Tag Archives: Communication


Let’s think about fritters this Foodie Friday. If you’re an American, fritters are usually apple or corn. The former type is sold in donut shops while the latter might be on a menu as an appetizer or side dish. Occasionally you find other types of fritters. Conch comes to mind as do other sea creatures as being sometimes seen in the fritter manifestation.

Of course, that raises the question of what exactly IS a fritter? Is it a puffy, round doughnut-like thing covered in icing and filled with apple? Is it a ping-pong ball-sized lump of batter? Technically, it’s any form of battered meat, seafood, vegetable, or fruit which is then fried. There are sweet fritters and there are savory fritters, and that definition opens up a lot of other foods to fall into the fritter category. Tempura is a fritter. They serve fritters of peas or pineapple or potato with fish and chips in England. Were the potato latkes folks had for Hanukah fritters? They might be, actually.

Why do I bring this up? Because depending on where you are in the world, a fritter can be very different. It raises the issue of YOU knowing what you mean when you say something but your listener just might not be understanding your words in the way you intend. I think we’ve all had the experience of telling a friend or family member or coworker something only to later find that he or she completely misunderstood you—or never heard you at all. There are a lot of reasons why this happens and one of them is that the meaning of any of the words is unclear.

We’ve all played “telephone”, the game where one person says a longish (12+words) sentence to someone who then repeats it to the next person and so on. How often does the original sentence come back intact? Rarely, in my experience, and the likelihood decreases when we use words like fritter that can have many meanings (and that’s just in its noun form!).

What you think you are saying may mean something quite different to someone else—particularly if you start in the middle of a thought, choose a wrong word or speak too quickly. You might order an apple fritter expecting something you’d get in a donut shop and end up with a dough ball that looks like a hushpuppy containing some apple. Remember that we don’t speak to hear ourselves talk (at least I hope not). We speak to communicate with others and making sure that they understand what we’re saying is just as important as what it is we’re saying. Otherwise, we’re just frittering our ability to communicate away. You with me?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Cranky About Commas

Maybe I’ve always had tendencies to be a cranky old man but as I’m turning into one I find great schadenfreude when the universe punishes those who are lax about grammar and spelling. It could just be my history as an English teacher but I find my already elevated blood pressure spiking when I see people misusing punctuation or not particularly caring if they’ve mistaken “your” for “you’re” or “to” for “too.”

It cheered me up, therefore, when I read that a lawsuit over an Oxford comma was settled. An Oxford comma, as I’m sure you recall, is an optional piece of punctuation used just before the coordinating conjunction (such as “and,” “but,” or “or”) in a list of three or more things. I think its use provides clarity and I suspect that parties to this suit – a dairy company in Maine and their delivery drivers – now realize the importance of clarity. The comma was omitted from a list of circumstances which would not qualify for overtime payments. Because of that omission, the drivers argued that they were entitled to overtime since the words “distribution of” were connected, without a comma, to “packing for shipment,” making that a single activity that wasn’t eligible for overtime. The drivers said they were only engaged in distributing the product which is NOT on the list.

I think there is an important point for any of us who provide written communication in any event. It bothers me, probably more than it should, when I read something from one of my connections that misuses language. I’m not talking about the vagueries of punctuating parenthetical statements or comma use for multiple adjectives. I mean simple things such as the examples above or “it’s” as a possessive. It’s worse when a company does it since you know multiple people looked at whatever was being produced as a piece of marketing or a social media post.

The settlement of the suit cost the dairy $5,000,000. That’s a lot of cheese. Sloppy proofreading can cost you just as much in how your customers and others feel about your brand. It’s not just the lawyers who get concerned with vague meanings and incorrect language. There are a lot of cranky old men and women out there who know the difference, and many of us are actually not so old (ask my kids who are bigger sticklers on this point than I am!). Is all that clear?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

You’re Missing 93%

One of the things I find to be both a blessing and a curse in our modern business world is email. As someone who can remember the days of typing (On a typewriter! With carbon paper for copies!) business correspondence and sticking it in an envelope prior to a days-long wait for a response, email’s immediacy is a blessing. Things happen! Stuff gets done! That’s great, but there are a few downsides and they’re worth thinking about.

First, because email is so fast, we tend to send missives off rather quickly. One thing the slow pace of written correspondence used to force was a thorough consideration of each thing we sent. Letters took time to craft and revisions took even longer because until the widespread use of the word processor one had to retype the entire document. Think about what a business partner would think if you were sending snail mail as you do email. Would you send a letter that simply said “OK” or “thanks” or any of the silly little emails we send? Would you send four notes a day, all within an hour of one another? Probably not.

The reality is that you’d probably not send a note at all. You’d pick up the telephone or, if it’s a work colleague, walk down the hall to see them. That’s the real downside of email, and I think it’s a huge problem. Why? I’ll let Psychology Today answer:

If there were ever numbers associated with body language and nonverbal communication, 55, 38, and 7 would be it. People often refer to these numbers as the standard for understanding nonverbal communication and expressing its importance- specifically over the words being spoken…The numbers represent the percentages of importance of varying communication channels have with the belief that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.

In other words, by using email as our primary form of interaction – with coworkers, with partners, with customers, or with vendors – we’re missing 93% of what they’re saying because they’re saying it either with body language or with their tone of voice.  The telephone helps capture the latter but we’re still missing more than half.

I realize that it’s not always practical to go see someone and you also want many communications to be in writing.  But in addition to the blessing (??) of email, we also have the gift of many video chatting platforms.  Skype, Facetime, Hangouts, and others make interacting with someone a near in-person experience.  More importantly, they can help assure that you’re “hearing” them because you can see all the non-verbal nuances that are NEVER available in email. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints