Having Your Birthday Manners

With my birthday right around the corner, my excitement (as well as glitter, frosting, and sprinkles) is in abundance! I have been thinking about what goes into making a celebration special and even though the day is mine, other people are involved too. Here are my ideas on how best to ensure you celebrate a very HAPPY birthday!

  1. Be appreciative and thankful for everything!
    • Remember the lyrics, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”? Do not be that person (a.k.a. the demanding birthday diva). No one wants to be around a self-absorbed individual who demands attention and perfection from sunrise to sundown, with expectations that cannot be met. Be happy, have fun, and wear a smile all day!
    • Acknowledge everyone who leaves you a birthday wish on social media. A thoughtful response or even a simple “like” is appropriate.
    • For anyone who brings or sends you a birthday gift (no matter how big or small!), write them a handwritten thank you note and mail it within a week of your birthday.
    • Show your mom some extra love! After all, your birthday is a shared day with her.
  2. It IS Your Day. Celebrate how you wish!
    • Plan something that will make you happy! Do not let yourself be pressured into celebrating in a way you do not want or handing the reins over to someone who will plan something that is not to your liking (this goes for bachelor/bachelorettes and wedding or baby showers as well!).
    • Depending on how you choose to celebrate, keep in mind that certain events may be cost prohibitive to guests, and it is important to be understanding of those situations (also true for any event involving travel).
  3. Make your guests feel special! Although the celebration is about you, you are also the host (unless someone else has fully planned and given your party) and have guests to entertain.
    • If you have guests from different social settings (family, friends from different stages of life, colleagues, etc.) introduce them to each other.
      • Feuding friends? Speak to them individually prior to your celebration and express you hope to see them both. If they are unable to put aside their differences, suggest celebrating with them individually at another time. This will help to avoid any unnecessary drama from unfolding at your celebration.
    • Plan things others will enjoy as well!
      • If you plan to play games, keep them tasteful to avoid embarrassing your guests or making them feel uncomfortable.
      • If couples are invited, plan things both ladies and gentlemen will enjoy.
    • Whether you are having friends over for a small dinner party or throwing a huge birthday bash, have party favors! These do not need to be extravagant, simple is wonderful.
      • A few ideas are: a pretty bag of your favorite candies, a koozie, a mini bottle of wine with a piece of chocolate, or a beverage napkin set.
  4. I got something I do not like, now what?
    • If you receive a gift that is “not quite you” and the person is there when you open it, smile, give him/her a hug, and simply, yet sincerely say “thank you.” Do not exaggerate how much you like something if you do not actually feel that way, it can cause awkwardness in the future.
    • If the individual is not there, write a note stating “thank you for thinking of me” or “it was so generous of you to send me a gift.” Again, do not write how much you like something and go into detail about it if you do not actually feel that way.
    • If the item is returnable, you may exchange it for something else, BUT I caution you on doing this. If it was not sent with a gift receipt and the gift is from a close friend or relative, they may expect to see you display it in your home, wear it when you see him/her, etc. If this does not happen, the gift giver may wonder where it is and ask you. It is better to keep something you do not like than to offend the gift giver in the future.

Overall, these suggestions lead to one point: Stay humble on your birthday.
Be appreciative of all the love that surrounds you (not just on your day, but everyday). With this in mind, enjoy your day, live it up, and wear your best smile!

To all my other September birthdays, I wish you a very happy day filled with love, laughter, and lots of cake!

Cheers, y’all!

AB

The Plus One

It’s official, your friend/family member/colleague is getting married and you know you are getting an invitation! Inevitably, you begin to wonder, “Will I get a plus one? Who should I bring?” After all, weddings are fun and who does not want to have a date to bring out on the dance floor? It is definitely something we are all guilty of, but before we get ahead of ourselves, there are things to consider.

For most couples, the guest list is difficult to put together and even more difficult to cut down. Between big families and a lifetime of friendships made, there are a lot of people to consider and of course, a budget to follow. With the cost of weddings today, many couples are opting to not give their single friends a “plus one.” In the couple’s defense, it is their wedding day and they should have the people that mean the most to them there. As much as I hate to say it, that likely does not include your special someone who they still have not met or barely know.

With that in mind, how do you know if you have a plus one? Well, if the invitation is addressed to:

  • Your Name + Another Name (i.e. Ms. Mary Smith and Mr. Bob Jones): This clearly states you are invited with your significant other and that individual is your plus one. If your co-invitee is unable to attend this does not mean you should invite someone else in his/her place. As noted, the invitation is specifically for the two of you. Along the same lines, if you are invited to an event this way and you and your co-invitee end your relationship, you should not invite someone else in his/her place. (For a related scenario and how to deal with it, read my previous post)
  • Your Name + Guest (i.e. Ms. Mary Smith and Guest): Woohoo, you have a plus one and your guest is up to you! In that vein, think carefully about who you invite. Typically, the “and Guest” is for you to bring a date/significant other. I advise against using this plus one to bring another friend who knows the couples, but did not make the invite list. For whatever reason, that individual was not given his/her own invitation and that decision is for the couple to make. If you do not have someone you want to invite as a date, it is perfectly acceptable to R.s.v.p. for yourself only. Think of it this way, if you do not bring a plus one, you are giving the couple the opportunity to invite someone else they wanted to include, but were not able to under the current budget or venue capacity.
  • Your Name (i.e. Ms. Mary Smith): This invitation is solely meant for you. In this case, it is never appropriate to R.s.v.p. and add a guest or contact the couple and ask to bring a guest/plus one. The couple has made their list and you should respect their wishes. Again, these decisions are majorly driven by budget and venue capacity. Weddings are stressful enough and you adding surprises to the guest list is an unneeded complication for the couple to tackle, not to mention pay for when it may not be something they cannot afford.

Overall, I urge you to remember, this is not about you. If you are single and you do not get a plus one, it is not to make you feel bad. Who knows, maybe there is a large group of singles attending and you will be placed at an awesome table with fun people! So, dive head first into celebrating the couple. Attempt to push aside all the inevitable feels you get about being single and have fun with the friends/family you know who are also attending! Look in the mirror, smile, and remember you are crushing it in your own right even if that does not include a relationship at the moment!

Cheers y’all!

AB

The Contents of a Great Email

In today’s day and age, email keeps us far more connected than ever before. Rather than picking up the phone or walking across the office building, we continuously send emails to our colleagues, friends, and family regarding matters from business to social plans and everything in between. So, how do you know if your email gets read or better yet, how do you know if your email actually served its purpose?

To ensure your emails are getting the attention they deserve, and by that I mean the right kind of attention, here are my tips for the contents of a great email:

  1. Subject Line
    • Use the Important Information Only. I once was working with a hospital director’s executive assistant on multiple visits for distinguished visitors and the aide asked, “For visit requests, please put Date of Visit, Name/Title of Visitor, and Meet Time in the subject line so I can see the main points quickly. Once I see that, I will know exactly what I am looking for in regards to planning and level of importance.”
    • Do Not Write the Message in the Subject Line. The subject line serves as a preview to the contents of the email, it should not read like a sentence or go on past the viewing pane.
    • Stick to the SubjectIf you need to discuss multiple topics that are unrelated with the recipient, I highly suggest doing so in different emails. This (1) ensures all your topics will be seen equally and (2) reduces confusion when answering questions by eliminating bunched responses. If you do decide to include everything in 1 email, use an overarching subject line.
  2. Reply vs. Reply All
    • If you are placed on a group email thread and need to ask just the sender a question, reply only to the sender. There is no need to clutter everyone else’s inbox.
    • If you are sent a group invitation for an event, party, etc., submit your R.s.v.p. to the sender only. If you would like to know if other people are going, simply ask them yourself.
    • Only “Reply All” when all those on the message traffic will benefit from you sharing the information and it is pertinent to them. If you are the only person on the “To” line and the other people copied all need the information or are waiting for your direction then a “reply all” is appropriate.
  3. “To,” “CC,” and “Bcc.” Always pay attention to which line your name is placed on in the email and be discerning when adding people to those categories on your own email.
    • “To:” This means the email is directly to you and it is your responsibility to reply to the sender.
    • “Cc:” You are copied on the email for your awareness, but it is not your responsibility to take action. Allow the person on the “to” line to take action and send the first reply. If you need to comment or add information, do so after he/she sends the first reply.
    • “Bcc:” You are blind copied on this email, meaning it is only for your awareness. You should not reply, especially not reply all, because the other recipients do not know you were included. If you need to discuss something from the email with the sender, seek out that individual only (I suggest in person or on the phone).
  4. Marking Something with “High Importance”
    • Only use this flag if your email is truly of high importance and needs someone’s attention quickly. Overuse of this flag will result in people skipping your emails because they will believe nothing is actually “highly important.”
    • If something is truly important and you do not receive a response in an appropriate amount of time, call the person rather than sending him/her another email.
  5. Greeting
    • Always include a greeting to the recipient at the beginning of your email. The type of greeting you use will vary based on the email being sent (formal, professional, personal/informal), but no matter what a greeting is always important! Here are a few examples:
      • Formal: “Dear,” always followed by the proper form address (Dr., Mr., Mrs., Military Rank, etc.).
      • Professional: “Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening” always followed by the proper form address (Dr., Mr., Mrs., Military Rank, etc.).
      • Personal/Informal: “Hey, Hi, Hey there, etc.” followed by however you address the person in your personal life.
  6. Closing / Signature Block. Yes, you need one! Do not ever send an email without signing it!
    • Use a proper closing that reflects the relationship/type of email you are writing:
      • Formal: “Sincerely,” “Very Respectfully,” “Respectfully,”
      • Professional: You can close with something that reflects your personality yet is still appropriate. For example, “Have a great day!,” “All the Best,” “Many Thanks,” etc.
      • Personal/Informal: This type of closing is completely up to you and the relationship you have with the recipient!
    • Clearly identify yourself. Use your full name, title/position, and company affiliation in your signature block.
    • Include your contact information. Your signature block should include your contact number, mailing address, and company/organization web address.
      Be sure to use the signature block template from your company/organization!
  7. Review your email before hitting send!
    • Check your email for grammar and missing words (when you type fast, it is bound to happen).
    • Remove any uncommon abbreviations or text message lingo/short words.
    • Be cautious when using emoticons. Emoji’s are appropriate in informal emails or internal correspondence (between coworkers), but should not be used for professional or formal correspondence.
    • Ensure the email is addressed to the appropriate people on the appropriate recipient lines.
    • If you stated in the email you included an attachment, be sure it is attached before sending!

By incorporating these touches into your emails, it will ensure you have proper email etiquette leading to your email receiving the type of attention and replies you desire.

Cheers y’all!

AB

Welcome to Positively Proper!

Hey y’all!

Welcome to Positively Proper! I am Alexandra and I am beyond excited to be sharing this adventure in the world of Protocol and Etiquette with you. I first had this idea in 2014 and over the last five years, I have worked on it “here and there” while I focused on other parts of my life. After making another major change this past Fall, I felt the inspiration to start writing and blogging again. So, here I am relaunching Positively Proper on Valentine’s Day because what day is more appropriate to launch a passion project from the heart?!

This journey started while I was working as a Protocol Specialist in the Washington, DC area, a role which taught me A LOT about protocol and etiquette in modern society. Now, I know what some people are thinking… Protocol and Etiquette are stuffy subjects. I am here to show you they are not! Protocol and etiquette can be fun and extremely relatable. What protocol and etiquette are truly about is putting your best foot forward and being confident as you do. Protocol and Etiquette apply in every day life and can truly make a difference at work, at home, with friends, and even during interactions with strangers. They also apply to social events, being a host, personal and professional fashion, and so much more!

Fast forward five years and what am I doing now? I work for an international nonprofit on the Special Events and Partnership team. With, what I like to think is, a decent amount of experience “in the industry,” I continue experiencing and learning more through my job and everyday run-ins with protocol and etiquette matters. So, why not share it all?! I will share my experiences with you and I encourage you to share your thoughts and questions with me! I am sure we all encounter similar situations and have some of the same questions as we meet new people, venture to new places, and attend fabulous events! This blogging adventure is all about learning and helping each other shine even brighter!

Cheers y’all!

AB

How to Have a Friendly Debate

I recently had a difference of opinion on a “manners moment” with someone close to me. We both believed different actions should have been taken and that got us to talking about seeing other people’s points of view. As a result, we had a casual, light-hearted banter to present our own viewpoint. After our discussion, I got to thinking… How do you have a “friendly debate” without it turning into an all-out brawl where every stakeholder has dug in and refuses to agree or see another opinion?

***NOTE: This post is indeed about “friendly debates” and not about matters of great importance such as financial issues, health matters, family decisions, political debates, romantic relationships, or business deals. However, some of these tips may help!***

  1. Keep the Topic “Light”
    • A common saying is, “Never discuss money, politics, or personal life (aka sex).” If a topic you are uncomfortable with gets brought up, politely decline to engage in the conversation.
    • Ensure the conversation/debate stays on topic and does not turn into a discussion about other issues or previous grievances.
    • Laugh about things, laugh at yourself! Sometimes when you get into a debate and outlandish ideas are being discussed, you have to take a step back and just laugh at the crazy debate you have somehow ended up having.
      • NOTE: If someone is strongly expressing an opinion, be cautious about laughing. Some people get extremely offended if they feel like they are being laughed at or mocked for their viewpoint.
  2. Present Your View Strongly, Yet Democratically
    • If you are expressing something you truly care about, ensure you express that sentiment while still making it OK for the other person to potentially disagree with you.
    • Do not force your opinion/viewpoint on the other person.
    • Be knowledgeable of what you are discussing. If you are not knowledgeable on the subject, politely decline the conversation and never make up information you are unsure is true.
    • Never act like you are better than the other person’s opinion and be sure you are truly ready to hear their side.
  3. What Do You Do If Someone Offends You?
    • First, ask him/her to clarify what they meant by the comment. Sometimes, people say something without thinking about how it will come across or they simply use the wrong words. Before getting upset with someone, be sure you have the same understanding of what was said.
    • After clarifying, if what was said truly offends you, stand up for yourself. Be confident in yourself yet gracious when you say, “Excuse me, the comment you just made is extremely offensive/hurtful/unkind of you to say.”
    • Explain why. It does not have to be a lengthy or personal description, but explaining why something is offensive/hurtful in a polite way allows the other person to learn how to correct the behavior in the future.
    • If the person refuses to back-down from the comment, it is time to end the conversation.
  4. When It Is Over, It Is OVER.
    • After both parties have described their thoughts/viewpoints allow each other to ask and answer questions.
    • Once the conversation is done, move onto something else. Do not continue to rehash the same argument.
    • Do not be the person who has to “have the last word.” No one likes someone who always has to prove a point or have the last say on a matter.

Often times, you most likely will not come to a solid answer/compromise. What is important to recognize is that you have the ability to not only standup for your own opinions/viewpoints democratically, but you also have the ability respect for others who may be different than you. Many of these “friendly debates” will teach you something new and push you to think in ways or consider things you have not. Just remember to keep an open-mind and always be cordial during a difference of opinion.

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Email Etiquette: Handling a Busy Inbox

In both our professional and personal lives, we often receive a high volume of emails on a daily basis. On those days when your inbox is so full you are almost scared to open it, how should you handle the massive amount of inquiries that need a response? Here are my tips for managing a busy inbox!

  1. Wait at least 30 minutes before checking your email in the morning
    • Help yourself to start the day on the right foot. No one wants to wake up and start answering emails right away. So, give yourself 30 minutes to get your day started without the distraction of technology. If there is a work or personal emergency that requires your immediate attention, you will get a phone call about it, not an email.
    • If you start answering emails, I am rather sure you will never be ready for work on time. Get yourself ready to conquer the day then go conquer!
  2. Skim your inbox to find the high priority subjects
    • When you first open your inbox, start by looking through the recipients and the subject lines to ensure you read the high priority emails first.
    • Make a mental list of the priority of the rest of your emails and work from that point.
    • If you know it is junk mail, delete it.
  3. Read your inbox emails and your written replies more than once
    • If you have an email that you know requires your undivided attention or further research, mark it is as unread and return to it once you have all the information you need. Nothing is worse than responding to an email and realizing you missed the key questions that needed a response or you left out the bulk of your reasoning and needed follow-up questions.
    • Read your reply more than once to ensure you hit the key points and your grammar, delivery, and thought process come across as you wish.
    • If you have an assistant or co-worker, ask them to proofread your reply if you are unsure about something.
    • If you are writing about a sensitive or emotional topic, write a draft response then step away from it for a while. Come back to it when you have thought about it more and then edit it. If you need to, do this a few times to ensure your email reads as you wish.
  4. Unsubscribe to the hordes of advertisements you receive
    • Every store, news outlet, etc. wants you to be part of their listserv… It is OK to say no or to unsubscribe.
    • Keep the places/sources you regularly use and unsubscribe from those that simply clog your inbox with the daily/weekly reminders.
  5. If you are going out town or will be unavailable by email, use an out-of-office automatic reply
    • Not only does this help to manage people’s expectations of when they will receive a response, it will also provide them with contact information in case of an emergency.
    • An example of a simple, yet effective out-of-office reply is:
      “Sir/Ma’am,

      Thank you for you for contacting me. I am out of the office without access to/with limited access to my email and will not return until Monday, 23 February. If this is an urgent matter, please contact my office (or specify a co-worker if he/she is taking over your work in your absence) at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

      I look forward to speaking with you soon. Have a great day!”

  6. Keep all your emails in archived/organized folders
    • You never know when you may need to reference an old email or find someone’s contact information.
    • Once you have responded to an email, move it into the proper folder. This will let you know you have replied to the email, reduce the number of emails in your inbox, and give you a place to look back to if you need to review a message in the future.
  7. Some emails need an in-person or phone response
    • If you receive an email you know you need to respond to, but do not feel it is appropriate to respond via email or that a more in-depth conversation should be had, call the person or schedule a meeting to discuss the matter.
  8. Have a technology curfew
    • Set a time for yourself when you put your phone/tablet/laptop away at night.
    • Do one final review of your inbox and ensure nothing urgent came in or that you missed anything from earlier in the day then turn it off until tomorrow! As I said about the morning email check, if there is a work or personal emergency that requires your immediate attention, you will get a phone call about it, not an email.
    • A lot of research has been showing exposure to blue-light (the light in tech gadgets) at night, prevents a good night’s sleep and reduces the amount of time you spend in REM sleep. A recent Washington Post article speaks to research on the matter.

I hope these tips help you to manage your busy inbox more successfully! Most importantly, remember everyone deserves a response, but be mindful of how and when you respond.

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Sharing the Love!

Photo Credit: Parrot Design Studio

Photo Credit: Parrot Design Studio

In honor of Valentine’s Day on Saturday, I am sharing the love this week and highlighting some of my favorite etiquette experts and notable figures for their Valentine’s Day articles. Here are my top 5 picks – There is a little something for everyone no matter how you are celebrating this year!

  1. All My Single Ladies! Check out “Cupid’s Corner: The Single Girl’s Guide to Valentine’s Day” by Allison Norton of LaurenConrad.com
  2. It’s Just a Date – If you are going out with someone new or it is just a date for the evening, read “Dating Etiquette: 7 Ways to Engage in Intellectual Foreplay on Valentine’s Day” by Jacqueline Whitmore
  3. For the Couple – Be sure to read “7 Commons Mistakes Couples Make on Valentine’s Day” by Jacqueline Whitmore
  4. Girl’s Night In! Get some great ideas from “A Valentine’s Dinner Party with Your Girlfriends” by Diane Gottsman
  5. And for all the gentlemen out there, read a great article from Good Guy Swag titled “Valentine’s Day Checklist: 5 Things to Make it Instaworthy” by Kris Wolfe

Wishing you all a wonderful day full of love, laughter, and lots of pink! Happy Valentine’s!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra