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The use of exclamation points and other important professional writing tips.

I recently attended a women lawyers’ lunch group; we meet periodically to chat and share tips and tricks of the trade.  After a lengthy conversation about politics, we eventually came around to one of my all-time favorite topics:  the use of exclamation points in professional communications.  I was forced to trot out a few stories of being castigated by male recipients of emails from me containing such ‘offensive’ marks.  This led to a more lengthy conversation about challenges many women share with regard to writing and communication, which I thought you’d find helpful (if not entertaining).

1. The Exclamation Point!
IMO, the exclamation point is an oft-overlooked, underutilized and very useful punctuation mark.  Women often shy away from exclamation points in emails, perhaps because of a fear that such use will render the communication less serious.  The exclamation point can emphasize key points, including those that communicate big wins, congratulations, and the like.  Although there is the danger of the communication being taken less seriously, I believe this is counterbalanced by injecting a certain personality into one’s writing.  We all agreed that the better the writer knows the recipient, and vice versa, the more appropriate it may be to use the “!”.

2. Emojis (more specifically, the smiley face)
I firmly believe that the smiley face emoticon has its place in professional emails. For example, after an ironic or meant to be humorous comment.  The downside, one colleague pointed out, is when the computer program doesn’t support the emoji, and it turns into a “J”.  Loses the effect.  Oh well, it’s a risk we must take.

3. Gab
Women like to talk – and it often shows in our writing. During our conversation, we all agreed that women tend to use more words than are necessary – and perhaps even go off on tangents that are irrelevant to the topic on hand. It’s best to keep to the point.  Less is more.

4. Niceties
Notwithstanding the “less is more” mantra, women can also be too direct. I often find myself writing up a legal email, then rereading it and recognizing that I dove right into the substance while omitting any niceties.  I will often go back and add in a “Hello!  How are you?” to soften what may otherwise be a hard and direct note.

5. Thanks for what?
Maybe because we were all raised to be polite and have manners, but we each noted that we often close our emails by saying thanks – even when there is really nothing to be thankful for. In fact, in many cases, the recipient should be thanking us! How about, “you’re welcome?” J

As always, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.  Please share your comments here.

Until next time,
Jane

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How transparent is your privacy policy?

Consumer data has never been more valuable than it is today – and almost every business which can collect it does. As a result, privacy policies, which must disclose a company’s policy in regard to its data collection practices and uses, are now more important than ever.

The recent class action lawsuit against Bose Corporation is a perfect example of this, and is causing everyone to listen more closely. In the suit, plaintiff Kyle Zak alleges that Bose violated the Federal Wiretapping Act and state privacy laws by intercepting and collecting metadata about audio files from users of its wireless headphones and devices without appropriately disclosing its policies or obtaining valid consent from its customers.  More specifically, in the complaint, Zak alleges that:

  1. Bose, through its Bose Connect mobile app, “automatically,” “continuously and contemporaneously” harvested behavioral information about customers’ listening habits, which Bose then shared with a data mining company, Segment.io, without users’ knowledge or consent.
  2. Upon downloading the app, customers were not prompted to read or accept the terms of the privacy policy describing the types of information that Bose collected via the app or how Bose intended to use the information collected, causing the collection of information to be unfair and deceptive.
  3. The app’s privacy policy failed to clearly and conspicuously identify the types of information that it shared with third parties.
  4. The app enabled Bose to collect and share metadata from users’ audio files with third parties, married with other personal information that Bose collected when a user registered the product purchase.  Zak’s example in the complaint is that an individual who listens to Muslim prayer services while using the Bose Connect app is “very likely a Muslim.”

Although Bose’s policy stated that it may share “non-personal information” with third parties, it did not identify that the metadata and the other information collected from users’ audio files would be considered “non-personal data,” particularly when such information may provide insight into consumers’ health, lifestyle, and religious preferences.  The complaint draws a connection between the information collected from users’ metadata and the information collected by Bose as part of its product registration process, suggesting that Bose may have the ability to aggregate user data to develop more robust profiles of its consumers, thus allowing it (and third parties with which it shared the information) to develop more targeting marketing around consumer preferences.

Although the complaint does not specify damages, it is being speculated that damages may exceed $5 million dollars.

Bose is just one of many companies to be caught up in a recent spate of lawsuits alleging violations of the Federal Wiretapping Act and other data privacy regulations:

  • In March of this year, Standard Innovation Corporation settled similar claims (for approximately $3.75 million) that its mobile app illegally collected information about how its customers used its We-Vibe “smart sex toy”.  In addition to paying nearly $4 million dollars to plaintiffs, Standard Innovation revamped its privacy policies to add additional transparency about the types of information that the company collects and how the information in collected.  The company has also taken steps to delete all personal information collected from its products and app prior to the date of the settlement.
  • In February 2017, Vizio, Inc. reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the New Jersey Attorney General (for $2.2 million) to settle charges that it installed software on 11 million smart televisions to track consumers’ second-by-second viewing histories and information without their knowledge or consent, which it then sold to advertisers.  Similar to Standard Innovation, Vizio was forced to delete any user data collected by its software.

The Bose case and the other recent cases mentioned here have important implications for companies that collect consumer information. With the flood of these cases being filed in different jurisdictions around the US, we can surmise  that American consumers are becoming more savvy about their rights in and to their information, as well as the law, and paying closer attention to companies’ data collection practices and related disclosures.  We strongly recommend that companies which collect individuals’ personal information review their privacy policies, data collection practices and data security, with a view to increasing transparency with regard to collection and use practices for personal information.

Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below or sending me an email. Of course, if you have any questions about your privacy policy, feel free to give us a call.

 

Copyright © 2017 Jane Freedman Law, LLC. All rights reserved.  All content in this blog is the property of Jane Freedman Law, LLC and may not be copied or redistributed without permission.
This alert is intended to provide a summary of recent legal developments and is intended for general information purposes only.  It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied no as such.  The reader should consult with knowledgeable legal counsel to determine how specific laws may be applicable to its particular situation and fact set.  Blog posts are based on information that is current as of the date written and Jane Freedman Law, LLC has not duty to and does not intend to update the blog should additional facts or law come to light after the date hereof.  Since it is possible that the law or the facts may change after the date hereof, readers should contact Jane Freedman Law, LLC with questions or for assistance if you are considering taking any actions as a result of this blog.
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They get paid what?!?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine learned that he was being paid less than a few of his peers in similar positions at his company.  He had been there for more than 15 years, and this newfound knowledge caused some upset.  It seemed unfair that these people who joined the company long after he did, but were in similar positions, were making more money than he was.  So, he asked me what to do.

As a corporate lawyer, I’m often privy to private salary information for employees.  And, admittedly, there have been times when I have seen some numbers and questioned “how in the world is that person making that much money?!?” It is a natural reaction. However, there is a reason that this information is private.  And, the reality is that just because another person is making more money doesn’t always mean that you are being paid unfairly.  There are many things that factor into compensation beyond salary including paid time off, flexible schedules, bonus potential, equity and other benefits.

So, before letting this information ruin your day, and running to your boss to ask for a raise, ask yourself these two simple questions:

  1. Before learning this information, was I happy at my job? 
    Compensation goes beyond your paycheck. Does your company treat you with respect? Do they acknowledge your work? Do they give you the opportunities you want to learn and grow? Are you challenged and engaged in the work you are doing?  Do you have the flexibility you need? Do you get good benefits?  The list goes on. But in short, are you happy?
  2. Is my compensation appropriate for my skill and experience?
    Benchmark yourself against compensation for people in comparable positions in your region. It’s easy to find this information online, as many of the large job-hunting sites, among others, provide this data.  Find out what your skills and experience are worth in the market and see if you are within that range.

If you answer “no” to either of these questions, I recommend a sit down with your boss.  The good news is that, assuming you are a strong employee (which I’m sure is the case of anyone reading this blog post), then you have an advantage. Studies show that newer employees are often paid more and perform worse than more tenured employees – at least for the first two years in the position.  And the cost of replacing an employee is between ten and thirty percent of that person’s salary.  So, it would seem sensible for companies to compensate their employees fairly to keep them as long as possible. However, don’t rely on that alone.  Make your case by clearly presenting:

  1. Your unique value in the relationship
    Remember that you are getting paid to do a job. So, simply making the case that you do your job well is not much of a case for a raise. Focus on what you are doing and your contributions to the bottom line over and above that which is expected of you.
  2. What you believe you should be making
    Don’t compare yourself to others in your company (you probably shouldn’t know that information anyway). Present external market data to show your worth.
  3. What you need (beyond compensation) to be happy
    Beyond compensation, what else is bothering you? This is not a time to complain, but rather a time to share what is bothering you and work together to find a solution.

Your job is a two-way relationship. And for that relationship to work – like any other relationship – you need to feel like each party is contributing equally.  There may be times when one party is doing a bit more to help the other side get through. That is how great relationships work. However, when the imbalance goes on for a while, and there is no correction in sight, it is time to address it or move on.  Be prepared that if your employer doesn’t agree with your position, you may ultimately need to leave.  But always weigh the pros and cons, and try to objectively evaluate whether you are moving on for the right reasons.

If you are reading this, I know how awesome you are.  Good luck!  As always, please share your thoughts with me.

Words of wisdom

Is it better to be confident or assertive?

I recently had a long conversation with a fellow mom about our 11 year old daughters.  We were discussing how chatty they are with us, and each other – but in school, they are quiet.  We quickly attributed it to the, shall we say, unruly boys in their 5th grade class that they find a bit overwhelming.

With my single-sex education background, I quickly got on my high horse about the virtues of all-girls’ schools where, without the influence of boys in the classroom, girls are able to grow, express themselves without fear of judgment, and ultimately gain confidence.

But is confidence the same as assertiveness? We both agreed that, while our daughters are not very assertive in school, they are confident.  So, what’s the difference?  And, is it better to be assertive or confident?

To me, confidence can be loud or quiet.  Confidence is the belief in yourself, your intelligence, character, skills, and other qualities.  Wikipedia (my go-to source of information) defines confidence as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself.

Assertiveness is an ability to communicate your confidence or your position in a variety of ways. Wikipedia defines it as the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. It goes on to say that assertiveness can be a learnable skill and mode of communication.  Wikipedia expresses no opinion as to whether confidence can be learned.

I found it interesting that the definition of assertiveness actually used the word confidence.  I believe that confidence and assertiveness can be mutually exclusive.  One can surely be assertive while lacking confidence. Haven’t we all seen that person who tries to cover up their lack of confidence with bravado?  (See 5th grade boys.)  And, you can definitely be confident without being assertive – sometimes, that’s a sign of even greater confidence.

We concluded that confidence, especially in girls, is key.  We also concluded that our girls’ confidence will carry them farther than just possessing the ability to assert themselves (in the way that the boys in their class do).  Of course, do not mistake this conclusion for a statement that assertiveness doesn’t matter. One needs to be able to effectively communicate one’s position, and advocate for oneself.  This by its very nature means that one must be able to make oneself heard through the “noise”.

But the real conclusion of the conversation was that our girls will be fine.  As 11 year olds battling rambunctious 5th grade boys on a daily basis, they may be thrown for a temporary loop. But, their confidence in themselves and their brains will get them where they need to go.  When those boys quiet down and listen, they will surely find that our girls have many interesting things to say.

Please share your thoughts with me here.

Thanks!
Jane

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How to Fail

From a young age, we are taught to avoid failure at all costs. In school, failing is the worst grade you can receive.   And, as a result, a student may be held back, forced to re-take a class or engage in supplemental learning to avoid failing again.

As we get older, the implications of failure can become more serious and longer-term. Failing at the college or grad school level can mean not obtaining a professional degree that could help you to work in your chosen field. It could mean a permanent mark on your transcript that could impact your ability to pursue further studies or certifications. Or, it could simply force you to leave your dreams behind and move on to something where failure is less likely.

By the time we enter the professional world, we’re trained to fear failure. Failure at work can mean losing your job, or worse. However, if we fear failure, we may not take the risks that can reap great rewards. If we fear failure, we may miss out on learning opportunities. And, if we fear failure, we will not innovate. We should not strive to fail, and we should do whatever we can do to avoid it. But when fear of failure prevents forward momentum, we need to conquer our fears.

It is also important to keep in mind how we define failure (or who is defining it for us). Failures can be more nuanced and subjective in the corporate world. And a failure can depend on who is judging your actions. Often we are our own toughest critics.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned to put failure in perspective and use fear of failure as motivation for forward momentum. Here are a few reasons why I think failure is an important part of learning and growing:

1.  Every failure is a learning moment
Failing is only a bad thing if you didn’t work hard to avoid it. If you do all you can do to avoid failure, then you should be proud of your effort – and take the opportunity to learn what didn’t work. As long as you learn from it, failure will be less likely next time. And if you talk about your “failures”, others can relate and learn from you as well.

2.  The Risk/Reward See Saw
I’ve come to learn that the enjoyment of each “success” is directly proportional to the chance of failure.       With each new venture, your chances of failure increase, but so do the chances of doing something truly exciting and different.

3.  Failure is not always in your control
Many people tend to blame themselves for every failure. But, the reality is that failure is dependent upon many factors, some of which are not within our control. Market conditions, supplier issues, competitive actions, personnel issues and the list goes on. Recognize what you can and cannot control; and if you can’t control it, you shouldn’t fear it.

There’s no question about it. Failure sucks. But fearing it can be worse. Stare it in the face, and move forward.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.

 

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A year in reflection

It’s hard to believe — this week is the one year anniversary of the launch of Jane Freedman Law. It seemed like a good time to reflect and share some lessons learned in the process of creating my firm.

Looking back to one year ago, I was very scared. The only work life I had experienced in my almost 20 year career as a corporate lawyer was at big firms and companies. I was scared about marketing and getting clients. I had left my large law firm right before I was about to make partner, in 2001, in part to avoid the seemingly burdensome obligation of marketing and building a client base.

However, to launch the firm, I overcame my fear (or at least tried to temporarily block it out of my head). The official launch was sending an announcement to all of my contacts, letting them know what I was up to. I worried about what people would think. I remember the night before my announcement went out, I agonized over sending it. Would people make fun of me? Would they take me seriously? What would they say?

I closed my eyes, sent a silent request for good karma up to the heavens, and hit send on the announcement. Remember how worried I was about how it would be received? Well, the response was overwhelming: gracious, kind and supportive. That day was a great one. I smiled every time I got a response with words of encouragement or an offer of help. With technology, I could track my open and click through rates. Which I did. Hourly. Sometimes more than once an hour!

Which leads me to lesson #1: Everyone needs a cheerleader.
Everyone needs support and encouragement, preferably from someone who’s been where you are. My husband, who is reliably my biggest cheerleader, helped my over come the initial fear of hitting “send.” I also joined a women’s entrepreneurs group. Although we were all at different stages in our very diverse group of companies, we found that we confronted with many of the same issues. These women offered me a judgment free place at a time when I needed that support and advice and the ability to share successes and failures.

From sending that one announcement, I heard from people from all different places in my life, my career and my network. I heard from people that I had worked with 20 years ago and had not heard from since. I heard from newer friends and colleagues. They all offered words of encouragement, advice, introductions, lunches, dinners, drinks and coffees. I followed up on every single one. Eventually, business, came my way. I found that I was winning business based solely on referrals from my network—clients were engaging me based on the trust and respect that I had built over the years within my network.

Which leads me to lesson #2:  Relationships are key.
Develop and maintain your network.  I am constantly getting together with people-in fact, my husband makes fun of me because I have a breakfast, lunch or dinner typically at least once a day. Through my networking, I’ve been invited to join and speak to various groups, many of them women only, further expanding my network. Again, relationships.

I discovered something important about myself, something that I would not have realized had I still been sitting in my corporate office for 10 plus hours a day, at my computer or on a conference all, working hard on company projects. I found that I truly enjoyed connecting at a personal and individual level with different people in different ways. I realized something that had eluded me all those years ago at a large firm: winning business is about being yourself, keeping in touch with people, and maintaining and nurturing relationships. Even if I am not going out and meeting people in person, I blog. I share interesting articles. I try to stay top of mind with my network.

Which leads me to lesson #3: Be authentic.
Be yourself. If you try to be someone that you’re not, that comes through and impacts every aspect of your business.

Today, I’m happy to report that Jane Freedman Law is an actual business that continues to grow through your support encouragement and referrals – day by day and month by month.

There is much credit to give and not enough room in this blog to thank everyone personally who has influenced, helped or shaped me. So a big THANK YOU to all who have all played a part in the success of my firm and my career. You know who you are! I hope to pay it forward.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.

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How to be respected AND liked

I recently read a few interesting articles about the “likeability/competence quotient” and why likeability matters at work. The first article stated that non-threatening likeability is more important than respect early on in a career, while career progression brings an inverse progression of competence and likeability. The second article much more broadly stated that likeability is becoming much more important in the workplace.

This topic seemed particularly relevant lately, particularly in light of the termination of Jill Abramson as the Executive Editor of the New York Times. Articles reported that her brusque behavior in the newsroom as well as her request for a raise so that her compensation was equal to that of her male predecessor were the cause(s) for her termination. It’s hard to imagine that a “brusque” male editor asking for a similar compensation increase, or even one who exhibited a strong management style in the newsroom, would have been fired. More likely, he would have been counseled by his boss to “tone it down” and maybe even given a coach to work on his leadership style. And, he probably would have been given a raise as well. Of course, we only know what is reported in the news about this fact set, but still it is hard for me to get my head around a man being fired for being “brusque”, “asking for a raise”, and trying his very best to put out an internationally acclaimed news journal. But, this does tell us something, perhaps, about the balance between likeability and respect (especially for women leaders).

Not surprisingly, when I googled, I found a few studies that have looked at workplace dynamics and whether people would rather work with a likeable incompetent or a competent jerk. (Likeable incompetent won over competent jerk, although the likeable and competent worker won over all other categories.) Other studies have shown that likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven. Companies may also hire likeable workers to influence colleagues and lead change within an organization. These studies were gender neutral.

It seems counterintuitive that being nice is a more important workplace skill than being competent. (Maybe this is indicative of my workplace style more than anything.) And, I would further assert that trying to be everyone’s friend in the office is bound to backfire. The studies refute my theories, though, and show that people would rather work with someone nice than someone not nice (all other things being equal).

So, can any conclusions be drawn based on the data and the conundrum? Does it matter whether you are entry level or along a path in your career? Here are my conclusions, from entry level to senior, which are based on nothing, scientific or otherwise, except my opinion.

1.  Competence matters.
Competence is the ante to get in the game. It is expected and assumed at any career level. That said, even those lacking certain skills or experience sometimes make headway in organizations, either through a winning personality or other factors.

2.  Should you aim for respect over likeability?
Once you are considered competent in your field, you should gain others’ respect. Typically this happens as you gain experience and trust because of your competence. Of course, when you gain the respect of your colleagues, and make friends, consider it as an added bonus.

3.  Is there a time to focus on niceness?
See #2. You’ve achieved some successes in your career, including that you’ve gained your team’s respect. But the coffee machine chatter is that you are not well liked, and few actually want to be on your team. Is now the time to focus on niceness? Maybe it is. I guess for Jill Abramson, in retrospect, maybe it was.

4. Establish and join networking groups and seek out mentors and advisors.
At any and every time and place in your career, establish “safe” groups or people with whom you can share that which you may not want to share with coworkers or subordinates (the “judgment-free zone”).

5.  One size does not fit all.
Points 1-3 are generalizations. You must decide based on the situation at hand when to emphasize competence over likeability, or vice versa.

All of that being said, why can’t you achieve competence and respect along with likeability—why should they be mutually exclusive? One article noted that the behaviors most important to a speaker’s likability are making eye contact, smiling naturally when you talk and varying your tone of voice to convey warmth and enthusiasm. Easy, right?

The bottom line is that we are in control of our actions and behaviors, and can make conscious decisions about how to act towards others. I hope these thoughts will help you, regardless of your path.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.