Monday, January 27, 2014

A Point of Protocol: It may be your birthday!!...or not!

A Point of Protocol: It may be your birthday!!...or not!: So, maybe your beginning story wasn't so great…or maybe it was. You were blasted into a cold world of happy, romantic, baby loving bl...

It may be your birthday!!...or not!

So, maybe your beginning story wasn't so great…or maybe it was. You were blasted into a cold world of happy, romantic, baby loving bliss and you grew up the cherished angel of so many hopes and dreams and then you became, well, you. Or, you were tricked into coming into a cold dark reality where you not only had to eek out an existence, but somehow manage to make sense of it all while holding onto your sanity until you became, well, you. Whichever the case, with the new year starting all over, I think it’s time we celebrate! It’s your birthday today or if not today, then another day like it is coming soon and one of them has to be yours! You were meant to be celebrated, you were meant to be special, you were meant to be, well, you! Perhaps, depending on the clarity of your glass, half empty or full, you may want to do something different fun, even exciting or daring. Maybe, even to learn something new because today is the first day you will ever be this young again!
Here are some protocol tips to keep you on the receiving end of well wishers and family. Remember, birthdays only count if you continue to have them, so be safe!

1. Don’t assume that everyone already knows! If you want to be celebrated, simple state “Today is my birthday and I want to….” This sentiment is best practiced on friends and family who have a vested interest in helping you to make this a great day. Advance notice is also nice in case said friends or family wants to give you a gift or may be otherwise occupied at the last minute.

2. If you want to do something wild or adventurous, consider who you ask. Don’t attempt to coerce others into your fantasy without permission. I once had a friend invite me to explore a famous cavern for her birthday celebration. Imagine my horror when we drove four hours to embark upon a six-hour spelunking trip complete with interior cave exploration crawling on hands, knees and stomach in tan shorts, a white tee-shirt and with only a headlight in total darkness!  A word to the wise, this is not the way to keep future friends!!

3. Be prepared to pay if you invite your guest to a restaurant. I know it sounds crazy but the old rule still applies, unless offered, if you ask, you pay. Do you ever recall emptying your piggy bank just to go to someone’s birthday party?? Remember, other than a gift as a token of celebration, it’s your party and they can pay if they want to… so, pick your guest and your celebration location wisely.  On the other hand, if someone offers to pay, don’t argue, reach for the check or cause embarrassment, simply say “Thank You” and smile!

4. Don’t assume special privileges from perfect strangers. It was once taken for granted that you would receive a small token just for existing if you proudly announced your special day. The kids would allow you to move to the head of the cafeteria line, you got to sit in the front seat with the parents, your boss let you leave a tad early and even restaurants gave freebies! But today, even if you are able to “have your cake and then eat it too” you should not expect the same level of wonderment and awe unless you go to a restaurant that sings and/or you get to wear the special hat!

4. Speaking of Cake, if there are candles, blow gently! Try to avoid at all cost using flying spittle to help extinguish the flames. Unless you are in a restaurant or a catered affair, it is also good protocol to cut the cake and serve your guests first, then yourself. Birthdays do not exclude you from being a great host/hostess! However, if someone offers to cut and serve the cake, then you as the guest of honor should be served first!

5. Don’t make friends and family feel obligated to gift you especially if you have not been an ardent gift giver yourself. By the same token, if you have given and you do not receive, demonstrate maturity and remain quiet. (Note: this does not pertain to married people. Be prepared for emotions and lots of them!) Next year, drop hints before your big day and plan early to reciprocate in other celebrations. When given a gift, American tradition is to open it, comment and thank the giver, and yes, protocol dictates that you should still send a thank you message later. By the way, gift cards to gas/convenience stores count and make great last minute gifts!

6. Don’t lie. If your day has passed, then accept that today is about someone else! Don’t milk the celebration by declaring “well, my birthday was last…!” You will appear petty and selfish and next year, you may be dubbed ungrateful by more than just your family. If asked, politely state that your birthday has recently passed and speak about the adventure of it all.

7. If you didn't get the celebration you had hoped for, chin up! One thing that is certain –if you live long enough, you’ll have another chance!

I am Pamela Coopwood and I am “Speaking of Protocol”

Pamela Coopwood is a Certified Trainer of professional Protocol and Etiquette. Her company, Speaking of Protocol, LLC, a subsidiary of The Planned Event, LLC, offers seminars, classes and corporate training's to enhance the soft skills necessary to be successful in today’s business arena.  www.theplannedevent.com/703-615-9525


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Friday, January 10, 2014

Your Future Self

 “The future is always ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.”
Hara Estroff Marano Psychology Today

I had almost forgotten what I pledged to do this time last year, to make this year a better year than the year before, and the year before, and the year before! Each year, I look myself in the mirror and make a promise about how I will change first, my eating habits, then improve on my professional appearance, and rev up my physical regime. I vow to feed my intellectual self with profound reading and snazzier social choices and began a new path to spiritual enlightenment while doing more of my meager part to save a suffering humanity!  Every year, I put on things that will never be checked off! I feel guilty for about the first six weeks as I pass the list on my bathroom mirror, flip past it in my planner or tuck it behind the grocery list on the refrigerator. Then, just about the time the weight loss advertisements began to wane, and I have adjusted to the monthly gym deductible, or have joined a local lecture series by roll, but not attendance, and have amassed an impressive amount of neatly stacked articles and/or books written by the latest divine guru…it happens. Life returns to normal and my routine once more becomes an endless cycle of rituals deemed necessary to endure today and get to tomorrow. That list I spent hours agonizing over on New Year’s Day is lost, forgotten and/or buried in a myriad of daily priorities, where it shall remain until I randomly stumble across it while sorting through my junk mail or am in need of a quick scratch paper while on the telephone, or (gasp!!) it is once again New Year’s Eve!
So, I ask myself, “Self, why do you continuously make these promises to you and then allow everything else to become more important than taking care of you?” Rarely does self answer right back or give a straight answer because to do so would mean admitting that the entire thing was a charade that I thought was necessary and it clearly is not…at least, not right now!  I am a victim of what David McRaney, author of  “You Are Now Less Dumb”, terms “present bias” which is being unable to grasp the reality that what you want will change over time, and what you want now isn’t the same thing you will want later. This bias also prevents the business professional from admitting that where they are now, is not going to take them to where they want to be later. Something always has to change and change always involves a conscious decision to become more valuable to ourselves and those around us.
Which brings me the long way around, to my first 2014 point of protocol.
My friend has a quote on her white board that simply states “My future self cannot be trusted to accomplish today’s task”.  This is true. We cannot wait until we are in a better place in order to get to a better place! Another quote stated that “when opportunity knocks, it is too late to get ready!” Professional Presence is like that. If you wait until you need it or don’t understand that it is assumed, you may never realize you don’t have it or even be aware when it’s expected! If you don’t know how to shake hands or make a proper introduction, you won’t know that you are lacking in this skill until you are in the situation. If you don’t know how to navigate a Business dining situation, you will miss important elements of the conversation focusing attention on trivial external stimuli (which glass is mine?!), rather than seizing an opportunity to make a great impression by demonstrating impeccable manners and a honed intellect! Good manners and business savvy are soft skills that are not cited, but are assumed of every job applicant, regardless of physical abilities, social acumen or education level.  Because we never know what or where life will take us, or when we will have an opportunity to make a great first impression, the professional business person who wants to actually be, and not just appear polished, ensures that professional protocol training is part of their yearly check-up. The CEO or company executive that wants to ensure their workforce always represents their highest standards in the best style, makes protocol and professional savvy awareness part of the Human Resources training process through refresher courses, new employee orientation or workshops that target specific aspects of professionalism. 
Protocol is more than just knowing the right thing, it is doing it. The person who understands the power of professional presence exudes a level of confidence which elicits trust and trust always affects the bottom line.
So, at this time of year when we are all so noticeably focused inwardly and assessing our need to make self improvements or change, remember that protocol is the one thing that requires us to focus outwardly.  It summarily requires us to make an conscious investment of attention to other people and be present in the moment. Whether in business or socially, professional presence requires us to always do one thing, and that well; to interact with charisma and respect, regardless of our personal resolutions.
Protocol ~ the silent language of the accomplished professional.
I am Pamela Coopwood, and I am Speaking of Protocol.