “Covid Cranky,” I can’t help but be heartened by another which is “Covid Kindness.” I experienced an example of that today.

It has been a completely miserable chilly, rainy and windy day here in normally sunny Savannah. As one who does not enjoy the obligatory trip to the grocery store under the best of circumstances, I particularly dislike it in bad weather. I might have survived without going out, but my two elderly cats let me know we were low on their favorite cat food. They rule so out I went.

Mercifully, it stopped raining just as I arrived at the store. I had my umbrella with me. Thank goodness. When I started to leave, the rain began to come down with a vengeance. I opened my pitifully small umbrella and with an overflowing cart made my way through the parking lot where the water was already puddling.

As I approached my car, a woman coming toward me smiled through the downpour and asked, “May I help you with that?” I need to point out that she had neither an umbrella nor a raincoat. I thanked her and said I would be fine. She was determined and refused to take no for an answer. Not only did she help me load the groceries into my car, but she also insisted on holding the tiny umbrella over my head.

When we finished, I tried to give her my umbrella assuring her that I had others at home. She would not hear of it. Thoroughly dampened, she set off through the pouring rain toward the store.

I have no idea who she was. I doubt I will ever see her again, but I will never forget her. The simple act of kindness from a perfect stranger made my day. The rain continues to fall, but nothing can dampen my spirits because of the humble act of a perfect stranger.

Will you be the kind stranger in someone’s life at the next opportunity? At a time when we are feeling more stress and anxiety in our daily lives, reaching out to another human being can make a world of difference in how we feel and how we make others feel.

Covidiquette: Etiquette in the Time of Covid

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Is it Covidiquette or Pandemiquette? Whatever we call it, we are struggling to figure out the new rules of etiquette and manners so that we remain courteous and polite during these trying times. In a recent article, I wrote about “Covid Cranky,” a condition that, like it or not, has infected every one of us.

I stepped up and confessed that I have suffered from “Covid Cranky”. In the last two years, I have said and done things that seem completely out of character and certainly not worthy of someone who professes to be an “expert” on manners and etiquette.

When I have noticed this behavior in others, I have assumed these people were cranky and rude by nature and acted that way pre-Covid. However, through my own informal research into this phenomenon, I have discovered that this is not limited to those born cranky. Friends and colleagues, who are generally kind and courteous, have confessed to these uncharacteristic behaviors as well. They have found themselves being rude to people online and using the anonymity of the Internet to say things they would previously have kept to themselves.  They have lashed out at people over the phone and even abruptly hung up on a few.

What is it about the pandemic that has made us act in such uncivilized ways?

  • Have we been cooped up so long that we have forgotten how to act in the real world?
  • Do our masks give us license to act anonymously?
  • Are we tired of being told what we can and cannot do?
  • Is rarely being able to talk to a live person causing frustration?
  • Do we long to see smiling faces?
  • Is our patience wearing thin trying to keep up with the ever-changing rules?

It may be some or all the above plus more. You could add to this list, I am sure.

So, what can we do? As always, we cannot control the behavior of others. When we encounter rude or difficult people, we can:

  • Try not to mimic their conduct.
  • Honor the preferences of others and not be judgmental about their choices.
  • Step back and consider what might be going on in their lives to spark this behavior.
  • Protect ourselves when we feel threatened but do so graciously.
  • Consider the effect of our actions or words on others.
  • Ask ourselves if we are treating others as we would like to be treated.

It is not hard to be nice. It takes less energy than being combative. So, before you turn on your computer, pick up the phone or go out into the world, put down your sword and shield. Instead, put a smile on your masked face and generosity in your spirit. I promise to do the same.

Vaccination

Is It Rude to Ask If Someone Has Been Vaccinated?

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At the time of writing this article, it appears that Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations are on the decline, but we are still not out of the woods. At least 50 percent of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated. That leaves a high number of people who are either reluctant or who are adamantly opposed. For a variety of reasons, we are operating in a world where we don’t know who has had the vaccine and who has not. Depending on the situation, there may be a need to know. That, of course, raises questions about when it is appropriate to ask if someone has been vaccinated and how do you ask?

In the workplace

One place where there is less of a dilemma about asking is the workplace. A growing number of employers are requiring that their employees be vaccinated; thus, the need to ask. These places might be independent businesses or governmental ones. If employees do not wish to comply, that’s their choice. In other instances when employers are struggling to find workers, they choose not to ask. Generally, these employers strive to follow as closely as possible all the safety guidelines to protect their customers and staff.

In your own home

If you are having guests in your home, it’s perfectly acceptable to inquire. You might need to know for your own safety or for that of other guests. The decision is yours. You have no way of knowing about vaccination status unless you pose the question.

When to ask

Pose the question before someone arrives at your home. How rude would you be if you waited until people arrived? Then you are putting yourself in the position of un-inviting someone on the spot or asking them to put on a mask. Chances are neither option would have a pleasant outcome.

 How to ask

Lead with why you are asking. You may be immunocompromised or have someone in your family or guest list who is. If you are hosting a number of people indoors, you may feel it’s prudent to protect all who are in attendance. You may be fully vaccinated with both shots and the booster but not willing to test the waters of a breakthrough to see if it’s true that you are not likely to get a bad case of the virus or die from it.

When it’s not okay to ask

It’s not okay when you are:

  • Simply nosey
  • Want to start a debate about “vaxxed vs non-vaxxed”

These are difficult times. People are frightened and edgy. Everybody is somewhat Covid Cranky. We all need to do whatever we can to make people feel comfortable and safe. If there was a time to show kindness, courtesy and respect for others, this is it.

Tipping for Takeout – The Latest Etiquette Dilemma

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Are you confused about tipping for takeout? It’s the latest dilemma facing diners. Just when you thought you had it straight and knew the rules for adding a15%, 18% or 20% gratuity to your bill, now you are challenged by what to add or if to add when you order takeout.  There is a mega controversy swirling around the topic.

One more thing we can blame on Covid. Pre-Covid takeout was no big deal. In struggling to keep their doors open, restaurants began the practice of offering food to go. Some decided to offer curbside pickup so customers could remain in their vehicles. This practice remains in place today in spite of the relaxation of some Covid protocols.

So, if you have ordered takeout—where you go into the restaurant and pick up your order at the counter—do you need to tip? If so, whom do you tip? How much should you tip?

At this point, I am tempted to jump in with my opinion and close the subject. But you probably need to hear the opinions of others. I’ve done my research and found that, as usual, everyone has an opinion and not all agree.

There are those who think if all someone does is hand you a paper bag over the counter, there is no need to tip. There are others who believe that the person who hands you the bag should be tipped. Why? Because it is generally known that restaurant owners pay their staff below minimum wage. Their customers are expected to tip to make up for the difference. As one person wrote, “So I am expected to pay the employer and the employee?” Interesting point.

I confess to being baffled. I don’t want to appear to be the 21st-century version of Ebenezer Scrooge, but I don’t get tipping for takeout. Think about it. We have been using the drive-through lane at fast-food chains for years without giving one thought to tipping that person handing you your food through the window.

And please don’t ask me before you give me my order if I want to tip. That’s not only inappropriate, but it’s also awkward and embarrassing.

If an employee brings my order to me curbside, that warrants a tip. I tip more if they have to troop through inclement weather to do so.

I believe that etiquette is always about being kind, courteous and respectful. In the case of tipping for takeout, here’s my advice. Do what feels right to you. Every situation is different so you may tip on some occasions and not on others. It’s entirely up to you.

Covid Cranky—Confessions from the Heart

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Is there anyone who has not experienced what I call “Covid Cranky”? Whether it has been in person, online or over the phone, I am willing to bet you can relate. Covid cranky exists in all aspects of our daily lives. Sadly, it has become such an everyday occurrence that I find myself bracing for it. Whether I pick up the phone, open my email or head out on a simple errand, I am like a knight going into battle, armed with my sword and shield.

What a sad state of affairs. This is not how we should be living our lives. We no longer “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” We plan for the worst and expect the worst.

Let me stop here and confess that I find myself becoming one of the Covid Cranky. Pre-Covid I gave myself credit for being a “nice” person. I have made a career out of being kind and courteous. Sadly, “niceness” is becoming history. I prepare for battle every day.

Do you do that? Are you preparing for the worst and expecting the worst? If you are willing to admit to it, what are you willing to do about it? I had to ask myself that same question. Do I want to end every day counting the notches on my belt of those I have taken out along the way?

Amid my introspective dilemma, I had an unexpected experience with a customer service rep. The company was Instacart. I had been offered a discount for placing an order with them. It seemed like a good idea so I gave it a try. When I completed my order and received my receipt, there was no discount. What to do? Contact Instacart? Good luck, I thought. I bet they don’t even have a phone number. To my surprise they do. I called prepared for the worst.

To my delight and amazement, the man on the other end of the line was pleasant from the start. After listening to my issue, he immediately offered up how he could help. His solution involved some technology steps that I was unable to manage. No problem…he said he’d go behind the scenes and hit a few buttons. It didn’t take long before he returned to say that he had resolved the problem and I would immediately see the discount applied to my account.

Whew! That was easy. I was happy. But it was not over yet. His next words were, “Have I made you happy? Have I made you smile today?” I wasn’t smiling. I was grinning. When was the last time someone has asked you if they made you smile today?

We seem to have forgotten how important it is to make people smile and to make them happy. I am still blown away by this act of courtesy. And, yes, I am still smiling.

What if we all focus on how to make people smile? It doesn’t take much beyond an attitude of helpfulness and intention.

I am reminded of the Jimmy Buffet song “It’s my Job”. This rep at Instacart understood that it was his job to be better than the rest. Hopefully, it made his day, as well as mine, better than the rest.