“Don’t stand too closely, don’t speak too quietly or too loudly, remember to breathe, choose your words carefully,” etc. If we tried to apply everything we’ve ever read or learned about the psychology of human interaction, we would probably freeze the minute we entered a room full of strangers.
I am sharing these networking missteps tips, gleaned from well-honed, personal experiences to increase your chances of developing those robust business relationships that lead to desired outcomes. And do feel free to share them with anyone you know who might benefit from them.
The most memorable networking gaffe I ever saw ended with a dozen or more business cards floating amid the bubbles and wine glasses in a kitchen sink. They belonged to someone, whom I shall call Brent, I had just met. The gaffe took place at the end of a late evening holiday party. Brent, a newly minted lawyer who was new to the group, spent the evening feverishly distributing his business cards to every guest with whom he had a conversation. Each chose to baptize his card in the aforementioned unceremonious way.
Based on this ill-fated experience, amongst others I’ve experienced, here are my top 10 Networking Missteps to avoid at all costs.
1. RELYING ON SUREFIRE CONVERSATION-KILLERS
Avoid using a joke or a story about you or offering negative or controversial opinions to introduce yourself. It kills a conversation quickly.
2. USING A CELL PHONE IN EARSHOT OF OTHERS
If you really need to answer the phone or make that important call, go the bathroom or to the parking lot where cell phones ought to be relegated. You don’t want to give people the impression that you are either self-absorbed or really don’t care.
3. ENGAGING IN UNNECESSARILY LONG CONVERSATIONS
If the person with whom you’re speaking starts to shift from side to side or begins to look over your shoulder, you know it’s time to move on. Another clue to look for is, if the person asks for your business card, his/her ‘get out of conversation jail card’, just after meeting you, it’s time to run along.
4. CLOSING ON THE SPOT
Pressing the person with whom you’re talking to decide when he/she will use your services will no doubt lead to disaster. Even if the person asks for more information and says he/she is interested in exploring further ideas with you, it is definitely not the time to try and ‘close.’ Follow up later.
5. HAVING A FEW TOO MANY DRINKS
Feeling relaxed and confident sure helps when you’re meeting new people. But if you overdo it with a few too many drinks, beware; trouble lurks ahead. People may indulge you – for a time – but they won’t take you seriously if you’re even slightly inebriated or more animated than usual. Join in the fun with a glass of wine but sip it slowly and occasionally.
6. OFFERING YOUR BUSINESS CARD TOO QUICKLY
Speed networking, the first cousin to speed dating, is one of those potential disasters inherent in the business building process. Avoid it. Take your time to find common ground before you offer your business card. And just don’t throw the other person’s card in your pocket or purse without looking at it and talking about it first.
7. TALKING AND EATING SIMULTANEOUSLY
Try to avoid getting caught with food in your mouth while talking. Take small bites you can quickly chew and swallow before uttering a word. You might even consider not eating anything during the event so you can be fully focused on what is going on around you.
8. HANGING OUT WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Avoid the temptation to find a ‘safe harbour’ among familiar people in unfamiliar surroundings. Remember the purpose of attending a networking event is to meet new people. Your friends and colleagues will understand if you don’t spend time with them.
9. TREATING SERVERS BADLY
It’s wise to treat servers as you would like to be treated if it was you passing the shrimp cocktail. I’ve heard stories of candidates for senior positions being denied a job opportunity because they were rude to servers while lunching with potential employers.
10. BAD MOUTHING THE COMPETITION
Bad-mouthing your competitors while talking with a prospect makes you look badly and could result in losing any chance for business. Speak well of others and avoid creating ill feeling. As my late father said, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Evan Thompson is owner of Evan Thompson and Associates, a marketing communications firm in Toronto. He works with practice professionals and entrepreneurs who wish to deepen their relationships with clients and prospects. He provides website, newsletter, speech, sales presentation and article content and business development coaching.
The English language can be confusing, partly because the rules are changing as business writing becomes less formal. No doubt, my grammar teacher would be upset that so many of her former students dangle their prepositions or fragment their sentences.
Mrs. Cardwell also did not anticipate how our reliance on spell check and auto correct would create a whole new breed of mistakes.
Although the green highlighting in Word and other grammar programs can help with some issues, they can’t replace your need to understand which rules count.
In my 30 years of business writing and editing, I keep seeing the same flubs. They can make you look unprofessional and result in misunderstandings. So pay special attention to my top three grammar, spelling and punctuation gaffes.
The most common mistake is to confuse pronoun possessives with contractions, most commonly, “its” and “it’s” or “your” and “you’re.” Well-intentioned people remember Mrs. Cardwell’s rule about possessives using apostrophes, but forget about the exception with pronouns. They both may sound the same, but their meanings and spellings are quite distinct. There’s more in my post about aiming at the biggest, easiest grammar targets.
Many people mix up words that sound almost the same as each other, but have different meanings and spellings. Take “except” and “accept” or “compliment” and “complement.” Here’s a list of commonly confused sound-alikes.
- You are less likely to make a mistake or look unprofessional if you use fewer apostrophes, semi-colons, colons and exclamation points. Many people want to slide an apostrophe into plural numbers, as in “hits of the 80s.” But if the apostrophe may be unnecessary or wrong, you want to avoid this much-abused mark.
Similarly, don’t throw in colons, semi-colons or exclamation points--unless you have a very good reason. Excessive or incorrect punctuation can make you look like an amateur. Punctuation marks are road signs to direct, not perplex, your readers.
I could go on about people who write “myself” when they mean “me,” or “that” when “which” or “who” would be clearer. I could explain how to avoid sexist language without sounding awkward. You can learn more through my blog Sticky Communication or book and online writing course, called Write Like You Talk Only Better.
Because people can best remember three tips, let’s focus on these common gaffes.
- Using apostrophes in pronoun possessives, such as “it’s,” which actually means “it is.”
- Confusing words that sound the same but have different meanings and spelling, as in “border” and “boarder.”
- Excessive or incorrect fancy punctuation marks.
As Kyle Wiens wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing.”
When they are writing, the people who make fewer mistakes look smart and professional. Isn’t that the impression you want to leave?
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Based on her long and broad experience and MA in journalism, Barb Sawyers advises business people how to write more effectively, through her blog, book and online business writing course. She also provides individual business writing coaching.
The recent tempest in a pasta pot that erupted after the owner of a Montreal restaurant was told by the “language police” to translate into French the word “pasta” on his menu to comply with French language requirements in Quebec got me thinking about the language offences committed by people in their business communication. In spite of the absurdity of this “Pastagate” incident, as pointed out by French language journalists, maybe we do need a language police force to keep in check and improve business communication skills.
If you ever had doubts about the power of language and the impact of your words, take a look at the amount of time wasted and the profits lost due to poorly written emails, reports and so on. Research shows that the 58% of Canadian workers who spend two to four hours per workday reading written communication, believe the following to be the costs of poor writing in those communications:
• 70 % identified loss in productivity
• 85% identified wasted time
• 63% described errors
Estimates suggest that writing deficiencies cost companies $3.1 billion annually. That’s a lot of money! So you might want to consider avoiding going to ‘language jail’ and improve your own business communication. After all, if someone reads a poorly written email or report that you or your company has generated, it will have a lasting impact on the perception of your work, on productivity and on profit. So here are three tips to help you.
How to avoid the business “language police”
1. Practice these quick steps to help you write effectively:
-Plan first what you want to write, i.e. determine your goal/objective for the communication
-Know your audience; then write specifically for that audience
-Edit, edit some more and proofread carefully for errors
-Have someone you trust read your work before sending it out, especially if it contains sensitive information
2. Explore the Language Lab’s blog archives for a wealth of tips on how to write effectively:
3. Take an online business communication course; we’re here to help you clarify your business communication needs and to improve upon them.
For more information about the Language Lab’s online learning courses, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don’t, you might end up eating your words! The best way to illustrate what I mean by this comment is to describe what began as a simple business transaction but ended up as an awful, unforgettable experience. Recently, I was at a client meeting with a person who was clearly in a terrible mood. And it was evident right from the start. At one point during the meeting, she simply lost her cool. In the course of losing her cool, not only was her tone of voice inappropriate, her language was abusive, shouting obscenities at me. To add to this abuse, she informed me that she would not pay me for my work.
Needless to say, I was shocked! In all my years of business, I’d never experienced anything like this before— this verbal abuse. And I trust it will never happen again. I determined to forgo payment and never have anything more to do with her.
But later that day, I received a call from her assistant - not with an apology from my former client, but with an assurance that the bill would be paid. Letting me know how truly sorry she felt about what happened, she explained that this outburst was definitely out of character for her boss.
It’s apparent, of course, that it was the support staff who did the eating of the words. And yes, it’s true; my former client never did apologize. At the same time though, this ill-behaved woman realized she was wrong.
Her bad behavior convinced me that if her or her company’s name came up in conversation I would never recommend either. If she thought before she spoke, it would certainly have been a different matter. As you are no doubt aware, this story is proof that choosing one’s words carefully is never more important than during a business transaction. We all have bad days and we are all capable of speaking before we think twice, but we don’t want to end up eating our words. So here are three tips that serve as an excellent guide to ensure you think before you speak:
Think before you speak
1. Know thyself: Examine the instances where you have either spoken thoughtlessly or been tempted to do so. It is likely that they occur in similar kinds of situations. (For example, meetings with an impatient boss, a demanding client or difficult employees.) Once you recognize the kinds of situations that “push your buttons,” you will be more prepared when they arise, and will have strategies to avoid falling into the trap of not thinking before you speak.
2. Cultivate positive speaking: People often talk about the power of positive thought. It’s equally true that choosing positive words in your business communications may make what has the potential to be an unpleasant confrontational situation, remain a civilized, professional one. For example, if you are about to say, “I can’t possibly deliver ‘x’ by Friday?” stop yourself, and rephrase it to say something along the lines of, “I’d like to get ‘x’ to you Monday rather than give you work that is too rushed. Is that possible?” Take an internal mental moment to rephrase the negative as a positive. And if you do, you’ll realize it’s not usually too difficult to look at most situations as “a glass half full” rather than “a glass half empty.”
3. Keep your goal front of mind: In any given business situation or meeting, ask yourself what it is you hope to achieve. All of the words you choose should flow from that idea. Knowing what the end goal is, discard unnecessary, excess communications, verbal or written. Focus all of your attention on expressing ideas that are essential to achieving your goal. It is frequently true that less is more. So in any business situation, say only what really needs to be said. Strive to make your words positive, relevant and appropriate. If you do, you will not only have more success in achieving your goal, you will find people respond to you in kind.
Oh, and yes, of course you can also use that tried and true technique that your mother probably told you: “Count to ten before you speak!”
For more ideas about how to think before you speak, see The Power of Words: Words that Sell, Profanity and the Power of Language: When Words Offend, When the Boss Says You Don’t Write Well: What do you Do?
Have you ever landed in hot water for speaking without thinking? If you have any tips regarding what you learned from it, let us know at email@example.com.
Image courtesy of Very Quiet from Flickr.
If you want some real insight into the art of negotiation, watch the Seinfeld video with Kramer negotiating a deal about beltless tranchcoats with Jerry’s father, Morty. Not only will the video make you laugh, you’ll receive a painless lesson in negotiating tactics. It certainly makes it clear that when communication is poor during negotiations, the results will be less than satisfactory.
Whether it’s about who takes out the garbage or about meeting the boss to ask for a pay increase, we’re all involved in some form of negotiating, almost every day of our lives. And masterful negotiation depends on well-honed communication skills. Ideally, both parties will then come away from the negotiation feeling satisfied– contrary to Kramer’s and Jerry’s father’s predicament in the infamous “25% negotiation.”
But as we all know, negotiating in business isn’t an easy thing to do. It often involves conflict, or possibly asking for something you fear you may not get. And fear can really get in the way of successful negotiation. So, what can you do to improve your negotiating skills? Consider this; the three main stages to any successful negotiation, as you’ll see, below.
The Language Lab’s Top Three Tips to Successful Negotiation
Prepare: You first need to understand exactly what the negotiation is about. What is being asked for? What are the expectations of both parties? What are you looking for and what can you offer? When you can answer these questions without stumbling, your preparation is complete.
Listen: The temptation in a negotiation is to jump in with your arguments, bombarding the other party with your needs. You want to allow the other person(s) time to speak. And you must truly listen. Take your time; be dignified. Think of the negotiation as a conversation, not an argument. If you are a good listener, you’ll find that more questions may arise. Asking those questions of the other party will likely give you a more complete idea of what he or she thinks. Moreover, it can only help improve further negotiations with that person.
Understand: Once a solution has been reached, make sure you understand exactly what that outcome means. Not only do you need to understand, both parties must be clear. Paraphrasing the outcome of the negotiation, i.e. restating your understanding, in your own words, is helpful. Sharing a summary of notes taken during the discussion is also an effective strategy. Of course, you want to be sure you get the final results of the negotiation in writing, particularly if it involves an offer or financial transaction.
Negotiating can be intimidating, but if you approach it with patience, good will and good grace, it needn’t be adversarial. You may not always get what you want. Then again, you may get 25 % of what you want; who knows! However, the more you approach negotiating in a spirit of clear and considered communication, the better you will feel about the process. Not only that, the better you will be at negotiating.
Do you have any tales to share from the negotiating trenches? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on the blog.
- Why Plain Language is Good for Business
- 10 Networking Missteps to Avoid
- How to Get the Answers You Want: Ask Good Questions
- Three Gaffes to Watch Out for If You Want to Look Professional