Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

Service of When Simple Things Confuse

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

I wonder if I live on a different planet sometimes. To illustrate what I mean, I’ve photographed a few signs and a sales pitch that I’ve recently noticed or received. I cover communications—mostly poor–in many of my posts.

On a bus at night this week I looked up from what I was reading to see where I was. I admired the new lit street sign [photo above], but from where I sat, I could only see the Avenue—the street number, which is what I needed to know, was hidden. Did the designer think of that?

I know why real estate people do it, because the avenue may have more cachet as an address to the building owner, but it has always confounded me when a door that opens many paces up a NYC street has an address referencing an Avenue. I’m surprised that it’s allowed. The photo, right, shows 350 Lexington Ave. quite a bit up on 40th Street facing west.

I got a letter from Stig Abell, whom I don’t know, asking me to subscribe to the TLS with not a hint of what it was anywhere. I bet every reader of this blog knows what TLS is but on arrival home late one night, I didn’t. Because I was planning to write this column, instead of tossing the letter immediately, I looked it up: The Times Literary Supplement. I guess it was one of those “If you have to ask, you’re not worthy of it,” sales pitches.

I didn’t snap a shot of a poster that was at bus stops all over town a few months ago—and I couldn’t find an image of it on the Internet either so you’ll have to believe me. It told the reader to fly out of EWR because of convenience etc. I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and had no idea where EWR was so the poster was wasted on me—I’ve never been good at acronyms anyway. I later learned in a Facebook conversation that it refers to Newark Airport as well as why the airport uses the letters EWR. Because the letter N is reserved for all things Navy, it cannot be used to identify airports.  EWR refers to some of the other letters in the word nEWaRk.

Have you been left in the dark due to confusing signs or mysterious sales pitches?

Photo: airportparkingguides.com

Service of Saying What You Mean—Or Not

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Photo: Oneweekjob.com

I tend to say what I mean. I’m baffled when people who know me well consistently think I really want to do or buy or eat something other than what I’ve identified. That’s why Deborah Tannen’s op ed piece in The New York Times caught my eye. But her personal findings, described in her piece, surprised me given her conclusions in her life’s work as a linguistics professor, now at Georgetown.

She described a dinner party in which she asked her friend Tamara not to help clear the table and Tamara kept on doing so. In “My Mother Speaks Through Me,” she explained that the way she and her friend communicated—spoke and heard–was impacted by their “families’ styles.”

Photo: makeameme.org

Turns out that Tamara’s mother would often protest that she didn’t want any help but once Tamara had completed a chore, her mother was always extremely grateful. So when Tannen said “No” Tamara heard “Yes.” In the household in which she grew up, Tannen’s mother meant what she said.

Tannen wrote that in her first paper—she’s been researching “how people speak differently across cultures” for 40 years—that confusion occurs “when one speaker means words literally and the other thinks they are hinting at something else.” She noted that a person with a direct approach hearing a fuzzy response might think the other person is “being manipulative, or even passive-aggressive.”

Photo: pexels.com

That’s why I was puzzled by Tannen’s surprise: “We both felt as if a light had been turned on. It never occurred to me that Tamara might think I didn’t mean it when I said I didn’t want her to help. And it had never occurred to her that I did.”

“Though my mother died in 2004,” wrote Tannen, “she is the one whose voice comes out when I speak, and whose speaking style shapes how I hear others’ words. The same is true for Tamara as I learned when our styles clashed.” She attributed the differences to the fact that her mother was born in Russia and Tamara’s in Germany. Tannen found it “deeply satisfying” to know that during the clearing of the dinner table she was speaking and Tamara was listening as their mothers would have.

When Tannen and her husband made Thanksgiving dinner at her parents’ home, her mom would ask “did you leave any food on the shelf?” and who did they think would eat all that food? Her mother speaks through her today, she wrote. She parodies those words when her husband brings home far too many groceries.

I don’t think it is that simple or cut and dried. My mother’s hinting was closer to the way my husband communicates than the way I do. They might ask “Is there any Ketchup?” instead of “Please bring in the Ketchup.” I think my style is a closer match to my father’s. If he told me to bring his glass to the kitchen and I responded “in a minute dad,” my hesitation didn’t go over well. There was no doubt what he wanted and when—no silly sallying around. I, too, am impatient.

Does your mother speak through you? Do you hear your parents’ voices when you speak? Do you listen and hear the way they do or did?

Photo: bublbe.com

Service of Pick up the Phone Already: When Written Communication Runs Amok

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Photo: connectmogul.com

Here’s an example of miscommunication in the extreme illustrating the potential impact of careless texting or hastily written messages of any kind.

The friend who shared this story received tragic news that blessedly turned out to be poor communications. She is a meticulous writer, speaker, retired PR manager at a major corporation and longtime instructor of Management Communication. She said if she were currently teaching a class she would use this as an example of what happens if you don’t consider what the recipient of your text or email might be thinking. The lesson applies to both personal and business communications.

I have made up the names of the characters in this tale.

  • My friend will be Maude
  • Her friend, the grandmother, Pam
  • Pam’s husband, the grandfather, Fred
  • Pam’s sister, Steph, is also a good friend of Maude’s and is the baby’s great aunt

Maude’s friend Pam traveled to be with her son and daughter-in-law last week for the birth of their second child. Her husband, Fred, stayed at home. The delivery of their first grandchild, now three, was extremely difficult. But their grandson, born on Maude’s birthday, was a healthy 9 lb baby and angelically beautiful. His mother, too, was fine.

Photo: rainmaker-strategies.com

The day after the infant was born, Pam’s sister, Steph, sent Pam a text telling her that she’d just bought a few things for the baby.

Pam texted in response: “We lost boy around noon today.”

Shocked, Steph called Maude. I happened to call Maude moments after she’d heard from Steph. Usually unshaken, Maude was stunned.

Pam has many siblings and they frequently invited Fred to have dinner with them while Pam was with the young family in the East.  When she opened the door, she told Fred that she was so sorry and he replied that he “knew this would happen a long time ago,” which was news to Steph.

Fred continued, “I was with him.” Odd, given that the baby was born over 1,000 miles away. “When I saw him this morning I knew he wasn’t going to make it.” Puzzling still.

In her distress and alarm over what she’d interpreted as the sudden death of her grandnephew, Steph forgot that Pam and Fred had a cat named “Boy.” It is he who had died.

Photo: thenation.com

An aside: Maude was telling me the story on the phone as she was getting a manicure. The manicurist apologized for eavesdropping and asked if the woman who’d written the text was American because “a native English speaker wouldn’t have written that.” Even this didn’t trigger an aha! moment because the baby didn’t yet have a name.

She wondered whether Pam had read what Steph had written about her purchases before responding with her news. As importantly, did Pam consider what might be on her sister’s mind given the family’s focus on the new addition? Maude advised for important information, don’t rely on hastily written texts and emails. If you don’t have time to reread then wait until you do or pick up the phone. Do you agree?

Photo: blog.near-me.com

Service of What’s the Point?

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Photo: jlacitychurch.org

Is there something about mail that makes the people who run such services–whether traditional or online–impractical?

USPS

I was rushed when I grabbed envelopes from my handbag to mail them in a box in front of the Amenia, NY post office, population 4,436. Inadvertently I may have also tossed in the box two checks meant for someone in my office.

Amenia, NY post office. Photo: mapio.net

When I realized this a few days later, I called to ask if they’d found the checks when they emptied the box.  The postal clerk said she wouldn’t know; the mail is picked up and goes to Albany where, if they found such checks, they’d shred them.

We live in an even smaller adjacent town, population 1,434. Were I mailing something to a business or friend there, does it make sense for the letter to travel to Albany first?

Naughty Spammer, Sloppy Spam Filter

Photo: med.stanford.edu

I received a warning that automatic filter systems were reporting as SPAM my twice weekly email notices highlighting posted topics on this blog. If I didn’t stop, my access to mail would be suspended.

There was a solution: I could avoid this by using a dedicated bulk mail delivery service designed to ensure regulatory compliance.I get tons of SPAM and have for years from entities many times larger than my business with far longer lists of recipients. No doubt they use services like Constant Contact, yet the mail keeps on coming even though it, too, is identified by the SPAM police as SPAM. So much for ensuring regulatory compliance, paying for someone else to perform a simple task and nevertheless being grabbed by the fingers of SPAM.

Further, those greedy fingers yank from my email box legitimate emails from clients, friends and relatives, people to whom I write weekly or daily and sometimes, even in the middle of back-and-forth correspondence.

I don’t want to be forced to pay for something I can do myself. Can you think of other instances like this?

Why does the USPS in tiny communities no longer have boxes designated for mail within the same zip code? Why must a small business be forced to buy a service it can very well do itself?

Service of What Happened to the Word FROM and Other Omissions

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Something's missing

There’s a commercial for 1800gotjunk.com that ends, “you never have to take off work.” And for years people have said—and written—“I graduated high school.” So what happened to the missing word FROM? I am far from a perfectionist when it comes to conversation but I miss hearing that word.

Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Pinterest

In a morning show radio discussion of other March blizzards in NYC in anticipation of tomorrow’s storm, the host brought up the “great blizzard of 1888” [that Wikipedia reported dumped some 40 inches of snow in parts of N.Y. and N.J. and up to 58 inches in Mass. and Conn.]. In predicting this week’s expected snowfall the host repeatedly left out the word IN when he said “anticipated precipitation Central Park.” That was the first I heard a missing “IN” and I hope it doesn’t become a habit.

This led to irritating abbreviations. I’ve recently heard on newscasts the word “presser,” short for press conference. Is it too difficult to say “press conference?”

Information technology expert Josh Cintrón shared a contraction he dislikes: “phoner” for phone interview. He admits to being a stickler for word choice and referenced the ridiculous image of someone who had just “caught the train.” He added, “not for nothing,” a phrase that may make some people cringe. But we agreed that we’ve become fond of this typical NYC double negative. [Who said we had to be consistently picky?]

When someone tells actor Daniel McHenry that they are “fixing dinner” he wonders “who broke it?”

Are there any missing or erroneous words or abbreviations that irk you? Do we drop words or parts of them simply out of laziness?

 

Photo: elitereaders.com

Photo: elitereaders.com

 

 

 

 

Service of Why Don’t You Say So?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Say so

Communications is often not our strong suit. The cost? Customers pay the price in wasted time and/or mistakes.

Taxing

I ordered an item online from a high end men’s store and noticed, in checking out, that I was charged tax. For clothing that costs $110 or less, New York residents don’t pay tax. While it wasn’t much, it irritated me that tax appeared on my bill but because it was the last day of a super sale, I approved the order and wrote customer service [which was closed on the weekend].

TaxFirst thing Monday I got a response telling me that they will charge the correct total {without the tax} “when the order is ready to ship.” I was notified, but the tax was still there. So I whipped out another note–thank goodness for cut and paste and email. The correction was made.

Given that the store has a NY branch and that I assume more than one customer orders from NY, it would have been easier to note on the invoice that NY residents won’t pay tax for items under $110. Staff in billing should be similarly instructed….although I suspect that I may be the only one to care.

Check this out

I was having an annual checkup and on arrival dropped into the ladies room to wash the subway off my hands. There was a note warning patients not to urinate if they were having a sonogram. The office offers sonograms in a few parts of the body so out of curiosity I asked one of the technicians whether this directive applies to all sonograms. She said that it only applies to pelvic ones. So couldn’t that one word have been added to the warning?

Do it yourself and guess

USPS self service and binI used the do-it-yourself package mailing system at the Grand Central post office. One of the questions is “Will your package fit in the bin?” which it would. When done, I tried to open the adjacent bin and it was locked shut. So I had to wait in line anyway to find out where to put the stamped package. An exasperated postal worker, who looked at me as though I was dumb, pointed in the direction of a large canvas container on wheels placed well below the counter where nobody would see it with nobody nearby to secure it, either.

Was there a note stating what to do with a package on the bin parked next to the scale/shipping computer? No. Was there a note above the hidden container that collected packages? No. US Postal Service customers take note: Bring along your ESP next time you drop by.

Cross street please

When a business posts its NYC address on its website, if on an avenue, please note the nearest cross street.  I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and I don’t always know this information. [See 666 Fifth Ave and 546 Broadway, in photo below.]

Have you noticed that increasingly few businesses put themselves in their customer’s shoes in planning websites or procedures by anticipating questions or sharing clear instructions in the first place? Do you have other examples?

 Cross street please turned

 

Service of the Language of the Lazy: Name-Calling Beats Learning the Facts

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Lazy 2

As a child I often heard the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” but I never believed it because if someone slung a nasty name at me, I always felt insulted. And once when I was very young a bus driver was abusive to my mother. I don’t recall his exact words, but I have a vivid memory of the feeling in the pit of my stomach left by his name-calling. That’s probably one reason some adults continue to resort to this technique.

But there’s another: It’s the language of the lazy. The slothful version of “When you leave your shoes all over the house I find it both unattractive and dangerous–someone could trip and fall,” is to point at the sneakers and loafers and grunt, “You’re a pig.”

Instead of saying, “I wish that more devout Muslims would explain how they feel about ISIS and what they suggest the most effective way might be to arrest the movement,” the lazy version is “Muslims are evil.”

Photo: blog.lawcanvas.com

Photo: blog.lawcanvas.com

This is Trump’s specialty, from the cruel nicknames he gives political opponents to the childish rant he snapped at Secretary Clinton during the last debate, calling her a “nasty woman.”

It’s also a foolproof technique to avoid having to know more than a few words about any subject. The easy answer to “What is your policy about ______” is “what a stupid question.” Conversation over.

Why bother to explain your position when you can resort to one of the names he called columnist Marc Thiessen: “failed.” Failed, failing–or some version of the word–is a Trump favorite. Thiessen is in good company. Trump also tweeted this description of The New York Times, Jeff Zucker president of CNN, The New York Daily News, John R. Allen, retired US Marine General, The National Review, to name a few who haven’t seen eye to eye with him.

George Will. Photo: washingtonpost.com

George Will. Photo: washingtonpost.com

Who is the “really dumb puppet?” The editor of the Fox News Channel, Chris Stirewalt. Chuck Todd of Meet the Press is “pathetic;” members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board are “dummies;” columnist George Will is “broken down, boring and dopey;” Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore is “a joke” and Donna Brazile, DNC chairwoman is “totally dishonest.” Isn’t name-calling easier than parrying with facts to address what each of these organizations, reporters, columnists or executives may have written or said about him or his proposed policies? I’ll say.

Thank you to Jasmine C. Lee and Kevin Quealy of The New York Times for collating “The 282 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List,” the source of the name-calling noted above.

The technique was effective enough to land Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential candidate. Why do you think so much of society today finds this appropriate behavior to be praised and rewarded? What happened for this to be so? Will this approach impact how we all interact going forward?

Photo: Parade

Photo: Parade

Service of Make it Clear and Keep Your Fingers Crossed

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Photo: theatlantic.com

Photo: theatlantic.com

 

Misunderstandings happen all the time between vendors who try to please and clients who hear what they hope or want to hear. Who knows who is right but clearly everyone can lose by winning.

In the first instance there’s Alec Baldwin and a well known New York art gallery owner Mary Boone. Baldwin “is suing Mary Boone in New York Supreme Court claiming the art dealer duped him into buying a $190,000 painting which was a copy,” wrote Hili Perlson on artnet.com

Alec Baldwin. Photo: ora.tv

Alec Baldwin. Photo: ora.tv

In 2010 Baldwin thought he bought Ross Bleckner’s 1996 painting “Sea and Mirror” owned by an “unnamed collector” and said he got “a different version” of a picture with the same title and that Boone had put the gallery inventory number of the original on the work he bought.

Through her lawyer the gallery owner said that “Baldwin was made aware from the start he was not getting the original 1996 version of the painting.” Nevertheless, Boone has offered a full refund.

But Baldwin wants more. Perlson wrote he wants: “the difference between the purchase price of the painting in his possession and the current value of the original Sea and Mirror, which was painted, as Baldwin claims, while Bleckner was at the height of his artistic career.”

I’ve written before about the second instance that is so fitting to the topic and worth a repeat. An interior decorator carefully explained to her client—in front of a third person—that fabricating stationary window panels instead of curtains would save on the cost of the very expensive drapery textile she’d chosen, with a drawback: The panels, she told this friend-of-a-friend, would not move and would not fully cover the window. The client was fine with the sketch and the savings and said she could live with the downside and the panels were ordered and installed.

stationary-drapery-panelArriving home and seeing the panels the client called the decorator in fury: “They don’t cover the window!” she fumed and said she wouldn’t pay for them. The third person, who had introduced the two, would not take sides.

Had the interior decorator asked her client to sign or initial the sketch she made on which she’d noted her warning that might have helped IF the client was willing to put her John Hancock to the sheet. [The client was a lawyer.] Had the gallery owner asked Baldwin to sign something that detailed what his $190,000 was getting him, his nose might have been out of joint, only earlier, perhaps avoiding the current muddle.

Proving a client/customer is wrong is messy and the worst business prescription. In the end it doesn’t matter how much paperwork a vendor has to prove a point unless the business retains pounds and pounds of legal support and has deep pockets budgeted for lawsuits. Apart from an airtight insurance policy to cover such misunderstandings, must most businesses expect to swallow such losses? Have you heard of similar examples?

Win by losing

Service of Dónde? Où? Woher? Dove? Onde? Nerede? Gdzie? Translation: Where?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

 Taxi Tv show

I was born in Manhattan and have lived much of my life in New York City. There are miles of neighborhoods in the five boroughs I would have trouble finding in a car, GPS or no GPS. Tell me where you want to go in Russian, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese and most languages, other than French and English, and I’m lost.

Map of NYCSo apart from the fact that English has been the lingua franca in this country since its inception, does it make practical sense that speaking English is no longer a requirement of New York City cab drivers?

  • Should a Greek, Chinese or Arabic driver familiar with a different alphabet be asked to take a passenger to an address on Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway, Houston Street or Columbus Circle, for example, will he/she be able to read the street sign to know that they arrived?
  • What about the crucial direction in Manhattan“East” and “West?”

Stop sign in several languagesShould I invest in a street sign business in anticipation of a lineup of street names on every pole in the most used alphabets in addition to Roman? [I wonder if the English street name will remain at the top?]

No doubt I sound harsh but my dad came to this country in his 30s and had to learn English from scratch, which he did extremely well. He also wrote beautifully. [His charming accent was to die.] Millions of others have done the same. How many generations of newcomers were forced to learn English before they were eligible for certain jobs?

Years ago I met a laborer who lived and worked in New Jersey for 50 years and if he knew 50 English words, that was a lot. He spoke his native language with neighbors and colleagues at work and local shop owners too. But I wouldn’t recommend him for the job of taxi driver.

In order to work as a cab driver or in most jobs wouldn’t you want to learn Italian, French, German, Portuguese or Japanese if you moved to Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Portugal or Japan?  Or even if you went there to live? What do you think of this new ruling?

 Bi lingual signs in Quimper

 

 

Service of Why

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Why

I ask questions in every post and the question word also appears in a few titles. Today I share some unrelated observations and ask WHY:

  • Do you think a mother pushing a stroller gave her young child a tablet to stare at when there was plenty to look at on the street between the traffic, other pedestrians, store windows and dogs passing by?  The child was so little—around one–and the screen so large that he could hardly hold the device that was crammed in between his legs and the stroler. We weren’t near each other for very long but while we were, not a word passed between them.
  • Inside an elevatorDo I go to the right in some elevators and to the left in others to reach the floor control buttons and inevitably, my instinct sends me the wrong way? Why aren’t these buttons installed universally either left or right?
  • TelemarketerDo telemarketers hire people who mumble? I asked one last week—an American—to repeat what he’d said. The phone volume was fine, I clearly heard the end of his intro—“and how are you today?”—yet totally missed who he represented or the reason for his call. He slurred his words while repeating, at 200 mph, what he’d uttered countless times before. When I couldn’t decipher or isolate a single word on the second go-‘round, I hung up.
  • Do companies require their live operators/receptionists to answer the phone with a ridiculously long greeting—and not because the name of the firm is of the “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith” variety–thus wasting everyone’s time?
  • 511 travel infoDo some general call-in numbers never work? Take 511. I access it to confirm train schedules and to learn if the railroad is running from upstate NY to NYC, and not a substitute bus. [If a bus, passengers must arrive at the station 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. Miss the bus and you wait two hours for the next one. And the website isn’t always accurate.] From upstate, the electronic voice on the phone announces I’ve reached information for the Hudson/Catskill region. So far, so good. After that, whether I respond to prompts with my voice or by punching numbers on the phone, I end up with Long Island bus or NYC subway schedules and for the life of me, I can’t reach an operator or information about the Harlem Line I take.

Do you have answers to any of these or questions you’d like to pose?

Why 2

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