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Don’t let poor email etiquette harm your career prospects

May 11, 2012

I often find that there is a great misconception regarding our perception of first impressions and the impact they make on our personal and professional image.

Unfortunately, most of us are unaware that we are sabotaging our own success.

The world of technology, before people, will eventually implode if we don’t get a grip on what truly matters. At the end of the day, people still do business with people they trust and trust is built upon consistency.

We make impressions on others through personal interactions, phone, email, texting and social media.

There are different ways we approach email when communicating with family and friends. This is a more informal messaging style – something you would say in a casual conversation.

There are also emails that we know to be formal like official documents such as contracts.

Most email will fall somewhere in the middle. However, as a general rule of thumb, it is also best to err on the side of formal.

Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so you must be sure your email gives the “message” that you intended to send.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid professional suicide by email.

• The subject line. Always use a targeted subject line. With the hundreds of daily emails, this could be the deciding factor whether or not to open your email. For example, use “Here is the chart you request from this inventory,” instead of “Here it is.”

• Make it easy to read. Use bulleted lists when possible. Use subheads to separate different sections of your message. No more than 25 lines and short paragraphs please.

• Formatting matters. Use bold formatting to highlight the most important points in your message, such as the first sentence of each paragraph or first point in your bulleted list, as I have done here.

• Do not rely on spell check. The rule here is to always proofread your work before you hit the send button.

• Avoid the fluff. Items like colored stationary and emoticons have no place in a business email. Also avoid using acronyms like BTW (by the way) or TTYL (talk to you later). Where these are fine in informal situations, they are not acceptable in business.

• Refresh the subject when you are replying. If there is a long correspondence, the nature of the email is most likely different subject context. You can either change the subject line to reflect the new direction or you can start another email.

• Use a salutation. This could be “Dear Mr. Johnson,” “Dear John,” or “Hi John,” if it’s more casual.

• Signatures and closing phrase. “Sincerely” and “respectfully” are good formal closings. “Best regards” or “warm regards” is a nice middle of the road for business. Make sure your signature includes how to contact you. You can include a one- line marketing phrase, but do not make your signature a brochure. For example: “Helping individuals, companies and organizations make their first impression their best impression.”

• Unsend button. 90 percent of the time this will not work. Do not send anything that is negative or that you would not want your mother to read.

• Be careful hitting reply all. Users beware – jobs have been lost and lives have been changed.

• Use the out of office message. Don’t forget to turn it on, but more importantly turn it off when you return.

• DON’T SHOUT – All caps is email speak for yelling.

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Email etiquette key in tech-savvy business world

May 11, 2012

Over the past decade technology has completely changed the way we communicate and conduct business. For the most part the changes have been beneficial, but technology and social media have opened the door for us to reveal more than might be wise in a professional setting.

Emails can fall into this category if we aren’t careful. Because it’s a major component of business communication, the highest level of professionalism should be used. Always. While we may know this, that doesn’t mean we all adhere to it.

It’s easy with email to fall into a very casual communication style. But we should never forget that email is a very monitored form of communication. Many companies use content filtering software to track content in emails.

A reader of Image Rules, a human resources director, shared this with employees in his local law firm, on the topic of colorful language:

• An email is forever. It lives on in our archives for years. Is this how you want to be remembered? How would your email look as a courtroom exhibit?

• You can’t control where an email goes after you send it. The recipient might innocently send it to another friend or business contact, who shares it with someone else unknown to you. You get the picture.

• Don’t assume that just because your colleagues don’t speak up that they are comfortable with your coarse language.

We work hard to provide a work environment that is positive and professional. Offensive language, whether we’re speaking or writing, has no place in the office.

While we’re on the subject, here are a few more good rules to follow:

• Don’t use your work email as your personal email. Establish a personal email account to communicate with friends and family. And then use that account on your own time.

• Break the chain. When the subject changes, don’t continue to build on it.

• Take a minute before sending to check spelling and to look for missing words. As was mentioned above, your email could be routed to many other recipients. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

What great common-sense advice this HR director has provided his employees.

Everything about image has to do with common sense, but technology, for all the good it offers, has created a shield where often common sense is not employed.

From the Facebook posts of high school students, to the not so innocent texts of politicians, common sense can easily be lost to the wind. The result could be harmed reputations and relationships. A little common sense goes a long way.

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Modern Etiquette: Dealing with Annoying Co-Workers

April 23, 2012

The Know-it-All. Negative Nancy. Larry Loud-Talker. The Over-Sharer. The workplace is filled with all kinds of personalities, each with their own unique (and sometimes annoying) habits.

While you can’t choose your co-workers you can choose how you handle their annoying behavior. Your best approach will largely depend upon your circumstances, and the level of annoyance.

For example, if your co-worker’s habit hampers your ability to do your job you’ll need to take care of the problem even if it means going to your supervisor. However, filing even a ‘verbal’ complaint should always be your last-resort. Meanwhile, you may want to look at your own workplace behavior which, unknowingly, may be offensive to others.

Tips for Resolving Conflict

Remove yourself from the situation: If you find yourself focusing more on your co-worker’s annoyance than the work in front of you, take a break. Even a few minutes in a restroom or break room will clear your head and calm your nerves.

Find an outlet for your frustration: A 20-minute power walk or “vent-session” with a trusted friend is another option. Once you’ve released the built-up tension you’ll find you have a new perspective on the situation.

Find your focus: If deadlines prevent you from removing yourself from the situation, create a place of calm in your own mind. Any technique that helps you create a “clear headspace” will provide a sense of control and calm. Try noise-canceling ear-buds or mentally repeat a mantra, like “focus” in your mind.

Go to the Source: If all your attempts fail and your work is still suffering be respectful and pay your co-worker the courtesy of addressing them directly. Explain the problem (e.g., it’s hard for me to concentrate) and, together, find a solution that works for the both of you.

Last resort: If the problem persists you have no choice but to bring your concern to a supervisor. Who knows, you may not be the only one in the office having a problem with this co-worker.

Taboo Workplace Topics

Even the most friendly workplace conversation can sour when people discuss ‘taboo topics.’ To avoid office friction, don’t brooch the following ‘hot topics;’ and if raised by co-workers opt-out of the conversation.

Salary: Your salary was determined by you and your employer. It’s proprietary information and should stay that way.

Medical Woes: Only you and your family care about your medical problems. Keep your aches and pains to yourself.

Relationship Problems: Failed romances and other relationship issues belong in your personal life, not in your professional life. No exceptions!

Sex, Religion Politics: These ‘big three’ hot button topics are non-negotiable. They are called hot button topics because they are polarizing and run the risk of alienating, even insulting, colleagues. Discussing sex, religion and politics is always off-limits and inappropriate in the workplace.

Examine Your Own Behavior

As you go about your workday pay attention to your interactions with others. Do you interrupt colleagues while they’re working or engaged in conversation with others? Do you discuss business matters with co-workers or do you bring up personal issues, about yourself and others? Do you complain about problems in the workplace but fail to offer any viable solutions?

Remember: It’s always easier to find fault with others than it is to see our own problems.


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The art of giving negative feedback: A 7-step approach

Business Management
March 21 2012

Giving feedback is an important management task but certainly not an easy one—especially when the feedback isn’t all sunshine.

Negative feedback requires a manager to motivate, counsel and criticize in a way that alerts employees to where the problems lie and what must be done to solve them. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be learned.

Follow this seven-step method whenever giving negative feedback:

1. Tell it like it is. Don’t sidestep the issue; be straightforward and tell the employee exactly what your concerns are.

Example: “I’m troubled by the way you deal with customer complaints.”

2. Give feedback immediately. Feedback is most useful when given at the earliest opportunity after a particular incident. Effective feedback allows the recipient an opportunity to correct behavior right away.

3. Paint a specific picture of how you view the situation. Describe what you see happening by using objective details, not subjective opinions.

Example: “When you get calls from irate customers, you become short with them and you don’t try to hide your own irritation.”

4. Give the lowdown of the outcome. Make sure employees understand the connection between their behavior and the negative results. This lets employees know that they can control the consequences.

Example: “I’ve received letters from customers threatening to stop using our company if they continue to receive such poor treatment.”

5. Give credit where credit is due. That way, employees will know what actions to repeat in the future. Plus, they’ll know that you appreciate the effort to do it right.

Example: “I know it can be frustrating, but I’m pleased to see that after you quickly pinpoint the problem, you immediately make a return call.”

6. Reiterate performance expectations. As a manager, it is important that you try to make employees understand what it takes for job success.

Example: “Understand that good customer service begins with fielding the complaint; it isn’t just the end result of solving the problem. Frustration-management skills are important in this department.”

7. Use feedback as a means of change, not punishment. A positive reaction is a more likely result when you correct negative behavior rather than punish the offender.

Constructive criticism: 4 helpful hints

1. Beware of communicating your frustration and anger. Otherwise, the recipient will likely feel frustrated and angry, too, and therefore, less receptive to your message.

2. Be flexible. Most situations don’t require you to dictate exactly what needs to be done or how. Giving employees room to maneuver and allowing them to make changes on their own reduces resistance to following your feedback.

3. Make your point right away. Otherwise, you risk losing focus on the feedback with too much small talk or overwhelming the employee with too many details.

4. Put the feedback in writing. It helps reduce misunderstandings, allows you to perfect your message before sending it and is a smart legal move in case of a lawsuit.

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Message Mix Up: When a Nasty Email
Reaches the Wrong Hands

Emily Post
April 12 2012


Q: What is the best thing to do it you send an e-mail to someone by mistake, and the e-mail contains some content that is not favorable toward that person?

A: First of all, don’t compound your error by sending an e-mail saying “disregard the e-mail I sent earlier.”  All this will do is persuade your unintended recipient to read the earlier e-mail immediately.  Instead, make a point of getting to the person before he comes looking for you.  If you’re in luck, he won’t have seen the offending e-mail yet.  But either way, a sincere apology is your best recourse: “Tom, have you read my e-mail?  You haven’t?  Good, because I want you to know that I said some things I’m embarrassed about, and I’m very sorry.  I hope this can be water over the dam for us, because I truly value our friendship.”  Second, vow to avoid the problem altogether from now on by hitting “Draft” or “Send Later” after typing your message.  This lets you go back and double-check e-mails written in haste.  With some distance, you’ll see where you should tone down the content, saving yourself the grief of having to correct a mistake after the fact.


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French Fries – How Do I Eat Them?

Emily Post
Cindy Post Senning, January 26 2012

There are many foods that present a classic dilemma for diners young and old. The question is, “fork or fingers?” The answer is sometimes definitive – you definitely eat your peas and mashed potatoes with a fork. That’s a no-brainer. But how about french fries? It’s a sometimes fingers/sometimes forks answer: If the food the french fries are served with is a finger food – a sandwich or a hot dog on a bun – you can eat the french fries with your fingers also. If the food is a fork food – steak or a broiled chicken cutlet, for instance – then you eat the french fries with a fork.

One other basic rule of thumb has to do with ketchup and gravy. If you’ve smothered your french fries with either, you should use a fork to eat them.

However you manage them, french fries can be pretty delicious. Enjoy!


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Is it rude to go to the bathroom during dinner?

Globe & Mail
Chris Nuttall-Smith, April 14 2012

The question

My wife and I have the same argument every time we go out for dinner. We’ve been having it for 27 years. She says it’s rude to leave the table to use the facilities while there’s food in front of you. I say if ya gotta go, ya gotta go. Is there some sort of rule I haven’t heard of? Because, aside from my wife, I’ve never heard anybody else complain.


The answer

If you’ve got to go, I suppose you do, though I can’t help wondering why, after 27 years, you haven’t just learned to squeeze in a good tinkle immediately after ordering your food. (We are just talking about tinkling here, correct?)

As to whether there’s a rule: No, there is not. But if you leave the table with a plate of food in front of you, the food gets cold and your wife has to eat alone. Plus, with apologies to the overactive-bladder set, there’s something just kind of weird about taking four bites of food and then heading to the loo.

Listen to your wife, bub. She’s a good and patient woman. And maybe lay off the pre-dinner Super Big Gulps, too.

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Email Etiquette:
Peers, Professors and Professionals


Charlie Osborne, April 9 2012

The Generation Y. Known for smiley faces, overly-enthusiastic use of exclamation marks, and doubtlessly the odd typographic mistake or two.

It is easy for a less formal style of communication to creep into emails that should reflect a more professional image, however, it can make an individual look unprofessional or lazy — and may confuse the recipient if they cannot ‘translate’ slang or text-speak.

How can you impress a future employer, professor or professional peer through email, and create a good impression?

1. Stick to a professional email address.

I’m afraid ‘’, ’’ and ’’ just don’t cut it anymore. If you cannot sign up for an email address that displays your full name, consider adding the initial of a middle name, or shortening your first name as appropriate.

2. Greet the recipient, properly.

Hi!, Hey You! or Yo! should be kept in between conversations with friends. If you are contacting someone for the first time, don’t misspell the person’s name. Check any documentation you have to find the correct spelling, or look it up online.

Use the correct salutation:

  • In business, if you are addressing a woman, ‘Ms.’ is appropriate — marital status is irrelevant in this kind of communication.
  • If someone has a doctoral or medical degree, ‘Dr. [Last name] is correct in email etiquette.
  • If no name is supplied, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is always acceptable. If you know the gender of the recipient, alter this as appropriate.

3. Capitalize and punctuate

If your emails are all written in lower-case and contain no capitalization or punctuation, you simply look lazy. Take a brief moment and read through the email before you send it, and fix any glaring errors. A message littered with mistakes will not be taken seriously.

4. Stay clear of emoticons, unless they do it first.

There are cases where the recipient is happy to use a less formal method of communication — if they use formatting such as emoticons, then it is possible (although not necessarily advisable) for you to do so. However, if in business, stay clear anyway.

5. Be gentle with exclamation marks.

Would you SCREAM EVERY SENTENCE at your professor during a lecture? Or bellow your answers in a job interview? It’s rude, unnecessary and an eyesore. There’s no point releasing the ‘Caps of Fury’ if you’re trying to make a good impression.

6. Use standard formatting practices.

The cute kitten animation tagged on to your signature or the 14-pt Comic Sans font may be your personal favorite, but it is not appropriate in formal settings. Stick with a readable size, color and a standard font.

7. Quotes from movies or famous people in your signature are asking for disaster.

Go nuts on your Tumblr account, but leave email communications out of trying to enlighten the populace with profound quotes.

8. Reflect your recipient’s style.

This technique is also used in body language studies — by ‘reflecting’ the person you are communicating with, you are more likely to receive a favorable response. If the other person favors email summaries or shorthand notifications in the subject line, do it. If they use a particular form of email etiquette, take note.

9. Stay the need for ‘translation’.

A properly worded email that is concise and easy to understand will probably receive a response more promptly than an email that requires effort. The less effort required to reply, the quicker it may be. Essays or poorly-worded messages will get you nowhere — especially in a world where inboxes are flooded on a daily basis.

10. Suitability

Be aware that email conversations may not necessarily remain private, and can be exchanged, forwarded, or taken from servers. Anything that can be considered libelous, defamatory, offensive or racist — steer clear.

It is not uncommon for staff to be fired for the contents of an email, and in the case of students, you may find yourself attending a disciplinary hearing.

11. Do not attach unnecessarily files.

Sending large attachments that are unwanted can annoy your recipient, and for some servers may cause system crashes or cause emails to bounce back. If you have to send a large file, compress it first using .zip or .rar.

12. Add a disclaimer to your emails.

In order to protect yourself as much as possible, include a legal disclaimer at the bottom. An example of a common business-based disclaimer is:

This email and any attachments to it may be confidential and are intended solely for the use of the individual to whom it is addressed. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of [business name].

If you are not the intended recipient of this email, you must neither take any action based upon its contents, nor copy or show it to anyone.

13. Think ‘text’ rather than ‘novel’.

When there are hundreds of emails left unread in your inbox, half of which are emblazoned with irritating ‘URGENT’ or ‘IMPORTANT’ subject tags, if you open an email to find it is approaching the length of the last novel you read, it will most likely stay there for some time.

If the email has to be long, for example a copy of a report, then include ‘Long’ in the subject heading to give the recipient fair warning.

14. Use email copy functions courteously.

Directly instilling a CC copy shows more confidence than a covert BCC move to prevent others from seeing multiple viewers; and it may just come back to haunt you later. However, BCC is suitable if an email is being sent from a large distribution list.

15. When you use text-based communication, tone is lost.

A phrase or joke that may be hilarious face-to-face does not necessarily translate well into text. Sarcasm or irony can be taken the wrong way, so be careful — especially if it can be misconstrued as offensive.

16. Use the subject field to accurately reflect the email’s content.

It is not a PR campaign, and you are not vying for click-through rates. Make the subject header relevant and save both yourself and the respondent time.

17. Close an email properly

If in doubt, copy what your recipient has already used. If you are sending an email for the first time, some choices are:

  • Best Regards,
  • Cordially,
  • Best Wishes,
  • Many Thanks,
  • Sincerely,
  • Regards,
  • Thank You,

18. Include a relevant signature.

Make sure you can be contacted easily, and if you are going to be on leave for specific dates, include this information in you signature.

A relevant signature should include your name, mailing address, email address, phone number, and if you wish — social media accounts such as a Twitter or LinkedIn profile.

19. Avoid graphics and backgrounds in email.

These are unnecessary, increase an email’s size, hog memory and can make messages difficult to read. Animations are an absolute red-light disaster zone, as well as often not user friendly for disabled viewers.

20. Final thoughts:

  • Email is a written form of communication — and is not private or confidential. Write nothing that may cause you problems later on if it were made public.
  • Keep copies of your emails, both sent and received.
  • You are reflecting both yourself and potentially a business or institution when you send a message. Keep this in mind and make sure everything is to the point, clear and concise.
  • It takes very little effort to use a spellchecker — don’t forget.
  • Remember to show appreciation when you receive responses. Not only does it mean you value someone’s time, but a word of thanks can go a long way.


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The 12 secrets of dining out with kids

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Globe and Mail
Dave McGinn, March 13

There’s a war on bringing kids to restaurants, and parents are losing the battle. Last month, Grant Central Pizza, in Atlanta, printed a note on its menu banning crying children from the restaurant. In July, a Pennsylvania restaurant banned children under 6, crying or no crying. Even many restaurants with no bans don’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for families. Taking your kids out to eat can be a fraught experience, but it doesn’t have to be. You just have to know how to do it properly.


You can bring kids to any restaurant, so long as you will have paid and left by 8 p.m. After that you’re trespassing on grown-ups-only time. Turns out 5 p.m. can be a happy hour for families, too.


When you bring your progeny out to eat, you’re asking more than usual of wait staff (See: WAITER) – replacing spilled juices, picking up dropped toys, bringing you crayons, speeding things up just enough so that you can still make it home in time for bedtime. Such service deserves an added reward. Leave a gratuity of at least 20 per cent. And if there’s salmon mashed into upholstery or peas all over the floor, consider throwing in a little extra.


The best ally you have. Make friends immediately. Be very courteous and grateful. And ask for something to nibble on as soon as you’re seated.


Do it quickly. It’s best to call ahead to see if the restaurant has a kid’s menu. If it doesn’t, consider ordering a meal for yourself that your kids might opt to eat if their meal isn’t to their liking. And if your kid is a picky eater, now is not the time to force porcinis on them.


Babies cry at restaurants, because babies cry everywhere. You have one minute to soothe them at the table. After that, take them outside (See: OUTSIDE) or to the bathroom as a courtesy to other patrons.


Your refuge when problems – crying, hyperactivity, garden-variety fits and full-blown tantrums – cannot be quickly solved inside.


Lasso that toddler immediately. This is a restaurant, not a playground. Provide distractions. (See: DISTRACTIONS)


Never leave home without packing essential diversionary objects, be they colouring books, a favourite toy or an abridged Anna Karenina. You will need to keep your children occupied. It’s not the bartender’s job to supply you with markers.


Absolutely forbidden. Use this outing as a chance to instruct your teens on proper dining etiquette. (But be sure to make this clear before you arrive.)


Not a given. Dangle dessert as a reward for good behaviour. (Remember: You may need to make a break for it.)


Other diners may give you the dreaded stink eye for bringing your children along. Offer them a smile and then ignore them. Unless your kids commit an actual restaurant offence it’s the stink-eye givers who are in the wrong.


Ask for one close to the bathroom. You’ll be glad you did.


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Modern Etiquette: Seven tips to making the right impression

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Jo Bryant, March 12 2012

We all know that making a good impression is fundamental to professional and social success. All too often, however, we unintentionally tarnish our personal polish by forgetting the basics of face-to-face communication.

From personal appearances and body language to handshakes and introductions, here are some top tips on being remembered for all the right reasons…

1. Looking Good

Your appearance is an instant message to those around you, so the way you look is as important as how you behave. It goes without saying that you and your attire should be shiny and clean from head to toe. Dress appropriately for the situation – tailor your personal sense of style to suit your surroundings.

2. Positive Posture

The way you stand, walk and sit all make a big impression. Hold your head high, keep your back straight and pull your shoulders back, but keep it all looking natural. Tread lightly (no clumping, thundering footsteps), and don’t drag your feet or shuffle. Women should always sit with their knees together; men should avoid sitting with their legs excessively wide apart, and should never repeatedly jiggle their leg up and down.

3. Boost Your Body Language

Body language is a series of silent signals that play a vitally important part in the impression you give to the world. Create an air of confidence and positivity by avoiding crossed arms, hunched shoulders and awkward fidgeting. Focus on good posture, positive gestures and a natural sense of self-awareness. Never yawn in public and don’t forget to smile.

4. Shake On It

A handshake, lasting just a few seconds, is the common form of greeting for all business situations and most social situations. Always use your right hand and ‘pump’ the recipients hand two or three times before you let it go. Make eye contact and ensure that your fingers firmly grasp the other palm. Avoid bone-crushing grips or loose, limp hands.

5. Successful Social Kissing

When faced with a cheek-to-cheek greeting, approach the situation with confidence. Usually it’s right cheek first, but prepare to change direction at the last minute. Cheek skin must make brief, light contact; avoid sound effects, air kissing and saliva traces. Pull back decisively (but don’t be too abrupt) if you are just giving one. Be cautious with those you are less familiar with – two might seem over the top.

6. Seeing Eye-to-Eye

There’s no doubt that a certain amount of eye contact is a positive form of communication, but remember that there’s a split-second’s difference between a good impression and unnerving staring. Eye contact is crucial when you are being introduced to someone, shaking hands and engaging in conversation. Just don’t unnerve your recipient with an intense gaze.

7. Interesting Introductions

When you are introduced to someone, the traditional response is to say “How do you do”. If this is overly formal for the situation, then a friendly “Hello” is an equally acceptable response. If you are making the introductions, remember the hierarchy: men should be introduced to women, juniors to elder people. Offer a little information about each person as you introduce them to help break the ice. Speak clearly and don’t mumble; you don’t want people to be left embarrassed, forced into “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name” territory.

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