Email miscommunication

Are we getting lazy with our emails? Do we treat the electronic communication with a cavalier attitude which we would never consider employing with other media? For example:

  • how many emails have you received where the sender didn’t fully explain the point or question, disappointingly leaving you to fill in the blanks or piece together the meaning of the message?
  • how often do you get an email which is simply forwarded with ‘FYI’?

We seem to consider this behaviour socially acceptable – but would we think it reasonable to send a letter which said:

“Please find attached several letters between other people.  One of them has asked a question based on the details sprinkled amongst their correspondence.  I don’t know the answer. Would you read all of the pages, pick out the details, and work out the answer. I’m too busy or important to summarise for you.”

Perhaps not.

This might be an extreme example, but I suspect that most people are guilty of forwarding email without adequate explanation.

So tomorrow try a step change in email communication: help the recipient understand the message.  You might even be surprised at the results.

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The common cold – and happy thoughts #6

Sandpaper, nails, a jackhammer, and a tidal wave.  The ingredients of the common cold which has beset me this week, afflicting my throat, eyes, neck/head, and nose.  Although, of course, as at least half of the people likely to read this will understand, it was really manflu and consequently a potentially lethal biohazard.

But if the last few days have been plague-ridden, what better moment to think positive and look for the happy thoughts? This week I’ve been introduced to biomechanics and how to improve my posture and gait – ideally becoming rather more flexible than an oak tree.  I’m looking forward to progressing and heartily recommend it.

Some years ago, in the dark days before the Blackberry or the iPhone, when we were ‘off sick’ we were physically separated from work and had the chance to peacefully recuperate – although often all that happened was that the work piled up and we just had more to do when we got back.  Whilst at home for a couple of days this week I had my Blackberry and could keep the plates spinning with a instant meesage here and an email there – this is probably better for the business, and it meant less of a backlog for my return, but did it help my work/life balance?

Likewise, when we are on our holidays, is there a fine line between relaxation and separation anxiety? We want to be thought of as invaluable, but is ‘workaholic’ any better an epithet?

Freedom of speech

How many times have we seen an advertising campaign draw adverse comments and thereby gain additional airtime on the news, free repetition in the press, and public attention through word of mouth? Allegedly no publicity is bad publicity and, so long as the adverse comments aren’t too bad, it can be a successful marketing tactic. 

I also wonder about the effectiveness of pressure groups or critics decrying television programmes (or, indeed, movies). Whilst some may be swayed many others will be curious – and the extra publicity is all for free.

Shock-jocks like Howard Stern play upon this human behaviour as a way of generating discussion and possibly audience, relying upon the principles of freedom of speech to protect them.  But, so long as they don’t stray into the areas of fomenting violence, should they really need protection as no-one is being forced to listen to their output?  There is always the “off” switch – or probably another hundred or more channels with something they might consider more palatable.

Indeed, are the people who rant and rave about how shocking something is, how much they would like to wreak vengeance upon someone for simply expressing their opinion, really just playing into the hands of the original publisher and giving them what they are really after: an audience and some free publicity?

In this connected world, bedecked with twitter updates and facebook statuses, a simple comment can ignite a flame war propelling a comment far, far wider than any paid publicity machine could hope to achieve. I would never have read some of the items that made me think of today’s subject had it not been for repost of and comment on something quite harmless (if potentially bigoted).

But maybe that’s the real point? Aren’t both sides entitled to the same freedom of speech in a civilised society?  After all, wouldn’t a fair doctrine in this area be best defined as “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”?

Happy thoughts #5 – and a bit more philosophy

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

For a long time I didn’t understand exactly how putting something off to another day could actually cost me time, but once I understood the meaning I started to look at it more deeply:

  • if I put something off until tomorrow, or next week, or some future date, then I’ve spent time today in thinking about it and making a decision to postpone the action.  In reality this (and the time I’ll spend thinking about the delayed matter) is time which I could have used towards the task (even if I couldn’t have finished it); or
  • if someone else delays dealing with a task from which I require the output then my time is stolen in chasing, remediating, explaining, or even just managing the delay.  (There is the deeper question of managing expectations, but perhaps that is for another day.)

Outside of work this can range from simply tedious to deeply frustrating; overall – work included – time thefts can directly be related to financial costs, and can even affect the bottom line.

Is the message, therefore, not to put off until tomorrow what we can reasonably do today?  I think that’s an entirely reasonable position, and it’s directly related to my happy thought for the week.

My diary got crunched at both ends this week and so yesterday I ended up going for a run at lunchtime (hard intervals) and another in the afternoon (slower and longer, but with a powerful finish).  I had thought about postponing one or the other but I’m glad I didn’t: I felt really good after the second, both mentally and physically. And so my happy thought is all about my running – and the fact that I didn’t succumb to the subtle lure of procrastination.

And the thought to ponder: what will you now do today that you would otherwise have put off?

Perceptions – and management behaviours

A few posts ago I wrote about not judging books by their covers, and today I’m thinking again about the same sort of thing – but this time in the workplace.

As managers it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate those leadership and managerial qualities that we wish to develop and engender in those around us, but how many times have we all seen others act in a way which they would not tolerate from their reports?  This shows a lack of respect in one direction, and a creates loss of it in the other.

The hit comedy “Yes, Minister” made fun of this type of double standards behaviour by referring to it as an irregular verb, for example:

  1. I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist.
  2. I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he’s being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.

Whilst this is in the context of a television sitcom, it shouldn’t detract from the important characteristic being lampooned, and one of the aphorisms we all learned as children: “do to others as you would be done by”. 

Not everyone is born as a natural leader, and some only have people follow them out of a sense of morbid curiosity.  Leadership can be learned and encouraged, and people will want to follow a leader who has their respect – this time neither a carrot nor a stick are required!

So my question to ponder for the day is: what positive behaviour trait do you most admire from your leaders, and how can you emulate that to achieve similar respect?

Nine square meals a day?

I remember the oft quoted maxim of “little and often” being quoted as the way we should eat, rather than having three large meals a day.  I also remember someone saying that we should eat more for breakfast than, say, for dinner (breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dine like a pauper).

So, is it healthier to eat smaller, more frequent meals, and thus give the system a more regulated input – or is it better to deluge with a full meal.  The regularity of a metronome, or the violent cacophony of overabundance?  Let us assume that the former is a better way to go through life.

If we are to eat more frequently then we need some extra names for the meals – just having breakfast, lunch, and dinner is simply not enough.  But if we don’t name the meal times then aren’t we simply snacking between meals, a practice to be abhorred and eliminated?

In that case, here are my suggestions for mealtimes.  They’re mostly from current and historic practices, but I have also borrowed a couple of ideas from the cruise industry.

  • 0700: early-riser breakfast
  • 0900: late breakfast
  • 1100: elevenses
  • 1300: lunch
  • 1500: afternoon tea
  • 1700: high tea
  • 1900: dinner
  • 2200: bedtime drink (cocoa, hot chocolate … and something to eat)
  • 0000: midnight snack

Should I be a little worried that there are seven hours in this day without any food at all?  Perhaps a plate of sandwiches by the bed in case we wake with a raging hunger (although I feel that’s probably unlikely on this regime).

Sadly, I think that the portions for each meal in this timetable would be dismally reduced – but on the other hand, maybe “nouvelle cuisine” has now found its niche?

Can you define ‘left’, and when is someone ‘old’?

It isn’t possible to define left and right without resorting either to a compass (left if west of you are facing north) or employing the principle of opposites (left is the opposite of right).  In similar vein it is impossible to define the points where youth becomes middle-age, and where middle-age become old.

Whilst left and right are absolute, the definitions of old and young seem to vary depending upon the age of the observer.  According to a recent survey the borderlines are at 32 and 54, although the edges seem blurry.  In fact, if you’re 51 (obviously a curious age!) then the young will see you as old whilst those over 80 will still regard you as a youth!

Perhaps, then, the difference isn’t really in what the calendar says but in your outlook? I know some people who are under 50 but have an old mindset and are almost wishing their lives away.  Equally, I have older friends whose outlooks are particularly contemporary and energetic.

So today’s musing is simply this: how do you decide whether someone is young, middle-aged, or old? And what if their perceptions are different?

Self-defence, shooting burglars, and sexual harassment

BurglarA headline caught my eye recently: “No charges for Oklahoma teen mother who called 911 to ask permission to kill burglar“.  The story is about a woman who called police to ask if she could shoot an intruder if he entered her home. He entered; she killed him with a shotgun.  In a country where gun ownership is prevalent, and in some communities even encouraged, you would think that would be a deterrent to burglars and other intruders.  But with 215 justifiable homicides in 2009, it would seem not.

But what is a deterrent? The death penalty? Abolition of hanging in the UK didn’t appreciably increase the murder rate, and death row is overflowing in the USA.

Perhaps people living in a great environment are less inclined towards crime? The government of the Seychelles would disagree,

Fear of being caught maybe? Anecdotal evidence suggests that, rather like Norman Stanley Fletcher, imprisonment is simply viewed as an occupational hazard – and for some even an educational opportunity.

So, if there is no adequate deterrent, should we be allowed to shoot burglars – or, in the UK where we can’t own guns, perhaps politely berate them with golf club? Continue reading

Happy thoughts #4 (and a bit of philosophy)

Two weeks into the new year and Christmas seems so long ago.  Do we wish our lives away, lurching from weekend to weekend, from one public holiday to the next, and ultimately from vacation to vacation?  Is there merit in saving for a rainy day, or should we live for the moment?  Is it better to regret what we did, or rue the opportunities that we missed?

This moment will only come once, this day will never be repeated, so should we be more concerned with what we can do and achieve today than being the donkey chasing the elusive carrot?  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t lay the foundations for something bigger and better, or strive to complete today’s part of a much bigger task, but is yearning for the next day off enriching our lives?

Rudyard Kipling’s “If” encapsulates this concept in the last few lines (and maybe you’ll be inspired to read the rest of the poem):

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

And it is partly in this context that I like to think of my happy thoughts – what has made this week special, and not simply the filler between Sunday and Saturday?  A couple of good runs – one of five miles over particularly hilly terrain, and another of four where I pushed a friend to do it in a personal best time (of recent years anyway).

Still on the same theme, I’m going to fill the unforgiving minute – and with Amy’s help and encouragement I’m going to register for a 10k.  I might post details when it’s complete,

Netflix or notflix?

I have Sky+ bringing me the ability to watch a whole heap of channels, to record series at the touch of a button, and to time-shift my satellite viewing.

If I want to watch something I missed then there’s a selection of “plus one” channels transmitting an hour later, or I can visit a couple of websites where the content is stored for a while (for example 4OD or BBC iPlayer).  Not only can I time-shift my viewing, but with the internet I can place-shift too – and with a bit of ingenuity it’s even possible to view from overseas.

Failing all of this I have Apple tv which will stream from my iTunes library or selected films can be purchased and viewed online.

And yet, this week I find myself wondering whether or not to subscribe to Netflix – a myriad of films, old seasons of television, and who knows what else.

I am perhaps fortunate that I have seen and used Netflix in the USA when I was staying with my family, and I found some old UK content which assuaged my homesickness and fed my nostalgia.  There was more available to stream than I could possibly watch, and had I stayed longer then I may have tried to watch more – but was that because I didn’t have access to my familiar transmissions?

It would be fair to say that I enjoyed playing with Netflix, but there are only so many hours in a day and a limit to the amount of viewing I want to do.

Does more choice mean that I’ll be more selective, happier with my viewing time?  Or will I simply be paying more to fill the same amount of leisure time?

I feel that it’s worth having a trial month, but will I simply be sucked in?