Everyone needs a hug ... or do they?

Written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President. Click here for nationally published version of article.

Reader’s Question:  Our company meetings often begin and end with hugging.  I am not a hugger, but don’t want to be viewed as an unfriendly team player.  Should I conform or speak up?

Giving unwanted hugs can leave unfavorable impressions.  An innocent hug in one person’s eyes can spawn legal nightmares of sexual harassment charges or be perceived as intrusive and unprofessional.  There is a proper time and place for everything.  A biblical verse popularized in a song by the Byrds says it best:

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose, under heaven…A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing”  (No doubt the millennials are collectively whispering, “Who are the Byrds?”)

Why has hugging become so prevalent in business?  We have transitioned to a more casual and diverse work environment comprised of multigenerational and multicultural talent.  To thicken the plot, some companies promote from within so groups have organically become very comfortable with one another due to their history together.  Just because the workplace has become a second home doesn’t mean anything goes.  Meeting protocol should never warrant a “hugfest.”

Cultural differences may be responsible for varying levels of comfort with respect to personal space and physical contact.  “High context” and “low context” cultures communicate differently.  Low context cultures, often associated with younger countries like the US, rely more on direct and explicit verbal communication and less on implied meaning.  The French are a “high context”, formal culture where hugs are considered overly familiar.  In an attempt to show American solidarity with the French in 2015, John Kerry, US Secretary of State, learned this lesson the hard way when he went in for a bear hug of the French President.  According to Reuter’s, an international news agency, Kerry said, "My visit to France is basically to share a big hug with Paris and express the affection of the American people for France and for our friends there, who have been through a terrible time."  Mr. Kerry later admitted, “I learned really quickly that (in France) you don't hug to say hi.”  (One should pause and mirror the foreign counterpart’s greeting.)  

The good news:  You don't have to suffer in silence.  Voice your concern using one of these strategies:

Seek advice. Ask for input from a trusted mentor or veteran leader who understands your work culture and the personalities involved.

Use humor. In a group setting, jokingly expressing your discomfort can be an efficient way to get your point across to many colleagues without offending the one person.

Be honest. Simply say, “I wish I were a hugger, but I’m just not.”

Use alternative physical contact. Initiate a less intimate high five, fist bump, a back pat or handshake. An instantaneous touch of the arm is also effective in creating a personal connection.

When in doubt, don’t hug.  At the very least, ask permission first.  As the 1960s rock band sang, there is a proper time and season for everything.  Showing professional courtesy by respecting the personal space of others is always in season. 

Respecting Gala Guest/Host Dynamic

Written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President. For the Cincinnati Business Courier published article, click here. For article link to Business Courier, click here.

Reader’s Question: I recently attended a large-scale charity gala and was stunned by the non-stop chatter during the speakers’ presentations.  At one point, there was a speaker sharing about the tragic loss of a loved one and nobody was listening.  What is the proper etiquette at fundraising dinners during the speaker presentations?

I have received several requests to address this, and share your concern based on numerous first-hand experiences.  Attendance at galas is hearty and support is robust.  Former UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  However, it seems that proper etiquette is being forgotten, or sadly, snubbed at fundraisers.  Just as there are host and guest duties to remember at a friend’s dinner party, we have equal responsibilities to be gracious guests and hosts at charity fundraisers. 

Event organizers have the challenge of creating programs that are informative and inspirational, yet entertaining.  Understandably, non-profits strive to honor those who have contributed to the event’s success by sharing the microphone with speakers such as survivors/victims sharing their testimonies, sponsors, and emcees.  Courtesy needs to be shown by keenly listening so that if a pin is dropped, it will be heard.  This shows that you know how to behave with polite decorum so that you can be the finest ambassador of yourself and your employer that you can be.

Be a respectful guest:

·         Stop talking when the program begins.  If you continue to chat, it’s viewed as being rude.  Intense and prolonged eye contact with the speakers will discourage others from engaging you.

·         Have the courage to express to others that it’s time to listen.

·         Put the smartphone away.  If you must check your cell, adjust its lighting to the dimmest setting, so that you’re not so conspicuous.

Be a respectful host (event organizer):

·         Boldly ask for everyone’s attention at the beginning of the program.  During welcoming comments, manage expectations by outlining the program’s timeline and when guests will have the opportunity to visit with one another.

·         Guard against spiraling into a program of “talking heads.”  Speakers should not be scheduled during the meal in order to respect guests’ desire to network and socialize.  Happy guests are return guests.

·         Allow the guests to fulfill their purpose in supporting the organization earlier rather than later.  Make donation requests in the first or middle part of the event so guests may socialize later.

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said.  They will forget what you did.  But they will never forget how you made them feel.”  When everyone feels good about attending these fundraisers, it’s a win-win.  Let’s do our part and not only donate our time, talents, and treasures, but also our respect to these inspirational speakers and worthy causes. 

Championing Women's Leadership with Business Etiquette

Collaboratively written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President and PSOW alumni, and Pamela Eyring, President of Protocol School of Washington (PSOW).  

Click here for published article on PSOW blog. 

Ms. Tiffany's Epiphanies (holding folder).png

As extraordinarily successful as women have been in reaching new heights, we still have work to do.  Research shows that females earn 78 cents for every dollar made by male counterparts.  S&P 500 upper echelons are male-dominated with 4.4% being women, according to Catalyst.  Suppressed feelings of frustration and self-doubt are simmering amongst female talent who believe their career potential is not being recognized or rewarded.  If women learn business etiquette strategies that can be fluidly employed at the precise time in a range of business situations, they stand a higher chance of getting noticed for advancement opportunities.  

In a collaborative effort, it is my distinct honor to engage the expertise of the global industry leader in training corporate etiquette consultants, Pamela Eyring, President of the Protocol School of Washington.

 The Impact of Business Etiquette on Women’s Leadership

Business etiquette underscores the importance of self-awareness and self-restraint.  It arms leaders with the business acumen to respond pragmatically and professionally, not emotionally and counterproductively.  It suppresses the ego, in favor of valuing others which strengthens relationship-building.  The sooner women focus on building relationship capital, the sooner they gain power and more importantly, fulfillment, from fostering authentic and genuine relationships.  Eyring explains, “We must build relationships, forge alliances, and network relentlessly to thrive.  Women gain respect through their interactions.”

Mistakes Women Make

First, avoid the temptation to emulate male counterparts.  Stay true to yourself.  Tap into your natural talents.  Women should stop bruising themselves about weaknesses and find work that celebrates their strengths.  Second, her reputation is at stake when image is compromised.  Eyring reveals,A common complaint I hear is a woman’s lack of professional image.  Showing too much skin does not earn respect.  People are visual and first impressions count.”  It’s counterproductive to rely on sex appeal to influence an outcome, but looking up-to-date and approachable is advisable.  Third, articulating messages succinctly will win respect.  Challenge yourself to get to the point quickly.  It’s unnecessary to explain how to design the clock when you are simply being asked what time it is. 

Communication & Interruptions

Eyring declares, “The combination of listening, eye contact and facial expressions is a winning trifecta.  It’s easy to interrupt someone, but a true leader listens with their eyes.  They press “mute” and use facial expressions to reinforce their intended emotion.”  What should a woman do when she cannot get a word in?  While excessively interrupting is viewed as having undeveloped people skills, women should find a balance.  Women have been socialized to politely not interrupt, but sometimes it’s appropriate to interject if you add value to the discussion.  Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, was no verbal mystery declaring, “Women have to be active listeners and interrupters – but when you interrupt, you have to know what you are talking about.”

 Power Body Language

Be large and in charge.  Fifty-five percent of our likeability is due to body language.  Women condense their physical stature to make themselves smaller.  Legs are crossed, elbows are pulled in, shoulders are hunched, and papers are neatly stacked to minimize occupied space.  Spread out and expand into every available space.  Avoid the self-pacifying, nervous gestures like playing with jewelry, hair, or placing hands in the “fig-leaf position.”  Widen your stance.  Use movements that are not overstated but make a statement.

It’s How You Say It

Avoid the “upspeak.”  Interestingly, women have five voice tones, whereas males have three, so women run the risk of sounding emotional.  Women’s voices tend to rise at the end of sentences as if they are asking a question and seeking approval.  Deliver messages with control and project your voice.  Eyring adds, “Speak with meaning and clarity. When I worked for the US Air Force, I learned how to speak to generals and officers.  I used an assertive, but not aggressive, tone.  Due to my predominately male workplace, I kept to the business at hand.  I didn’t want to be seen as a “girly-girl” who could only do limited duties.  What I said mattered as much as how I said it.”  

Ladies, reach your full career potential.  As Audrey Hepburn said, “Nothing is impossible.  The word itself, impossible, says I’m possible.” 




Is Your Holiday Card Etiquette Toasty or Frosty?

Written by CELI's President, Tiffany Adams. Click here for nationally published article.

‘Tis the season to extend warm wishes to friends, family, and business associates with the kind touchpoint of a holiday card.  Regardless of what you celebrate, the upcoming season is a festive time when millions reconnect with important people in their professional and personal lives.  These cards feature seasonal and religious themes and take various forms of season’s greetings, family newsletters, gratitude and appreciation themes.

Where did this tradition begin?  We tip our hats to the British.  The custom originated in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, a United Kingdom government worker.  He wanted to create something that ordinary people could afford to send and with the onset of railways and trains, instead of horse and carriages, more cards could be transported for mere pennies per card.  The first card depicted three panels displaying people caring for the impoverished, a holiday feast gathering, and even a controversial panel with a child being offered wine!

Try these 5 tips to differentiate your cards from the season’s noise:

1)       Your Signature – Preprinted signatures are considered to be in poor form by some.  Personalize with a handwritten signature, and better yet, a handwritten message or favorite quote.  Keep it simple and brief.  The handwritten signature and note are what makes your recipient feel valued. 

2)       Avoid Resume Inserts – Due to the modern day convenience of technological updates on social media, the tradition of newsletter updates is waning.  Avoid creating an insert that sounds like a brag sheet or resume of accomplishments.  Relationship-building and well wishes are the goals, and puffing oneself up is counterproductive to these goals.

3)       Mailing Your Cards – Always use the proper honorific of Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. when addressing the envelope.  The man’s name is commonly placed first.  Mail your cards all at once so that Aunt Sally doesn’t feel slighted if she learns that Uncle George received your card earlier.  Insert your card in the envelope so that the face of the card faces the recipient as the card is pulled out.

4)       Electronic cards – E-cards are acceptable, but not preferable. The old-fashioned mailed card is still the best way to be memorable.  Most still enjoy the experience of walking to the mailbox and touching a beautiful card in the midst of bills and junk mail.  However, being green and saving time is important.  Therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable to divide your mailing lists into two groups: Internet –averse people and e-cards for others.

5)       Know Your Audience – Ensure that your card’s preprinted message and theme are respectful of your recipient’s tradition of celebrating the holidays.  Embracing diversity is what makes our wonderful world go around.

Times have changed since Sir Henry Cole’s original card in 1843, but what remains constant is the need to be respectful, kind, and memorable.  The number one priority is to be “others-focused” and make your recipients feel glad that you reached out.  May you warm the hearts of many this holiday season with your toasty and tasteful holiday card etiquette.

Five Strategies To Rid Your Speech of, Like, Verbal Fillers

Written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President. Click here for national publication of article.

Reader’s Question: I was recently informed during a review that I use the words, like and kind of, excessively when I speak and it’s distracting to others.  How I can change this habit that I have unknowingly developed?

Thanks to our digital world where we are communicating more from behind screens and engaging less in real time, face-to-face encounters, bad habits are forming.  Verbal fillers (um, like, well, kind of, uh, ah, stuff, you know) undermine our credibility as thoughtful conversationalists or eloquent orators.  Why?  They scream to the world, “I’m lost! I’m in trouble! I’m not confident about my message!”  They are like empty calories in our diet that may self-pacify, but offer no value.  We insert these “verbal hiccups” into our speech to allow our brain time to catch up with our mouth.  Some mistakenly believe verbal fillers are only used by the younger generation, but they are prevalent across all generations.  I know a middle-aged teacher who consistently asks her students, “You know what I mean?”  She has no idea that she is detracting from her own lesson.

Your speech is critical to the impression you leave on others, and therefore, impacts your potential to influence.  We fool ourselves by thinking we will miraculously self-correct when a high pressure situation (critical meeting or interview) presents itself.  On the contrary, this is the time that our bad habit rears its ugly head even more.  Try these five strategies to break your habit:

1)      Pause – Gathering your thoughts by inserting brief silences is what Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he concluded, “The most precious things in speech are the pauses.”  Silence is golden and the pause is your friend.  Well-timed pauses add impact and draw attention back to you.  We are delusional in thinking that verbal fillers serve as useful placeholders to ponder or as an effective strategy in discouraging interruption from others.

2)      Recruit an Accountability Partner – Ask a trusted friend to track the times you use vocal fillers over a period of time and note progress.

3)      Join Toastmasters International – For public speaking finesse, this organization is brilliant at equipping its members to become competent communicators by offering strategies and opportunities to practice public speaking in a safe and encouraging forum.  A portion of their evaluation process involves assigning a counter to count the frequency of verbal fillers and track your progress.  This feedback heightens your self-awareness to stay conscious of mitigating the habit.  

4)      Be Prepared & Avoid Overpacking – If you are well-prepared with good content when you speak, people will inadvertently turn their attention to what you are saying more than how you are saying it.  When you have done your homework and are confident with expressing your ideas, you will naturally slow down, take deep breaths, so the fillers don’t sneak in.  Also, don’t pack too much material into a presentation or a conversation so that you are tempted to “rapid fire” your message in order to meet a time constraint.  This is prime breeding ground for fillers to appear.

5)      Be succinct – Longer sentences filled with unnecessary words get us into trouble.  Sporadically use simple, forceful sentences, with one subject and one verb.  

Half of the battle is realizing that these verbal villains, do indeed, creep into our speech.  Confidently convey your ideas, practice these strategies, and enjoy blossoming into a well-spoken, articulate communicator who leaves a great lasting impression.  

Is Your LinkedIn Photo up to Par?

Written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President. Click here for national publication of article. 

Reader’s Question:  My LinkedIn photo is outdated and unprofessional.  Before I update it, do you have any advice about taking a modern headshot?

Kudos to you for doing due diligence to ascertain what works and doesn’t work.  Unfortunately, LinkedIn (LI) is riddled with questionable profile pictures that undermine our credibility.  You will never have a second chance to make a favorable first impression when it counts the most.  Your LI photo is often what people initially see and judge in a New York minute.  It is your virtual handshake.

It’s hard to believe that LinkedIn was created just twelve years ago in 2003, and now their ultimate goal is to attract 3 billion registered members out of the world population of 7 billion.  LI is a powerhouse network, if used correctly.  Clearly, LI members are front and center on the world stage, and should look the part.  According to market research, the average number of LI connections is 930.  Are you there yet?  Simply uploading a photo can increase your profile views by 11 times, putting you on the path to building more business relationships. 

First, get the right app.  I don’t mean purchase the correct software application.  Instead, remember this acronym, APP, which describes the three criteria every LI photo should have:

APP:  Approachability, Properness, and Professionalism.

Second, raise your self-awareness and avoid these poses:

  • The Phantom Ghost – This is the haunting default photo that LI automatically inserts when no photo is offered.  It looks like a ghosted silhouette.  At a recent networking event, I conducted my own survey asking what types of people don’t upload a LI photo.  Three responses prevailed:  1) Older people who are not tech savvy, 2) Indifferent or lazy users, and 3) Unaware users who don’t grasp the importance of having a completed LI profile.
  • The Angry Arm Crosser – People pose with their arms crossed hoping to personify a strong leader.  On the contrary, this body language screams, “I’m angry, defensive, or closed off.”  
  • The Facebook Lovebirds – Your profile page is about YOU.  Save the photos with your devoted partner or beloved pet for Facebook.  After all, when you secure the job interview or meet for a networking lunch after making a LI connection, will you be bringing your partner along too?  I think not.
  • The Creepy Crop – Attempting to crop out other people when your face is the subject matter always looks unprofessional.  Cropping often brings in a random body part of another person, such as someone else’s hair, hand, or arm.  Awkward.
  • The Head Tilter – Ladies, when we don’t hold our heads upright during business conversations or for a photo, we aren’t taken as seriously.  Avoid the head tilting crutch.  You are not posing for a high school senior picture.
  • The Cool Dude – Remove distracting barriers, like sunglasses, which are perfect for the beach, not for business.
  • The Fierce and Full-bodied – The real estate that LI allows for the photo is limited to a tiny, square box.  Full-bodied shots make you seem less approachable, as opposed to a closer head and shoulder pose.  Gentlemen, watch the power poses where you cross an ankle over a knee or cross your legs on top of a desk.  The soles of your shoes are inevitably revealed.  In some cultures, displaying your soles is culturally offensive, because shoes and feet are considered unclean.  LI is a global network calling us to be culturally competent world-class citizens.
  • The Drama Dresser – Depending on your industry and position, dress appropriately.  Avoid donning overly formal attire or overly casual attire.

There is no time like the present to invest in your online presence by uploading a professional headshot.  Let’s exercise smart “netiquette”, and leave the ghosts for the cute Snapchat logo, instead of, in your LinkedIn profile! 


Ladies, why are we apologizing so much?

Written by Tiffany L. Adams, CELI President and Cincinnati Business Courier Columnist. Click here for published article.

Reader’s Question:  I am a female professional with a new leadership role and I don’t think I’m being taken seriously. Lately, I have become the brunt of routinely made office jokes regarding my “chronic apologizing.”  What’s wrong with saying you’re sorry to keep peace and what can I do to command more respect?

Business etiquette is about self-awareness and making favorable impressions.  It’s about presenting yourself with savviness, power, and control using effective communication skills.  Smooth communication allows you to be taken seriously and makes others around you comfortable. Some women feel the innate desire to be in everyone’s good graces, so they needlessly apologize at every turn thinking this will make everyone comfortable.  If there was a Guinness World Record awarded to the gender who apologizes the most, women would be crowned the reigning champions.  A clear gender gap exists where men are less inclined to say they’re sorry for insignificant things.  To clarify, I think most men are just as willing as women to apologize if they believe they have truly done something wrong.  Yet, men have a different measuring stick than women do of what defines “something wrong.”  Women are hardwired to strive for harmony, peace, and balance which leads to making empathetic apologies.  Benita Sahn, Albany News Channel 13 anchor, stated, “Women apologize for just being…it’s like we know we aren’t really entitled to say or do something so we preface it with an apology.”  This is where self-assurance, self-awareness, and self-restraint come into play and where women need to not ask for validation for their actions and words.  

Canadian research cited in the Wall Street Journal reveals that people apologize four times a week and, on average, we apologize more to strangers (22% of the time) and friends (46%) than our own family (7%).  That, in itself, is alarming.  Unfortunately, I’ve observed that excessive apologizing by women goes on far more frequently than four times a week.

What’s wrong with “auto-apologizing”?  It creates a perception of being inconsequential, weaker, and ignorable.  I’m not referring to when an apology is truly merited and responsibility should be taken.  I’m talking about when women needlessly apologize for sending a delayed email response, or bumping into a chair, or interrupting to ask a “silly question”, or even pre-recording their voicemail messages to begin with an apology for being unavailable!  Really?  

What can women do to stop the madness?  First, raise your self-awareness.  Try counting the number of times per week that you catch yourself unnecessarily apologizing.  Second, change your habit.  Try these alternatives:

Weaker response:                                                                     Strong response:

“So sorry for the delayed response.”                                  “Thank you for your patience with the timing of my                                                                                            reply.”

“I’m sorry I’m not here to take your call.”                           “I’m not available but your call is important to me.”

“I’m sorry to bother you again.”                                          “Sending a friendly reminder that those reports are due.

“Sorry, I interrupted you.”                                                    “Please continue.  I thought you were finished.”

“Sorry, we can’t purchase your product.”                            "The timing isn’t right for this year’s budget.”

“Sorry, is this seat open?”                                                     “Is this seat available?”

“Sorry, but I think you’re mistaken.”                                    “I think that is a matter of personal opinion. However, I respect your                                                                                                      viewpoint.”

Simply put, don’t be sorry.  Be strong.  Be exceptional.  Be a leader.


To Mute or Not to Mute: That is the Modern Day Question

By: Tiffany Adams, CELI President & Cincinnati Business Courier Guest Contributor

Click Here to view the published article in the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Reader’s Question: How can we make our team’s conference call meetings more productive and less awkward?

Thanks to technology, reduced travel budgets, and remote accessibility, communication and relationships are being reshaped by the prevalence of conference call meetings. Traditional in-person meetings are simply not as practical now as they once were.  The “7%/38%/55% Rule” helps partially explain why conference call meetings are often viewed as frustrating. Our communication is said to be contingent upon using 7% words, 38% voice tone, and 55% body language. Without the distinct advantage of observing the non-verbal cues and animated body language during in-person meetings, these calls may result in awkward silences, two people talking at the same time, and an overall lack of engagement which explains why conference calls are sometimes dreaded. Furthermore, meeting leaders are not trained in conference call protocol, adding to the virtual chaos. Set yourself apart and add important value to your team meetings by trying these three strategies:

·  Kill the Mute Button:  I’m a bit of a contrarian on this point. We have been trained like Pavlov’s Dogs to instinctively hit the mute button after roll call. The mute button puts everyone at a communication disadvantage by unleashing the freedom to walk around and out of the room, respond to emails, make other calls, and “zone out.”  In face-to-face meetings, we stay more attentive because others can see us. The mute button robs callers of hearing spontaneous reactions such as a heavy sigh, engaging in lively discussions, and exchanging shared laughter.  If you are that worried about others hearing white noise or the dog barking, temporarily mute yourself until you can move to a quiet place but then unmute yourself to be an active participant.  

·  Stop Multi-Tasking:  Research reveals that multi-tasking causes us to do many things poorly at once. Show respect for your colleagues and be mentally present just as you would be in a face-to-face meeting. Why should it be any different for a conference call?  Helen Hunt, the talented actress, recently directed the movie, “Ride.” Interestingly, she confessed to conducting all of her staff meetings via conference calls while riding her bike for miles and miles. Was this the best way to conduct business?

·  Establish Ground Rules & Role Expectations:  There should always be a leader, a facilitator, and engaged participants (central and remote) who clearly understand their roles. Oftentimes, these three roles are not assigned and this oversight leads to confusion. First, a leader’s role is to maintain control and momentum by handling disinterest, distractions, and/or monopolizing behavior. Leaders should ensure that the group sticks to the agenda, draws in “remote callers” and sees to it that the “central callers” are not ignoring and leaving the “remote callers” to feel isolated.  Secondly, the facilitator preps the room, sends the invites, distributes “pre-work” assignments, enforces call protocol, and documents the accountability of who is to perform next steps. Thirdly, the participants’ roles are to consistently introduce themselves each time they speak, prepare in advance, and contribute in an insightful manner.

Conference call meetings don't have to be a colossal waste of time. Exhibiting self-awareness and self-restraint coupled with knowing conference call protocol can lead to highly productive and enjoyable calls. Therefore, smile and dial away…just avoid the bike trails while doing so!

Blog Post: 3 Tips to Networking


Click here to view the following post as published in the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Reader’s Question:

How can I improve my professionalism and effectiveness at networking events? I am showing up at these receptions but am not seeing many results.

The New Year is a time for new beginnings and setting new resolutions.  Why not start with working a room with a new plan at your next networking event? Your company isn’t sending you to these receptions because they are worried that you are hungry, thirsty, or lonely. They are sending you to promote their business and build relationships with centers of influence and prospective clients. Start 2015 with a bang by remembering these 3 tips:

1) Arrive early - Arrive a few minutes early when the event is calmer. Being a first attendee allows you the advantage of finding conversation partners before cliques have formed, which makes it harder to break into established discussions.

2) Wear your name badge correctly - Be keenly aware that your name badge belongs HIGH AND RIGHT on your chest. This allows your acquaintance to follow his/her line of vision with a natural progression starting with your hand during the handshake, up your arm, then easily reading your name tag, ending with engaged eye contact and a smile.  

3) Be strategic & be disciplined -  Set a personal goal as to the number of new contacts you want to meet at the event and then don’t leave the event or start socializing with friends until you reach your goal and have the business cards in hand. The most important part - follow up with those you met within 48 hours.  

Happy New Year, everyone, and better yet…Happy New You!