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    Etiquette at Work

    Be careful what you say, how you say it

    We’ve already looked at how actions and appearance can affect your relationships. Now we’ll look at the words you use and how you use them.

    I learned my lesson about how words can have a negative effect on a relationship when I gave a seminar in Dallas several years ago. I responded to a question a participant asked by saying, “Oh my god. What a great question. Thank you.”

    At the end of each seminar, I ask participants to fill out an evaluation. I was stunned to see one evaluation which had a message scrawled across it in 3-inch high letters: “How dare you take the Lord’s name in vain!” I had meant no disrespect. I have used that phrase and heard it used by others numerous times. But all that didn’t matter. What mattered was that when I ­uttered the phrase, my relationship with that participant was damaged.


    In business, words matter, and the opinion of the other person about the words we use matters.

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    Not only do the words you use matter, the quality of your voice and how you say the words matter as well. Consider how the following characteristics relate to you as you do your self-evaluation:

    Tone of voice. Even if your message is meant to be helpful, a negative tone may be hurtful.

    Speed. If you speak too fast, people will have a tough time understanding you. Slow down, especially on the telephone where the other person doesn’t have visual clues to help interpret your message.

    Inflection. Try talking in a dull, monotonous tone for even a couple of minutes. Stressing certain words can bring emphasis to your message and engage your listeners.


    Laughter. A pleasant laugh is great; but a shrill, nasal cackle à la Fran Drescher in “The Nanny” is grating and unpleasant.

    Pronunciation. Get the pronunciation of words correct. Here are five commonly mispronounced words:

    Athlete. It’s ath-lete, not ath-a-lete.

    Candidate: It’s can-di-date, not can-i-date.

    Specific. It’s spe-cif-ic, not pa-cif-ic


    Espresso. It’s es-pres-o, not ex-pres-o

    Often. It’s of-en, not of-ten.

    For more often mispronounced words, visit or

    And thank you to all those readers who wrote in to explain the difference between a tic and a tick.

    E-mail questions about business etiquette to