A big part of doing business well is making sure that you are polite when you do. That is obvious. But it’s more than about being polite, it is about having the best interaction you can have, right?
You want the person to call you back, to choose you, your company or your project.
There is an expression: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It’s an important one. Because whether you are a writer, hi tech innovator, filmmaker or consultant, you need every interaction to go well and to plant seeds for future meetings.
Don’t think of business etiquette – or for the Hebrew curious: כללי התנהגות עסקי
Think simply of being as effective in every transaction as you can possibly be. You have an end goal. How does it feel when someone wants something from you? Are you more likely to grant them a favor or read their script or look at their website if they are difficult to connect with, inconsiderate or too aggressive? No.
All favors are personal, at the end of the day, because we are people. And if you are setting up a meeting, on a certain level, you are asking a favor.
Here are a few simple and basic tips:
When Setting Up a Meeting
Know that we are all very busy. Offer two or three choices of times and dates. Make the meeting place convenient for the other person.
During the Meeting
Buy your listener coffee. Thank them for their time. Make time for small talk. Keep your business talk focused. Don’t go over time. Wrap up your meeting with clear goals and expectations.
Wait 2 to 3 hours after the meeting and send an email follow up, thanking the person for the meeting and saying you look forward to the next step.
If you don’t hear back in 4 or 5 business days, email again and just ask how they are and if there’s anything you can do to help move the project forward.
If you STILL don’t hear back:
In the US and EU: don’t email again for another 3 to 4 weeks. Assume you are being ignored but not totally shut down.
In Israel: email again in another week. And the one after that. And then let it lie for awhile.
You don’t want to be a nuisance. But neither do you want an opportunity to slip through your fingers.
I have written before about curating your Facebook feed, meaning designing your feed such that it has the maximum entertainment and positive influence on your personal and professional life. You can read that article here.
Today, let’s talk about managing how you appear to others looking at your page. What kind of feed are they getting from YOU?
Avoid the Unfriend Zone!
The fact is, that most of us are on Facebook. You might have a personal page and a business page. Or, in some cases, the two might blend, somewhat. The kind of Facebooker I am speaking about today, is the page that is a blend. That’s what I do too.
Say you are a consultant or you work at a company that is fluid, meaning you network and keep yourself mobile and available for other opportunities within your field. You don’t need a Facebook page to push a BUSINESS per se – you ARE the business. Here’s four tips and explanations of them:
Tips for Targeting Your Facebook Feed
- Create categories for “close friends” and “acquaintances”. Create categories that are as specific as you want. (go to your page, click on friends, next to each friend a category will appear. click on the category, scroll to the bottom and click on “new list”.)
- Every time you post, choose the category or categories that can see the post. Every. Time.
- NEVER post rants about sensitive, polarizing subjects.
- Refrain from too many “selfies”, by all means. Even if they are business related. It doesn’t reflect well unless you are a teenager. That doesn’t mean NONE, just watch the ratio there.
Categories and Posting
Make sure you categorize your FB friends minimally into “close friends” or “acquaintances”. If you take the time – and I know it’s really a bitch after the fact – you can create even more categories so that your business peers are in a category of their own. So that, in other words, you don’t post pictures of your weekend family picnic to your business peers, and that you don’t post (necessarily) what a great business conference you went to to your close friends.
This means you need to slow down when you post and check the box for which group of people you are posting and subsequently will see what you are posting.
Be Careful What You Post
It goes without saying that posting pictures of you drunk at a bar is not a great idea, or that posting rants about politics, religious or other sensitive topics is a very good idea either. Stuff on the internet lives for a VERY long time.
Clean Up Your Facebook Categories and Think Through Your Usage and Why
If you are a business unto yourself – and more and more of us are these days – make sure your Facebook feed is one that you have curated carefully.
Personally, I have three pages – my personal page, which by default has a lot of business peers on it because I didn’t take the time, way back, to set up another page – my business page, Stories Without Borders, which is for writers, filmmakers, start up, high tech and other creative types in business and a page for the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon, which as you can imagine is quite focused.
I am in the process of migrating business and professional contacts that are on my personal page toward my other pages. I am newly getting into the habit of not accepting every friend request on my personal page – which is how I wound up with over 2,000 FB “friends” the vast majority of which I do not know at all.
Because I was not careful to curate my pages in the past, it is taking some time to clean that up so that only select people see what I want the to see. Sure, like you, I post hilarious pictures of my cats doing stupid things. I’m human. And I post a lot of articles from The Atlantic about social issues and politics. That interests me. But sometimes I want to post something about where I live – Israel – that will a) only interest Israelis and b) not subject me to a storm of political comments about Israel. I just want to ask a question or point something out that is specific to this place.
If you have a lot of Facebook friends, I know this can seem daunting but take an afternoon, or a couple of them, sporadically, and look at your list of friends. Unfriend those you truly never interact with. Categorize the others. Is this truly a FRIEND, or is this a nice person you met at a business Meet Up? Ask yourself, do you want this person to see the hilarious picture of your cats? Do you want the to see your selfie while you were on a roller coaster or at the beach? Maybe you do. But make that a conscious choice.
You may not want to maintain more than one page in which case you then must be extra diligent about creating and maintaining categories. And before you hit “post” make SURE you are posting to the right group. Look, if you post a picture of yourself at a family barbecue to a group of friends that are business friends, it’s not the end of the world. You ARE a human and more and more our personal and business lives do blend. But online you are curating an image and a reputation. Too many selflies, even in a business context, too many “life is great! be positive!” pictures with horses on a beach – and you will be taken far less seriously. Trust me on this. Create a category of friends who also love motivational pictures of waterfalls with nice quotes. That way you do not annoy those who are not into these things and are not written off completely.
It’s the same as anything else in life. You don’t invite a particular friend to go to the opera with you. No, that’s for your other friend, Dani. You don’t talk about UFOs with most people you work with – but you might with Shira, because you have lunch a lot and have become close. Same concept here.
For Israelis in business, Americans can be very confusing. We seem to indicate one thing with our words and another with our followup.
This confusion is tripled when the communication is written. Because now the body language and intonations are missing altogether, which is very problematic when you are already dealing with cultural differences.
For example, if an American says “I know you are busy”, it really translates to – why haven’t you gotten back to me?
Would you have guessed that? Maybe or maybe not.
Look, Americans value being very polite. We often couch what we are saying in order to get the best result. Rather than actually SAYING “you are busy, you never get back to me!” we just politely acknowledge that yes you are busy. But we mean something else. We want to hear back from you.
Here is a list that is meant to be humorous but that is actually very accurate, of things Americans might say in email correspondence – and what they really mean.
If you’ve traveled at all, even a little, you know that people are different in different parts of the world. As an American living abroad, I have never felt more keenly aware of my Americanness.
Here’s the thing about Americans: we really, really, really like and enjoy being friendly and polite and casual. We like it. It’s important to us. We like to exchange pleasantries and make small talk. We take our time to get to the point. We think as we talk, we are sizing you up even during the small talk. We like to think on our feet as the situation evolves.
Here’s the thing about Israelis: we really, really, really like to get to the point and quickly. We don’t have a lot of time or patience to waste time. We can be friendly and make small talk after the business is done. To an Israeli, small talk about family, etc., means an actual connection is already there. Because some kind of a transaction happened first. Now we can be friends. But business first.
There is a saying about Israelis – they will run you over with their car, then back up and take you to the hospital. There is another saying about Israelis – once an Israeli is your friend? You have a friend for LIFE.
Americans, just like our sprawling landscape, are a bit more nomadic socially. Connections made can and do fade over time. Friends can sometimes come and go.
Both approaches can be explained by history, geography, social norms, etc. but the bottom line is that neither approach is right or wrong – but they can be misconstrued.
In Israel, I often hear Israelis say that they think Americans are “fake” or “hypocritical”. And I often hear Americans say that Israelis are “rude” or “pushy”.
Americans value casual friendliness and Israelis value directness. Even a moment to think about the vast geography and easier, less threatened life in America shows one how Americans come by their casual manner. A quick look at the geography, history and political issues in Israel shows one how getting things done quickly and efficiently FIRST serves Israelis better. You don’t have to be Margaret Meade to see how each culture is different.
But when you put an American and an Israeli together – especially in business – sparks can fly. And yet of course there are strong business connections between the US and Israel and both parties admire one another greatly.
If you are an Israeli and you are in a business situation with an American, you have to remember to slow down and let the small talk happen. We Americans really like those pleasantries. It’s what we do. We will also be very friendly and warm about your idea – even if we aren’t going to act on it. Because we really value being friendly and warm no matter what.
If you are an American in a business meeting with an Israeli, you may find yourself feeling a bit like the picture below – whoa – blown away. Because Israelis really value efficiency and directness. Which can make an American feel a bit uncomfortable.
So how do you read each other in these situations? Both Americans and Israelis would do well to take one step toward one another and know ahead of time the different values. Israelis see friendly small talk as a genuine, if not intimate expression of real friendship. Americans see this as standard behavior but not an indication of any kind of commitment.
As an American-Israeli, I can see how American friendliness might be construed as insincerity – but it’s not. It’s something we like to do and we are being authentic. And I can see how Israeli directness can be seen as pushy and rude – but it’s not, it’s efficient and focused. Cultural relativism, friends, it’s important.
So – if you are in an Israeli in a business meeting with an American, trying very hard to read the American through the friendliness – how do you know whether they are in fact serious about you and your business?
You know they are serious when the friendliness falls away a little bit and becomes more direct, and when they actually take an action step right in the moment. When they set up another meeting, make a phone call or otherwise take and share information. The handshake and back clapping that comes with many of these meetings is no indication of seriousness but rather of business brotherliness.
Beyond that – how do you really know whether an excited, American, friendly, yes yes yes! is going to actually result in business? You don’t. Not until you on the receiving end of a solid action step in very short order – the next couple of days.
Don’t mistake, resent or misconstrue American friendliness. Take it at face value, enjoy it, be friendly back! But do not confuse this with serious business interest until or unless you have an actual move that backs that up.
When you leave the meeting with the American business person, go out with a big smile and the confidence you came in with and also let them know that you have several other meetings you are taking – because you do – and that you are continuing on with those meetings as scheduled. If this particular business person is seriously interested, he or she will jump to get to your first. It’s called applying a little bit of pressure – a standard business move. But the thing is, you ARE being perfectly sincere. You do have other meetings lined up.
So let’s recap:
Be your proud Israeli self, the person you are taking a meeting with knows you are Israeli, just slow down a bit and allow for more small talk than you normally would in Israel. Relax. This is one of many meetings. Believe me, what you have to offer is very valuable and Americans are aware of and interested in your Israeli efficiency and candor.
Reading social signals like smiling, small talk and a casual dress and manner is easy: take it only at face value. Americans like to be friendly. It’s the way we are. In a way, and this sounds counter-intuitive – it’s not personal. (And ditto for you American business people; the Israeli directness – it’s not personal.)
None of this meeting meant anything at all unless you actually receive a phone call, email or some kind of follow up with concrete action steps outlined. Don’t be offended, it’s just business. A small bite on the fishing line doesn’t mean anything until you reel the fish in. Each meeting is a chance for you to sharpen your American social skills. It’s like falling in love – you’ll know it when it’s the real thing.