Tag Archives: Communication

Staying in Touch

Memorial Day being just past, it made me think of how this long weekend used to pass in my childhood years.  Often we had family visitors or we went to visit family.  Both of my parents grew up in Peoria, IL and so that town was a frequent destination.

 

Staying in touch meant regular visits back and forth.  I can recall sitting and listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio while my parents and aunt and uncle played bridge, which happened in various years at various of our houses. We kids were just waiting for the chance to go out to eat.  Clearly the meatier relationship bonding was either going on elsewhere, between the adults, or the relationships were just building based on the familiarity of frequent time spent together. (Familiarity…familial, and I started to use the word relative in that previous sentence before thinking about its dual meaning… Hmm.)

 

Since we moved so often in my growing years, I had a collection of friends from previous addresses that I attempted to stay in touch with after moving away.  Staying in touch in those days gave me the option to write a letter or, well that was it. I wrote. The other option, long distance phone calls, was not even something that I would ask to do. Long distance calls were not as expensive as they had been, but they were reserved for family communication.

 

Perhaps those early letter writing opportunities fed my writing urge, I know I seemed to be more dedicated to the practice than most of my correspondents.  None of those early friendships were able to bear the test of distance. Although, thanks to Facebook, I did get in touch with a few of those people in recent years just to say hi.

 

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public domain image

Entering adulthood made staying in touch change.  Now keeping up with extended family goings-on was my responsibility. I still remember the first time that I visited my aunt and uncle’s house without my parents, and through my own plans. The long distance bills were mine and I used plenty of those minutes talking with my mom. I had friends and family scattered all over, and I moved about the country myself with my own growing family.

 

Staying in touch has changed so much – visits and phone calls are still a core method. I am recently back from a trip to visit my brother and his family a couple of states away, and last night I finally called a friend who texted me too long ago. We have texting and email and Skye and Facebook and still the old fashioned snail mail letter or card. And somehow we seem less able to stay in touch.

 

I have been spending this week reaching out in various ways. How do you stay in touch?

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What Do You Recommend?

A thoughtful recommendation is a fine thing to give or receive.  LinkedIn has made this process a whole lot easier.  My first attempt to get a recommendation from the Head Librarian where I worked during college didn’t go as well as I planned.  While she appreciated the work that I had done, she never did get around to writing that recommendation and sending it to me.  I think that she might have been more likely to follow through with her intention if she’d been able to post it to my profile.

 

Back in the day, a professional kept a portfolio that would include originals of recommendation letters on company letterhead, carefully saved in clear plastic sleeves.  I still have my dad’s judiciously built portfolio, in a nice leather binding, glowing letters spanning his career.

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I have actually enjoyed writing the recommendations that I have given.  (I also see benefit in thoughtfully writing employee reviews.)  I spend time thinking about the characteristics and skills of that person that make them effective at their job.  I tie these to specific projects and tasks that the person has completed.  Sometimes if time has elapsed since we worked together, I might ask to meet and talk to refresh my memory.  Vague platitudes from me aren’t going to do anybody any good.

 

I learned about having that conversation beforehand from one of my HR friends.  I asked her for a recommendation and she asked me about my goals and expectations from the recommendation.  A nice addition to the question – would you give me a recommendation – and the usual casual answer – sure.

 

But I don’t want to be told exactly what to say either.  Any more than I am going to answer a survey on a company when they tell me that they want to hear that I was highly satisfied.  (If you already know the answer, why bother to pretend to ask the question…)  The reader will be able to tell when I have taken the time to craft my impression of that person from my own experience and interactions.

 

I’ve come to see recommendations as another facet of writing as communication.  It might be simpler to ask and to post now, but that just means the effort can all go to being thoughtful in your expression.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Why Write?

I was raised to think, not just do.  This thing happened to me, mom.  Why do you think it happened like that?  What can you do about it?  The balance is to think and then do, or you get analysis paralysis.

 

This is at least the third version of a piece that I revisit periodically ever since I stumbled upon this exercise.  The first version was read by me and the person at Poets and Writers magazine who rejected the submission.  The second was posted on my original blog as Why I Write.  It seems like every other person is a frustrated writer these days.  Some people are attracted by the potential for fast money, so it behooves those of us who persist at the craft to think about why we do what we do.  And since we are writers, thinking usually means writing.

 

Writing is permanence in a disposable world.  Committing words to paper – electronic or actual – requires a bit of thought beyond letting them spill from your mouth and moving on.  Which doesn’t mean that a writer can’t do the written version of misspeaking, mind you.  That’s why we need editors.

 

For every attempted act of communication there is equal opportunity for misunderstanding and discord as there is for understanding and agreement.  Written communication allows the opportunity for more deliberate consideration of intent and word choice to appeal to the ideal audience.

 

We learn very early, probably as our first conscious thought, that we have to figure out how to communicate.  Our needs are simple but urgent – food, sleep, a fresh diaper.  But babies have little means to get their point across and then they start to decode the sounds that they hear as words with attached generally accepted meanings.  Ah, communication begins.

 

We spend the rest of our lives communicating, whether we actively think about it or not.  Most often through oral communication, but we have to learn that pesky written part too.  (It is fascinating that for as many people who claim interest in writing, a large number of people groan at the idea of using writing as a means to communicate in business.)

 

Spoken words can fade in the memory, or morph into something entirely else than originally intended but written down they can become information that can be referenced again and again.  Imagine being given multi-step instructions verbally and then having to recall step 6 or so, some time later.  If you have this ability, I applaud you.  I can create a mental list of 4-5 things that I need at the store, recite it all the way and only manage to remember that there were supposed to be 4-5 things in my basket when I actually get to the store.

 

The act of writing, itself, helps the brain to remember the point more clearly.  This is why we are taught to take notes in school.  Typing the thing has some power, but not nearly the power as picking up a pencil or pen and putting it to paper.

 

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public domain image

Written communication reaches more people with exactly the same message than through word of mouth.  (Remember the game of telephone?)  This doesn’t mean that the message will be interpreted the same by all recipients, but at least it was the same message at the beginning.

 

I wasn’t sure what would come out when I decided to revisit this topic today, it appears to be more general and less personal than the other efforts.  Who knows how it will turn out next time.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

There Should be an App for That

(Please remember as you read today’s post that I have a dumb phone and I know exactly this much – 0 – about phone applications.  However, should anyone reading this decide that this is a viable idea and create such an app – you’re welcome.)

 

I’ve been to a few meetings and events in the past week or so that all start with some version of the announcement to turn off or turn down the beeps, bleeps, trills, rings and singing of electronic devices.  I dutifully turn my phone to vibrate each time because I do rely upon that verbal reminder to take this courteous action.

 

I’ve had a cell phone for about 12 years now, clearly not an early adopter.  My sister and brother-in-law got me into the mobile age by gifting a pay-by-month phone.  I left it in the box until the morning that it was predicted that a huge snowstorm would bear down on us later that day.  I picked up the phone – box, instructions and all – and activated it when I got to work.

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

(A year or so before that, I spent two solid hours inching past Woodfield Mall in a frustrating effort to get home during an evening rush hour snow storm.  I was the 2nd to last parent to pick up my kids at after-school care and due to the emergency situation was not charged the late pick up fee, thankfully.  I could have used a phone that night.)

 

I digress, I use the cell phone for communication not entertainment.  For it to be effective for inbound contact, I need to be able to hear it ringing.  I can count on one finger the number of times that I have successfully remembered to turn back on the sound after a meeting or an event.  I missed a call this past week that once again made me annoyed at myself.  And led to this thought about apps.

 

There should be an application that activates when a person turns off the ringer and then finds a way to turn the ringer back on after a period of time or a way to notify the phone owner that the sound is off.  Yes, this is not necessary for the folks who obsessively check their phones.  But I know that I am not alone in the way that I use my phone.

 

What do you think?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Lack of Possession that Killed the Impression

I’ve never claimed to be a grammarian.  My time as an English major was spent reading literature, not parsing sentence structure.  (Though a tortured sentence could make my enjoyment of any story come to a screeching halt.)  Spelling, now – I used to be pretty good at correct spelling until Microsoft Word made me a little soft.  (It’s my fingers that can’t spell, not my brain – really – they get a lot of little squiggly red lines.)

 

The most basic point of decent grammar and spelling are to create common understanding so that we can communicate.  Given that, I suppose my grammar is sound enough due to all the practice of reading and writing, just don’t ask me much beyond explaining nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.  I base most of my grammar judgment in how a sentence or phrase sounds when I read it out loud.  (A trick I highly recommend before you send out that message to anyone whose opinion matters.)

 

I am still doing much better than some people.  Such as those who never grasped the important task that the apostrophe holds in showing possession.  This must be why we had to do pages and pages of Bill’s dog and Laura’s pencil ad nauseam and still too many people might call this Beths blog as if it were written by numerous people named Beth.  (Clearly they don’t do their typing on Microsoft Word because I just had to tell it to ignore Beths.)

 

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public domain image

And since I brought up their – more possession – it shouldn’t be confused with they’re there, as in they are there in that moment to understand their proper usage.

 

Maybe in this world of text speak and informal interaction it isn’t as important to make the proper spelling and grammatical impression.  But maybe it is – if you want the job, or the grade, or to show your erudition.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Highly Collaborative Introvert

Maybe you are wondering why I am combining these two seemingly contrary traits.  These traits cannot exist in parallel to each other.  But they can and do, and I am living proof.  On my original blog, in my most enduring and highly viewed post to date I talk about being an introvert with extroverted tendencies.  And mention that I like to collaborate.

 

Collaboration is to work with another person on within a group toward a shared goal.  Collaboration is a powerful way to take a good idea and make it something stellar through the use of the strengths of multiple people.  True collaboration, and not the buzzword ‘collaborative’, can and does improve plenty of projects.

 

Introversion simply means that a person wants to choose where, when, with whom and for how long they interact with other people.  Having no control over any of those points creates an energy drain for the introverted person.  Introversion is not shyness, though Dictionary.com lists introversion as a synonym, because shyness is more about wanting to fade into the background when in a group.  Shyness is timidity, wanting to limit your exposure to the unfamiliar.  A person can be introverted and not be shy and vice versa.

 

All of the above is lead in to my topic, being a collaborative introvert.  It took me a very long time to understand my introversion because I am not a complete introvert.  But I often came away from group interactions feeling exhausted and anxious and I couldn’t figure out why.  And part of the reason why I didn’t understand is because I love shared ideas.  I get jazzed up when a group situation offers a chance to develop an ok idea or plan into a much better one.

 

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public domain image

It has only been in the last few years, as I thought about defining these traits for myself that I realized the distinctions.  And the parameters that I need to create for myself to prevent that exhausted, anxious feeling.  Or at least lessen it as much as I can.

 

Simple things really help – taking a moment to compose myself before walking into the room, having at least some pre-idea of what might happen (meeting topic/agenda, reason for the event, who will be attending, etc.), knowing when I need a break.  I also almost always have a notebook with me to jot things down (for potential blog posts later).

 

What about you do you find value in collaboration?  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

 

Related:  I also wrote this follow up, Introversion Revisited – How Could I Resist?, which didn’t play as well.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Fragmented Experience

I was recently at the Salesforce1 World Tour in Chicago (they had Buddy guy play, which was awesome) and they used this marketing term while discussing customer experience and a light bulb went on for me.  Fragmented experience – that got tucked away for future mulling.

DSC03817

Having spent a few years in customer service/care/experience (whatever the current lingo), I am sensitive to providing clear, accurate and timely information and assistance to customers in a cohesive manner.  As a consumer for even longer, I am well aware of how many companies fall far short of this goal and I have had way too many fragmented experiences from the customer perspective.

 

(ATT – take heed!  A couple of months ago I called them to ask a question and the automated message said to contact them through their website for faster service.  When I hung up and tried that, the website told me to call them.  Yes, really.  Maybe not a fragmented experience per se, but I thought for a minute that I was in one of Dante’s circles of hell.)

 

So, what is a fragmented experience?  Any time when you get only bits and pieces of what you are after using one method of contact and you have to expend a lot of effort to achieve your goal of all the information or service that you are after.  Too many companies seem to do this on purpose to make people give up, which often results in a disgruntled customer who is paying more than they probably should.

 

I probably shouldn’t single out ATT for my fragmented experiences, but that is the one that is coming to mind just at this moment.  I’m sure that I could gather plenty more with a quick poll of my friends.  Sadly.

 

Plenty of companies in recent years have ignored the percentage of their employees who felt disengaged because the company saw no compelling need to address the issue.   Some of the same companies have allowed fragmented customer experiences to be the norm because they knew inertia would allow them to retain a large portion of these disgruntled customers.  What if that starts to change?  What if younger, hungry companies start to show customers a truly better experience?

 

What is your most egregious fragmented experience?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Breaking the Escalation Pattern

How many times do we see the news or hear about a situation when we think how did it get to that point?  Why didn’t someone intervene, somehow put a stop to it?

 

When to step in?  How to step in?  Who should step in?

 

I don’t remember how old my boys were when I started to talk to them about the part they could play in keeping things from escalating to a point where there is a loss of control and something unfortunate results.  Somewhere in their grade school years, long before their brains would mature enough to develop impulse control.  (Of course, age doesn’t always correlate to impulse control.)

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public domain image

 

The calmest among us still has a trigger or two – perhaps one or both of the universal triggers, hunger and lack of sleep.  The calmest people are less likely to be set off by their very calm nature, do they also better understand how to take action to keep their surroundings more serene?  Or how best to respond to chaotic surroundings to keep themselves serene?

 

We are under constant bombardment from outside forces – bills, relationship pressures, the world around us – which can keep us at a low simmer.  Add in one more aggravation and it might make a volatile mix.  What do we each do to understand our own simmer, our own triggers; what do we each do to counteract or prevent our triggers from being tripped?

 

Diffusing a volatile situation takes some skill, but helping ourselves, a friend or a family member to ease down their simmer is a much simpler and more pleasant task.  Breaking the escalation pattern early, before it even has a chance to start, is sometimes as simple as getting a meal with a friend, sharing a laugh or offering a hug.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Poetic to Prosaic

Prosaic is one of those words that I come upon infrequently and in such context that I never bothered to look it up in the dictionary.  So I never had a clear understanding of its meaning, only gleaned it from the situations where I found it used.  I’ve recently discovered that I had the wrong idea of this word all along.

 

In gleaning a meaning, I give weight to the way that the word sounds to me and prosaic has a pleasant little lilt to it.  But it means the same as mundane – which sounds as it is intended, stodgy and dull.  In enjoying the way that prosaic sounded, I was uplifting it to be similar in meaning to poetic instead of its opposite.  Being a word in the periphery of my awareness, I never thought about the origin; its direct relationship to the word prose.  A word which encompasses all of my efforts on this blog, a cousin of my chosen word essay.  Around 1746 the dictionary says prosaic’s meaning was “having the character of prose (in contrast to the feeling of poetry)”.  This was almost 100 years after the word came into being.

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I love the huge variety of words that we have at our disposal (and yet we still have so much difficulty expressing ourselves at times), some of which have been with us for centuries.  With such a vast selection, is it odd or understandable that most of us use so very few words repeatedly and some words become so overused as to be akin to nails on a chalkboard?   (Think of just about any buzz word, which I wrote about on my old blog last year, Buzzspeak, Hmmm.)

 

It seems understandable to me that we become familiar with a narrow selection of words and then use what is most familiar.  In our constant search for meaning and value, we cling to the things that are comfortable and familiar.  Regardless of how prosaic they may be.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Trail of Dots

Remember those fun sheets that we would get in those early years at school?  Random numbered dots scattered on the page with the occasional squiggle or line or recognizable body part – and we would know what the picture represented after we connected the dots in numerical order.  I’m sitting here right now thinking that those exercises where just about the best training for work, and life, that we got in school.

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public domain image

 

This led to that, and sometimes you really had to search for that.  Not to mention if you accidentally got out of sequence it could be a slow and messy clean up to start again.  In the meantime you wouldn’t be able to tell what you had at all.  (If only tracking down things now resulted in a cute little picture that I could happily color.)

 

The one aspect of dependencies that was represented on the page – maintaining the right sequence – had to stand in for others such as waiting on other people or working within system or program limitations.  I suppose teachers were wise in keeping this one to themselves for a few more years.  We were still busy learning the get along with others and sharing part, no need to muddy that yet.

 

Now that I am thinking about how these Connect the Dots exercises were so much more important than they seemed at the time – I wonder about how one went about constructing them?  Obviously starting with the full picture, but the art, or science, was to determine the right points to keep so that the recipient couldn’t immediately guess the subject of the picture but would also not get confused.

 

Sometimes the designer made mistakes and left out parts or skipped a number and the puzzle couldn’t be completed as shown.  This left the child hanging, or gave the child the opportunity to use their own imagination.  Again, making this a great test for work and life – a low risk chance to practice what to do when instructions are wrong or incomplete for the task at hand.

 

Some days, by the end of the work day, my brain is only capable of the most rudimentary task.  Maybe I should go out and get myself a book of these Connect the Dots and see if that will help my brain unwind from the more complicated trail of dots in life.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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