Tag Archives: Communication

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?

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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?

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The Social Hot Potato

An interesting read this morning from the folks at Genesys (with a hat tip to Media Post).

1 and a half russet potato with sprouts. Slice...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Genesys conducted a study that surveyed more than 798 senior executives worldwide about customer communication and found that the social and mobile channels are not yet aligned with customer service.  Shocking, I know.  Some key points:

  • Fifty eight percent of C-suite Execs see the CEO as responsible for the social media and mobile channels, but only 28 percent of middle managers agree. The disconnect between top-level and mid-ranking executives might be explained by the novelty factor of social media.
  • When it comes to driving the customer conversation, the marketing department, not customer service or the C-suite, is driving the response to new channels with 44 percent of executives saying the marketing department has dominated the dialogue between company and customer.
  • The report also found that 43 percent of companies only began using social media in the last year and only 11 percent of businesses have been using social media to communicate with customers for three years or more.
  • Customer Service has not been a priority with new communications channels. Only 42 percent of organizations use call centers to communicate with customers and just 6 percent see customer support/service as the main purpose of new communication channels.

A few thoughts.  In larger, more mature companies, the CEO is generally someone my age – well over 50.  One might wonder how familiar your stereotypical CEO is with social channels and what sort of daily (much less hourly) use they make of them.  No wonder the middle managers are a little skeptical.  The implied turf war between marketing, PR, and customer service over who is in charge is no surprise.  Nor is it a shock that companies that appoint a single person, instead of a team, to manage all communications were more successful. Thirty-three percent of executives within companies that have appointed a team to manage social media/mobile channels felt that there was a disconnect between teams that touch these channels. In organizations that had appointed a single individual to manage new channels, just 9 percent perceived the same disconnect.

Social media as a communications channel is a huge disruptor.  Those sorts of hot potatoes aren’t welcomed into most corporate environments.  As the study show, the social round peg isn’t fitting into any of the existing square holes.  The companies that are doing well are the ones that have drilled a round place.


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Are Social Media Anti-Social?

Fascinating article in yesterday’s New York Times about the growing number of young people who are turning off Facebook.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...


When I started reading it I thought it might have to do with privacy concerns or with cyber stalking. Instead, the focus was on something near and dear to my heart and which I think is applicable to any of us in business. We’ve discussed it before and I think it’s worth discussing again.
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Odd places for a Microsoft Windows Crash

Image by romkey via Flickr

I’m sorry I didn’t get a post up yesterday.  The day sort of got away from me due to a death in the family.  Fortunately, it was an old PC and not a person.  Unfortunately, it was the one serving as the host for all the printing on my network.  No big deal, right?  Install the printer on another PC on the network and all is well.  Well, not so much.

The deceased machine ran an old version of Windows – the new one runs XP (which is now an old version of Windows…).  While all the Windows machines on the net can print without issue, the MacBook that’s my primary computer can’t.  Oh sure – it sees the printer, it spools to the printer, but something seems to get lost in the translation since the printer just pauses and stays there.  Which of course got me thinking about business. Continue reading

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Do Yourself A Favor

Ten Indus scripts discovered near the northern...

It was yet another innocuous piece of LinkedIn group spam – you probably get them in your in-box all the time as well.  Unlike most of the others I get on a regular basis, this one really caught my eye and I read it over a few times to make sure I hadn’t misread it.  Unfortunately for the author , I hadn’t.   But I did get a good laugh out of it and maybe you will too.  Maybe you’ll also do yourself a favor and learn from it. Continue reading

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Good Communication

I had a discussion with a colleague this morning about good communication and I’ve spent some time since then thinking about what exactly that is. I’m not sure that people always mean the same thing when they refer to those skills and I’d like to spend a minute or two thinking it out with you.

Does it mean “clear?” I guess in part although “you’re an idiot – fix it” to a subordinate doesn’t constitute good communication in my book. Abuse, maybe, and even though it’s pretty clear, it’s not good.

Does it mean “timely?”  Most of the time it does although often an immediate email response that’s neither thought through nor proofed carefully does more harm than good.

What about “often?”  People sometimes get labeled as good communicators because they are a constant stream.  I’m not a big believer in quantity equaling quality.

“Concise” is a term often used with respect to good communication.  I agree except when the writer hasn’t considered the audience and omits critical information.

It’s a good idea in communication to repeat back what someone has said to you to confirm you’ve understood them.  Of course, if the entirety of your communication is to spit back what others have said, where’s the value added on your part?

I guess the way I sum it all up is that good communication = good connections.  You need to listen, to interpret, to add value, and to relate your thinking in a manner which makes the most sense to the recipient.  I hope I’ve communicated that well!  What are your thoughts?  What did I miss?

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