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Lessons From Hyatt: Simple Ways to Damage Your Brand

Posted by Nara Venditti on September 19, 2009

Lessons From Hyatt: Simple Ways to Damage Your Brand

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Sexual Harassment or Not?

Posted by Nara Venditti on September 10, 2009

When I teach my course on American business etiquette to multicultural audiences I get a lot of questions on appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the American workplace.  Because norms vary across cultures, behavioral norms across cultures can be inappropriate, at times shocking or even legally unacceptable and subject to a law suit.

Despite the growing focus on cultural understanding during the last few decades, managing cultural differences of the international professionals and their families is often on the bottom of the priorities.  The human resources professionals need to keep in mind that although many cultures have same values and concepts (e.g. punctuality, business etiquette, romantic love, and revenge) the real difference is in how they are interpreted.  For instance, there is no doubt that romantic love in France will be different from romantic love in Iceland or Egypt. So, we need to keep in mind that socially acceptable behavior varies across cultures. What holds right in one society will not be so in the other.

Consider this passage by Laura Klos-Sokol, cited in R. Nolan’s excellent book “Communicating and adapting across cultures”: “Imagine a professional meeting beginning like this: a woman enters an office and introduces herself, extending her hand to shake only to have him kiss it. Next, he helps her off with her coat and takes her by the arm to usher her over to a chair three feet away.  This is the Polish way: she could sue for it in the United States”. 

Many times I have encountered similar behavior in my native Armenia and Russia. This  was part of good manners and was considered  “classy” behavior.  In some cultures, males are expected to be dominant and gallant.  On the other hand, when I first experienced the American “bear hug”[1] in Armenia with a man from the US, it made me very uncomfortable and I was relieved that my fellow countrymen were not there to witness such a “frivolous” gesture.

Professionals moving  to the United States must take into consideration the unspoken rules of gender interaction accepted in this country.  Not knowing the rules may become traumatic and even dangerous from a legal perspective – the employer may be sued for sexual harassment.   On the other hand, a female student of mine from Northern Brazil told me once how she missed that whistle of admiration (or tease, I thought) the men would produce when she would pass by.     It may be normal in some Northern Brazilian workplaces to whistle when an attractive woman will pass by. Whistle – is not something you would expect a man to do in American streets or workplace, even if you are a Sophia Loren or Miss America.  Men in Italy are notorious for whistling at attractive women in such a manner that would make most American construction workers blush. …  Italian, Brazilian and Armenian  women may not take offense at such behavior and even take it as expression of appreciation. As a rule, professional women in the US would not appreciate it.  This can be very disturbing and threatening for Northern American women and they may consider this humiliating and discriminating. As a nation, Americans are committed to equal rights for women.  For this reason women are expected to be treated as equal to men.

Many countries throughout the world have sexual harassment laws in place.  However, different nations have different interpretations of them.  That is why I define sexual harassment as “inappropriate (from American standpoint) behavior when interacting with the opposite sex.” (Ameri$peak, Succeed in America Books, 2006, p. 66).

In business world, lack of information about etiquette and unspoken rules on gender interaction and norms can create misunderstanding crucial for an individual’s success.  



To help your foreign-born employees understand behavioral norms in the US workplace


  1. Consider the possibility that you actually have a problem.  Never assume that your employees know the intricacies of gender interaction in the US or you will have a problem or even… get sued!
  2. Think about getting a professional to conduct a training program and set expectations about American workplace culture.


[1] Bear hug is a rigorous, emotional embrace which signifies a greeting  (the individuals’ hands embrace each other and upper parts of the body come in close contact for a second or two) –NV, see Ameri$peak™ update at .

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Focus on the Soft Skills to Get the Hard Stuff Done: The CLEAR™ Formula for Excellent Customer Service – Part II

Posted by Nara Venditti on August 17, 2009

In our previous article “Focus on the Soft Skills to Get the Hard Stuff Done: The Clear Formula – Part I we covered the first letter in CLEAR, C which stands for “Communication”.  Now, let’s move on to L, E, A, and R.

              L – stands for Listen.  A customer’s expectations from customer service personnel are the ability to listen, understand and take action on their specific needs. Active listening such as nodding when you are interacting face-to-face or an occasional “I see” over the phone reassures the customer that the service rep understands the problem and will recommend the best action.

               E – stands for Empathize.  Acknowledging another person’s emotional state by saying “I understand why you feel this way” demonstrates sensitivity to customer’s needs. Empathy will relieve the customers’ anxiety and turn a defensive attitude to one of cooperation. To quote Jack Canfield, “they don’t care what you know, until they know that you care”.

              A – Ask. To be certain of the customers’ intentions one needs the skills of Sherlock Holmes in the art and science of asking questions. Among the many types of questions which a service rep should be familiar with are: open ended and close ended questions, preview and probing questions, and confirmation questions to name a few. Each category can include right questions to ask and questions to avoid (depending on the situation). An example of a good close ended question would be, “Do you prefer to be contacted by phone or e-mail?” If a right question is asked at the right time the customer will recognize and appreciate the concern, trust and connect to the customer service professional.

              R – stands for Build Relationships.  All the above points add up to good relationships. Those who communicate well, listen hard and empathize sincerely build strong relationships. Creating a positive experience will leave the customer with a positive impression of both the company and its products and services. A satisfied customer will often lead to repeat business and favorable publicity.  “A Good relationship is good for business”.

Train your service professionals to use soft skills effectively domestically and across the globe and you will be able to satisfy your customer’s needs, exceed their expectations, sell more through good service, and make a big positive difference in your bottom line.

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Excellent Customer Service with CLEAR Formula – Part I

Posted by Nara Venditti on August 1, 2009

World-class customer service undermines a company’s long term survival, especially in today’s  service oriented economy. Not surprisingly, a study by The Forum Corporation showed that 65% of customers switch providers because of inferior quality of customer service. A company may have excellent products and a well trained technical staff but if it fails to provide more than adequate customer service, it may not sustain its business. Each phone call, e-mail or face-to-face interaction that frontline employees have with customers presents an opportunity to reinforce a positive company image. However,   the basic interpersonal skills to achieve this are not typically taught in school and academic life offers little opportunity for the art of dealing with people. During my many years of working in the customer service field I found that teaching CLEAR™ approach helps improve soft skills.

C  – Communicate

L – Listen

E –  Empathize

A – Ask

R – build Relationships

 In the Part I we will cover the first letter “C” that stands for Communicate. Words are powerful tools that affect and determine the outcome of  the business dialogue. They can trigger positive or negative feelings. In business, the words we speak (verbal communication) are one component of communication. Separate from technical substance, courtesy and understanding are crucial to good customer service. The service professional that can use words appropriately will have a clear advantage in the service interaction. A simple “Is there anything else I can help you with?” will be music to the customer’s ear when asked at the right time during the service transaction.

Non-verbal cues encountered in face-to-face situations are another component of communication that can be more revealing than what is said. Body language can often convey confidence and sentiments to the attentive reader more so than words.  Some of the more obvious cues in non-verbal communication are the smile, eye contact, hand shaking, personal distance and physical contact. For instance, in the US, an acceptable distance between conversing individuals is between one and a half to two feet. Less can trigger discomfort and anxiety and distracts from the subject. Except for the British, Europeans tend to stand closer while engaged in conversation. A good acceptable distance in Japan is about four feet. The essence of \ non-verbals vary across cultures and your service professionals need to be aware of them. Learning to recognize, interpret and react to body language cues becomes a powerful advantage.

      Stay tuned for Part II, and in the meantime do not forget to practice the “C” letter principle when communicating with your customers.

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The Naming Game: Global Diversity Speaker Intelligence

Posted by Nara Venditti on June 24, 2009

Names are an important element on the platform of human relationships. Correctly pronouncing your student’s or colleague’s name goes a long way towards earning the individual’s respect and trust.  This could be a challenge, however, when you’re up against a name like Javarkharlal. It is always appropriate to ask “Am I pronouncing it right?”  Then repeat the name a few times so that your mouth and tongue could practice the unusual sounds and combination of sounds.

When dealing with multicultural students, customers, or colleagues, it is helpful to keep these points in mind:

1. Naming tradition differs across cultures.  For instance, in some cultures, person’s last name comes before the given name. In my own country of origin, Armenia, I would be Venditti Nara, rather than Nara Venditti. Or, suppose you greet Hong Genfu from China as Mr. Genfu. That may be the same as addressing Bob Johnson as Mr. Bob

2. It is not always easy to distinguish which is the first name or which is last. We may greet Harlan Henry from the Caribbean, as Henry because it is the more common first name in the US.

 3. Hispanic names usually include both mother’s and father’s family names.     It is father’s name that is used in addressing the person.

To learn more about addressing etiquette across cultures, read my article  at

Nara Venditti, Ph.D., is a platform speaker, educator and author. She is the president of Succeed in America, LLC and author of “How to Get A Job in the USA ” and “Ameri$peak.”. She is an expert in foreign born employee development, global diversity and business English and a frequent presenter at Conferences, Companies and educational institutions. She speaks on careers, communication and diversity. She can be reached at +1 203 791 1107 or

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Hello world!

Posted by Nara Venditti on June 21, 2009

Here I am starting a new blog to promote cultural understanding through recognizing differences and seeking  common ground!

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