Archive for the ‘Manner of Speech’ Category

Service of Manners 2012

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

curtsey1

We’ve addressed manners before. I’d like your opinions about the following:

Arriving at a [morning] meeting with your own coffee

People do this all the time. Usually coffee is served, but especially if it isn’t, I would feel uncomfortable being the only one slurping. While it seems acceptable, do you do it?

“Let me find out if Mr./Ms. X is inassistant-on-phone1

This is what you say if you want to make the caller feel second class. Everyone knows the person is in and is evaluating whether to speak with you. There are smoother ways to say this.

Please keep your shoes off the examination table

According to both a radiology technician and doctor in an office with brand new examination tables, there are patients who pick a fight over the request to “please remove your shoes.” In addition, the doctor has seen folks with their shoes on the upholstered furniture in her waiting room.

People also do this on a train, thoughtless of others who will sit where their muddy shoes have been. Is this acceptable behavior these days?

How many times should you follow up on a business outreach?

I try calling, emailing and writing and emailing again–with more info–and as deadlines dictate, I take silence as “no.”  It sure would be nice if recipients took a sec to write “no thanks” but I know that’s too much to ask. How many times do you follow up?

Peeking at emails on smartphone or iPad during a meeting

Mea culpa and I know it is rude. If the meeting drags, it’s so tempting to sneak a quick look.

thank-you-note2Thank you notes

A friend in her mid-80s who sends gifts galore shrugged and noted that “nobody writes thank you notes anymore” so “get over it,” she said when I mentioned how many long distance gift recipients send zero smoke signals–no tweet, email, postcard or phone call. I was reevaluating whether or not to send anything to the silent ones in future.

Note: I get thank yous from children, young adults and adults and I write them too. Are we the rude ones?

Grooming in public

I feel queasy when someone clips their nails or flosses in a bus, subway or train. Monday on the train a woman across the aisle used some kind of atomizer to spray the air around her. The scent and whatever else was in the can wafted over to me. Is public transportation the new washroom?

groominginpublic

Service of MYOB

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

mind-your-own-business

A recent comment by Lucrezia, a loyal participant of this blog, inspired today’s topic, “Service of Mind Your Own Business.”

In a response I noted that I should do a post on the many ways of saying this, using gentler words, especially when speaking to a client, fragile friend, in-law or other person you can’t be blunt with and Lucrezia suggested: “A family friend advised a simple ‘I don’t know’ when put on the spot.”

noseyLucrezia continued, “I feel that can get one into trouble. I don’t have clients, and fragile friends know better than to ask me nosy questions. However, if feeling compassionate, I find an ‘I don’t feel up to discussing that right now,’ or (if I can get away with it) ‘I don’t remember,’ is a great help.” [Rupert Murdock said those words on the stand last week!]

She concluded, “Healthy business relationships usually don’t involve intimate remarks.”

alistair-deaconA rerun of “As Time Goes By,” last weekend reminded me of a BBC character, Alistair Deacon’s, solution. He’d wave his hands in a characteristic way and say “Hey, hey, hey!” which could mean “don’t go there, you’ve hit dangerous territory” or “Wow, cool!” depending on his tone of voice and facial expression.

My Mom would say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” If the person repeated the question she’d respond, “That’s what I thought you said.” I have never been brave enough to use that one.

Before the days of real estate search programs like Zillow, when it was a pain to look up such information, a friend asked me what I got for an apartment I’d just sold. I answered with a smile: “My asking price.” [I’m usually not that quick.]

mountain-climbingWhen I was going through a dicey patch and didn’t want to attend any social functions for fear of touchy questions, a friend suggested I memorize a succinct answer. To this day, her policy is to make the comeback as flaky as possible, such as on your birthday or anniversary, to “Where’s Joe?” [husband or companion] you’d reply, “Joe’s climbing mountains in Brazil.”

Some people feel we should know everything about politicians-any public figure. Under the gun lately are Rahm Emanuel and Chris Christie. They are getting grief for sending their children to private schools when they run a city and a state, respectively, where public education is under scrutiny. I wonder if “this is a personal decision” is sufficient given the relentlessness of the media–social and traditional–opponents and talk radio hosts.

Innocent young children’s questions are a different subject and some of them are a riot. I’d love to do a post with a list of them as it would be charming, so if you have some to share, please send me the best in an email: jeanne@jmbyington.com.

How do you parry unwelcome questions? Are you comfortable asking intrusive ones? Do you think that what one person would consider a personal, inappropriate question another would regard as routine, even thoughtful?

asking-questions

Service of Speaking Directly

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

two-speaking

A client, boss or pundit gives you a memo, article, brochure, web copy or, God forbid, a book and says, “Please look it over for typos. It’s otherwise ready to go.” They think the copy is prizewinning but it’s indecipherable, convoluted, repetitive, and contains zero information. Do you say:

**I’ve never read anything so horrible, you are embarrassing yourself. Give me a {day/week/month} and I’ll rewrite it, and oh, my, it’s just SO BAD!
**Before you write another line, sign up for a writing course
**It’s fine and I have a few tweaks to suggest–OK if I edit a bit? Oh, and when you have a sec to speak let me know as I have a couple of questions for you as well

The scenario could fit any number of vocations not just writers, from cook to artist, carpenter, auto mechanic–you name it.

and-another-thingI know which approach I’d take and it wouldn’t be the first two. I’ve heard a person deliver the first. I don’t think such words, while direct and accurate are helpful to the writer or anyone else as true as they may be.

Women are said to have trouble being direct when saying or asking for what they want. Erica Martell alerted me to Peggy Klaus’s article in The New York Times job column that addressed the topic. Klaus pointed to typical feminine turns of phrase that do damage to credibility such as “speech peppered with tentative and indirect phrases that scream lack of confidence, such as ‘I’m not really sure, but you could try it this way’ or “‘I think this is a good idea–do you?'”

library-photoTo begin with, I question why Klaus directed her column only to women seeking C-suite jobs. If her premise is true, it applies to any woman in any job and in personal dealings too. Second, are women the only ones who silly sally around when asking for things? I have known both women and men who hope a situation will go away and don’t deal with it at all.

I don’t think that being respectful and polite translates to weakness though many do. I may punctuate “I can’t work on the project with so-and so” with an unnecessary apology or I may soften the message, but nobody thinks by the tone of my voice and my reasons that my comments are either insecure or tentative. I admit confrontation especially on my behalf is not easy for me but if not opening my mouth means that I’ll end up living with an impossible situation, I push myself. I am convinced that it’s my personality more than being a woman that makes such conversations hard.

stake-in-groundKlaus wrote: “The act of putting your stake in the ground–stating exactly what you want–is scary for most women. We worry that if we’re too direct, we’ll alienate the very audience we’re trying to win over.”

I get the impression that neither men nor women do very well in most companies if they are too direct too often. End up on the wrong side of the argument or back the wrong outspoken person could translate to death-by-commitment-to-a-vision.

I’ve observed both fuzziness and silence as a technique used by many in boardrooms and in companies of all sizes. Have you? Is speaking directly a personality thing or something most women still don’t do? Or is it the reality of working in certain places that determines how to ask most effectively and professionally to get what you want?

face-to-face

Service of Praise Glut

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

compliment

I love complimenting people and try to live by the adage “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything–but try to look for something legitimate to admire.”

I don’t think compliments happen too often after childhood when caregivers yell out “GOOD JOB” when a child turns a doorknob. I write a boss about an outstanding staffer or speedy response to my inquiry and most often get back a note that says “We appreciate your comments because most customers contact us with complaints.”

My friend Nancie Steinberg sent me Lucy Kellawy’s article, “You might be a total genius, but I wouldn’t tell you so,” in the Financial Times. Kellawy writes from London: “Last week, when a woman in our travel department booked me a flight, I sent her an e-mail: ‘That’s absolutely marvellous – thanks so much.’

congratulations“In congratulating her so warmly for doing her job, I thought I was being charming and gracious, but now I see I was actually doing something rather darker. Not only was I debasing the language, but was pushing a drug that turns people into demotivated, infantile, praise-dependent junkies.”

She goes on to tell about a colleague whose boss at his new job elaborately praised him for each and every utterance in his columns. She added: “When I said that this sounded rather nice, he gave me a scornful look. It made him think his editor stupid, which made him feel stupid by extension. To be considered a total genius for merely delivering his column on time was degrading all round.”

And she pointed out that exaggeration and overstatement is rampant in the workplace in the UK these days [American style] where all staffers are called “talent,” and an ordinary comment is referred to as “insight.”

drugs2She goes on to write: “Congratulation inflation not only damages language, it is bad for us psychologically. Praise is a Class A drug and we crave more and get upset when we don’t get any in sufficiently pure form.” She compared workers to 10 year olds in a Columbia University study where those praised for being clever gave up when given a tough task and those called diligent kept working until they met the challenge.

I disagree with Kellawy. At almost 5 pm on Friday I sent unexpected copy involving a tight deadline to Emily Moses, a junior staffer working on the New York Women in Communications account, asking her to distribute the info to two boards, expecting to see it in my email inbox on Monday. She sent it in minutes. I was elated. I thanked her then and commend her again here. Emily would move on a dime if she thought it important so why be stingy with praise?

How do you take to praise? Does it motivate or impede you? Do you dole it out generously or judiciously? Can there ever be too much?

 praise

Service of Overexposure

Monday, January 24th, 2011

 

thirdman

Today’s post is related to an earlier one, “Service of Too Much Information,” written a year ago January [must be that time of year]. What inspired me this time was watching “The Third Man,” a 1949 movie [in black and white, natch], on Turner Classic Movies.

It achieved powerful, suspenseful moments without showing me every gory detail. One scene was in a children’s hospital ward and I saw the nurses and bits of beds but not the deathly ill patients who were there because they’d been given ineffective medicine sold to the hospital by a greedy main character. I saw no decayed body that police had freshly dug out from a grave but knew it looked horrific. The director had my imagination do the work. Great actors’ reactions to seeing these human conditions also helped.

In today’s movies, if we hear an explosion we must then see blood and guts.

It’s not just movies that leave little to the imagination: Women’s fashion trends have for several years.

radiomicAnd violent, name-calling vitriol on talk radio, cable TV and in politics are other examples of overexposure. It’s a form of taking the easy way out. It’s effortless. And it’s effective with lazy minds looking for easy answers. It takes research and thought to carry on intelligent, image-inspiring conversation.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with easy, efficient and effective in some instances: It’s what we strive for in our workdays and lives. Take digital photos, email, and social networking vehicles that allow us to communicate with editors and reporters  immediately and at miniscule out of pocket cost; smartphones that keep us in touch with people who need information without tethering us to our desks; lasers instead of knives that permit surgeons to remove cataracts and break down kidney stones while leaving patients far less debilitated.

Do you think imaginations need exercise like muscles? Do we do our brains harm by exposing them to and feeding them digested information and images, or should we chew on, envision, fantasize and process more of it ourselves?

 thinker

Service of Inflation II

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

blahblahblahThis is the second in an inflation series. The first came closer to the standard meaning of the word, addressing rising prices in light of government assurances that they weren’t. The inflation in today’s post is about overstuffed promises.

Ethan Smith covered a story in The Wall Street Journal, “Live Nation’s Diller Resigns as Chairman Amid Turmoil,” in which early in the article he described a PowerPoint presentation given by Live Nation’s chief executive Michael Rapino at a summer investor conference that Smith described as “disastrous.”

Smith wrote: “One slide in a Powerpoint [sic] presentation implied that with the help of Live Nation it would take a contemporary recording artist just three months to vault from obscurity to selling out concert arenas.” Smith continued, “Most in the music business believe a more realistic timeline to be on the order of two years.”

bloatNo wonder Barry Diller resigned. More people should discourage this kind of fact-bloating behavior.

You may have read posts and comments here that illustrate claims as outrageous as Rapino’s. The reaction of too many is to shrug and think, “Business is business.”

No it isn’t.

On the one had we have specialization to the nth degree in everything from medicine and law [people who help select juries] to sports [the left handed pitcher who shows up to throw to the left handed batter and returns to the bench for the duration].

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who know nothing about a subject and babble on about it with overstated claims. I’m not referring to the face cream marketing and sales types who assure that their glop will remove your wrinkles or the pill pushers who claim theirs will slim a person by 20 lbs in a month. I think they know better.

loudmouthI am referring to the people you’ve worked with and/or observed in action who attract business with Rapino-like outrageous claims and they don’t know what they are talking about. Do they keep the customer or client? Do they sleep at night? Do they care?

Checking out services and claims is so easy today with easy access to online information and linking in with knowledgeable people around the country without having to move from a chair. How come so many of us still appear numb–even mesmerized–by inflated claims?

strawberrygiantIs it because we can’t get over the bigger is–or must be–better syndrome from huge tasteless strawberries, enormous restaurant portions, gargantuan boxes of snack foods and cups of soda, humongous houses and ginormous hedge fund and entertainment [star and sports figure] salaries?

So I repeat: good for Mr. Diller.

Can you share examples of inflated promises that tick you off or of high profile people who put their foot down and refuse to be associated with the verbal inflation approach to business?

 lies

Service of Compassion in Medical Care

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

doctorwhitecoat

Just how much empathy and compassion should a doctor feel and exhibit? I’m of two minds.

Dr. Sally Satel, who wrote “Physician, Humanize Thyself” in The Wall Street Journal, spoke of the White Coat Ceremony for medical students that she claimed Dr. Arnold P. Gold of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons popularized. The symbolism of the ceremony, according to the Columbia University chaplain, is for doctors to consider their coats “cloaks of compassion.” Medical schools all over the country now conduct these ceremonies.

And I’m all for it. Having witnessed a top-rated specialist [according to a yearly listing in New York Magazine] treat my husband, who was suffering and weak, with less compassion than a plumber would feel for a pipe, I question the man’s reason for becoming a doctor. We see misfits in all sorts of professions, which is no excuse, but this fellow was all sorts of things he didn’t have to be: Rude, offhanded and wrong to the extreme in his approach to a diagnosis. Turned out my husband did have something in this person’s specialty, generated by a nasty tick bite, causing two+ months high fever and eventually the inability to get out of bed. [Husband is fine now.] A person like this doctor wouldn’t understand the significance of this or any other kind of compassion-related ceremony.

wheelchair1On the other hand, when confronted with horrendous disfigurement and frailty or facing a tricky operation with scalpel in hand, a doctor whose empathy makes him fall apart isn’t of much help, either. Referring to “respectful attentiveness and a genuine commitment to a patient’s welfare” Dr. Satel wrote: “It happens not in the classroom, of course, but ideally on the wards and in clinics under the watchful mentorship of seasoned physicians.” Maybe the nasty doctor spent all his time in the classroom.

Dr. Satel points to government intrusion, at junctures in recent history, as the cause for lack of compassion. As doctors are increasingly robbed of options by insurance companies and/or time–because of paperwork required by government regulation in combination with the numbers of patients they must treat in order to meet budgets and satisfy what Medicare will pay for-they can’t squeeze in anything else, much less compassion. [Medicaid seems to have an unlimited bank account and my advice is if you get really sick, sell everything and go on Medicaid, but I digress].

jugglingSatel concludes: “Juggling the timeless injunction to all doctors-be a mensch-with concepts like ‘Medicare metrics’ and ‘standardization’ (the new watchwords in health reform) will make it even harder for the newly coated students to become the kind of doctors that they themselves would like to have. An induction ritual acknowledging as much wouldn’t hurt.”

Wouldn’t a compassionate person still be compassionate under any circumstances? Is it the patient’s fault that a doctor must see 30 patients in the time she/he used to see eight to 10 or that the doctor has a pound of paperwork to fill out after every visit?

What can the public do about changing this increasingly unreasonable turn of events?

compassion

Service of Buzzwords

Monday, September 20th, 2010

buzzwordsMatt Mecs shared some of the buzzwords that drive him crazy these days. He is an excellent writer, uses words precisely and creatively, his copy is never tired, in fact, he invents words and turns of phrases that create buzz. Matt is director of sales at Local Focus Radio and media studies adjunct professor at Metropolitan College of New York where, along with his strenuous job, he teaches four courses this semester.

Here’s Matt’s list of irritating buzzwords:

Hard Stop: When a person has to take that call at 4 pm s/he might say: “I’ve got a hard stop coming up.”

Bandwidth (synonym for attention span): “I don’t have the bandwidth to talk with you right now, maybe next week?”

Verticals (synonym for categories)

Transparency

 

Organic

 

lowhangingfruit1Low hanging fruit

With that said

Do you eat your own dog food? Aka Do you drink your own champagne? {use your own products} Matt noted about the newer, champagne version: “Perhaps people are whistling past the recession graveyard with the talk of grander things.”

And mine [along with low hanging fruit]:

Drilling down

next-levelNext Level: “This initiative will take our marketing efforts to the next level.”

Unique {when it’s not}

Needless to say {then don’t}

24/7

Paradigm shift

Low fat

Like every few words {especially if the speaker is over 13}

Matt and I are also allergic to trite, greeting card expressions, especially when said with a straight face, but these overlap this topic. I should cover them in another post.

hipBuzzwords and trite expressions exist for the same reason: They make people feel good as well as cool, hip, connected, with-it and they are easy to use and remember.

Please tell us if any of these buzzwords annoy you and share any that we haven’t listed that have worn thin or never worked in your opinion.

buzzing-bee

Service of Words

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

words

A segment of “Language Matters” inspired me to again focus on words, last covered in “Service of a Typo Squad,” [June 30, 2009]. The radio program addressed how foreign languages influence English. I heard it on WHDD, National Public Radio on August 15. It wasn’t a comedy, yet I giggled at the intro. The host referred to an American CEO, whose name he couldn’t remember, who allegedly complained, “The trouble with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

digitalcameraThis program came at about the same time that a blogger, with whom I’d been working on behalf of a client, asked me to add some “app previews” to the information he’d asked for.  I thought, “I wonder if he wants to read reviews about the client’s smartphone application?” We have a ton of great reviews. But that’s not what he meant. All he wanted were digital images. Previews=photos?

I mentioned these examples to a friend who reminisced about a prominent speaker who was sharing his advice and counsel about the economy to a business audience. My friend clearly remembered this speaker’s introduction over 20 years ago. Referring to the 1980s, the guru began: “We have to be afraid of the two F’s: Fear and inflation.”

bagelsNext there is the recent New York bagel brouhaha. Based on coverage in The New York Post, the story was different from the one I heard in a typical New York City conversation with a stranger. Her angle is telling in that it both focuses on our topic and illustrates how news can be interpreted and spread. It suggests a child’s game of “telephone,” where a simple statement starts as “John ate an apple,” and after it’s whispered from one child to the next ends up: “Apple pie for dessert.”

The stranger and I were passing a huge boarded-up window of a national chain sandwich shop that was open for business, on Third Avenue and 44th Street, and she said, “I wonder if that was caused by an angry customer–like the one at Starbucks?” I asked her for the Starbucks story and she said that a woman had a tantrum because the barista asked her if she wanted butter or cheese WITH her bagel rather than ON her bagel.

According to The New York Post, in “Grammar Stickler: Starbucks Booted Me,” in a very brief piece reported on by three people–John Doyle, Rebecca Rosenberg and Annie Karni–an English professor in her 60s was ejected from the coffee shop franchise by the police for becoming enraged when she wouldn’t declare that she wanted nothing on her toasted bagel when the counterperson insisted that she respond to whether she wanted butter or cheese on it.

Some excerpts from the article:

“‘I just wanted a multigrain bagel,’ [Lynne] Rosenthal told The Post. ‘I refused to say ‘without butter or cheese.’ When you go to Burger King, you don’t have to list the six things you don’t want.'”

“Linguistically, it’s stupid, and I’m a stickler for correct English.”

“I yelled, ‘I want my multigrain bagel!’ ” Rosenthal said. “The barista said, ‘You’re not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese!’ ”

While this particular post is about words, not service, this example simultaneously taps a “poor service” nerve.

pressagentAnd last, here’s the lead to a press release I just received trying to sell my business something, but I couldn’t tell you what. I don’t bash brands on this blog, so I’ve used _____ where a brand appears in the text. Oh, and this isn’t from a company I’m familiar with, such as Baldwin or Steinway, where I’d know that the service has something to do with pianos.

The lead: “In an effort to help companies around the globe increase operational efficiencies while enhancing the way they communicate with customers,  ______ and _______a leading provider of business communication solutions for document presentment [sic] and personalized customer communications, have agreed to offer _____ leading docu ment [sic] automation solution as a solution extension from ___. Available today, ___ is reselling _____’s solution under the name ‘the ___ Document Presentment application By ________.'”

Have you any amusing, ironic or interesting word stories to share?

 irony1

Service of the Passive Tense

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

firing1People use the passive tense to address something painful or uncomfortable such as a death or firing: “Joe will be missed.” Those words are removed from the situation and don’t tug at heartstrings. They are impersonal and far less difficult to say than “I or we will miss Joe.” I’ve always felt that this is why people who normally speak clearly revert to an archaic, haughty turn-of-phrase like this.

responsibility1A boss or parent who wants to duck confrontation might say, “Responsibility must be taken,” instead of “Felicia, please make this happen-I’m counting on you.” The first version is so fuzzy that the speaker risks nobody within hearing distance picking up that gauntlet. The effect? I predict inactivity and more increasingly desperate passive pronouncements.

Some think the passive voice is appropriate for formal occasions because it makes them sound elegant, like a proper English butler. “It is expected that our members enjoy the holiday punch,” makes my eyes glaze over and not because I’ve had too much of the spiked potion. So much more, well, punch accompanies “Members crowd the bar from Thanksgiving through New Years for the frisky fisherman’s punch.”

mountrushmore1The passive comes in handy when a writer doesn’t know something or can’t be bothered to look it up. “Likenesses of US Presidents are carved into a South Dakota mountain,” sounds as though there’s a chunk of information somewhere when actually the writer was too lazy to look up that “Gutzon Borglum sculpted the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,  Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln into Mount Rushmore, located in the Keystone, S.D. vicinity.”

Do you use the passive tense? When? Does hearing it spoken annoy you more than reading it?

lazy1

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