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Telephone, email, v-mail, meeting new colleagues: how to look like a pro

In the professional world, proper communication counts big.

Any manager or physician who wants to rise above the competition has to know communication etiquette, says Canadian etiquette consultant Jay Remer of St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

People expect every doctor to know medicine. How they choose a doctor depends on whether they connect with the individual. And what makes the connection is communication.

Perfecting the handshake

Denise Dudley, career guru and author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted, says there are definite rules for shaking hands properly, and if you do it right, you will leave a great impression from the start.

Here are her 10 steps for the perfect handshake:

  1. Extend your right hand toward the other person’s right hand
  2. Point your thumb upward and toward the other person’s arm
  3. Slide your hand all the way into the other person’s palm, and wrap it around his or her hand
  4. Grasp the other person’s hand firmly, and gently squeeze once
  5. Pump the other person’s hand a time or two to show sincerity
  6. Hold the handshake for two to three seconds and then break the grip
  7. Look the other person straight in the eye, and don’t break eye contact
  8. Smile
  9. Introduce yourself before extending your hand
  10. Continue with pleasantries once you’ve begun the handshake

It doesn’t matter if the connection is made via telephone, voice mail, email, or in-person meetings, he says. Communication technology has changed, “but the old fashioned way of communicating hasn’t,” Remer says.

Rules for the telephone

  • Treat a scheduled phone appointment just like any other appointment. Be on time. If there’s going to be a delay, call and ask for permission to reschedule.

Do otherwise, and the patient or colleague can only assume the office takes the same uncaring approach to the care it provides. What’s more, that other person now feels no compunction to be on time for future appointments.

• Take advantage of caller ID. If there’s not enough time to talk with whoever is calling, don’t pick up the phone. The only thing that will come across is “I’m too rushed and too impatient to be interested in what you have to say.” There’s no need to affront somebody like that. Call back at a better time.

• Yes, dress professionally for a professional call. Even if the conversation is taking place from home, “put on office clothes,” Remer says. “Don’t lounge around in jeans.” Dressing for business puts anybody in a business frame of mind.

• And yes again, stand up during a telephone conversation.

Standing opens the airways, and that in turn creates a more confident tone. That’s obvious in a speech. A standing speaker makes a much stronger presentation than someone who is sitting down.

“That same tone comes through on the phone,” he says. In fact, it’s usually possible to tell from the tone whether a caller is standing or sitting.

• Be personable. The best way to do so is to smile when talking. Many receptionists do that, and it works. The physical motion of the smile makes the speaker sound friendly.

• Summarize and clarify what’s said. Without seeing the other person’s face, people can only guess if there’s understanding, Remer says, “and more often than not, they guess wrong.”

End the conversation with “I understand what you’ve said is X” and “have I made myself clear on Y?” That gives each side an opportunity to get things straight.

• When a caller is upset, show empathy for the situation. That caller needs the security of hearing “yes, I understand exactly what you’re saying.” Don’t say, however, “I understand how you feel.” No one knows how another person feels.

• Raise the voice sparingly. A slight raise can emphasize a point. But too much of a raise “sounds like a childish hissy fit,” according to Remer, and deflates the point. He references the old saying of “the first person who raises the voice loses the argument.”

Rules for email

  • Any email is a letter. It should have an opening such as “Dear John” or “Hi, Sue” or “Dear Mr. Johnson” or even “Dear friend.” And it should have an equally thoughtful closing such as “Best, Jack” or “Kind regards, Ann.”

• Write in complete sentences, use proper grammar, and spell things right. As with a letter, “sloppy spelling and grammar are inexcusable,” he says. Remer points out that nobody wants to associate with a manager “who has a fourth-grade level of grammar.”

• Don’t respond to a question with just yes or no. “That’s dismissive,” Remer says. “The writer looks like a stuffed shirt who doesn’t care about the other person.”

Any response should have at least three sentences. Suppose another manager sends an email asking if a meeting can be postponed until Tuesday. A simple “yes” is scarcely heartwarming. But anybody feels honored to read “Hi Sue. Thanks for emailing me. Yes, we can move the meeting to Tuesday. If there’s anything else you need, don’t hesitate to let me know. Kind regards, Jack.”

• Before sending an email, read it out loud. “It’s amazing how that works,” Remer says. Listening to the words makes it obvious how the recipient will receive the message.

Rules for voice mail

  • When leaving a message, give a date and time for availability such as “the best time to reach me is this afternoon after 2:00 p.m.” According to Remer, that eliminates “the back and forth ping-pong match.”

15 tips on email etiquette

As they enter the work world, millennials may discover that they’re missing an essential business skill—email etiquette.

Denise Dudley, trainer, business consultant, and author of Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted (SkillPath Publications), shares 15 tips on email etiquette:

  1. Reply within 24 hours or less.
  2. Begin with a salutation.
  3. Introduce yourself.
  4. Show the topic in the subject line.
  5. Avoid joking and sarcasm.
  6. Make sure grammar, spelling, and everything else is perfect.
  7. Don’t use text lingo.
  8. Avoid all caps.
  9. Be careful what you write.
  10. Close with a sign-off.
  11. Take a few minutes to review your message before hitting “send.”
  12. Don’t overuse “Reply All.”
  13. Keep it short.
  14. Don’t send negative messages via email.
  15. Keep a thread.

• Use an outgoing message that tells what information to leave and along with that, give the preferred time for a callback.

• Speak slowly so the other person can write down the information without having to replay the recording.

And here’s how to meet somebody

Finally, for person-to-person etiquette, three elements are at play: the eye contact, the handshake, and the introduction.

  • The eye contact: In any conversation, there should be eye contact about 60 percent of the time. Don’t go beyond that. Anything more “borders on staring, and that makes people uncomfortable,” Remer says.

And anything less makes a person look shifty-eyed.

The handshake: The webs of the two hands – or the area between thumb and forefinger – should meet.

Mirror the other person’s grip. If it’s a weak-fish handshake, give one in return. “If it’s a puffed-up politician” with a strong grip, respond in kind, he says.

Shake up and down two or three times. No more.

The hand “has thousands of nerve endings,” and a handshake communicates a lot of information, Remer says. A too-firm handshake conveys dominance. The same for rolling the hand so it’s on top of the other person’s hand. By contrast, a weak handshake shows a lack of self esteem and confidence.

He adds that shaking hands improperly gives the impression that there are a lot of other basic skills that person doesn’t do right. “And you never know what might kill a deal,” he says.

The introduction: Be respectful of the other person’s position. Unless given permission to do otherwise, always use the title of “Ms. Jones” or “Mr. Smith.”

On the other side, however, give permission for informality at the outset. Use the first and last name in the self introduction: “hello, I’m Margaret Johnson.” And if the other person answers with “hello, Ms. Johnson,” say immediately “please call me Margaret.”

Another rule of introduction is do not start with “it’s nice to meet you.” Who knows if it’s nice to meet that person or not?

Say instead “how do you do?” and save the “it’s been nice meeting you” for the end of the conversation when there’s been time to decide if the meeting was, in fact, a pleasure.

Said at the close of the meeting, the comment shows a desire to continue the relationship.

It’s also good to add “thank you for coming” or “thank you for meeting me.” There’s no such thing as too many thank-yous.

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