MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Month: October 2011

Shorts, Sweat and Office Environment

Vancouver is a city consumed with fitness and being fit and healthy. Lululemon is our Goddess and Manolo Blahnik has nothing over the $90.00/pair Saucony Peregrine. No, it is not  a wine as I first thought but apparently a highly praised pair of running shoes. You go shopping and want to be cool, put on your yoga pants, lulu lemon jacket and the running shoes… I am always jelous of these gorgeous girls I pass by. They all look as if they are going or coming from the gym yet, they all look and smell heavenly! It must be something wrong with me: when I have to deal with the gym, I tend to sweat and stink… a bit!

I very much admire and envy people who go for a run or use the gym at lunch time. They must have perfected the art of showering in a very short time! It will sound like an excuse but for my 30 minutes of running, jogging, exercising I will need an additional 1 hour to have a shower, style my hair, apply make up and make myself presentable  and appropriate in an office, up to my standards. I am a bit of a prude, it is true, but in the office I prefer to keep things professional.

Walking around downtown at lunchtime I always wonder how many of these runners have a shower before resuming their work. Unfortunately I have experienced the contrary and it is quite disturbing. I guess it is a matter of personal preference but in the office I  don’t want to see anybody’s toothpicky legs coming out of a pair of too large shorts, I don’t want to have to touch a door knob, a desk, a pen or anything else after a sweaty hand and surely I really don’t want to smell your body odour after a 20 minutes run. It makes me sick. I think it is rude, it shows really poor manners and low class. Please keep your athletic self in the gym, or on the track field and bring your professional one at work.

Running is a fountain of youth and anybody who is healthy enough, no matter of age should take up running.It keeps the pounds off and rejuvenates the whole body.  Just don’t bring it in the office, that is all I ask!

What happened to respect? It is sad to see that we are loosing not only the common sense but self respect as well. Would you find it normal to walk around the office sweaty and wearing jogging shorts?

 

Casual Friday – 3 Rules

How do you dress for a casual Friday in your workplace? I have been thinking about this for a while now and the only clear idea is there are no clear rules. Every company seems to have their own understanding of casual Fridays. The truth is though that, at least in Canada, and Vancouver specifically, the Fridays are not that much different than the rest of the week.

I am a believer in formal(ish) attire. It is a sign of respect and class. I really don’t care if your clothes come from the most expensive boutique in town. If they look frumpy on you or don’t cover all the essential parts of your body, please don’t wear them at work. Take Catherine Middleton’s example: on a moderate budget (for her rank and income), she manages to be classy, function appropriate and fashionable.

 


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Speech or Toast?

Earlier in the week I read a blog about a Maid of Honour’s duties and of course, one of these would be giving a speech. All through the article, the author interchanged “speech” with “toast” without even blinking. It reminded me of several functions and events where I had the same issue: people don’t realize that these words have different meanings and different roles during an event.

What does the dictionary say? Speech: a formal address or discourse delivered to an audience. Toast can be used as follows: “propose a toast”: ask a group of people at a social occasion to drink to the health and happiness of a specified person or “drink to”: celebrate or wish for the good fortune of someone or something by raising one’s glass and drinking a small amount….

A bit cumbersome, right? Not really. The main difference between the 2 words is that the speech is usually a longer, more elaborate discourse that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes or more while the toast is a short phrase at the end of the speech, raising the glass and taking a sip. A toast should look like this:

 

And the speech:

 

Well, don’t beat yourselves too hard if you didn’t know the difference! President Obama learned it the hard way this year when visiting with the Queen. As the Protocol dictates, President Obama proposed a toast to honour the Queen. Everybody was standing, he toasted the Queen, which prompted the orchestra to start playing God Save the Queen, but instead of taking the hint and stopping right there, Mr Obama thought the Oscar Ceremony followed him to Britain and continued to talk… over the National Anthem… Thankfully the Queen graciously overlooked the incident.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNRXGRFJdDY

 

 

Business Card Reader

We all have piles and piles of business cards all over the office. Personally, I hate seeing so much paper wasted away. Let’s face it: how many of you really take the time to organize the business cards? My husband is the worst of all: every day he comes back home with a pocket full of them and he drops them nonchalantly on the night stand or dresser.

Looking for a way to solve this problem I found a few great applications for the iPhone users. They are all easy to use and let me assure you that it takes a couple of minutes off your time but saves hours. You simply scan the business card, and they will import the card information directly to your address book.

There are a few applications of this kind in the App Store with prices raging from $0.00 to $6.50 or so. As they work on the same idea, I guess it is a matter of preference which one to choose. Word of advice: as they are all developed in the States, some of them have troubles with the Canadian addresses so before downloading one, make sure they can import the Canadian – or other than American address properly!

iPhone Screenshots

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Smart Business Cards

I found these funny but smart, bold and so very different business cards, courtesy of  The Fire Wire blog and thought I’d share:

For more ideas, visit The Fire Wire blog: http://larryfire.wordpress.com/2008/08/24/clever-business-cards/?blogsub=confirming#subscribe-blog

Business Card Etiquette

Have you noticed that every person that presents his/her business card has their own way of doing so? And once you have the card, do you put it in the wallet immediately, do you fidget a bit with it and then slip it into the pocket? Has it ever happened you left it behind, on the meeting table? Well, let me guide you through the proper way:

When is it appropriate to present your card? If you are attending a meeting, don’t start throwing out your card right at the beginning, between trying to find a seat and getting a glass of water. Wait until everybody is seated and the introductions have been made but don’t wait too long into the meeting either. Once the presentation/meeting started, it will switch the focus from the product or issue to be addressed to you… in a negative way. If you have a portfolio, or any presentation documents for attendees, it is a good idea to stick your card on the first page.

If you are attending a networking event or any other social gathering, walking with the stack of cards in hand and giving them away to everybody is not quite the best idea. Usually, wait a few minutes, create a rapport, a connection of any kind with the other person before reaching for a card. You want to create that “special” effect on your interlocutor, so as he/she will remember you and associate you with good feelings. Remember, before being business men or business women we all are human beings acting on feelings and senses.

Then, when you present the card, no matter how you hold it (with 2 hands, by one corner, etc..) make sure you hand it with the printed face up and ready to be read by the other person.  If you are at the receiving end, take a few seconds to read the name and title on the card. Making sure you remember the name with the proper spelling is a very important detail in any networking or business deal attempt.

After taking the time to look over it, you are free to put it in the pocket, in the binder or wallet without offending anybody. I usually keep them in front of me during the meetings to make sure I have the names right. It helps breaking the ice, it helps connecting and as we are all vain human beings, if you remember my name, I will be more open to whatever service you present.

Needless to say that before taking that little piece of paper out of your pocket to hand it out, make sure that all the details are correct: names, titles, phone numbers and address including the postal code. The devil is in the details! A quality business card will give the feeling of power and money while a bold design will make a lasting impression.

When you work in Sales, most of your time is spent off site, visiting clients or prospects. Take advantage of these visits and use the power of your business card again. Instead of just stating your name to the receptionist or secretary, charm them with a nice compliment and present them with your business card. First, you have all heard  the saying ” Before reaching God, you need to charm all the angels!” You never know who is sitting in that chair and how much decision power could potentially have on your deal or service being considered. Secondly, it is a very nice way of making sure that your name and the company you represent will be announced correctly. It is a great start of a meeting, accommodating everybody and making sure you are associated with positive feelings within the targeted company.

 

Naked Manners

Back in my early 20’s I used to spend every summer at the Black Sea. I loved the sun, the fun and the somehow care-free way of living. As anywhere else, there was the family sun-bathing areas where the bikinis were mandatory, and then the less formal areas, where naked was the norm. These were the places where you could always find all the black market goods – an industry that during the communism was flourishing. This is where we would always buy the Marlborough, Kent or Viceroy cigarettes, the contraceptive pills, different brands of luxurious soaps and shampoos, and other import goods prohibited during the communist years. You can easily imagine that the naked beaches were quite crowded with people from all walks of life, looking for a bargain.

One summer, I was enjoying a beautiful vacation with my friend and her brother and sister in law. He was a doctor at one of the best hospitals in the area while his wife was a high school teacher. One day we decide to go shopping for some cigarettes. There was a particular naked beach where we could get Salem, a menthol light brand of cigarettes, meant for ladies. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I come from a very formal culture. We take pride in our manners, and make a point in showing them off. Smoking the white slim cigarettes as opposed to the stinky local brand was another way of showing our class.

You can only imagine the scene that followed shortly after getting to the place. First, as you can easily guess we were all naked, walking around the beach when my friend’s brother hears somebody calling out his name: Dr B! Surprise! And what a surprise this was! He ran into one of his former patients. Obviously, as the formal code of manners dictated, our (naked) Dr B introduced his (naked) wife to his former (naked) patient who had to respectfully bend and kiss her hand. Fortunately enough, my friend and I were a few steps behind so we watched from the distance the awkwardness of the meeting and had enough time to wipe our smiles from our faces before joining them again.

I guess, what I am trying to get out of this story is that what seems to be perfectly normal and appropriate in one instance, will be awkward and embarrassing in a different one. Learning and adapting constantly to the changes in our lives should always include our manners and the approach to a new culture, a new environment and new people.

But what do you do when you run into a client, or an acquaintance at Wreck Beach for example? Do you look the other way? Do you  nod and move on? Do you stop, shake hands and have a quick conversation? Do you introduce your naked partner?

Whatever you decide, this is what you will not do:

  • Check the other one out! Yes, I know, you are both naked, but this is not an invitation to check the other person; for men, the same rules as in the washroom apply when meeting another man.
  • Introduce your family or friends; why subject them  to some embarrassing moments? It is very easy to feel comfortable when you are among strangers, people that you do not know; as soon as we start knowing names and details about each other things change.
  • I would not recommend a hand shake either; but this is my personal preference. Not to mention hugging or kissing a lady’s hand (europeans!)

These days I am not spending any time in places like these but what would I do? I would simply wear my very dark sun glasses and pretend I haven’t seen you. Nothing personal but some things are better to be ignored than dealt with and this would make it in the top of my list!

 

 

Culture and Business Etiquette

There are manners and there is the Business Etiquette concept. You might think they are the same and what our parents taught us should serve us well in any situation. The general misconception is that knowing what fork to use and how to keep our elbows at the dinner table should be enough to prevent anybody from being embarrassed or from making a fool of themselves during a business dinner. The truth is that there is more to it than simply knowing how to use the cutlery.

Let’s think for a moment: one of the most important notions to master is networking. It is never too early to start networking; in fact, the earlier you start, the better for you. Knowing the right person weighs more than the best written and presented resume or a lifetime of achievements. Networking is basically making and keeping alliances. And being friendly, courteous, respectful, diplomatic and knowing how to manage conflict in a positive way is only the beginning of how to build them. But there is a lot to learn and every time we meet another human being, there is a 50/50 chance to make a gaffe, to step on a toe or simply to blow it. The tragedy is that real life does not provide us with too many second chances to reset and start all over again. Therefore, the more you know and practice etiquette, the better equipped you are to manage that situation in your advantage.

Cultural differences are usually at the base of most misunderstandings or miscommunications. I am under a lot of stress every time I need to host or participate to any social gathering (other than with my close friends). I come from a culture that takes its time to build relationships, and until that time when we feel comfortable enough around another person, we are very formal. We take as much time as we need to know the other person and we can not be rushed into liking somebody or pretending to. Moving to Canada, I think I have missed a million of opportunities to network by not knowing how to come out of my shell and being too stuck on titles and formality. I am still a work in progress, as knowing what to do does not necessarily translates into practising in real time.

And this is only one small example where one’s culture will definitely act against that person in a Canadian business environment. My advice for everybody: if you want  to advance, on top of your competent self, master business etiquette and the language. Having an accent will always bring an exotic charm to your persona, but there are no excuses for not speaking a grammatically correct English. As Sir Francis Bacon once said: “knowledge is power”. Before anything, take some time to study the customs, culture, and language of the place where you intend to do business, regardless if you are a fluent English speaker or economically independent.

 

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