Friday, December 31, 2010

Dealing with Bad News

More often than we’d like to think, and often when we least expect it, people we know end up getting fired, going into bankruptcy, having accidents, getting indicted, and experiencing the death of a loved one. If it happens to someone you know well, you need to recognize the difficulty and offer your sympathy and—if appropriate—your help. It is less than useless to act as if nothing has happened. Don’t wait for the other person to find an appropriate time to tell you about the misfortune and don’t let the subject become the proverbial elephant in the living room that you both try to ignore.
Instead, be direct. For instance, you might say, “I heard about the fire at your house last week. I’m so glad that you’re all right,” or say, “I was so sorry to hear about Jim’s sentencing hearing. It must be difficult for you.”
If you attend a funeral, express your condolences as directly and simply as possible. You could say, “I’m very sorry about your loss,” or simply say, “I’m so sorry.” On the other hand, you may want to remind the bereaved of some characteristic of the deceased by saying something like “Our office won’t seem the same without Bridget’s daily baseball team updates” or “I’ll miss seeing all her crazy T-shirts.” When someone begins to tell you bad news, be quiet and listen. Your concern will be mirrored in your attentiveness. You can nod and say, “Uh, huh,” until you feel it’s appropriate to add something like “This must be draining for you. I’m so sorry.” Don’t think for a moment that it is helpful or encouraging to compare what your friend is suffering to another situation you’ve heard about or experienced—or to recount an even worse challenge or injury as a way to tell your friend that “it could be worse.” That kind of one-upmanship only makes people feel even more upset. And you can see why. Just imagine that you’re complaining to someone about your severe headache and, instead of sympathizing, she replies, “You haven’t had a headache until you’ve had one of my migraines.”
Nor should you choose this time to express opinions about proper behavior or judgments about people’s character (for example, “Well, if your husband hadn’t cheated on his taxes, he wouldn’t be facing prison, would he?”). And don’t offer unsolicited advice.
Above all, don’t use the opportunity to pry into the other person’s life. At a time like this, you two may reach a level of intimacy unprecedented in your relationship. A casual acquaintance might for a few minutes become uncharacteristically open and candid with you—and might regret it later on. Try to stay within the boundaries that previously characterized your relationship while remaining sympathetic and attentive.

Facing Cosmetic Surgery

Thousands of people will undergo cosmetic surgery this year. Their reactions will fall somewhere between silent confusion and a straightforward willingness to discuss their decision to change their appearance.
More people than ever are electing cosmetic surgery, but today’s motivations often are far different from the erstwhile stereotype of the suburban matron with too much time and money on her hands.
In today’s downsized, competitive job market, many people elect cosmetic surgery for reasons other than vanity. They do it because they are convinced it will further their career.
And with more and more people appearing publicly in various stages of presurgical and postsurgical conditions, the problem of what to say and what not to say arises for both the patient and the friends and acquaintances of the patient. Although most people today are open about having cosmetic surgery, it can still be a touchy topic for conversation. To avoid hurt feelings, follow these suggestions:
  • Never tell a person that he or she is crazy to have cosmetic surgery.
  • Wait until the person opens the subject before you ask whether someone had cosmetic surgery.
  • If you are curious, try saying, “You look wonderful today.” If the reply is that the person had surgery, ask only: “Are you pleased with the results?”
  • Even if pressed, never criticize the results. If you must, you can say: “I see what you mean but only when you point it out.”
  • Never volunteer the names of others who have had cosmetic surgery.
  • Never gossip about the subject.
  • Cosmetic or not, it’s still surgery. Be solicitous about the person’s health and well-being.
  • If you have had cosmetic surgery and look markedly different, make it easier for those around you by opening the door for comments.

The Fine Art of the Compliment

A compliment is a two-way gift. It benefits both the giver and the receiver. Too often, people deprive themselves of the pleasure of giving a compliment when they hesitate and let the moment slip by. Or perhaps the other person is so consistently wellgroomed that we don’t bother to say, “You look great today.” Or someone is so consistently efficient that we fail to say, “Good job.”
When giving a compliment, remember these points:
  • Be sincere. Complimenting someone just because you think it’s a good idea is a bad idea. A phony compliment is easy to spot and instantly destroys the credibility of the speaker. If the luncheon speaker was a total flop, don’t compliment the speech. Talk about the effort the speaker made to attend the function and the person’s past achievements, if any.
  • Be specific. “That was a marvelous casserole” is better than “You’re a terrific cook.”
  • Be unqualified. Don’t make the mistake of damning with faint praise: “That was a good report, considering …” or “This casserole is okay.”
Don’t compare. You can diminish the compliment by comparing the accomplishment to some other achievement—unless you are comparing it to something heroic, and then the compliment sounds insincere.
When receiving a compliment, just smile and say thank you. Never try to shrug off a compliment or disagree with the person who is trying to compliment you. If someone compliments you on your dress and you say, “Oh, this old thing?” you’re actually saying that the other person’s judgment is poor or that she doesn’t know what’s fashionable. If someone compliments you on doing a good job at the office, don’t say, “It was nothing,” or “It should have been more complete (or finished earlier).”
This response is insulting to the other person, implying that his standards are not very high.
“Thanks, I worked really hard on it” is much better.
Here’s another important tip: Never unilaterally upscale a compliment by infusing it with even more praise and enthusiasm than the giver meant to give. For

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Becoming The Receiving End

Whether you deserve it or not, you will be the subject of criticism at one point or another in your life. Be ready. If the criticism is justified, accept it and treat it as a problem that needs to be resolved. Acknowledge that you have a challenge ahead of you and make it clear to the person who pointed out the shortcoming that you intend to address it.
If you believe that the criticism is unjustified or delivered harshly or publicly, you have every right to react in a different way. However, if you get angry and start shooting back, you will end up saying things you will regret and so will the person who offered the criticism in the first place. In this situation it is usually best to put off discussing the matter: “Let’s talk about this when we’re both a little calmer” or “We ought to get together and work this out. What’s a good time for you?” If someone says something critical about you in the presence of others, you can try “freezing” your critic by stopping whatever you are doing or saying and looking the person dead in the eye for a moment. Or you can say something like “Very little good comes of criticizing others in public. Please tell me your objections (or problems) in private.”
If you’re not sure that the criticism is justified or if you need time to think it over, you can say, “I’m glad you’re letting me know what’s on your mind. I’d like to think about it and get back to you.”
If you know you’ve goofed, it’s sometimes best to just say, “I apologize,” and that’s all. Depending on the situation, something more may be required: “I never intended to (embarrass, upset, offend) you, but I can see that I did, and I’m sorry.” But don’t whine, don’t grovel, and don’t make excuses or try to shift the blame.

Softening the Blow

When delivering criticism, keep these points in mind:
➤ Avoid the “but” bomb. “I thought the points you made in your report were excellent, but ….” The but bomb immediately sends up a flare and triggers a defensive reaction. The person hears but and begins constructing a reply instead of listening closely to your further comments. Try: “I thought your report was outstanding, and next time I suggest you include ….” Next time does not invalidate the first part of the sentence as but does.

➤ Keep it impersonal. Never say that some act or person was dumb or wrong. Talk about behavior, not personality.
➤ Keep it private. If you criticize someone in the presence of others, the person is not thinking about your message, but about being humiliated.
➤ Be specific. Don’t criticize in generalizations. Mention specific incidents or behaviors.
➤ Soften the impact. Try beginning with a compliment: “You are usually a very considerate person. That’s why I was so surprised at your behavior at lunch today.”
➤ Try advice. You can also deliver criticism in the form of advice. Instead of saying, “You’ll never even reach the basket if you shoot the ball like that,” say, “I’ve found that keeping my elbows in close gives the shot more power.”

Making Gestures With a Foreigner

When traveling abroad, some innocent or even friendly gestures can get you into trouble. These include making a circle of the thumb and index finger, pointing the index finger, and giving the thumbs-up sign.
Here are some other cautions:

➤ Avoid using the crooked index finger in a beckoning gesture. In many cultures the beckoning gesture is done with the arm extended and the fingers making an inward sweeping motion.
➤ In some places you may see people clap their hands or snap their fingers to get the attention of waiters or servants. In general, however, it is wise for the visitor to avoid doing either.
➤ The V for victory sign is insulting in England if the palm is turned inward. In fact, you should avoid this gesture altogether.
➤ Propping up your foot so that the sole of your shoe is facing someone is considered grossly insulting in most Asian countries and in parts of the Middle East.
➤ In some cultures it is considered rude to engage in conversation with your arms folded over your chest or with your arms akimbo (hands on hips). Avoiding etiquette errors when dealing with people from other cultures, either at home or abroad, is difficult—and may even be impossible. The world is a complex mosaic of customs and attitudes, and even the most well-traveled and well-read person can transgress unknowingly.

So, although you may not always be correct, you must always be courteous. A willingness to confess ignorance and to ask for help, the ability to apologize gracefully, and a friendly, open attitude will get you through most difficulties. Don’t let anxiety about making social blunders cause your relations with those from other cultures to be mannered or stiff. Approach learning about new places and people with a spirit of adventure and a desire to learn, and you will generally find that people are more than willing to forgive innocent breaches of etiquette.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

You’re In My Space

Whereas Asians stand farther away during conversations than Americans are used to, many Mediterranean people and Latinos stand so close that Americans believe that their personal space is being violated. Inexperienced Americans usually react by taking a step back. This strategy doesn’t work because the other person will simply take a step forward. If you keep backing up, you may find yourself backed into a corner. On the other hand, if an Asian steps back during a conversation with you, control your urge to pursue him. When with Asians, remember that touching can be a touchy subject. For example, you don’t put your arm about the shoulders of a Japanese or take hold of his arm during a conversation. Don’t be offended if Asian shopkeepers avoid contact by placing your change on the counter instead of in your hand. They are just being polite.

Watch For Unfamiliar Foods

Here are some commonplace American foods that foreigners find unusual or, in some cases, repulsive.
➤ Marshmallows
➤ Corn on the cob, which many Europeans consider fit only for animals
➤ Pumpkin pie (also pecan pie)
➤ Sweet potatoes
➤ Crawfish
➤ Grits
➤ Hot dogs
When traveling in other countries, some Americans may have the same reaction to foods like sea urchins in Korea, horse meat in Japan, toasted grasshoppers in Mexico, sea slugs in China, sheep’s eyes in the Middle East, haggis (sheep’s organs and entrails) in Scotland, or kidney pie in England.
Also, what many Americans think of as Mexican food and Chinese food would not be welcome—or even recognized!—in Mexico and China. (When Chinese Americans want to say someone is losing touch with his Chinese heritage, they may call him “a chop suey man.” Chop suey is a dish that Americans think is Chinese and Chinese think is American.)
Here are some general rules of etiquette to follow when you are confronted with unfamiliar food in a foreign land:
  • If you don’t know what it is, you might be better off not asking. Taste it. If you don’t like it and are asked for your opinion, say something like “It has a very distinctive flavor.”
  • If you know what it is and don’t want to try it, politely refuse. Or you can say something like “I know this is quite a delicacy, but I’ve tried it before and found it doesn’t sit well with me.”
  • If you sense that a refusal would offend your host or fellow diners, cut it up and move it around on your dish so that it looks as if you are eating. Some cautionary notes:
  • It is particularly important to respect the dietary rules of Muslims. They do not eat the flesh of any animal that scavenges, including pigs, goats, some birds, and sea scavengers like lobster. Food may not be prepared using the products derived from these animals, such as oils. Muslims do not drink alcohol and avoid foods cooked with alcohol.
  • Do not point with your chopsticks or suck on them. Do not stick chopsticks upright in your rice. This placement is thought to bring bad luck.
  • In Europe you may expect salads to be served after, rather than before, the main dish.
  • Orthodox Jews do not eat pork or shellfish. Meat and fowl must be kosher, which means they must be ritually prepared.
  • In Europe and elsewhere, the main dish is served at the beginning of the meal, so don’t think of it as an appetizer. Also be careful at formal Chinese banquets. These events consist of many more courses than Westerners expect. Don’t fill up too early, or you’ll be too full to eat some wonderful delicacies later in the meal.

Is It Time to Eat?

Many foreigners find the customs and terminology that accompany eating in America odd, disconcerting, or baffling. Why do some American executives like to conduct business at breakfast, whereas we often consider lunch as little more than an afterthought? We load our water glasses with ice. We drink denatured (decaffeinated) coffee.
We eat strange things and at odd times. Consider the following:
  • The main meal of the day in other countries is taken at midday. In America the main meal comes at the end of the workday. We call the evening meal “dinner,” a word that signifies the midday meal in other English-speaking countries.
  • The evening meal in America is served, generally, within an hour either way of 7 P.M. Elsewhere it is generally later and generally lighter. In Spain supper commonly begins at 10 P.M.
  • The English have tea in the afternoon, usually around 4 P.M. This meal consists of tea, small sandwiches, and pastries. High tea is not a more elaborate version of tea. It is, in fact, an informal replacement for supper, which is eaten later in the evening.
In addition, brunch is considered a curious American invention in places where it is known at all. A foreign visitor will probably find its timing disconcerting.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Art of Gift Giving

In some cultures, if you effusively admire a possession of another person, particularly of your host, he or she may feel obliged to offer it to you as a gift. You, however, need not accept. In fact, you should firmly, but politely, refuse.
Here are some cautionary notes for gift giving when other cultures are involved:
  • In some Asian cultures, including Japanese and Chinese, gifts are not opened in the presence of the donor.
  • Avoid wrapping gifts for Japanese in either white or black paper. Japanese do not use bows or bright colors when wrapping gifts.
  • White flowers symbolize mourning to the Chinese. Yellow flowers have similar negative connotations among some Latinos and Middle Easterners. In Europe red roses often signal romantic intent and chrysanthemums are linked with death.
  • In the Middle East, do not give gifts that are representations of partially clad women or of pets, such as dogs, which are considered lowly creatures.
  • Cash gifts for Chinese should be in even numbers and given with both hands.
  • Gifts of knives to Latinos can signal the cutting of a relationship.
  • Don’t give four of anything to a Japanese or Korean person.
  • Don’t give a clock to a Chinese person.
  • A handkerchief suggests tears or parting in the Middle East, making it an inappropriate gift.

High Context vs. Low Context in International Business

An insight into how to avoid these and some other problems American business people encounter on the global scene can be gained by considering what anthropologist Edward T. Hall calls high-context and low-context cultures. The United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries are low-context cultures, meaning that business people tend to send unambiguous messages with a lot of specificity and clear descriptions. For them, time is a straight-line commodity when it comes to getting things done. You start at point A and you go right to point B.
High-context countries include China, Japan, Korea, Spain, Greece, Turkey, the Arab world, and Latin America. High-context cultures place more emphasis on nonverbal communication, indirect verbal signals, and implicit meanings. Rituals are important. Time is not a straight-line concept. The road from point A to point B is highly textured.
The road has curves and detours and scenery.
Low-context people tend to view high-context people as sneaky, secretive, or at best, mysterious, and high-context people tend to view low-context people as moving too fast on the one hand and being excessively talkative and redundant on the other. So, when dealing with high-context business people, you need to be patient and to recognize that a lot of things are happening at once. Let’s take the example of a savvy American business executive visiting the office of a Korean colleague:
The appointment is at noon, and even though the visitor knows it is important to arrive on time, he expects to be kept waiting. The American waits quietly. Reading or doing something else while waiting is not a good idea: Doing so would indicate that the upcoming meeting is not the visitor’s primary focus. The host comes out to greet the guest. They shake hands, and the American gives a slight bow. Other people are in the office where the meeting is to take place. The American greets them: more handshakes, slight bows. The guest sits, keeping both feet on the floor.
If refreshments are offered, the guest accepts after a mild and insincere refusal.
He uses his right hand to drink.
All the while, the Korean host is being gracious and hospitable, and the American responds in the same spirit. They do not discuss business just yet. The host may hold several conversations at once, talk on the telephone, and otherwise digress. But he will always return to the important issues, and inevitably, things will get done, and all parties will part cordially.
This experience may strike the American as inefficient, but it works for a considerable segment of the world.

Let’s Do Business

When asked their impressions of American business people, foreigners often begin by saying Americans are very open and friendly. They find, however, that this friendliness tends to be shallow and short-lived. Americans come on strong at the beginning, but do not live up to the implied promise of an ongoing friendship or, at least, personal relationship.
Many business people from other cultures say they are put off by the abruptness with which Americans seem to want to get things done. We say that time is money. We work hard and play hard and eat lunch standing up or at the desk. Some people, particularly Asians and Middle Easterners, don’t consider getting right down to business as an admirable approach to getting things done.
Another problem is that Americans tend to jump into a first-name basis rather quickly, apparently laboring under the delusion that everybody enjoys being called by his first name by everybody else.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gracious Greetings

When greeting someone, an American’s first instinct is to stick out his or her hand, look directly at the other person, and smile. In some situations this habit can mean making three mistakes at once. And the moment of greeting is when crucial first impressions are made. Methods and styles of greeting vary greatly around the world, and you need to know which practices apply in different circumstances.

➤ When greeting Asians for the first time, do not initiate the handshake. You may be forcing a physical contact that the other person finds uncomfortable. Many Asians, particularly Japanese, have learned to accept the handshake when dealing with Westerners. Because the bow is the customary greeting in Japan, a slight bow of the head when responding to a proffered handshake is appropriate. Westerners generally are not expected to be familiar with the complex Japanese bowing protocols.
➤ Most Latinos are more accustomed to physical contact. Even people who know each other only slightly may embrace when greeting.
➤ Middle Easterners, particularly Muslims, avoid body contact with the opposite sex, but persons of the same sex commonly hug when greeting each other. When shaking hands, men should be careful not to pull their hand away too quickly.
➤ People from France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal greet friends by kissing on both cheeks.
➤ The smile is the near-universal gesture of friendliness, and in America its meaning is usually clear. The person smiling is happy, amused, and/or sending out a friendly signal. In other cultures the smile may be sending other signals. In some Latin cultures, for example, the smile may be used to say “Excuse me” or “Please.”
➤ If a person from another culture does not return your greeting smile, it doesn’t indicate hostility or bad manners. In some Asian cultures, smiling is a gesture to be reserved for informal occasions, and smiling while being formally introduced would be considered disrespectful.
➤ In many cultures, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect, but such behavior can lead to misunderstandings. For example, some Korean shopkeepers have been accused of disrespecting their non-Korean customers because the shopkeepers avoided making eye contact. The same sort of misunderstanding has occurred between American teachers and Asian students who do not look at the teacher while he or she is speaking.

Smashing Stereotypes

A good way to begin to learn about others is to get rid of what you think you already know about them. Here are some common generalizations that you need to jettison:

➤ All Latin cultures hold the siesta inviolate.
➤ Visitors from abroad are eager to be taken to a restaurant that serves what Americans consider to be the visitors’ favorite foods.
➤ Signs and gestures and loud English will bridge language gaps. (Noise never helps, and gestures send various and not always appropriate messages, depending upon the background and traditions of the observer.)
➤ Asians are remote and inscrutable.
➤ Germans are cold and superefficient.
➤ Japanese are basically shy.

If you are visiting another country or are hosting or otherwise spending time with people from other cultures, don’t hesitate to confess your ignorance of other cultures and ask for help. Your candor will be appreciated and your errors more cheerfully tolerated.

Hospital Etiquette

When a friend is hospitalized, you want to show that you care, but you don’t want to demonstrate your concern in ways that will make the experience even more burdensome for your friend.

➤ Do not telephone. Calls can be burdensome or exhausting for a patient. They can also be annoying to other patients. Call the patient’s family or office to find out how things are going and have your message of concern passed on.
➤ Check with the family to see whether flowers are appropriate. Remember that nurses don’t have time to take care of flowers, and nothing is worse than a hospital room with dying flowers in it. If you want to send flowers, send them to the home on the day the patient returns home.
➤ Check with the doctor before bringing gifts of food or sweets.
➤ Send attractive and/or amusing greeting cards and include a written message, for example, “The office is a lot less cheerful and productive without you.”
➤ Send some light reading and/or books and poetry on tape. If the patient doesn’t have a tape player, supply one.
➤ Speak softly and carry a big smile.

People with disabilities are very much like people without disabilities except, perhaps, that their daily lives may require a bit more courage and character than the rest of us need. If you are uncomfortable in their presence, it is your fault, not theirs. This discomfort will disappear if, while acknowledging that they have a disability, you treat them with the same respect that you expect for yourself. They don’t want your pity, and they deserve your admiration.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Alzheimer’s and Children

Taking children to visit those with Alzheimer’s disease is a valuable learning experience for the young ones and a great kindness for the older ones. Health care professionals say older patients respond positively, even joyfully, to the presence of children. And children are naturally more willing to accept people who tend to forget or confuse names and places. Children will listen to old stories and not be made uncomfortable by what older people see as disconnected ramblings. However, parents need to prepare their children for such visits. Here are a few little lessons for children (and, for that matter, adults) to learn before visiting.
➤ Say your name when you arrive and whenever asked, no matter how often.
➤ Speak slowly and clearly.
➤ Smile.
➤ Give hugs and hold hands.
➤ Be calm and gentle.
➤ Be ready to sing a song or tell a story.

Dealing with Lately Disabled People

You may need an extra supply of tact and generosity with a friend or acquaintance who has become disabled later in life, possibly because of Meniere’s disease, lupus, or multiple sclerosis. Often, you may know of such disabilities only if the person actually tells you.
One of the most common reactions among the lately disabled is a feeling of extreme self-consciousness in the company of able-bodied persons. The lately disabled are acutely sensitive to pity from others.
The lately disabled may also suffer from a loss of self-esteem. They may have lost their jobs and are worried about money. Keep in mind that they are unable to do many of the things that once defined them in their own minds—things that were part of their sense of self-worth.
They may also be suffering from depression, grieving for the person they once were, and struggling toward a realization of the new person they now must be. The lately disabled may also experience boredom and wish for structure. You can help by getting them involved in activities, particularly those activities that involve exercise. Provide structure by offering to make appointments or arrangements for certain definite times and sticking to the plan.
Therefore, be prepared for displays of bad temper and frustration. And don’t take them personally.

Dealing With People Suffering Developmental Disability

Dealing with people with developmental disabilities may present you with the most difficulties and require the most patience, particularly in the workplace. The key is to treat people with developmental disabilities as normally as possible and to set the same standards for them as you would for others. If, for example, the person tries to become too affectionate, explain that such behavior is not appropriate.
Make sure your tone is firm but not reprimanding. Here are some other tips:
  • Be careful about touching the person. Touching may signal approval of such behavior, which a person with developmental disabilities may use to curry favor.
  • Some people with developmental disabilities are very sensitive to body language and tone of voice. Make sure your silent messages are nonthreatening. Be firm but pleasant. Speak with a smile on your face and in your voice.
  • Criticism and accusatory language have a demoralizing effect on everyone. Instead of saying, “You made a mistake,” try “How about doing it like this?”
  • Recognize that repetition is important in teaching the developmentally disabled and be prepared to be patient.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Speech Impairment

The most important thing to remember is to give your complete and unhurried attention to those who have difficulty speaking. Give them time to express themselves. Don’t interrupt or complete their sentences for them, but give help when they indicate that they need it.
  • Don’t correct their pronunciation.
  • Ask questions that require short answers or that can be answered with a nod or a gesture.
  • Don’t pretend to understand when you don’t. Repeat what you thought you understood. The person’s reactions will guide you.

Hearing-Loss Etiquette

Hearing impairment is a less dramatic disability than blindness but is much more common. Hearing loss can be slight or complete or anywhere in between. Your response may be keyed to the degree of hearing loss. In any case here are some tips that you will find helpful.
  • Be sure that you have the person’s attention before you start speaking. If necessary, wave a hand, give a tap on the shoulder, or make some other signal. Do so gently.
  • Some deaf people depend entirely on lip reading to discern what others are saying, and many with partial hearing loss depend on it to one degree or another. Accordingly, face the person you are addressing and make sure the light is on your face so that he or she can see your lips more clearly.
  • Don’t get frustrated if you have to repeat yourself. If necessary, write it down or get someone to sign for you.
  • Don’t keep repeating the same phrases. Be flexible. Choose another word or rephrase the whole sentence. Keep in mind that some words “look” similar to a lip reader. If “I’ll drive the car around front” doesn’t seem to work, try “I’ll bring the car to the front door.” Keep your hands away from your face while speaking and don’t eat, chew, or smoke. You should be aware that a mustache may hide your lips and prevent a lip reader from understanding you.
  • Remember that the person with the hearing loss will rely to some degree on expressions, gestures, and body language.
  • Never talk from another room. When people who are hearing impaired can’t see you, they may not be aware that you are speaking.
  • Turn off the television or radio and reduce other background noises so that you can be heard more clearly.
  • Don’t shout. Don’t use exaggerated lip movements. Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Face the other person, preferably on the same eye level. Do not turn away until you have finished speaking.
  • You can bend down to get a little closer to the ear of the listener but don’t speak directly into the ear, don’t touch, and don’t shout.
  • Remember that fatigue, stress, illness, or fright affect everyone. External factors such as jet lag or a common cold can increase difficulty in communicating: Adjust your behavior accordingly.
  • When a hearing-impaired person is in a group and the others are laughing at something he hasn’t heard, explain the joke to him or let him know that you will explain it later. Because of past cruelties, your friend may be oversensitive and may think that the others are laughing at him or her.

Meeting a Blind Person for the First Time

If the person is alone when you enter the room, make your presence known right away by speaking. Identify yourself when greeting the person, and if others are with you, be sure to introduce them and to specify where they are: “On my left is Helen Carver, and on my right is Mary Thompson.”
When offering a handshake, say something like “Allow me to shake your hand.” If the other person extends a hand, shake it or explain why you can’t. “I’d like to shake your hand, but I’m afraid I may drop all these files.” Remember to talk to a person without sight as you would to a person who can see. In a group use the people’s names as a clue to whom you are speaking. Address those who can’t see by name if they are expected to reply and speak to them directly in a normal tone of voice. Excuse yourself when you are leaving. Doing so is especially important when ending a conversation so the person isn’t left talking to thin air. When a person with visual impairment has to sign a document, provide a guiding device such as a ruler or a card. When handing money to a person who is blind, separate all the bills into denominations and specify whether they are ones, fives, and so on. The person with the impairment can identify coins by touch.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tips for Dealing with Blind People

Here are some other tips:
  • Watch out for half-opened doors. They are a hazard to everyone, but especially to a person who is blind.
  • Give directions with the person who is blind as the reference point, not yourself. Say: “You are facing Broad Street, and you will have to cross it and turn to your right to go east on Chestnut Street.”
  • When helping the person into a car or taxi, place her hand on the inside door handle, and let her go in alone.
  • When entering an unfamiliar office or restaurant, offer your elbow, use specifics such as right or left, and then place his hand on the back of the chair so that he can be seated without further assistance.
  • Don’t let self-consciousness or a misplaced sense of protectiveness make you hesitate to tell a blind person that he has egg on his shirt or that his tie is in his soup. Do so in a matter-of-fact tone of voice and let him deal with the problem himself.
  • Some people have a tendency to raise their voices when speaking to a blind person. If you catch yourself doing so, stop. It’s annoying.
  • When accompanying a person who is blind, do your best to describe the surroundings, especially terrain and spatial relationships.
Recently, I witnessed the following encounter in one of those large chain drug stores. A blind man entered and stopped inside the door. Another customer walked over to him.
“May I assist you?”
“I want to have a prescription filled.”
“The pharmacy section is in the rear of the store. I’d be glad to take you there.”
“Great. Thanks.”
“Take my elbow. We’re going about six feet straight ahead. Now we’re turning right. The floor inclines up, and there are some displays of soda in the middle of the aisle. About four steps more. Okay, shall I get the pharmacist for you?” “No, thanks. I’m fine now that I’m here.”
“Would you like me to wait and escort you out?”
“No, thanks. I can do it now. Thanks a lot.”
As you can see, the person who helped out in this situation was able to combine common sense with simple courtesy in offering help and in providing just the right amount of assistance.

Visual-Impairment Etiquette

In general, guide dogs are working animals, not pets. So don’t pet them. In fact, don’t call their names or distract them in any way. Allow the dogs to accompany their owners into all stores and buildings. These dogs are trained to pay no attention to strangers while working except as objects to be avoided. Attempting to pet them while they are in harness is like urging someone to abandon a good, carefully formed habit. If the dog’s harness is off, it’s okay to ask the owner whether you can pet the animal—but don’t touch it without the owner’s permission. If you are in an environment familiar to a blind person, don’t move things, or if you do, put them back exactly as you found them. Leave closed doors closed, and open doors open. Never leave doors ajar.
Go ahead and offer assistance if you think it might be helpful, but remember that sometimes a person who is blind prefers to get along unaided. If you see a blind person without a guide dog waiting at an intersection, offer to help him or her across.
The fact that the person has stopped at the intersection may signify that he or she is waiting for help.
However, if the person says, “No, thank you,” don’t insist. If the person wants your help, offer your elbow. You will then be walking a step ahead, and the movements of your body will indicate when to change direction, when to stop and start.
Hesitate but do not stop before stepping up or down. You can say, “curb,” or “step down.”

Wheelchair Etiquette

Think of the wheelchair as an extension of the person who uses it. Here are some tips, many of which also apply to those who use crutches, canes, or walkers.
  • In general, you should keep your hands off the wheelchair.
  • Respect personal space. Particularly avoid patronizing pats. Consider what your own reaction would be to this sort of behavior.
  • Try to place yourself at eye level when conversing for any length of time with a person in a wheelchair. It’s impossible to deal with another as a peer if one of you is looking up and the other is looking down. Besides, it’s easier on the neck for both parties and generally more comfortable.
  • Don’t move a wheelchair or crutches out of reach of the person who uses them unless you are asked to do so. And if you do move them, remember to place them within the sight of their owner to avoid possible uneasiness or even panic.
  • Don’t just decide to help out. Ask first. Push a wheelchair only after asking the occupant if you may do so. A good time to offer help is when the person in the wheelchair is encountering steep inclines or ramps or thick carpets.
  • If you’re planning a party or other social function, consider whether the location has access for wheelchairs. Think about such things as steep hills and obstacles when giving directions to the location. Remember that a disabled person may need extra time to reach the destination.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Taboo Words and Phrases for Disabled Persons

The National Easter Seal Society advises us to eliminate certain words and phrases from our vocabulary and to replace them with positive, nonjudgmental terms:
  • Eliminate. Victim, cripple, afflicted with or by, and invalid—which connotes “not valid.”
  • Replace with. The person with a disability or, more specifically, the person with … or the person who has ….
  • Don’t say. Unfortunate, pitiful, poor, dumb (as in mute), deformed, blind as a bat. These terms are stereotypical, judgmental, and downright vulgar.
  • Say: Uses a wheelchair instead of wheelchair bound or confined to a wheelchair. Employed in the home is better than homebound employment, when referring to people who must work at home.

What Should You Talk About with a Disabled Person?

People who have disabilities have families, pets, jobs, hobbies, cultural interests, or sports that they participate in. Get to know about them and their interests the same way you would with anyone else, by making conversation. You may be surprised at the range of interests and activities. Focus on who the person is and not the disability.
However, the subject of the disability is not taboo. If it comes up naturally, talk about it:
  • The meeting is at four o’clock. Do you need me to come by for you, or will you get there on your own?
  • I’ll meet you in the auditorium. There’s an accessible entrance to the left of the main entrance.
However, when talking to someone with a disability, avoid the term handicapped. Use the word disabled and save handicap for golf outings. In addition, say, “the person with the disability,” rather than “the disabled person.”
Say, “the person who has epilepsy,” rather than “the epileptic.” By doing so, you
avoid defining the person as the condition. This practice is not only more considerate
but also more accurate

Ten tips for dealing with disabled persons

Here are 10 practical tips that will help you avoid feeling socially disabled when dealing with the disabled:
  1. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Listen for information about what form the assistance should take.
  2. Speak directly to the disabled person, not through a third party. This tip is particularly important when addressing a hearing-impaired person and someone else is “signing” for him.
  3. Always offer to shake hands.
  4. Identify yourself and others to a visually impaired person. Always let them know when you are leaving the room.
  5. Treat adults like adults. Don’t use a person’s first name until someone asks you to. Don’t pat. Don’t patronize.
  6. Don’t shout.Don’t touch, lean on, or move a wheelchair without permission. Treat the chair as part of the person occupying it.
  7. Don’t distract a working seeing-eye dog.
  8. When conversing with a person with a speech impediment, listen carefully and never pretend to understand. If in doubt, ask questions. Be patient. Don’t interrupt or inject comments during pauses. Don’t try to fill in a word for someone with a stutter. Don’t raise your voice. Louder is not better.
  9. Don’t fret about phrases. Speak as you would normally and don’t worry about using terms such as running around (to someone in a wheelchair) or listen to that or see you later.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

After-Dinner Coffee

After-dinner coffee comes in demitasse cups and saucers with small coffee spoons. The cup, saucer, and spoon are to the right of the guest’s place setting. Coffee is served from the right, as are other beverages. Then pass a tray with cream, sugar, and a sugar substitute.
Alternatively, the host can place a large tray containing the coffee service on the table and then pass filled cups to each person.
If you have serving help, you might want to serve coffee away from the dining table, or you can carry the entire coffee service into the living room to pour. In this case, each guest comes up to the host to receive his coffee.
Cordials are served with coffee. You can also ask guests whether they would care for water.
Preparing and serving a dinner for your guests can be as easy or as difficult as you desire. A good idea is to decide well in advance how much effort you are prepared to expend, make a plan, and stick to it. Whatever you decide, your guests will be appreciative.

Serving the Meal

Form follows function when you are serving the meal. Before you entertain, review the principles yourself and most certainly with any people you have hired to help you.
  • Serve guests from the left. The utensils should be positioned on the platter in a way that’s convenient for the guest to reach them. Keep your arms close to the body to avoid banging people. The idea is to give the diner convenient access to the food.
  • Starting points. The woman on the host’s right is served first. If the man on the hostess’s right is the guest of honor, he is served first. After that, service goes around the table counterclockwise.
  • If a couple are guests of honor, then the wife sitting next to the male host is served first. The service goes counterclockwise and ends with the host.
  • Finished plates are removed from the right side. A good trick is to use your thumb or otherwise contrive to anchor utensils to the plate so they don’t end up in people’s laps. Never scrape or stack plates while removing them.
  • Wine is served and removed from the right side.

Setting the Formal Table

Here’s what you need:
  • Table decorations (centerpiece). When it comes to table decorations, many interesting variations and options are possible. Some examples of these decorations include flowers, fruits and vegetables, collections of figurines, and candles.
  • Butter plate and knife. These go to the upper left of your plate above the forks. The butter knife is placed horizontally across the top of the plate with the blade facing down. Some hosts place a few butter pats on the butter plate just before seating the guests, although it’s also fine to pass a small plate containing butter pats with a butter knife for guests to help themselves. Don’t own butter plates? Don’t worry. Pass around a small dish containing butter pats or balls. You can also use a dish into which you have spooned soft butter or margBulleted Listarine from a plastic tub, or a decorative container that disguises the plastic tub of butter or margarine by fitting around it perfectly. Pass around a butter knife or other small knife with the container so that guests can serve themselves. Guests should take from the container what they want, put it on the side of their plates, and pass the container to the next person.
  • Salad plates. Salad plates range in diameter from about 71⁄2 to 81⁄2 inches. (Salad plates can also be used for dessert, to hold soup cups and saucers, or to serve small food items.) Many people don’t have salad plates and simply put their salads onto dinner plates. Also, a separate salad fork is nice but not necessary. It is no great hardship to eat your salad with your dinner fork. If, however, you are serving a separate salad and cheese course between the entree and dessert, each guest will need a salad fork and a small knife as well. The sequence is this: The salad plates should be in front of all guests at the center of the place setting. Then pass the salad bowl, followed by a cheese tray with a cheese knife. Next pass the crackers. You can choose to follow the crackers with softened butter and a butter knife if guests have a coronary death wish.
  • Napkins. These are best folded and placed in the center of the plate. However, they can also go to the left of the forks or can be folded imaginatively in the glassware. If you are an avid napkin folder, you can pick up some books on the subject and enjoy this opportunity to be creative.
  • Flatware. Set the table so that people eat with utensils from the outside in. As a guest, when in doubt, this practice is always a pretty safe bet. Another idea is to single out the classiest-looking, most composed person at the table and do what that person does. If you are wrong, at least you will be in good company. The dessert fork and spoon can go horizontally at the top of the plate, the bowl of the spoon facing left and the prongs of the fork facing right. You don’t need both, but the fork often makes a useful “pusher” for the dessert. You can also serve dessert implements with the dessert.
  • Glassware. “Drink right, eat left” means that glasses go on the right and bread and butter plates go on the left. In other words, if you hold the fork in your left hand, you’d drink with your right hand.
  • Salt and pepper shakers. Place a pair of salt and pepper shakers at each end of the table. If you have a large supply of them, it’s nice to provide a pair for each guest or a pair between two guests. Sometimes people use saltcellars, which are tiny receptacles for loose salt. These have a tiny spoon either in them or on the table next to them.
  • Candles. Use candles only at an evening meal. Place them in the center of the table or elsewhere, as long as you make the arrangement visually appealing and keep candles out of your guests’ sight lines. Many people also place candy dishes on the table, and it is a nice, sweet touch. Place one at each end. You can use a small dish or bowl or even a stemmed glass. A good idea is to include small, excellent chocolates.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Menu Cards

Menu cards can make a dinner more of an event. They also provide useful information to those concerned about diet. For example, knowing that the entree is poached fish might give a dieter license to finish off the cream soup or look forward to enjoying the dessert with a clear conscience.
Menu cards may be typed, done in calligraphy, or written in black ink. Lean them against a glass, rest them flat on the table to the left of the forks, or lay them centered over the plate above the dessert fork and spoon. Two guests may share one card, or each may have his or her own.
Write the date or the occasion at the top of the card. The courses follow in a vertical list. Wines may or may not be included.

Place Cards

When you are entertaining more than eight guests for dinner, use place cards even if you have a seating chart.
Place cards are either folded tents or single cards meant to lie flat on the table. The tent-style cards have the advantage of standing up on the table so that you can write the name on both sides. In this way, others at the table can see who’s sitting where. The most elegant and costly place cards are made of thick white or off-white stock, with a narrow border of silver, gold, or another color. They measure about 2 by 31⁄2 inches, and you can purchase them from a good stationer or jeweler. Never hesitate to make your own place cards from materials readily available in your home. If they serve the purpose, use them.
Place cards can go in any of the following locations on your table:

➤ On top of a napkin, set in the middle of the plate
➤ On the table at the upper left of the place setting (above the forks)
➤ Leaning against the stem of a water or wine glass
➤ On the table, just above the middle of the plate in the place setting Write the names in black ink.

You may type them for a business meal. The important thing is to make sure the names are readily legible and large enough to see from across the table. If possible, use calligraphy on them or have someone do it for you. If all the guests know each other at an informal dinner, just write the first name of each person on his or her card. If two or more guests have the same first name, use first and last names on their cards. If not all of the guests know each other, use both names on all of the cards.
At a formal dinner party, such as a business dinner or official function, or any meal at which persons of rank will be present, use only surnames on the cards, for example, Mr. Fleischmann. If two Mr. Fleischmanns are at the table, use full names on their cards: Mr. Daniel Fleischmann.
Use the full titles of military officers and persons who hold or have held political or high appointed office, whether or not they still hold that office or title. Place cards for the mayor and governor read The Mayor and The Governor. If they no longer hold those offices, the cards read Mayor Rendell and Governor Ridge. Once an ambassador, always an ambassador. And a military officer is called by his or her retired rank forever.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Buffet Dinner

Many hosts these days prefer the informality of buffet dining, and for good reasons.
Compared to other types of entertaining, buffets
  • Are easier to prepare in advance.
  • Require less help.
  • Can accommodate more people, and stragglers seem less conspicuous.
  • Usually consist of only one course and dessert. Guests enjoy buffets because they can move around easily, meet new people, and are less likely to get stuck with a dud for the duration of the meal.
Buffet food must be easy to eat, especially if it is a standing-only party. Think about accommodating the clumsiest person you know, and you’ll do fine. Make sure you cut the food into small pieces and butter the rolls in advance. Do your best to make your buffet table a beautiful still life decorated with flowers. Place the table so that the guests have an easy time getting to it, serving themselves, and getting away from it. Sometimes two buffet tables are best for a large crowd. Another workable idea is one long table with identical dishes on either end, plates and cutlery in the center.
Don’t display desserts at the same time as the main courses. If people put dessert on the plate with other food, things get mixed up and messy and the food ends up looking as though it has already been eaten. If possible, either clear the table and reset it with dessert, or serve dessert from a separate table. For a seated buffet, serving dessert and coffee, rather than having it buffet style, is a nice touch.
Guests at a buffet must remember that they are in a private home and not at an allyou-can-eat cafeteria.

The Meal—Beginnings and Endings

The host should be prepared to start the dinner table conversation if it doesn’t start by itself. Purists say that the only music appropriate for dinner is the arpeggio of sparkling conversation. I’m not sure I agree. Soft, upbeat background music can be very pleasant and brighten the mood.
Don’t hold up dinner for one or two late guests. Let them join the party whenever they arrive, at whatever point in the meal you happen to be. It is not your responsibility to turn into a short-order cook for someone who has missed a course or two. Decide in advance what your response will be when a guest asks if he or she can help with serving or clearing the table. If you think another person in your kitchen will be in the way, or be more of an annoyance than a help, be prepared to say: “Thanks so much for the offer. I’ve got my own foolproof system, so why don’t you just stay where you are and enjoy the conversation.” (Guests: If you help to clear dishes, clear each dish separately, one in each hand. Never scrape or stack the dishes.)
The host signals the end of the meal by putting his or her napkin on the table, to the left of the plate. At this point the host leads the guests out of the dining room for more conversation. Otherwise, the guests might begin taking their leave.
Although you want to keep the party going for a time after dinner, feel free to tell late-staying partiers that you are tired and must call it a night.
Guests who leave the party early should do so with as little fanfare as possible so that others don’t start following suit, thereby bringing the festivities to a premature or awkward close. Do say good-night to your host, however. You can avoid being persuaded to remain by simply saying thank you and good-night. Send a thank-you note to your host the next day. At the very least, call.

At the Table

Never let seating happen by accident.
Every party of more than eight people should have place cards. (See “Place Cards” later in the chapter for details.)
For groups smaller than eight, the host should have a clear idea of seating and so instruct the guests.
Without assigned seats, guests often feel awkward making their way to the table, afraid to interrupt a conversation or afraid to branch out. Open seating can result in an uncomfortable scene with people trying to decide where to sit, people sitting and then moving, and impromptu field marshals trying to take over to organize the seating according to their own prejudices. Place cards, on the other hand, make people feel special, protected, looked after.
Guests should never, ever, rearrange place cards to suit themselves.