Articles by Jan
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  Articles by Jan

Browse through these articles by Jan—you'll pick up some tips and get a sense of her philosophy. You're welcome to include an article in your company newsletter or intranet with the following byline:

Jan M. McLaughlin, CSP, is a speaker, trainer and coach who is considered an expert in communication—visual, oral and written.  She specializes in programs on impression management, customer service, communication and presentation skills.  Jan can be reached at 

Sending Emails that Get Results!

Meetings that Produce Results!

How to Stay COOL When Things Heat UP!

Impression Management: Influencing Others

Don't Just Talk, Communicate
Keep Your Customers and Clients Coming Back

Your Dress Code: An Element of Your Branding Initiative

Small Changes…BIG Payoffs for Women
Are You Having an Identity Crisis?
Show Respect for Clients—Dress Up, Not Down
Put Your Best Foot Forward

Sending Emails that Get Results!

Plan before you write

So much of our communication today is through emails. Some experts suggest that 30% of our emails are sent to clarify a previous email. Wouldn’t it be terrific to have 30% fewer emails in your inbox?  Start by sending emails that are clear and specific.  What we need to do is focus on planning before we write. Here's a list of questions to ask─and answer─as you plan an email:
1. What’s the purpose of the email?
2. Who is my reader? Who is the audience? Position and decision-making authority, age, gender, education, personality type? Relationship to me? Are they formal? Informal?
3. How much does my reader know about the topic? Need to know? Want to know?
4. What reaction do I expect the reader to have? Hostile, receptive, biased, ambivalent? Are there special sensitivities between the reader and me or my company or organization?  (Tip:  If you think they’ll be hostile or biased, probably a good idea to make a phone call before you send an email!)
5. What are the relevant points to cover? If it’s an especially difficult or challenging email, check out mind mapping as an excellent technique for capturing your relevant points.
6. What do I want my reader to do after reading it? How do I want my reader to respond? Be clear and specific. A terrific way to expedite the process is to ask them to answer your questions following the question—in a different color font.  Makes it easier for them and gets the results you want!
7. By when? What’s my deadline? It's a good idea to watch your tone with this last one. How about, "Please have your report to me by 3:00 on Friday, June 25, so it can be included in the department report to the board."

A little planning goes a long way toward getting the results you want.


Keep it short and simple, please!


Yes, the acronym is K.IS.S.—which has stood for keep it simple stupid.  I prefer to eliminate the pejorative and–especially when comes to email, change the phrase to keep it short and simple. Let’s start with the preferred length of an email. Try to keep your message under 25 lines—which is about one screen worth of words.  If your reader scrolls down to finish reading, they're unlikely to scroll back up and may miss something!  If you want results, I encourage you to keep to one main idea in an email.  Describe what you want the recipient to do in the first few sentences, and follow with more detail if needed.  We’re all in a hurry, so make it easy to scan by using bullets,

hyphens or numbers.


Bullets may turn into odd shapes, so you’re safest using hyphens instead of bullets.  Anything that’s on the keyboard will show up correctly no matter the format your reader is using.


If you want a reply, you must ask for it!  I know, hard to believe, but everyone is not tuned in to replying to every email.  So ask!  And, include a deadline. Be sure not to use a meaningless phrase like ASAP.  Instead, use something like, “Please have the report to me by 3:00 on Friday, June 19, 2015, so it can be included in the final department budget request.”  Yes, be sure to include the date.  No doubt you’ve heard someone say, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant THIS Friday.”


Then, close with impact:

  • Include a brief summary

  • Reiterate your request

  • Give them a benefit for replying

  • Thank them!


The most important element of email? The Subject Line!


The most important—and often most overlooked—element of your email is the Subject Line.  Think of it like a headline.  It’s there to grab the recipient’s attention.  It can determine if the email is even opened.  And, if it is acted upon!


The Subject Line should communicate exactly what the email is about. You might:

  • Include your point

  • Include topic or project—and number, if appropriate

  • Ask a question

  • Emphasize a benefit

  • Highlight actions and completion date

The last enables the recipient to sort and prioritize. If an email is urgent, you can label it as such, but beware of becoming a Chicken Little with that little red exclamation point!  And always follow up with a phone call when it’s truly urgent.


When forwarding a message, consider changing the Subject Line if the original is no longer relevant.  (Don’t worry, the string will stay intact.) When we keep seeing the same Subject Line in our inbox, it’s easy to assume we’ve read it.  Result? We ignore it! If the email is for their information only, do put FYI in the Subject Line. 


Since an astonishing 50% of emails are opened on mobile phones, keep the Subject Line short—many experts say six to eight words. (Although I often go a bit longer.) Put the most important words at the beginning and eliminate any fillers. Be sure your Subject Line captures your reader’s attention.  Most importantly?  Include one!


The tone of your email may be destroying relationships!


It’s so easy to click reply—yet so important to think before we do!  Especially when replying to a challenging email, remove the recipient’s name and email address from the To: line.  That way you don’t accidentally click ‘Send’ or ‘Reply’ before you’ve proofread it.  I always place it at the top of the message as I begin to write.


If you’re at all concerned about the tone of your email—read it out loud! You’ll be surprised by what you’ll hear that you may not have seen. Look for and avoid: unintended implications, defensiveness, condescension, coldness or stiffness or accusatory tone. Do use the magic words: please and thank you.


Still not sure of the tone?  Then ‘count to three’:

  • Write message

  • Send to yourself

  • Reread it and edit before sending

It’s amazing what you may discover when you open and read it—in your own Inbox!


Strive to keep it conversational by using their name and personal pronouns.  Instead of

“If further information is required, contact Barbara Anderson. Use: If you would like more information, please call Barbara Anderson at 206/xxx-xxxx or email her at


Finally, ask yourself, “Would I say what I have written?”


And your Out of office Auto Reply?

Speaking of tone.  How many Out of Office Auto Replies state the negative?  “I won’t be back in the office until…. I won’t be reading—or responding to—emails.”  Set the right tone by creating a positive and informative Out of office Auto-Reply:

I am out of the office and will return on August 17, 2015.  For assistance while I’m gone, please contact Jean Smith at (206) xxx-xxxx or

And ask yourself: Is it current? Is the person I’m referring the recipient to available?


Perhaps it’s the anonymity of the screen we’re staring at while we type our emails.  Whatever the cause, watch your tone!


Your signature is your virtual business card!


Are you handing out blank business cards?  You may as well be if you’re not including a complete signature at the end of your emails. Remember, too,  you can have several for different purposes. The basics?  One for internal and one for external emails. I have six different signatures which I access through the ‘Message’ tab at the top menu and then click ‘Signature’. In your general email Signature, be sure to include:

  • Name

  • Title

  • Phone number and extension, if appropriate

  • Fax number, if appropriate

  • Mailing address

  • Company tag line, if appropriate

  • Link to your company’s website

  • Links to social media sites, if appropriate

Beware of using elaborate graphics—they can take a long time to download or require the recipient to click to download. And, don’t make your signature too long.  They become very cumbersome in a string and just plain make your email look too long!

There you have it.  Include a signature!

Follow these guidelines and you'll be sending emails that get results!

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Meetings that Produce Results!

A recent survey by cloud-based presentation platform Prezi, in collaboration with the Harris Group, found that 46% of American workers admitted to texting, checking email or social media, browsing the web, or even falling asleep during a meeting.  Besides being rude and showing a lack of social awareness, what could be the cause?  The same survey suggests it’s a lack of preparedness on the part of the leader and an inability to keep people focused once the meeting begins.  How to solve these issues?  Read on!

Prepare for the meeting

Don’t wing it!  Start by asking yourself some questions:

1. What’s the purpose or objective of the meeting? Too many meetings are held with no clear purpose in mind.

2. Who will be attending? Who should be attending? Be sure to ask the stakeholders—no real decisions can be made without them.

3. What do I need to accomplish—my goals?

4. What materials will I need to bring? Come prepared—and let participants know what they need to bring.

5. Might I receive any push back?  What’s the WII-fm (what’s in it for me?) for the participants.

6. Who do I need to talk with before the meeting? Enlist their help ahead of time. Talk to those you would like to have speak on a topic, those who may dominate the discussion, or those who know a lot about the topic.  Yes, suck up!  If they know a lot about the topic, they will want to talk about it.  And, their help could be invaluable.  Get them on the agenda—for a specified amount of time.

7.  Are there any “what ifs…” I need to plan for?  What if a critical person can’t be there?  What if we don’t have the results of a survey that we need?  What if we need to reschedule the meeting?  Then reschedule it!  No one was ever unhappy to ‘find’ some time when a meeting was cancelled.


Develop a thorough agenda

A good agenda will keep the meeting from drifting aimlessly. When a thorough agenda is sent out ahead of time participants will be more likely to come prepared, you’ll receive more buy-in and a greater sense of inclusiveness will develop.  Be sure your agenda includes the basics—they’re listed on my blog: Write the purpose of the meeting at the top of the agenda.  Include the names of those who will be presenting and the time allotted to them. Everyone appreciates a meeting that is led effectively and stays on time.  A good agenda will help you accomplish this!

Lead the meeting effectively and keep the group focused

Here are some tips that will help you lead a meeting that runs on time, avoids rabbit holes and ends with action items!

  • Write the purpose of meeting on a board or chart paper—so you can point at it!

  • Use a Parking Lot. Have post-its available and ask anyone who offers an off-topic statement or question to post it on the Parking Lot. Assign someone to capture the parking lot items (or do it yourself).  Review them with the contributor later or consider for future discussion.

  • Refer to the agenda for the next item, who should be speaking and where the group should be time-wise.

  • Periodically summarize when an item is completed and you are moving on to the next. Also summarize when an action item has been designated—reiterating who is responsible and the due date.

  • Ask questions to encourage participation.

  • Similarly, ask for the response you want.  An odd thing we often do is to look at the person we DO NOT want to speak next.  Lo and behold, they speak! Eye cueing is a powerful tool.  When you finish speaking, be looking at the person you want to speak next. 80 to 90% of the time, they will!

  • If you have a difficult person, hand them something to move them out of a closed posture.

  • If they’re a chatty person—give them a job!

  • Have the group brainstorm items for your meeting protocol.  Having them help create the list will give them buy-in. Post their protocol list on the agenda and in the room during the meeting.  It will help the group stay focused and positive and will help keep the meeting on track and on schedule

Engage the participants with visuals  

Come prepared—and I don’t mean with a PowerPoint show!  Research from studies conducted at Harvard and the Wharton School show that when visuals are used:

       • Meetings are conducted in 28% less time

       • Retention increases up to five times

       • Proposals are approved twice as often

       • Consensus occurs 21% more often

       • Time required to conduct the meeting is reduced 40% 

So if not PowerPoint, what visuals?  Start with a good agenda.  Then consider handouts (better to pass out something than have them pass out from viewing too many PowerPoints!), charts, boards, demonstrations, anecdotes, props, examples... 

Yet, as Seth Godin said, “If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.”

A group from Hewlett Packard shared a terrific idea:  they deliver one minute minutes to the participants before they leave the meeting.  It can even be handwritten and includes the action items, those responsible and the due dates. You may also consider debriefing after the meeting.  Check out my blog for suggestions:   If needed, initiate a special meeting of a few key players.  This can be a very short meeting—try standing instead of sitting!

Then, deliver the meeting minutes to all participants within a few days.  Don’t wait until the next meeting is upon you to send them out.  Who can remember what was covered in the last meeting?  And any action items may not be accomplished. Without accomplishing the action items, a meeting can’t produce results!

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How to Stay Cool When Things Heat UP!

When things heat up, we can blame the heat—and our reaction—on a little critter.  Our lizard brain!  Otherwise known as the amygdala, it holds emotional memory—fear, anger—and ‘helps’ us react without thinking.  Seth Godin calls it our ‘lizard brain’ and says, “Your lizard brain is here to stay.  Your job is to figure out how to quiet it and ignore it.”


Ask yourself, "What's my Intent?"

Before you lose it, stop and ask yourself, “What’s my Intent?”  It’s our purpose—what we want to have happen.  When things heat up, we lose sight of our intent. If we're going to stay cool, we must constantly ask ourselves, "What's my intentwhat do I want to have happen here?" Because it's very easy to get pulled away from our intent. 

Another factor in communication is the Content— what we end up talking about. This is when things really start to heat up—the argument starts, we get defensive, or do something to save face, or try to ‘win.’  Check out the book Crucial Conversations which explores common deviations from our intent.  Fall into any of these traps and we’re no longer focused on our intent!

The way we look and sound have impact!

The way we look and sound in a situation—and the way the other person looks and sounds—can have a lot to do with things heating up.  We call this the Process—how we’re communicating. We can look at it from both 'sides' when things heat up.  The way we look and the way we sound can escalate a situation. And for many of us, this is what our lizard brain is reacting to when we lose it. We react to the other person's facial expressions and body language or tone of voice. 

If you're a frowning thinker like me, people may react to you because they think you're mad.  When we're faced with a sarcastic tone and eye rolling many of us have really lost it! IF our communication is incongruent—if the way we look, the way we sound and the words we choose do not agree—people will depend on other than our words for the meaning.   

Employ the three factors in active listening

When things heat up our lizard brain takes over!  One way to quiet it is to practice active listening skills.  As Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” There are three factors to active listening: Clarifying involves asking open-ended questions—who, when, where, what, how—to gain a better understanding of the other person’s position and move them toward a solution.  Be careful with “why” questions—they can be perceived as accusatory, putting the other person on the defensive!!

Pacing is something we do naturally with people we’re comfortable with.  When we’re not, we rear back and do the opposite of what they’re doing.  When pacing, we subtly mirror the communication style of the other person—their posture, facial expressions, gestures and the pace, volume and energy of their voice. Be sure you don’t ape or mimic them or get angry if they are!

The third factor in active listening is Backtracking.  It’s similar to paraphrasing only you concentrate on using some of their actual words.  These are called essence words—when you use their essence words, they feel heard.  If you’re faced with one word answers—single out.  You do this by repeating a word they use and following it with an open-ended question.  Check out my blog post for more

Exercise verbal aikido to keep your cool

Aikido  is a form of martial arts focused on protecting both the attacker and the defender—using the force of the attacker to defeat them. To perhaps oversimplify: if they’re pushing, pull; if they’re pulling, push. Push back and you’re creating conflict!

The first technique of verbal aikido is Selective Agreement—look for something you can agree with in what the person is saying.  Too often we’re looking for how we can correct them or disagree with them.  Your fall back phrase?  “You may be right, and…”


The best way to respond to sarcasm is to use Limited Response. Respond only to the words or subject of the remark not the emotion or tone behind it.  Say the words in your head without the tone and respond to them.  That way you don’t get hooked!  More in my blog post:

Practice these techniques and you’ll be better able to coexist with life’s difficult people—stay COOL when things heat UP!

Check out my video:

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Impression Management: Influencing Others


Management and supervision require the ability to influence a wide range of people—both within and outside the organization.  As Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, says, "Almost everyone I meet is successful because of doing a lot of things right, and almost everyone I meet is successful in spite of some behavior that defies common sense." And those are the behaviors that hold us back!  It’s crucial to get feedback about how you look, how you sound and the words you choose—for they influence everyone with whom you interact. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “A good way to jump-start a change in your image is to see yourself the way others see you.  Ask a coworker, boss or direct report to give you feedback on how you come across to those around you.” 


For instance, I'm a frowning thinker—like many people! Since I’ve become aware of this, I try to remember to lift my eyebrows while I'm listening. Of course, this may give me the look of a surprised listener, but that's better than a mad listener! We rarely know the things we do that may cause people to interpret what they see completely differently than we intend. What about you?


Adjust your visual, vocal and verbal impact for each situation


Consider, too, what is most effective in multiple settings with multiple audiences.  You’ll want to be able to adjust your visual, vocal and verbal image depending on the situation in which you find yourself—face-to-face, leading a meeting, or speaking before a group. And, you’ll need to keep in mind your audience. Here are six questions to ask yourself to prepare for each situation in which you have the opportunity to influence an individual or a group:
1. What is the situation?

2. What do I need to accomplish—what is my intent?

3. Who is the audience—who will be involved?

4. What will influence or persuade them?

5. What do I need to focus on regarding my nonverbal communication?

6. What reaction do I expect the audience to have?  It’s always a good idea to consider, prepare for and practice answering questions you might receive.


Schedule a time to receive feedback—from someone you respect


Like Marshall Goldsmith, Daniel Goleman also encourages us to ask for feedback.  Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, said, “People are promoted for technical, operational and intellectual reasons; but fail for emotional ones.”  Go to and download his article, “What Makes A Leader?”  He succinctly summarizes the five main components of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Self-Awareness

  • Self-regulation

  • Motivation

  • Empathy

  • Social Skill

Once you’ve read the article, determine which of the components provide you with the greatest challenges. Then, schedule a time with your mentor, manager or another person whose opinion you respect.  Ask their suggestions for how you could meet these challenges—and improve in these areas.


You can’t lead effectively without empathy!


Consider empathy—you can’t effectively lead a team, serve a customer or communicate with a coworker without it.  It’s not a touchy-feely, mushy emotion. It is something that we can give to any frustrated or upset person. It’s the ability to step into someone else's shoes and see the world through their eyes. When we have it, it's far easier to avoid falling into two traps: condescension and defensiveness.  Consider the manager of an IT department at a big company who was in one of my trainings recently. The disdain she felt toward her less technologically savvy customers—her coworkers—was palpable. I immediately thought of three emotions employees having a computer problem are grappling with: they're frustrated that they can't get their work done, they feel stupid that they can't fix the problem, and they feel at the mercy of the IT department.

Rather than immediately hitting them with a barrage of questions—many of which they can't answer—we can say something like, "Whew, that's gotta be frustrating. May I ask a few quick questions so I can get to the bottom of this?" In two brief sentences you've projected empathy and a sense of urgency about fixing the problem.


Develop a personal action plan to be even more effective


Now it’s time to determine your action plan to be more effective at influencing others—at managing the impression you make.  Ask yourself, “What would I do well to stop doing, keep doing and start doing?”  Then ask yourself this final question, “What is one critical relationship I need to build?  So often we avoid interacting with someone—coworker, peer, customer, board member—who could be critical to our success and that of our team.  Who are you avoiding?   What impression are you making?


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Don't Just Talk, Communicate!

Have you ever been in a big hurry and started talking before you thought about what you wanted to say? I remember when I was teaching ninth grade English. One morning I overslept. Awaking with a start, I called the principal and asked someone to cover my first period class and I'd be right there. I raced to school, rushed into the room to find thirty ninth graders quietly seated at their desks with their hands folded. Now this is enough to disconcert anyone!

I immediately started rattling on about what we were to do that day. Finally, a student raised his hand and said, "Ms. McLaughlin, you haven't made any sense since you walked into the room. And besides that, you have a sleep scar running all the way down your face!"

Clearly I hadn't thought through what I wanted to say. I bet you've done that too—we all have! Think of a recent conversation you had with someone that didn't turn out the way you would have liked—with a customer, client, coworker, friend or family member. With your situation in mind, explore with me the four essential factors in communication—our intent, criteria, content and process.


First we need to make sure we know our intent

Our intent is our purpose—what we want to accomplish in the exchange. So often a conversation is like a pinball machine—we pull a lever and that little steel ball just ricochets off this peg and that. React, react, react! A good conversation is more like archery. We must take careful aim if we want to hit the mark.

I was reminded of this on a walk with my friend Roger. I'd had an unpleasant experience and wanted to bounce ideas off him. I'll never forget what he said that day, "Do you want empathy or a solution?" What a great question—to be asked and to ask ourselves. What's your intent in the conversation?

It's important to share our criteria, expectations or needs

The second essential factor in communication is our criteria, expectations or needs. These are the relevant factors to be taken into consideration. Each of us can bring very different criteria to the same situation. Some of us want things right now, others want things to be perfect, while still others want to avoid conflict. It's important that we share our criteria with the person we're talking to. As a supervisor, manager or leader, it's essential that we share our expectations with anyone we're asking to do anything—or anyone to whom we're giving feedback. And, we need to allow time for them to ask questions to clarify what is expected of them.

Content is the third essential factor in communication

The content is what we end up talking about. If we haven't made our intent clear and haven't shared our criteria, the content can become the battleground. Say you need to discuss with a coworker the impact it has on your team when they're late—which they frequently are. If we start the conversation with the sarcastic question, "So, is your alarm clock broken?" they are immediately placed on the defensive and will likely come back with an equally sarcastic retort.

And, there are two words that signal the discussion we're having is about to deteriorate into an argument. We call them absolutes—always and never. "You're always late." "Am not." "Are too." "Am not." "Are too." Conversation over and nothing accomplished.

How we look, how we sound and the words we say

The last essential factor in communication is the process—how we communicate. Albert Mehrabian in his book, Silent Messages, determined that if our message is incongruent, people will depend on what they see—our facial expressions and body language—for 55% of the message they receive. They will depend on what they hear—the tone, volume, pace and pitch of our voice—for 38% of the message they receive.  Our words comprise a mere 7% of the message people receive IF our communication is incongruent. We want to make sure our voice and body language agree with the words that we say. We need to strive for congruent communication.

When we are careful to share our intent and criteria with others, when we think through our content and process, we are much more likely to get the results we want. If you speak before you think, you run the risk of rushing into a room and rattling on and on while everyone is staring at the sleep scar on your face!

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Keep Your Customers and Clients Coming Back

While researching his book, The Customer Driven Company, Richard Whitely surveyed fourteen corporations and found that 70% of the identifiable reasons customers stopped doing business with a company had to do with service lapses such as a lack of personal attention or unhelpful employees.

Another survey revealed that the average American business loses 15% of its customer base each year: 68% of these customer leave because of an attitude of indifference from a company employee.  That is, the customer's perception of the employee's attitude.

Karl Albrecht, coauthor of Service America, says, "Customer satisfaction relates to attitude. Service is about feelings. However your employees feel is how your customers are going to feel, sooner or later."

Training needs to focus on helping customer-contact employees develop an awareness of how others might perceive them. Simply becoming aware of the impression we make on others can be the motivation to change.

Whether you're a supervisor, department manager, training director or human resources director, here are seven steps you can take to lead customer-contact employees toward a service image that places satisfied customers at its heart.

Focus on preferred perceptions

Start by asking, "How do you want customers to perceive the people who work in our company?" In my workshops, we develop a list of words that describe how we want to be perceived—caring, flexible, reliable, concerned, honest, having a sense of humor. The list goes on. This is a good exercise for a staff meeting—getting everyone focused on an appropriate service image. Then, stress that these qualities are communicated through our implicit—or nonverbal—behavior.

In his book, Silent Messages, Albert Mehrabian cited results of his experiments which revealed that "…people's implicit behavior has more bearing than their words on communicating feelings or attitudes to others."

Communicate expectations

We can't assume that an employee will know how we want something done. Common sense is far from common! It's important that you teach employees the behavior you want from them. It's not enough, for instance, to say, "I want people to have the distinct impression that you were glad to be of help after they've talked to you."

Be specific

We rarely receive feedback about our implicit behavior—facial expressions, body language, quality of voice. And yet, it's essential that supervisors and managers give their staff specific feedback about these aspects of their communciation. Consider your phone policy. Take time at a staff meeting to role-play how to deal with customers on the phone. Teach employees to always get a caller's name, write it down and use it in conversation— especially in closing. In his book, Monitoring, Measuring, & Managing Customer Service, Gary Goodman explains what he refers to as the call path. This involves a script for the opening and closing phrases you want your customer service staff to use. He cites a great deal of research to support his suggestions. Be sure to have your staff practice whatever script you come up with so that their voice has vocal variety—changes in volume, pace and pitch. Without these we end up with a monotone voice—and that sounds like we don't care!

You may find that an employee talks too fast or doesn't enunciate clearly. Elicit their cooperation—and permission—to place a tape recorder near their telephone. Listen to the recording (of just their voice) together and evaluate specific aspects of the quality of their voice. For further work, you might check out The Sound of Your Voice, by speech pathologist, Dr. Carol Fleming.

People need, in the words of Robert Waterman, "directed autonomy." They need both specific direction and the freedom to make choices that help accomplish the goal. Overly general comments like "Good job" or "You could have handled that better" aren't helpful. What was great about the way they dealt with the customer? Be sure to reinforce that aspect so they'll do it again. What could they have done better? How? General negative comments lead to paranoia. Quality guru, W. Edward Deming, identifies fear as the basis of all barriers to improving a company.

Stress the benefits

It's essential that employees be able to recognize benefits to themselves, for everyone is tuned to that radio station, WII-fm! What's in it for me? What are the benefits to them? Not to the company. Or to the bottom line. But to them, personally.

Let's take a very straightforward example. We all know that a smile is the best way to greet a customer, right? So why doesn't that young employee smile? Perhaps she's shy. Perhaps he simply doesn't realize that he neglects to smile. Walk in the other person's shoes before offering criticism. You'll also identify perceived benefits to them during this stroll. Ask the employee, "What happens when you smile at someone?" The answer, "They smile back!" That's the benefit to the employee—dealing all day with a bunch of smiling people. Attitudes and feelings—being liked and treated nicely is going to motivate many employees more than the carrot of increased sales.

Recognize and reward

To be perceived as a positive relationship, the ratio of positive to negative input needs to be 4 to 1. We need to reinforce positive characteristics. Rather than saving praise and suggestions for that dreaded performance review, offer them freely and frequently. Compliment employees on their everyday achievements. Come up with ways to acknowledge them. Send a thank you note. Bestow a fun award at a staff meeting.

Act as a role model

As employers and managers, we can serve as models of the behavior we would like to see from our employees. It's important to realize that we can't change other people, we can only change ourselves. But, by altering our actions and reactions, we can influence the response we get. By altering their actions and reactions, employees can influence the responses they get from their customers.

Celebrate your strengths

Remember to acknowledge employees' strengths. Celebrate what you already do right and then take a look at those things you can do to better manage the impression your company projects. You can create a service image that draws customers and keeps them coming back. For, customer satisfaction is about feelings. Remember the words of Karl Albrecht, "However your employees feel is how your customers are going to feel, sooner or later." A satisfied customer is a loyal customer and in a service business, that's the bottom line.

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Your Dress Code: An Element of Your Branding Initiative

Companies spend thousands of dollars making sure they have just the right logo, well-maintained offices, a mission and value statement and even a memorable tag line that appears on their well-designed printed materials.  And, of course, they spend a great deal of money on their product or service and the means by which is it delivered.  Yet, employees are the first and sometimes the last image a client or customer has of an organization. 

David Acker, author of Building Strong Brands, says, “A brand is a set of associations that provides a distinct image and the basis for a loyal relationship.”

In The Winning Image, James Gray, Jr. defines image asa tool for communicating and for revealing your inherent qualities, your competence, abilities and leadership.  It is a reflection of qualities that others associate with you.”  With your brand in mind, let’s consider a few questions.

What do you want to accomplish?

This is a good question to ask as you develop or revise your dress code—some thoughts:

  • Help new (and current) employees understand that they reflect the company’s image
  • Give supervisors and managers specific information to draw upon when giving feedback
  • Provide clear and lawful guidelines on dress and grooming

Who enforces the dress code?

All too often, dress codes are enforced inconsistently—or not at all!  Whoever gives it, feedback is essential.  Ideally, feedback is given by an employee's immediate supervisor or manager with HR available for help.  Providing training or coaching is one of the best forms of support HR can give managers and supervisors.  Recommended reading for employees might include Springboard to Success: Strategies to Keep Business Casual from Making Business…Casual by April Callis. And, of course, a review of your dress code!

Just look at the results of a study by California State U, Sacramento, Marketing professor Dennis Tootelian, who interviewed 500 American workers:

  •  62% said they had felt inappropriately dressed at a business or a social


  •  68% are uncertain about the differences among business attire,

      business casual and casual

"There is a lot of confusion over just what is appropriate," said Tootelian. His study also found divisions along generational lines, with younger respondents having a different, more casual perception of what constitutes business attire.  Can’t you just hear the flip flops?!

How does that crucial conversation with an employee sound?

Our goal when giving feedback is to establish mutual purpose and demonstrate respect.  To this end, here are six steps you can follow:

1.  Start with a positive statement or point of agreement

2.  Describe the current situation

     •  Be specific as to what the violation is—avoid general, vague terms

     •  Reference the dress code or special directives

3.  Describe the impact and consequences

     •  Effect the behavior has on customers/clients

     •  Impact on the organization with a personal hook for the

        employee—what’s in it for them

     •  Sanctions that will be applied for repeated offenses, if appropriate

4.  Get them brainstorming solutions

     •  Help them create an action plan.

5.  End with a positive, future focus

6.  Follow up.  Give them positive feedback when they appear dressed



How about some specific examples you ask?  Here you go!


A recently-hired receptionist who shows up on the first hot day in a tube top and huge hoop earrings

1.  “Jean, you have been a real asset on the phone—you have a very professional yet warm sounding voice and a cheerful manner that clients have commented on.  You are also the first person a client sees when they enter the office—our Director of First Impressions.”


2.  “With that in mind, we need to discuss your outfit today.  Our Dress Code is very specific about strapless tops and oversized earrings—they are inappropriate for the office.” 

3.  “I know you want to be perceived as professional and represent our firm appropriately.   One way I always think about clothing is that it’s like putting on a costume.  We can have a ‘costume’ for work and bring accessories and make up that will allow us to change the look for an evening out.  One outfit says professional and the other says play.”

4.  “One option is to send you home to change, but I would like to be able to have you on the phones today.  Do you see another option?”

She may well mention that she has a cardigan she can put on and that she can take off the earrings.

5.  “Those are great ideas.  Please review the Dress Code and perhaps run by me—or bring a picture of yourself in—any outfits you have questions about.” 


Recent hire who has helped put together a presentation

1.  “Steve, your work on the presentation has been exceptional—you came up with excellent statistics we can use to support Y and helped a lot in the design of the PowerPoint.” 

2.  “When we wrapped yesterday, I reminded everyone that client X is very formal and that we were all to wear suits—including those who would be shadowing.  Yet you’ve arrived in a shirt and khakis.” 

3 - 5.  “We must leave right now to get to client X’s office.  I’m sorry you’ll miss this presentation—it would have helped you gain some valuable insights.  I look forward to your continuing participation in our team projects.  After you’ve demonstrated to me that you have an appropriate outfit, you will be invited to attend a future presentation.”

Need to give feedback to someone about, ahem, body odor?  Check out the “Past Meeting Handouts” section of the LWHRA website under “Monthly Meetings.”

Business is still business

Dr. Shirley A. White, president of Success Images, sums it up well:  “One of the most important points to remember about casual dress is that the company’s image comes before your image.  What you wear to work should work for the greater good, not against it.  While casual dress, for the most part, may be in place to boost morale, in the end, business is still business and you need to dress accordingly.”


Jan McLaughlin spoke at the January, 2009, meeting of the Lake Washington Human Resource Association.  Referred to in the Seattle Times as a “pioneer in the image industry,” Jan is a trainer, speaker and consultant who is an expert in communication—visual, oral and written. 

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Small Changes…BIG Payoffs for Women

It's not the elephants that get us—it's the mosquitoes. And just as those pesky insects are hard to see, it's difficult for us to identify the little things we do that affect how others perceive us. These small things can sabotage our potential to influence other people and undermine our ability to succeed.

How's your handshake?

Consider, for instance, your handshake. I am repeatedly amazed when a woman presents her hand as though she expects it to be kissed! Be sure to extend your hand immediately and use this formality to quickly establish rapport and trust.

The web of your thumb should meet that of the other person. Wrap your fingers around their hand and squeeze gently. Do not let your wrist bend or break and never claw or pinch your fingers! A brisk shake is all that's needed—no pumping. Accompany this with direct eye contact and you're sending silent messages that say you're confident, competent and credible.

It's no wonder that a simple handshake can play such a big role in our bid for success. Research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian shows that if our communication is incongruent—if the way we look and the way we sound don't agree with the words we say—what others see will comprise 55% of the message they receive and what they hear 38%. With the words we choose at a mere 7%, our actions—facial expressions, gestures, posture—truly speak louder than our words.

Posture that is perceived as powerful is open, relaxed, expansive and erect without being tense. Women are often at a height disadvantage, so expand the space you use when sitting and standing. Years ago at finishing school, we were taught to pull the heel of one foot into the instep of the other and to place one hand in the palm of the other. This is very demure, but in a powerful stance your feet are shoulder-width apart and your arms extend away from your body.

How do you sound?

Now, what happens when you open your mouth? A voice that's too high, soft or shrill is hard to listen to and harder to believe. And, many of us need to learn to slow down! Pauses can be used very effectively to capture people's attention.

A voice that emanates energy is dynamic. We sound bored when our voice is flat, tense or nasal. Record yourself. Listen to yourself. I change the message on my voice mail every day. Besides entertaining my clients, this is a perfect opportunity to listen to my voice at different times of day and affected by varying amounts of sleep and caffeine!

What did you say?

Your conversational style and message are, of course, crucial. They will enhance, support and balance your nonverbal communications. Judith C. Tingley, Ph.D., a fellow member of the National Speakers Association, coined the term Genderflexing. It means "to temporarily use some communication behaviors typical of the other gender in order to increase your potential for influence."

Tingley maintains—somewhat tongue in cheek—that women most frequently talk about people, feelings and relationship; while men's conversation is full of business, sports and money. She suggests that we incorporate subjects of interest to the opposite gender to better get our point across. It's not necessary to read the sports page everyday. It is as simple as using an occasional sports metaphor: "Things aren't quite up to par." "Let's get off to a running start." Perhaps it's a simple exclamation: "What about those Yankees?!" Done. I'll never forget hearing Lou Holtz, the famous coach of Notre Dame, speak. As the daughter of a football coach, I was looking forward to his keynote, but I suspect there were some less-than-interested women (and, perhaps, some men) in the audience. He opened by talking about his lisp and the challenges that had brought him. Then he read a poem written by one of his linemen. His frequent references to his wife and children cinched the deal. The entire audience rose to a standing ovation.

Deborah Tannen in her book, You Just Don't Understand, tells us that men view conversation as competition. Rather than listening attentively—which is our natural wont—we need to jump into the game by interrupting with challenges, matching information or an opposing point of view. Otherwise, you'll find yourself sitting through a lecture.

Lighten up!

Women need to lighten up and employ more humor in conversation. When we are so very serious, we are perceived as fragile, inaccessible or unresponsive. Of course, most of us are more likely to blow a punch line than tell a joke well! Some good books to help you raise your humor quotient are What Mona Lisa Knew by Dr. Barbara Mackoff, They Used to Call Me Snow White…But I Drifted (seriously!) by Regina Barreca and The Light Touch by Malcolm Kushner. And you know, there's an added bonus—laughter is also one of the best ways to reduce stress.

Just as mosquitoes can't become elephants, we can't change other people. Have you noticed? We can, however, change ourselves. And, by altering our actions and reactions, we can influence the response we get from others. It's not about who wins and who loses; it's about win-win.

This article originally appeared in a Puget Sound Business Journal issue of Women, Inc.

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Are You Having an Identity Crisis?

Or perhaps it's just time to update your store's image. Life has a way of sidetracking us. Every so often we need to revisit what we're all about. As a store owner, it's easy to get tunnel vision because you're in your store day in and day out and, quite simply, don't get out much! So find a quiet spot (outside your store), pour your favorite thinking beverage and spread all your printed materials out before you—business card, bags, signs, postcards, newsletters, receipts. What image or mood do they evoke? Are they sending the right message? Do they make a unique statement? Do they appeal to your target customer? Who is your target customer?

Who is your target customer?

Let's start with that last question. According to David Acker, author of Building Strong Brands, a brand is "a set of associations that provides a distinct image and the basis for a loyal relationship." And isn't that what we all want—loyal customers?

Picture as many of your regular customers as you can and ask yourself: what's their average age? What are their interests, tastes, special requests, needs? At Opus 204—a specialty home accessories and women's clothing store in Seattle—it's easy to picture their customers. They're featured in the frames they have for sale. Walk into Opus and you feel as though you've walked into the home of a friend.

Establish what's unique about your store

Next, think about the distinct image your store provides. Strong brands—and stores—create an experience that can't be found anywhere else. What sets you apart from your competition? Try this exercise: jot down words that evoke images of your store—that define its uniqueness. Ask your employees to do the same; then ask some of your loyal customers. Hone that list down to five or six words that describe the unique experience you offer customers.

Now take a look at your printed materials again. Are they in line with this image? Once you have some clear criteria, you can take a look at the decisions you make and be sure you're still appealing to—and drawing in—your target customers. Maybe you changed your business card simply because you were bored. Perhaps you hired a new employee who is very clever and created a new promotional piece without truly understanding your customer or your unique image. Time to get back on track!

Create a distinct, consistent image

Consultant David Kindard describes a brand as, "a promise held in the mind of a consumer of an individualized, personal and consistent experience." Consistency is the key when you're talking about image and branding—and the key to staying on your customer's mind. Seven distinctive design elements go into creating a consistent visual image—color, typography (fonts), graphic elements, style of art, size, grid (layout) and paper. Each of these elements contributes to the overall image. Whether you work with a graphic designer or create promotional pieces on your computer, each element needs to be carefully selected with your image in mind. Once done, maintain consistency and identity by changing no more than two or three of these elements in any given piece. Obviously, business cards, postcards and bags are all different sizes and, likely, different paper; but the other five elements need to remain constant.

Fini, a unique accessory store at Inn at the Market in Seattle, uses a subtle warm pink and cream stripe background on their oval business cards. The store name is in a handwritten-type font with scrolls on the first letter. The body text uses a subtle combination of a serif and a sans serif font. Promotional postcards carry this same background stripe, and feature a variety of one-column grid drawings of women that are evocative of 1960 Vogue. All feature a quirky graphic element that looks, alternately like a satellite or a snowflake. Somehow they look brand new and tastefully old at the same time. The centerpiece of the store is a round, tufted, velvet ottoman; standing fixtures feature oval glass shelves; and wall shelves are warmly lit from behind. An oval mirror is at hand for trying on jewelry. You feel as though you've walked into a jewel box or a boudoir. Just the place to find the perfect gloves, necklace or hat.

Across the courtyard from Fini is Watson Kennedy. They offer French gift items with a large selection of soaps and linens. Their graphics are all black and white and feature a logo of two French doors with striped awning and topiary trees. A simple stamp of a green fern frond easily and inexpensively adds a touch of color to the black and white receipt and evokes the fresh feeling of their wonderful wares.

Write promotional pieces that grab their attention

Some of you may struggle with the same problem I do—a pompous, verbose, wordy writing style! Yet it's catchy, shorter copy that captures customers' attention. One of my favorite postcards from Opus 204 features a line drawing of a palm tree and a stretch of sand. Written where a vacationer would be stretched out under that tree are the words, "Going somewhere?" Turn over the card and it says, "Dress for it! …in wearable, packable styles and fabrics from Opus 204." Of course, it arrived just when their customers were booking their winter escapes.

Make your customers feel special

Remember, Consultant Kindard described a brand as an individualized and personal experience. Promotions don't have to be big events. The useable, thoughtful ones are appealing to your target customers. Look around you and you'll find inspiration everywhere. When I sort the mail, anything that catches my eye goes into my idea basket. And I'm a pack rat when I'm out and about. When it's time to create something, I sort through this basket for inspiration. Sell candles? Have boxes of wooden matches imprinted with your store name and logo. Sell containers and pots? Create small bags of seeds that you staple to your card or stick your label on a packet of seeds. Who wouldn't like a small sachet for their drawer? All you need is potpourri, a small square of fabric and ribbon imprinted with your logo. There you are—on a shelf, on a table, in a drawer—on your customer's mind. A constant reminder to stop in and see what's new.

And the easiest way to make a customer feel special is to say, "I thought of you today." All it takes is a handwritten note with an interesting stamp in your store colors. There is nothing more powerful in today's hectic world of email, fax and cell phones. Of course, this means you need notecards with your logo or a picture of your store and an excellent system for keeping track of your regular customers' likes, needs and interests. When I worked at Nordstrom, my personal book was a record of relationships built and a goldmine for future business. Holiday after holiday, just the perfect gift went home to a lucky, loyal customer.

A brand is a promise

Futurist Watts Wacker says, "A brand is a promise, and in the end, you have to keep your promises." Promise yourself you'll find a quiet time to pour over your printed materials to make sure they evoke the right image for your store. Join me in August at The Seattle Gift Show and the San Francisco International Gift Fair for the seminar Having an Identity Crisis? and you'll leave with lots of fresh ideas to implement.

This article was featured in Western Show News prior to Jan speaking at The Seattle Gift Show and The San Francisco International Gift Fair.

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Show Respect for Clients—Dress Up, Not Down!

From the shine on your shoes to the crease in your slacks, your attention to detail—or lack of it—says a great deal about you. The quality of attention you pay to your personal presentation implies the caliber of attention you pay to the work you do for your clients. The results of a national survey released in September show that more than 70 percent of executives surveyed agreed that workplace attire affects an employee's state of mind and/or behavior and, therefore, his or her productivity. The survey, commissioned by No nonsense®, was posed to 150 senior executives and CEOs among the nation's top 500 manufacturing and service firms. Think about it. What message are you sending to clients when you appear in a wrinkled shirt and athletic shoes or have a hem drooping and a spot on your jacket? Do you look like someone who pays attention to details? Would they assume you are organized? No!

Project an image of professionalism and trust

Many businesses across the country are introducing more formal dress code policies and netting tangible results. Leaders of those companies cite such benefits as "an increased level of workplace professionalism," "a competitive advantage," "a customer-focused mentality," and "a corporate image that conveys seriousness and trust." If you want to work directly with the most experienced professionals in your firm—and accompany them to client meetings—make sure you're dressed suitably. Cover your bases by keeping an appropriate outfit at the office so you're not left out of an important meeting or visit to a client.

Advance faster in your career

In the No nonsense® study, 63 percent of the executives interviewed agreed that employees who wear more professional attire advance faster in their careers. If you want to be promoted, make sure you dress for the job you want. California State University, Sacramento, Marketing Professor Dennis Tootelian, who conducted a study commissioned by Mervyn's, says, "Those who don't dress appropriately can put a ceiling on their careers really quickly." Take some time to review your existing wardrobe and promise yourself you won't buy another pair of jeans or other weekend wear until you've added to your professional wardrobe. Build a business wardrobe that can take you where you want to go.

Feedback from supervisors is important

If you supervise others, it's imperative that you give them specific feedback about the appropriateness of what they're wearing—or lack of it! Some of the items cited as inappropriate in most Business Casual Guidelines include: jeans, sweatshirts, t-shirts, midriff-baring tops, low-cut or tight tops, athletic shoes and thong-style sandals. And there's more, so be sure to review the guidelines and check with your supervisor if you're not sure. Jeff Stryker, a commentator on Public Radio International's Marketplace, said it well, "If you come home from a hard day of work at the office and don't have to change your clothes, you probably were not dressed properly."

Favorable response to more professional attire

The two-part survey commissioned by No nonsense® also queried the American public about their views on workplace attire and a surprising majority (69 percent) said they would react favorably if their companies adopted more professional workplace attire—even though as many as 85 percent of executives believed they wouldn't. If you want to project the image of a professional—focused, organized, competent, respectful, mindful of details—dress up, not down! And, here's a good question to ask yourself every day, "Would I ask for a raise in what I'm wearing?"

This article appeared in the newsletter of a CPA firm.  This client directs their newsletter to clients and firm principals, associates, managers and


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Put Your Best Foot Forward

Whether you're making a business presentation or speaking before a luncheon audience, your appearance can work for you or against you. It can enhance your message or detract from it. When you appear confident, you win over an audience before you say a word.

Focus attention on your face

Use value placement in your clothing to focus your audience's attention on your face—and what you are saying. Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. It's best if the garment dominant on your upper torso—your jacket—is similar in value to your hair. You want to avoid the illusion of your head and body separating. If a dark-haired person wears all light colors, it's as disconcerting as looking at a bowling ball precariously balanced on a white column. You're just waiting for it to fall off!

You can intensify the focus of your audience's attention by wearing colors that enhance your own coloring. In the wrong colors you will look older, tired and sick. The wrong colors can make a man look as though he has a five o'clock shadow or drain the color and vitality from your face.

Your personal power colors are those in your natural coloring—your hair and eyes—and the complements of those colors. That's why green-eyed people look so good in red and why blondes look terrific in purple. Wear your personal power colors close to your face—a tie, your blouse or a scarf—for optimum effectiveness. If you wear colors that are too intense—or bright—for your own coloring, the audience will look at the color before they look at you.

Use the squint test

Use the squint test to judge your success with value placement and color intensity. Stand before a full-length mirror and squint at yourself. By doing this you eliminate the actual color of garments and can judge the overall effect. Any dramatic change in value or intensity should occur very near the face. Where does your eye go?

Men have the perfect uniform for focusing attention on their face—the suit. The suit is the frame, the shirt is the mat, and the tie is the painting—an arrow pointing directly at your face. Be sure that arrow is one of your personal power colors.

To maximize this effect, start your speech with the top button of your jacket buttoned. You can use the gesture of unbuttoning or taking off a jacket to send a nonverbal message that will establish even greater rapport between you and your audience.

Check your outfit from all angles. Scrutinize a videotape of yourself or have someone watch you as you make typical gestures and movements. When you raise your arm does the shoulder pad make you look like Quasimodo? Does the vent in the back of your jacket stretch open alarmingly? Just how short does your skirt become when you sit down or bend over to pick up a prop?

When standing before an audience, hosiery and shoes take on particular significance. For both men and women, socks or stockings should create a blend between hem and shoe by being similar in value to both. Yet another reason not to wear white socks with a navy suit!

It's a good idea to have an extra tie or pair of pantyhose with you in the event of an accident. Who needs the unnecessary annoyance caused by a run in your nylons or a spill on your tie—or wants their audience's attention diverted by that run or spot?

Don't distract your audience

Consider if anything you wear might be distracting to your audience. Accessories should not draw attention to themselves. Loud jewelry can drive your audience crazy. Extremely long or brightly-colored fingernails simply look inappropriate—suggesting that you are a dilettante with too much leisure time on your hands.

It should go without saying—but hey, it's my job—you must pay special attention to your grooming. Your audience will. A neat and flattering haircut is essential—the audience wants to be able to see your face. Men who wear beards should be sure that they are well-trimmed. Avoid hair that flops in your face or the annoying mannerism of pushing at your hair.

Another annoying pretense is to peer at the audience over the top of glasses. Learn to take off your glasses and gesture with them when you're not reading. Or get bifocals instead of wearing half-glasses.

Your goal as a speaker or presenter is to dress appropriately for your audience in a way that enhances your message and focuses their attention on you. The more confident you feel, the better speech or presentation you will give. The more appropriate, comfortable and confident you look, the better you will be received.


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© Jan M. McLaughlin 2007-2018     206.818.6689