Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why No Answer is an Ineffective Answer

One of the questions that sometimes comes up in my workshops about effective email is "Is it ok to not answer an email when the answer is no?". I am tempted to ignore the question and walk away, leaving them to wonder if I heard or if the answer is no.

But I am not certain that this would work and, following my own advice, I give an explicit response. No, not answering is definitely not a good idea because it causes confusion, misunderstandings, frustration and anger. Clearing just the confusion usually takes more time than answering the message would have. Sometimes the consequences of the frustration and anger are never resolved.

Let's suppose that Anne asks Brian if he is available for a meeting on a certain date.The next day there is no response from Brian. What does this mean? Does it mean "no"? Or does it mean that Brian never received the message? Or does it mean that he replied but the message went to the spam folder? Or does it mean that he is not sure and will reply later?  The problem is that you don't know, so most likely you have to send a reminder or call to ask. Either way if Brian hoped to save some time by not typing a five word email then he ends up spending more time answering followup messages and phone calls.

Giving no answer even has a name, the California No, because of its alleged use in California to say no without giving offense. There are actually many better ways of saying no politely and gently; ignoring messages is not one of these. A polite and empathetic rejection is not only more effective, it is also good for your reputation. When job applications are rejected most unsuccessful candidates still have a positive opinion of companies that write a polite rejection letter and they have a fairly neutral opinion of the companies that respond with a neutral letter, but they always have a very negative impression of companies that simply leave them hanging there, having to work out after a few weeks that there never will be a response.

It is the uncertainty that breeds bad feelings. If you respond to a message with a brief but friendly no then the matter is usually closed and everyone can move on. Send no response and the exchange remains open, annoying the other person every morning that they check their mail and see no response.

Clearly you don't need to send a polite response to every mail. Obvious spams can be ignored without regret, and anything creepy or offensive should be deleted immediately, but for everything else remember that a brief, polite answer is the best way to close the issue and allow everyone to get on with their work.

Related Posts about Email

Curing Toxic Email Syndrome
Three Reasons to Avoid Sending Angry Emails
Why Email Isn't Dying Anytime Soon
Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails
Dear Best Regards: How to Start and End an Email
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email
Three Timesaving Tips for Email

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Andrew Hennigan delivers lectures and workshops about communication including a popular half-day workshop "Effective Email in a Global Business" which introduces people to the essential techniques to make email communication more productive and less stressful. He also does one-to-one coaching and writing about communication. For more details you can email him on, phone 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also read more on his website

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How the Doorway Effect Makes Business Cards Still Relevant

You might think that when practically everyone you meet has a smartphone that electronic exchange of contact information would have superseded business cards. But it hasn't.

Primarily this is because there isn't a convenient standard. You could try to connect on social networking sites, but that doesn't always work because maybe you use LinkedIn and the other person uses Viadeo. There have also been many attempts to make business-card-killer apps, like Bump. Back in 2011 Bump was going to make business cards a thing of the past; today it is no longer available. Many others have tried the same thing but it won't replace paper cards until there is a more or less universal standard, like email.

But there are other reasons for continuing to use paper business cards. First of all there is the ritual aspect. Rituals are actually very important for social interactions and the exchange of business cards is a key ritual in business relationships, marking the point where we effectively invite the other person to communicate with us. Eventually we will develop a suite of digital rituals, but there is no consensus yet in the business world.

Business cards are also extremely important in societies that are more status conscious, so in many countries they are taken much more seriously, sometimes accepted with both hands and studied carefully before being placed, pristine, in a special card case. In these cultures mistreating someone's card would be an insult; not having or offering a card would be an unforgivable mistake.

Yet even in cultures where cards are less important as status markers, even where most people have a smartphone in their pocket, there is still another argument in favor of paper cards: the doorway effect. In a fascinating 2006 study* Gabriel Radvansky and David Copeland discovered that when people walk through a doorway their short term memory is cleared. Normally this has a negative impact on networking events because you meet someone interesting, promise to send things, make mental notes to follow up and then as soon as you have left the room these memories are erased.

This is where the paper card turns out to be more useful than you expect. Perhaps you meet someone and have an interesting conversation but forget it as soon as you leave the room. Later, when you get back to your office or home and empty your pockets the cards remind you about the people you meet, but this time with the crucial difference that you are in a much better position to actually do something. You might even get a second reminder days later when you tidy your desk.

Eventually paper cards will be replaced, though not until there are some global standards in place for swapping data between devices in close proximity. We are not there yet. And when that happens we will also need a digital replacement for the memory jogging effect to overcome the doorway effect.

* Walking through doorways causes forgetting: Situation models and experienced space, Memory & Cognition, July 2006, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp1150-1156.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

In addition to writing this blog Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking and other communication topics. You can reach him by email at, by phone at 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 and through his website

Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Mistakes to Avoid in Your Professional Profile Photos

Scrolling through the People You Might Know section of LinkedIn I can't help noticing that some people have profile pictures that could damage their credibility.

Some are clearly out of focus, underexposed, taken from too far away, badly cropped, squashed out of proportion or with other issues that are easily avoidable today. Back in the day when LinkedIn was first created in 2003 there were no iPhones and not everyone had a digital camera, but today there are not really any excuses. And if someone really doesn't have access to any sort of digital camera they must have a friend or colleague who could take a quick photo and send it to them by email for upload

Your professional profile photo on LinkedIn doesn't need to be perfect or even great, but at least you should avoid the most obvious mistakes starting with these top five problems I see scrolling through the images in People You Might Know:

UNDEREXPOSED PHOTO. How people achieve this in the 2010s I do not know, but a surprising number of LinkedInners manage to underexpose their profile photo, making it so dark that they are almost unrecognizable. If your camera is that bad then try taking the picture using daylight, going outdoors, preferably on a cloudy day. Getting extra light will do more than solve the exposure problem, it will also make the photo sharper, avoiding another problem, the blurry photo.

BLURRY PHOTO. I suspect that most of the blurry photos were taken using a handheld camera or phone when there really isn't enough light, so the camera moves during the long exposure. There are two ways to avoid this. The first is simply to get more light, as explained above, the other is to use a tripod. If you are using a smartphone and you don't have a tripod try resting the camera firmly on a table and use the self timer while you take the picture. But more light is easier.

SQUASHED HEAD PHOTO. How so many people end up with their head either squashed or elongated is another mystery, too, unless they have been resizing an image using a mouse but without locking the aspect ratio between height and width. Minor errors are noticeable only to an expert, but I see many photographs where the proportions are obviously non human. When you upload a photo make sure that it looks ok before you upload it and check again after the upload. If your head is distorted and you don't know why ask a friend with more expertise in photography or image manipulation to help.

PHOTO TOO SMALL. When you upload a very small photo file to LinkedIn it is presented as a tiny photo with a wide border. There is no camera takes a picture that small so if it happens you must be using a photo that has been reduced in size -- possibly a thumbnail generated by another site. Don't use these very small files. Always use the largest file you have for the upload unless it is some extremely large professional format, the kind that could never be sent by email. Very small photos with borders make you look very small and insignificant compared to other people, so this is another problem to avoid.

PHOTO TILTED TOO MUCH. There was a time when on social sites like Myspace, Friendster and Facebook it was a thing to have your profile photo inclined about 45 degrees. Some people still do that on Facebook but it tends to look out of place on LinkedIn, where most pictures are fairly upright. Clearly if you are looking for a creative job people are going to give you more space here, but if your career aspirations involve mainstream business work then I would suggest not tilting quite so much.

There is, of course, another option that is even worse than all of these: not having a photo. When you leave a blank square or use an image of something else you make other users suspicious. Some fake and spammy accounts have no profile photo because they don't have a photo to show. You might have other reasons for hiding your face, but other users have no way to tell the difference between someone who is extremely shy and someone who doesn't really exist. Avoid this option if you possibly can.

Remember that most people in the world will never meet you face to face. In many cases all they know about how you look comes from your profile photo. It's more important than you think. Any one of the five common mistakes above could cost you a job. Don't screw it up.

If you would like more practical advice about making better profile photos read also How to Make Photos for Professional Profiles

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about social media and other communication topics. You can contact him by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81, by email at or through his website You can also hear more about topics like this through his Twitter account

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reverting to Emails: Confusion and the Indian English Language

In workshops about global email many people focus on their issues communicating with colleagues in India. Partly this is related to some deeper cultural differences that lead to misunderstandings. But many problems are also caused by the different ways in which Indian people use English.

There are some "English" words that you will probably only hear in India, like "stepney", their word for a spare wheel. A hundred years ago this term was coined in the UK and was exported to India where it survived. Back home only a few antique vehicle enthusiasts have any idea what it means. There are also many English expressions that are peculiar to India, like "What is your good name?". But in both cases an English speaker from elsewhere would just see an unfamiliar expression and either ask what it means or google it.

Most problems are caused by another kind of difference: where a standard US or UK English word is used but with a different meaning. Recently someone asked why so many people make the "mistake" of using the word "revert" to mean "reply", as in "I will revert to your email next week". This might be considered an error in other countries -- where "revert" means to restore to a previous state -- but in India this is simply the way the word is used. And given the numbers speaking Indian English you could argue that it is hardly fair to describe it as incorrect. Indian English is by now a language or dialect no less than many others.

Revert isn't the only word that causes problems. The word "doubt" also has an unusual meaning in Indian English, where it is often used to mean "question" rather than simply suggesting uncertainty, as in "professor I have a doubt". The word "scope", too, might not mean what you think. In most English speaking countries it means something like the coverage of something, but in India it refers often to job opportunities, as in "what is the scope of chemical engineering?". Even innocuous phrases like "I hope so" are a source of endless confusion because in Indian English it can mean "I think so", rather than "that is what I hope".

Outside of the world of business there are also a few words that can cause serious confusion. One of the most common is the word "propose". In most English speaking countries "Mr A proposed to Ms B" usually means that they proposed a marriage. In Indian English the word "propose" is used much more often and is the word to use when you invite another person for a date or attempt to start a romantic relationship. You can imagine that this has been the source of many misunderstandings.

There isn't, as far as I know, any definitive guide to purely Indian English expressions. Most of the lists available online list many words that are actually British -- flat for apartment, picture for movie and so on -- rather than being purely Indian. This is probably because there are not many people who know Indian, American and British versions well enough to know when a word or expression is used only in India.

Perhaps one day someone will compile a definitive list, but meantime be extra careful with emails coming from India or from Indians living outside of India because sometimes the words might be English but they do not necessarily mean what you think.

This note is based on content from a workshop called Writing Effective Email in a Global Business, a half-day introduction to the essential cultural understanding needed to make email more effective in a multicultural business.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics. You can contact him by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France or 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden, by email at or through his website

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Build a Social Media Presence With Little Effort

In a previous post I explained why businesses can no longer afford to ignore social media, but the next concern is how to use social media with limited resources available. Fortunately it is possible to begin with a very modest effort and gradually increase commitment as you become more confident and efficient.

For most small and medium businesses there is no need to be constantly tweeting and sharing photos like celebrities. Much of the time it is sufficient to be present, to watch what is being said and to participate in the discussions from time to time. Just like a few pencil lines can evoke a picture, a few well-chosen posts can give the impression of a solid social media presence. But concretely how should a small business get started?

Start By Just Being There. In social media just like in many other places simply turning up brings a noticeable return. Begin by creating an account and profile page on several top social sites including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with the addition of Instagram and Pinterest if you have interesting photos to share and YouTube if you have video content. Initially all you need to do is to create profile pages with a photo, a brief description, contact information and a link to your website. This presence is very important for two reasons. First of all it ensures that you will have a more solid presence in Google searches -- social media sites are highly ranked by Google so these profile pages are more important than they might appear. This social presence also blocks other people from creating accounts with your name. Social sites like Twitter allocate user names on a first-come-first-served basis so that if there are two companies called Acme the first to register gets the username. Don't ever let anyone be first with your brands.

Continue by Starting to Listen. Once you have a basic social presence start to monitor activity around your name, your company, your brand, your technology and your field. Again this is easier than it might appear. You don't need to spend all day watching rows of monitors like they do in social media war rooms. In fact you don't need to look at all. The best way is to set up alerts using Google or tools like If This Then That so that you get notified on your phone when there is something interesting. At the very least you will be aware of what people are saying about you and your business.

Begin to Participate in Conversations. When you start to monitor social activity you will see posts that you would like to respond to. Thanks to the alert you will know when there is something interesting to respond to and if you install mobile apps like Twitter on your mobile you will be able to respond immediately. It's also possible to post news through your social channel using tools like Hootsuite that allow you to schedule publication in advance. The advantage of this is that you can schedule all the routine posts at the beginning of the week and then stop thinking about it. There is no need to be constantly posting, monitoring or responding, so that with a very modest effort you can build a satisfactory low-profile presence that will bring many benefits.

Just by following these three steps any small business can begin to benefit from the advantages of using social media but with a minimal effort and no budget. You don't need a PR company and you don't need a full-time community manager, though you do need someone who has learned how to use social media safely, but that's a story for another post. Watch this space!

This post is one of a series that was inspired by a short lecture that I delivered at the Future of Swedish and Danish Life Science conference at the Medicon Village in Lund, 8 April 2015.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like to contact me to talk about lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about social media or other communication topics send me an email at, call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can also read more on my website at

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Five Reasons Why Businesses Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media

Many small and medium-sized businesses underestimate the power of social media. This is especially true in highly-technical business-to-business fields where the customer is another business rather than a consumer. 

Talking to entrepreneurs I hear many reasons for this. Some say that their stakeholders don’t use social media – which is almost certainly not true, they just haven’t noticed. Others say that they have tried using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social sites but nobody responded to their posts. This could be true because it takes time to build up this interaction. 

But even if there is little direct response to social media posts there are some indirect effects that make social media something that a business or organization can no longer ignore. Here are just five of the most important:

SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITY INFLUENCES SEARCH. Whatever you do people are going to Google you to see who you are. To most people you are exactly what Google says you are, so managing your online reputation is critically important. Luckily anyone can build a robust online footprint very easily simply by creating accounts on popular social sites and populating the profiles. To be seen that is all you need to do, though to get the best results it helps to post sometimes, too, and interact with other people.

MEDIA RELY INCREASINGLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Journalists in traditional media channels rely increasingly on content from and communication through social media. Everything happens first on Twitter and it has become an ideal place to look for sources, ideas and stories. It’s also a great way to reach out to experts who might be able to comment on a story. LinkedIn, Facebook, GooglePlus and other social networks are also very useful for discussing ideas for articles, collecting stories and identifying experts. To be absent from social media puts any business at a disadvantage in traditional media. Without an online footprint you have to rely on press releases – notoriously ineffective – or personal contact, which is very effective but costly.

SOCIAL MEDIA “UNDERTALK” DRIVES CONVERSATIONS. The people you talk to in normal face-to-face conversations, in meetings and at events are often influenced by social content and conversations – what I call the “undertalk” -- that they have seen recently. This parallels exactly the way that early adopters of the world-wide web were often ahead of other people a generation ago. What this means is that someone who is also monitoring social conversations concerning your business can effectively see what people might be talking about and the position they might take. Even better, if you participate in this social media undertalk you can help to shape the online conversation which in turn means that you influence the face-to-face conversation later.

RECRUITING IS HAMPERED BY ABSENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. People that you try to recruit are likely to try a Google search and also to look at the social media activity of a company before making their decision. When this activity is absent that can make people concerned that they are making a bad decision. Many people are used to interacting through social media channels so not finding access through this route they already feel uncomfortable. This is not a deal breaker for everyone but when a popular candidate has several offers to consider this might make a difference.

INVESTORS ARE SUSPICIOUS OF SMALL SOCIAL MEDIA FOOTPRINTS. Every investor I have talked to admits that they Google companies before they invest and that they are influenced by a lack of presence. A business can be perfectly solid without a social media presence but the lack of visibility breeds uncertainty and doubt. Given a choice between two equally appealing investments most people would favor the one with a more robust online footprint. This is because good networking tends to boost performance and because good external communication suggests that internal communications and investor relations are also likely to be well managed.

These are just the top five reasons why no business can ignore social media, but any single one of these is sufficient to justify the effort required to create and maintain a basic presence on top social sites. At the beginning it is enough to create profile pages, but to get more benefits you should also be monitoring the conversations related to your business and also participating in some conversations. This probably takes much less work than you expect but that’s a story for another article.

This post was inspired by a short lecture that I delivered at the Future of Swedish and Danish Life Science conference at the Medicon Village in Lund, 8 April 2015.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on social media and other communication topics. You can contact him through email using, by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through his website

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three Practical Tips to Make Your Pitches More Effective

Over the years I have coached many speakers and presenters. Some people simply need to put more work into refining the structure and the logic of their presentation, while others just need more practice. But there are also a few practical tips that can bring a very fast improvement to many pitches and presentations.

USE A CLICKER. Standing next to a laptop and pressing keys or giving instructions to another person are both distracting. They are distracting to the audience and they also distract the speaker from her message. Go buy a clicker -- a presentation remote -- and make sure you always have it with you. They are not expensive and they last years. In fact if you present often you should really have two in case one breaks or -- more likely -- you leave the receiver in a computer somewhere and forget it. With the clicker in your hand you can walk about the stage, you can stand in front of the key people in the audience, you can gesture and you can point. You can also switch to the next image on precisely the beat where the change has most impact. Try it sometime. A pitch with a clicker always beats any other style.

PLACE A MONITOR SCREEN IN FRONT OF YOU. Turning round to look at the screen is distracting and looks unprofessional. You can avoid this completely if you place your laptop or an extra monitor screen between you and the audience. Ideally you know your material so well you need this only to check that the clicker worked and see which slide is on the screen. But if you have forgotten the contents you should be able to read it without ever having to look away from the audience. In most rooms you can place your laptop on a table or chair in front of you, but at events consider asking the organizer to place a monitor on the front of the stage.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PLAN B. What happens if your presentation or demo don't work? Don't waste time trying to make it work. Allow yourself a certain time and if it doesn't work after that time then switch to plan B. What is plan B? This could be a handful of smartphones with demos that you can hand around. It could be a talk-only pitch with no slides. It could be a words and flipchart pitch. Whatever it is make sure that you have prepared. One sure way to impress people is to deal with the unexpected smoothly and professionally. Never let a technical fault stop you making your pitch.

These three practical tips can turn a fairly ordinary pitch into something much more impressive and professional. But remember also to practice until you can do the pitch without hesitation and without going over the agreed time.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about speaking, presenting and influencing skills and other communication topics contact Andrew Hennigan at, through the website or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.