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Thursday, November 18, 2010

What To Read....Stanley Bing!

You probably read a number of periodicals or journals to keep abreast of trends in your field.  The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes and Inc. are all useful resources for the business-minded and the curious.

But occasionally, you want to read books that explore business ethics or themes or even competition in the workplace.  Naturally, you could go right to Michael Crighton and his sizzling thriller that explores competition in the workplace Disclosure.  But if you are a person who likes subtle humor and appreciates a deft use of language, go find yourself any book by Stanley Bing, who writes about business from a variety of angles and with savvy insight. In addition to Lloyd: What Happened? A Novel of Business, I recommend:  What Would Machiavelli Do?  The Ends Justify the Meanness, Throwing the Elepant:  Zen and the Art of Managing Up, Crazy Bosses, How To Relax Without Getting the Axe: A Survival Guide...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Geographical Location of Ideas

I read the words often.  You do too.  "In the preceding paragraph," is one example.  "As mentioned previously" is another way lazy writers attempt to connect the dots of a persuasive argument for a reader.

It's a lazy way to write, and it's a dumb way to write. 

Here's why.

It's your job as a writer to present your case to a reader, and your writing should make the logical connections for the reader.  When you do not do that and instead point out the geographical location of ideas in your work for the reader to see, remember or reread, you are making a great leap of faith and being lazy at the same time:  in forfeiting the responsibility to writing the transitional phrases and sentences that logically link your ideas for the reader you are trusting that the reader can make those leaps for him or herself.  Now, ask yourself:  how many people can successfully read your mind?  Let's assume everyone can.  Now, ask yourself:  how many people, after reading your mind, will axiomatically agree with you because they think you're right about everything?  If your answer is "everybody" then go ahead and point out the geographical location of ideas in your work because all of your endings will be happy ones.  That's what life is like in a fairy tale.

However, if you live in the real world with the rest of us, then reconsider pointing out the geographical location of ideas inside your work.  Don't let the example of others convince you that it's fine because a lot of people do it.  That bandwagon is as deceptive as bandwagons everywhere; just because it goes by doesn't mean you have to jump on it

Think for yourself instead, and write for your reader.  Write the transitional phrases and sentences that your reader needs to follow your point of view and agree with you because your argument is logically sound and they can see the connections because you have provided them.  If you don't, your reader may go looking for the place you have pointed out and not come back to finish reading, and ideally, agree with your conclusion.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Using the Exclamation Point!!!!!!

Sometimes I receive emails from people who highlight the subject in red and add an exclamation point to make sure I know the message is important.  Often the message is very important but not urgent.

There's a difference.

Urgency requires a life-saving, fast response; important messages often require deliberate thought and calculation.

Red-flagged messages with exclamation points often deserve the latter attention, but people who fire them off seem to want a hurried response and will follow up with two or three more emails with exclamation points and a couple of phone calls before an hour has passed upon receiving them.  These exclamation-point people might even wait outside the restroom for you to come out, believing that as soon as you reappear in the office hallway you will be ablaze with the red-hot attention their pressing matter deserves.

It probably does deserve attention but it most likely doesn't deserve the red-hot, urgent kind: a decision that is made at the speed of the writer's anxiety rather than at the pace of deliberate consideration.

Timing matters in making decisions.  People who make decisions have many factors to consider other than just the red-flagged alerts bearing exclamation points.

Keep that in mind the next time you want to fire off an urgent message that feels critically important to you but is only one more important matter for the person to whom you are sending it.

Then, remember what the boy who cried wolf found out:  too many exclamation points used too often causes people to doubt the urgency of your message. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dumping Litter--Forfeiting Opportunity

They show up in my e-mail box: documents that require review or grading, and they still don't have cover notes that explain their presence.

Each time it happens I see that character played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada dumping her coat, day after day, upon the receptionist that she notoriously abuses in all kinds of ways.

When someone litters my email box with an attachment that does not have an explanatory note, I feel the same way I imagine the character who played the abused receptionist feels:  as if I am doing someone else's laundry, and it's not my job.  I am not the receptionist, but I am treated like one when someone dumps a document in my email box, like a piece of clothing that needs to be hung up on a hanger somewhere else after I have cleaned and pressed it.

But aside from the admission that I don't like to be dumped on and this causes me to feel no small amount of irritation, I feel greatly sorry for the person who sent the message who might be sending other more important messages (or even resumes) in the future to people who could hire him/her or promote him/or her.  Ideally, that recipient might also be inclined to think highly of the person for demonstrating consideration of others' needs and time by simply explaining the presence of the document that has been sent.

In short, not writing a cover note for attachments via email is not only very poor salesmanship (poor customer relations), it's worse:  it makes you look really bad.  And whether you understand this or not your name becomes associated in the minds of others as rude, self centered, lazy, late and a problem that you have to work around.

So, think about that the next time someone has asked you to provide the work that was expected of you; and after you have been asked, once, twice, or even three times, don't just finally send the document without the courtesy of a note that says, "Here's what you need." You could even go that extra mile and apologize for holding up someone else's schedule by not doing your job in a timely manner. You don't actually have to say that, but a general apology that has taxed someone else's patience is a good idea to cover the multitude of infractions that may remain unsaid in that exchange because even as I write this entry I am not saying everything I feel and think about inconsiderate people who live in the center of their universe where the people around them aren't coworkers--they are the people who clean up after them.