It’s been a while since the last installment, but we really need to talk about another contagion in the world of email: The Habitual Forwarder.
This disease appears to be a strange mixture of compulsion and mechanics. These people cannot seem to resist the urge to hit that link to forward almost anything they receive. They are probably generous souls who truly believe in sharing information. They appreciate being remembered by the powers that be that send out the copious amounts of information via the electronic circuitry of the computer. They genuinely feel that everyone should experience that appreciation for themselves… or alternately, they share it because they feel that by forwarding indiscriminately all the emails they receive they have performed their due diligence in disseminating that information to their comrades. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Wrong. And here’s why…
First of all, not everyone needs the information at every level. Sure it is good to keep lines of communication open and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but there are levels and layers of information that are applicable to different roles and functions in any organization. When information is sent, for example, to senior leadership channels, it usually contains a high level overview with supporting details for all roles that fall within their purview. At this point, those senior leaders assimilate and synthesize the information before disseminating to their respective teams with focus on their specific and identified foci and roles… well, ideally, that is how it should work.
Second… ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Seriously. Most of us admittedly have some serious tunnel vision when it comes to work. In today’s workplace, the majority of our communication is sent and received by electronic means. We can get hundreds of emails every day. So, when you add to that the sheer number of forwarded emails and actual correspondences and requests for information, it becomes an overwhelming avalanche of incoming gibberish. Stuff falls through the cracks. The more we receive, the more likely we are going to miss something. Organization helps (I personally have a very intricate system of inbox rules to keep me from losing my mind entirely… obviously, the mind loss prevention thing has been hit or miss), but it won’t save the world from the overwhelming amounts of general chaos that is generated in an email server each day.
Most importantly, the loss of context when emails are indiscriminately forwarded without preamble or synthesis creates confusion and general misinformation for all recipients. The Habitual Forward disease has similarities to the Reply to All plague and even the Skimmer and Non-reader disorders. The person who forwards with little or no additional information or directives to the recipients are engaging in an almost automatic behavior that results in a cascade of meaningless communication flooding the inboxes of those on the receiving end. The worst form of this illness is characterized by the originating forwarder not even reading the original email thoroughly. If they had done so, chances are they would have possibly avoided the extraneous forward and either paraphrased and summarized the information to the recipients… or better yet, noticed that the people to whom they forwarded the email were actually on the original distribution list. (My favorite was when the person who forwarded the information to me failed to notice that I was the person who wrote the original email.) The upshot of this last one is that the recipients may end up with multiple copies of the original communication clogging their inbox and generally creating confusion while they search for any new or updated information that might have been the reason for the numerous copies. Sadly, it may also give more importance than is due to the original (Surely this must be divine edict to have received it this 4th time…).
To avoid contracting or carrying this disease, keep a few of these thoughts in mind when considering whether to forward or not to forward.
Consider the target audience of the email. To whom was the person who originally sent it speaking? Look at the distribution list and see if by chance the people to whom you would forward have actually already received it.
Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
Consider the reason for forwarding. Do they really need this information? What do I want them to do with the information? Is there something actionable for us as a team?
Consider writing your own @#$% email.
For items 1 and 2, this means that the person who is considering sharing the email needs to actually read the email. That is what I said. Read it. Don’t skim it. Don’t send it on expecting the people to whom you forward it to do your homework for you and let you know what it was about. For item 3, if the forward recipients were not on the original distribution list, why would they need the full email? Perhaps there is only a portion that actually applies to them. What is it that is needed from the recipients in relation to the forward? If merely to keep lines of communication and transparency in leadership, then preface the forward with something that says that. “Hey team, please read the following information that our CEO shared with senior leadership this week. It relates to…” explain in what context they should be reading the information. Better yet, as always, instead of forwarding, try writing your own email: Read, assimilate, synthesize, and disseminate. The best way to provide information is to make sure that you understand it (meaning you read it). Then, understand how it applies to your target audience. Summarize the information and identify the specific focus for the recipients. If it is important to retain the original wording and information of the source, by all means, forward it. However, always include your own preamble that highlights the specifics and allows the recipient to know that they can ask questions because you read the original email and provided proof of understanding.
In the fast pace of the workplace today, it is always tempting to just click a button and move on… but I encourage each of you to avoid the habitual forward illness and share information in a more meaningful and applicable way.
So, I have tried not to become one of those people when it comes to my physical activity and fitness regimen, but today truly tested my metal.
I’ve recently changed up my routine workout schedule. A few different circumstances contributed to the adjustments. The primary reason was my move to a telecommute status for my job that put me within five minutes of my gym. Whereas previously my workout waited until the end of the workday when I stopped on the way home (because my office was inconveniently far from the gym to go during the day), I now have the ability to run to the gym for a mid-day workout break during my lunch hour. Another reason for the schedule shift was that my former choice of the after-work-workout was popular with a lot of people. The gym was crowded starting at around 5:00 P.M. If I didn’t get to the gym before that time, it was very unlikely that I would find any of the cardio machinery (elliptical, treadmill, stationary bicycles, or stair climber) free. The same could be said for the various resistance and strength training machines, and don’t get me started on the circuit training area. Needless to say, with my late in the day meetings, project, and door-knob questions from staff, I rarely got to my gym in time to get my turn at the necessary activities. It was frustrating, to say the least, and a recipe for fitness failure if I allowed it to be. Therefore, my change to a mid-day workout was an unexpected blessing. It is glorious. I practically have the whole place to myself, and I get in a full workout in the time most people get through lunch.
I fear that even this brief period of blessed freedom and isolation in my fitness has led me to a sense of complacency. I’ve become accustomed to my privacy and freedom of the unpopulated daytime gym. I have taken for granted that I have the run of the place. I mistakenly assumed that my frustrations of the gym-etiquette-deficient were behind me. Today, that cherished feeling has been decimated … decisively.
First, I got rather a later start than normal, but I was still at the gym shortly after the normal lunch hour. As usual, my chosen temple to physical fitness was practically empty. I was immediately able to get an elliptical machine for my run (yes, this is how I run because I’m old, and I have knees that still haven’t forgiven me for the mistreatment of my youth). So far, so good. After my usual three miles, I moved to the circuit training area.
I just heard the groans from some of my more dedicated fitness experts among my readers, but here is my defense:
I don’t do the circuit training every day or even every workout.
I do practice “muscle confusion” and switch things up between leg day, torso, abs, etc.
When it comes to a lunch hour workout, circuit training is a great way for me to get in a full body workout to start my week.
Back to my tale… I went to my blessedly empty circuit training area. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than trying to do circuit training during the busy times of the day. Sadly the circuit training area is the one place in a gym where, for some reason, people tend to congregate and socialize after work (which was one of my frustrations with the after-work-workout). This is a serious problem for someone who is trying to stay in their groove (“Beware the groove… beware the groove…”).
For those that are unfamiliar with the circuit training, it consists of a fenced-in area with a series of resistance/weight machines interspersed with steps or other cardio activity that are laid out in a particular order allegedly to maximize the muscle isometrics (the science jury is still out on that one). The point of this is to work on strength and tone while keeping the heart rate in a target zone. There are arguments in the fitness community about the value of this, but for me, it seems to be a good option (especially, again, when pressed for time). My approach to circuit training, and why it is the perfect solution to a lunchtime workout for me, is to do the resistance machines in order (as one is supposed to do). I generally do three sets of 12-15 repetitions on each one, but I don’t do the steps in between every machine. I usually just monitor my pulse and use the cardio to boost it if it drops out of the target range. The exception to this would be when the circuit training area is totally hoppin’. I then follow the prescribed routine to keep from disrupting the flow for others… or I just avoid the circuit training all together and opt for the other machines or free weights available outside the area.
There I was, in the circuit training and starting to work my way around the area from machine to machine, checking my pulse and using the interspersed steps in between… I had worked my way around to the military press machine and just finished it. I took my pulse and found that I was still in the target range. Completely in my groove, I moved with determination to the next machine. That’s when it happened…
He walked into the circuit training area with loose, saggy (and probably more-expensive-than-they-should-have-been) basketball shorts. Ball cap on backwards and sporting a t-shirt with the sleeves cut out. Before I realized what had happened, he stepped between me an my next machine. That’s right, he skipped the rest of the circuit completely, just cut me off in traffic and sat down to do some bicep curls accompanied by impressive huffing and grunting. At this point, I had the option of skipping past this machine to the next in line or use the cardio step. As I paused to reflect, another of the species came over to stand next to the first and slid into place at the machine as the first finished his set.
Suddenly, I had a completely overwhelming urge to be an ass… or kick one. I pictured myself delivering a champion, thermonuclear wedgie accompanied by a firm flip of the reversed baseball cap perched on the head of the original douchebag. I also pictured walking over and just standing there without saying anything. If either of the Neanderthals asked what I was doing, I would calmly explain the purpose of the circuit training area and excuse their ignorant rudeness as “I am certain that your egos have cut off the blood supply to the part of your brain that governs your ability to read or think or have manners.” My final fantasy option was to go over to one of the empty bicep machines that were just outside the circuit training area and visible to the pair of them proclaiming loudly as I did so, “I wish there was a bicep curl machine somewhere outside the circuit training area!!!”
I, of course, did none of these things, satisfying though they might have been. Instead, I heaved a great sigh, gave them a patented Ginsu-knife-eye-of-the-basilisk-witch-whammy glare, walked to the abdominal area to do some oblique work, and then finished up with another mile on the elliptical. Somehow, while much more righteous and mature, I’m pretty sure the imagined actions would have been a good deal more fun. BUT I would like to be able to continue using my gym, and taking the high road probably was the wiser option. However, for any of you out there reading this, be aware of the people around you and have some bloody manners!
In my professional life as an administrative assistant, I see a lot of email. And I mean a lot of email. Tons. I’ve seen all manner of badly written email. SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS. the perpetual lowercase user. The Forgetter of Punctuation. Let’s not forget individuals who do not care how a word should be used grammatically, or how it should be spelled; if it looks good, or perhaps is one of those words favored by that particular individual, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with the context of what they are writing, they will use it.
Today, I shall touch upon something that, if I am being truthful, annoys the crap out of me. Something I am certain you, fellow email user, have either encountered or have (GASP!) been guilty of. Frankly, as email users, we are all guilty of this from time-to-time, but the ramifications…well…the ramifications could be at least embarrassing, at worst, damaging, and always annoying.
The REPLY ALL Syndrome
So there you are. You’re buckled down. You’re focused. You’re organized and getting stuff done. You are feeling productive and your day is moving along very nicely. You receive an email which has been sent to…for the sake of this argument…over two hundred recipients. You do your due diligence, open the email, read the information contained therein, and think hm…looks like they forgot to include the date on which this event they’re telling us all about is going to happen. (I’m making stuff up, just stay with me for a bit.) Just as you are considering your reply, another email pops through with the same subject. You think hm…looks like someone got to it before I did; let’s see what they say. You open the new email, observe that the responder has come to the same conclusion that you did (the event date is missing) and further, has taken the liberty of responding not only to the original sender of the email, but also to everyone on the original distribution list.
This secondary individual in this example (we’ll call him The Responder) has a disease. It is called The Reply All Syndrome, or RAS, for short. It’s contagious. And it spreads like wildfire.
In the blink of an eye, two more emails hit your in-box in response to the original email notifying you about the event. Rapid fire REPLY ALL. And quickly, three more. Each email saying essentially the same thing, “What is the date of the event?” Now, not only has your day been interrupted once (the original email) but before you could say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” your day has been interrupted seven more times. And it’s only just beginning. Pretty soon, you get one brilliant responder who decides that it’s up to him to respond to everyone to ask everyone to please discontinue Replying to All. It is at that point where you, who were so productive and focused earlier, are now totally distracted to the point of considering slamming your head into the nearest hard surface, wall, whatever. Full-on Face Plant on your desk out of sheer frustration.
We’ve all been there, ladies and gentlemen. And unfortunately, we’ve all been guilty of it, too. However, there is a difference between accidentally hitting the Reply All button and doing it on purpose. Let me give you a hint: If everyone on the original email absolutely must receive information which is vital to their continued existence or to the subject matter at hand, then yes, by all means, select Reply All. If your response is based on a feeling – for example, you feel you should let everyone know that the date of an event was missed – please, for the sake of all that is good and organized and free-flowing in this world, respond only to the original sender!
You could respond to the original sender with something like Hey – you may have already gotten this several times, and I apologize if my email is just one of many, but I wonder if you realize you neglected to include the date of the event? If you would please let us know when said event is to occur, I sure would appreciate it.
OK – maybe not exactly like that. But wouldn’t you much rather receive an email response such as the example above, even if you have already gotten several, than over a hundred Reply All responses?
There is a cure for this disease. It is called Conscientious Attention to Detail or CAD, for short. CAD is not something that comes naturally for humans. It is something to which we need to aspire. We are born with a natural immunity, if you will, to CAD. CAD must be actively practiced, on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis. It must become habit to become an effective cure for Reply All Syndrome. Unfortunately, in today’s society of instant gratification, CAD is rare. Texting, truncating words to fit within a certain character limitation, or simply a gradual (and sometimes not-so-gradual) slide away from proper usage of language is prevalent. Therefore we must be diligent! We must be attentive! We must constantly consider how our actions (or non-actions) are going to affect others! But again I say, this instant gratification society is also a “Me” society. How many of you have said, “Well, it (whatever it is) doesn’t affect me so therefore why should I bother?”
Having spent years, and years, and years (honestly, it feels like eons sometimes) in an office environment, I think I can officially pronounce myself an expert in office etiquette. I don’t have a medal, or a certificate, or a fancy diploma, or a fez with a fun tassel (fez’s are cool) to prove my expertise, but I promise, I am an expert. Though, truth be told, some of said expertise is actual and some of it is totally because I’m petting my peeves, but all will be totally worth your while.
Whether you have worked in an office environment or not, you’ll probably find this as helpful as you will amusing. See, even if you don’t work in an office, a lot of this is just common sense, best practice stuff that you can apply to your everyday life.
I need to also say that while this is about working in an office and the etiquette practices therein, I want to further clarify that I am mostly referring to those of us 9-5ers (ha-ha) who work in a cubed office environment. More commonly referred to as The Cube Farm.
Let’s start with an easy one. Something everyone wants to have but that mostly no one gets. Nothing in The Cube Farm is private. Nothing. Or, mostly nothing. Just understand that it is likely everyone knows everyone else’s business all the time and you’ll already be on the road to success.
The Office Gossip (TOG). She (well…TOG could be a he, but for the sake of this argument, let’s let her rip) makes it known that she knows everything. She is the one to track you down on your first day simply to tell you that she is the eyes and ears of the place and if there’s anything to know, she’ll know it. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. She wants you to spill…immediately…and will pressure you until you do. Depending on your own personality, and how much you want everyone else in the office to know about yourself, it’s probably wise to steer clear.
The Connected One (TCO). TCO knows everyone. Literally and figuratively. TCO is your personal 6-degrees of separation. You used to work there? Oh, do you know so-and-so? You live where? Oh, do you know… You get the picture. And heaven forbid if TCO finds out that you and they know someone in common (or several someones in common) because every time that someone makes a move, TCO is gonna tell you about it. TCO is great for networking, though.
Beware if TOG and TCO are one and the same. That’s a recipe for disaster! I suggest you hide. Just a couple examples of some Privacy Pirates that you might encounter.
If you’re an average Joe or Jane, sitting in your little cube, doing your work, going about your day, minding your own bees-wax, then you’ll probably escape any lasting damage. But offices employ many, many different kinds of people. I shall shout fervently: WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG? Here are a few pointers that might help when it comes to maintaining your privacy.
Never enter someone else’s cubicle without permission. I’ve seen it said in other places that you want to behave as if there is a door and knock, tap, or employ some other gentle method to get the attention of the person in that cube without simply barging in. You don’t like it when folks barge in on you, right? So why would you do it to someone else?
Try not to sneak up behind someone in a cube. See above.
Let others know when you can and cannot be interrupted. Well, yeah – I admit this one is kind of tricky. You don’t want to be interrupted and really don’t have time to tell anyone not to interrupt you so, now what? Well, some offices will allow you to post a flag, or a small sign, or a rotating magnet like you might put on your dishwasher to let the rest of the family know the dishes are clean or dirty. Wait…sorry. Hang on. The rotating office magnet should probably say something like busy and available, not clean and dirty.
Prairie Dogging. The end-all be-all of office interruptions. The popping up of heads all over The Cube Farm to see what’s going on. Up down. Up down. I feel like I need a giant hammer and so I can play a gratifying game or two of Office Whack-a-Mole. Aside from the dogs just being annoying, it’s an invasion of privacy. You do not need to see what is on the other side of that wall so badly that you can’t walk over there.
Loitering outside another’s cube. Totally rude, Dude! Don’t hang out while you wait for the occupant to finish a phone conversation. First of all, you have no idea how long that call is going to last and you could potentially be standing there forever. Kind of foolish, if you ask me. Secondly, if you see someone is otherwise engaged, it is just common courtesy to come back at another time. Common courtesy is, sadly, lacking these days.
Looking at other people’s stuff. Yep. We’ve all done it. The quick flick of the eyes to the monitor screen in front of you, whether it is your screen or not. The information contained on the screen of a co-worker does not apply to you. Period.
Listening to other people’s stuff. In The Cube Farm, it’s next to impossible not to hear your co-worker’s conversations. They’re on the phone or talking with other co-workers all day long. Sometimes it’s hard not to listen, but try. Don’t comment on overheard conversations, or answer overheard questions either. What someone is discussing with someone else does not apply to you. Period.
Touching other people’s stuff. We’ve established that cubes don’t have doors. Doors are a visual representation of privacy. There is definitely something to be said for doors. Doors rock. The lack of a door does not mean you can help yourself to whatever is contained within another’s space. The pens, pencils, sticky notes, paper clips and various other office supplies are not yours, are not meant for you and should not even be borrowed without permission from the occupant. This goes for food, drinks, and stuffed animals. (Hey – we all have a stuffed animal at our desks, right?)
As you’ve gone through your day in The Cube Farm, have you ever heard something that drove you nuts? Or something that was so…off…that you felt the need to go investigate? Like that anecdote about children; if they’re quiet, you need to check on them because probably someone is doing something they’re not supposed to?
Any office has sounds you cannot avoid: typing, ringing, the hum of the white-noise maker, which is supposed to drown out or muffle sound but tends to just make more noise. The air conditioner or heat coming on and off. The microwave beeping in the break room. The ice machine dropping ice into the bin. The hum of the vending machines. People walking, talking, drumming their fingers out of boredom or insanity because the conference call they’re on is now going into its second hour.
The Gum Popper. Om nom nom. Chomp chomp. Pop. Oh and the snapping. Don’t forget the snapping. They don’t even realize they’re doing it.
Slap Happy. The one who wears nothing but flip-flops year-round, even though they’re totally against the dress code, and does laps around the office twice hourly because they are getting their exercise by not taking the shortcuts everyone else uses. Slap. Slap. Slap. Oh, there they go. Wait! Slap. Slap. Slap. There they go again. What’s this, their fourth or fifth round this hour? Shall we take bets?
The Loud Food Eater. If the gum chewing wasn’t bad enough, there’s this guy. Constantly eating. Snacks. Crackers. Chew chew chew. And that thing he does when he’s got something stuck in his teeth? Shudder.
The Talker. This is the person who talks on the phone all the time, as loudly as they can. Or yells across The Cube Farm to the person four rows away to find out if they have any Ibuprofen. Or holds mini conferences outside their cube. It’s enough to drive anyone mad. Wait! Who has the headache?
A few descriptions of Annoying Animals in The Cube Farm for your amusement. I would like to put to you, dear readers, to be mindful of others as you move about the office during the day. Be considerate. Be aware of how your voice can carry or how the crinkling of the wrapper from your second bag of chips can be disruptive to your neighbor and that loud conversations are distracting and disruptive. And I haven’t even begun to talk about phones. That being said, let’s consider this further, shall we?
Ringing desk phones. We know that ringing phones are a product of being in an office. But did you know that the new-fangled technology we have these days allows you to adjust the volume of the ringer on your desk phone? You may be hard of hearing, but did you take into consideration that your neighbor might hear just fine thank you very much? A lot of office phone models have a little red light that blinks or flashes when you have an incoming call. If you place your ringer low enough for you to still hear it and within your range of vision (try peripheral, it’s awesome) you’ve got two layers of assurance you won’t miss a call.
Ringing cell phones. Turn ‘em off, people. Just turn them off. Or, set them to vibrate or silent ring. You do not need to have your personal cell phone on you all the time. Yep. I am like most of the rest of you, attached to my technology at the hip, but even I turn my ringer down, or off completely during the day. Your employer is not paying you to text (beep), play games, (boop), or chat (ring) all day long. And please, for the love of all that is good and peaceful in this world, do not leave your cell phone – ringer on – on your desk and then walk away. None of the rest of us need to listen to your Minion Ba-Na-Na PO-TA-TO ring tone over and over again. (Although props for a good choice of ring tone.)
Speaker phone conversations. Oh my. This one walks a fine line between being one of those aforementioned peeves I’ve been petting and being actual office etiquette. I haven’t weighed the scale to determine which side is heavier. But, if you must have a conversation using speaker phone, remember these key points: 1) Everyone else can hear you, and everyone else can hear the person on the other end of the line. 2) If you know about the call ahead of time, reserve a conference room so you can have a closed door between your speaker phone conversation and the rest of The Cube Farm. Your fellow dogs will thank you.
Voice Volume. If you’re a naturally loud talker, I understand. So am I. I’ve been known to burst my own ear drums from time to time. That’s another story. But there are these wonderful inventions called headsets. They are not only for comfort and convenience, but they also allow for a quieter (and more private) conversation. If you don’t have a headset for your desk phone, talk to someone who might be able to rectify that for you. They’re a good idea and should be standard equipment, right along with your computer and a monitor and a phone.
Tech Sounds. If you use email or instant messaging to communicate with your co-workers, turn the sounds off. Those dings and bings are enough to turn Dr. Banner into his big, mean, green friend with little to no warning.
Music. If you are one of the bazillion people who like to listen to music during their work day, unless your office management says otherwise, it’s okay to use ear buds or headphones. Just remember not to get too zoned out, just in case you’re called by the little red flashy light on your phone or the loiterer outside your cubicle.
Are you feeling the burn yet? Think you can manage a couple more reps? Good. Let’s keep going.
Last on my list of things to discuss in the world of office etiquette is (drumroll please) smells. Odor. Scent. The things your sniffer sniffs out and process into four categories: good, bad, ugly and really, really offensive. (Points if you can get both random movie references there.)
The Scent Hound. Like a bloodhound to the scent of a missing person, the rest of us can smell you coming a mile away or follow your trail every place you’ve been. Your odor lingers when you pass through in such a way that one can almost see the molecules of your scent du jour hanging like a fog in the air. Patchouli does not equal bath.
The Lunch Eater. Here, ladies and gentlemen, we have The Lunch Eater. Sitting at his desk during lunch time, single-mindedly putting away the pastrami on rye he got from the local deli. Complete with onions, mustard and pickles. On the side, salt and vinegar potato chips. Look at him, ladies and gentlemen. Take note of how smoothly his arms raise the dripping sandwich to his mouth and how purposefully he bites, how possessively he chews. Beware. He is at his meanest at lunch time.
The Stink Monster. Stinky needs no qualifiers. Stinky is the leftover salmon for lunch eating, microwave popcorn burning, close-talking halitosis having, run the other way when you see him coming co-worker. Add in a layer of bad cologne and last week’s shirt (complete with armpit funk) and all I have to say is, “Eeeewwww!” It is Odoriferous Odiousness I share with you, my fellows. Let’s tone it down some, shall we? We, your co-workers, are breathing this air, too. You do know that, right? Perfumes, colognes, body sprays, organic natural oils, scented hand lotions, hair sprays…what do they have in common? They all should be totally avoided in The Cube Farm. Period. Those of us with breathing issues like asthma or allergic sensitivities will thank you. File this under how to win friends and influence people. Not the book though. I mean it in the most literal sense.
However loudly you may complain about others, how loudly are they complaining about you? Take some time to think about your habits and ask yourself these questions:
1) Does it invade or affect another’s privacy?
2) Does it make noise and if so, how loud or obnoxious would I, personally, consider that noise to be?
3) Does it smell? Period.
I am not judging. We are all individuals and we all have our own little quirks. Some of us get along really well, some of us don’t. Sometimes the best we can hope for is tolerance. But as I leave you to go silently into that good night (or day, depending) I ask that you truly and openly think about those you encounter at your office every day. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll begin to see just what part of the corporate puzzle they play, and if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll be able to fit that piece in exactly the right place. Also, if you have very strong feelings about indivudual Privacy Pirates, Annoying Animals or Odoriferous Odiousness-es, talk to your manager about the best, most thoughtful, and least offensive or hurtful way to approach. You could be doing them a favor.
While it’s absolutely impossible to please everyone all the time, your consideration of the above-mentioned things won’t go unnoticed. Your fellow Cube Farm occupants will thank you. They may not thank you personally, but they’ll thank you. Believe me.
So, those who know me in the real world outside the “interwebs,” have heard my tales of woe as my own decrepitude and mortality was shamelessly flaunted before my very eyes in my quest for convenience. I shall share with you my pain, but this is not only a revelation… it is also a cautionary tale for the astute professional.
I do not know about the rest of you out there, but despite my best efforts to resist, I have become completely attached to the evils of technology. By this I mean, of course, the mobile phone. Yes, sad as it is, I seem to have forgotten what it was like in the days when you left home or office and people would just have to wait until you came back to speak with you on the phone. Other elements of my life have been impacted, however, in addition to just the communication-from-anywhere-at-anytime phenomenon. I no longer wear a watch. I rely upon my clever little mobile device to provide that information and be correctly matched to time zone (since the time is received from the closest tower). It is a right handy trick, especially for those of us who might be in multiple time zones on any given day. It truly was a bit of a challenge to keep appointments and meetings straight when merely relying on the timepiece secured to the wrist. Not to mention, there was always the issue of returning to your home time zone only to forget to set your watch back… ah yes, much like the Daylight Savings Time, there was always the risk of missing a meeting or showing up ridiculously early upon return from a different zone. But I digress…
Unlike many of my technologically savvy and technology-adoring friends, I firmly resist getting the latest and greatest every time something new comes out. I am not criticizing the impulse to get the newest shiny on the market and try out the latest updates. I am just not one to be always on the cutting edge. I will leave that to my dear ones who are always happy to provide me with unsolicited reviews of “Look What It DOES?!?” and “Oh my, they will need to fix that bug on the next firmware upgrade…” It helps me avoid any of the less successful technological advancements. However, as logical and appropriate as that sounds, I’m totally lying. I anthropomorphize my equipment. It’s true. My fear of change and resistance to same stems in many ways from my feeling deep down that my poor gadget will feel abandoned and cast aside for the younger model.
Regardless, the time came after four blissful years with my iPhone, that my formerly reliable equipment was no longer so reliable. It just no longer worked. It would reboot at random, never get a good signal, and froze up regularly. Sadly, the day came when I could no longer give the excuse of “It works just fine for me.” I had to bite the bullet and get a new phone.
I will not go into the details of that painful drama. With shaking hands and sweaty palms, I discussed and made arrangements with my telecommunications provider to get a new phone. Those of you out there that relish the excitement of new tech in your life cannot possibly understand my anxiety and stress over what must seem to most a very simple, though costly, transaction. However, by the end of the day, the deed was done. A new phone was mine. Herein lays the unexpected snag…
I have for many, many… I shan’t say how many years carried my mobile device in a holster. This is a pouch that attaches to a belt or waistband and into which you can put your phone. I found that it was also handy for carrying the most frequently used of my wallet denizens, driver’s license, ATM card, insurance card, etc. As you might expect, the holster was in about the same condition as the old phone. Sure enough, it disintegrated shortly after the new phone came into use (possibly died of grief, who knows).
Now, these days, it seems most people have their phones surgically attached to their hands. Seriously, this is merely from observation that no one seems to be able to put the darn things down. I have noticed that some folks pocket phones or maybe have them in voluminous purses, but primarily, the devices appear to be constantly in use or held in the hand. How do these people go to the bathroom?!?
I am not of the ilk to have phone in hand at all times, and not all of my fashion choices have pockets. I ceased carrying purses long ago as I had a tendency to leave them wherever I hung them over a chair or happened to set them down. Needless to say, I have been reliant on my handy holster for many years. When my old one disintegrated, therefore, I had absolutely no suspicion that this was the serious loss that it became. I figured, “I’ll just buy a new one.” Oh hell no… Did you know that there are about a metric blue-billion different colored, designed, bedazzled, blingged-out Otterboxes on the market? Did you?!? There are. I walked into the first store, and the young man working there became completely baffled when I asked for a holster. With his head on one side like an inquisitive dog, he proceeded to show me the varying array of rubberized phone condoms that I could choose. “No, I want a holster.” I was told that they had nothing like that, but wouldn’t I like a nice fuchsia Hello Kitty Otterbox? I managed to escape minus Hello Kitty, rhinestones, or glitter. I continued my search in a variety of office supply and technology gizmo stores. With every stop along the way, my spirit became more and more dejected. The lowest point of the day was when a store employee shortly out of his infancy and looking no more than 12 years of age informed me that he didn’t believe anyone made holsters anymore, because no one of the current technology age used them anymore. He hadn’t seen one in “ages,” and wouldn’t I like a nice Otterbox?
Now feeling even more like a relic of a bygone age, I was close to tears as I approached the last bastion of hope. I dared not meet the eyes of the staff who were likely young enough to be my offspring. However, I recollected myself enough to notice that a nice gentleman (who looked to be at least past puberty) holding the door open for me. I meekly asked if they carried holsters… AND they DID! I was giddy and in tears as I purchased my lovely leather holster and found that it fit my new phone with space for cards. It seems that despite my advanced age, I must not be entirely alone in my quest for an efficient carrying method for my phone.
Why, you may ask, is this particular article in The New Cheese? Isn’t TNC supposed to be about professional stuff? Yes indeed it is. Here is why. It is not only to free up my dexterity that I prefer to use a holster instead of a colorful rubber phone condom.
It has become common practice to keep your mobile phone permanently in your hand. People sit in social circumstances with their devices constantly before their eyes, consulting them approximately every one or two minutes. Sadly, this is the status of our society today. We spend every moment incapable of being separated from the electronics.
Most professionals holding positions of responsibility in any organization will have one or more electronic devices connecting them with the plethora of information sources on the internet, their staff, and their customers. Today, the instantaneous access to any individual has created the expectation that all employees, managers, and leaders have their phones on at all times. Phones remain in hands or on conference tables immediately visible to anyone present. However, many individuals in the modern workplace believe this expectation gives them license to have their mobile devices permanently attached to their hands in all environments and situations.
True professionalism involves basic civility and manners. What do mobile phones have to do with this? In interviews, meetings, business discussions, and trainings, people deserve the attention of their target audience. Distractions such as incoming phone calls, text messages, and social media notifications detract from the interaction and give the impression of disinterest, immaturity, lack of focus, and unprofessional conduct.
Be a professional. Presenters, trainers, and potential employers or employees deserve your respect and full attention. Holster the phone, iPad, or personal assistant device unless using it specifically to take notes or perform a function related to the discussion at hand. Use the silent mode. Turn off ring tones and notifications for the duration of the meeting, interview, or training. Use the “airplane” mode to suspend all potential signals until after the meeting. In the event of forgetting to silence your phone and receiving a call or message, remedy the situation by switching on silent mode and in one on one or meeting situations, apologize concisely and move on. People lived without instantaneous access for many years. You can always check messages, texts, and Facebook at a more appropriate time when you are not infringing upon the valuable time of others.
So, the moral of the story? The appearance of the professional is not enhanced by a constant barrage of incoming electronic communications on a rubber encrusted mobile device permanently ensconced in your hand. To all those currently holding or hoping to hold a professional position in some organization, with regards to your mobile phones, literally or figuratively, do yourself a favor. Present yourself in a mature and professional way… Holster It!
Once again, my train of thought has been derailed. I promise to try getting back on track for next week. I had an idea for my post this week, but other events led me to reconsider that in favor of a little commentary on something that we all spend a large portion of our energy doing. I am talking about technology assisted socialization.
This is texting, emailing, mobile phone communication, and social media. These days, one or more of these methods make up the majority of our communication with our social group. I actually spent a large portion of my time in the past five years examining the phenomenon, and if any of you are having trouble sleeping, I’ll let you read the 200+ pages of my dissertation about it. However, I suspect that you would be more inclined to read something a little less dry.
So, as I said, about five years ago, I was out with a group of friends at one of our regular haunts for a night of social interaction and liquid refreshment. I was actually discussing with one of my companions the dilemma I was having. This dilemma was what topic I should choose for the focus of my doctoral dissertation. As she and I continued to discuss the problem talking about different interests and perplexing situations in the current events, we both noticed silence from the others at our table punctuated by the occasional bark of laughter or “Check this one out.” We turned to observe our fellow occupants of the table to see one and all of them on some form of electronic device (phone, tablet, laptop) and each of them was busily typing and clicking. What?!? As we watched, we suddenly realized they were texting and sending things to each other. Was this what socializing with friends had become? They were not only in the same room, but actually at the same table completely absorbed in their devices! And thus, a dissertation was born. I won’t go into all the magnitude of research, testing, and analysis that was done. However, what I did find was that there are benefits and detriments to the electronic tethers we have fashioned for ourselves, and there are significant differences in the personalities of people who choose to socialize via their devices rather than through direct contact with their fellow humans. It was fascinating to me, and there were some considerable applications for my chosen field of psychology that came of this scientific exploration. I won’t bore my readers with the details. Instead I am going to type a bit on the subject of benefits and limitations of electronic socialization.
The miracle of technology has provided the ability to connect and communicate despite the impediment of geographic distance. Additionally, all the communication can take place in “real time” without the lengthy time delays of some of the other methods in history. The internet and mobile technology have provided an instant gratification scenario for social interaction at a distance. This has provided families separated by miles, continents, and oceans the ability to remain connected and share in the lives of their loved ones. The convenience of texts and mobile phones means that the forgotten item from the grocery list sent with your significant other need not be a problem. Crowds or loud environments need not be an obstacle to conversation. Compromised immune systems are no longer a source of complete isolation from human interaction. In short, social interaction is no longer limited to physical proximity or time-delayed methods.
The down side… Social interaction is no longer limited to physical proximity or time-delayed methods. Yep. I repeated myself, because one of the benefits of our modern technology has also provided some interesting detriments. The instantaneous conveyance of information across distances no longer provides the opportunity for thought and consideration put into responses. We don’t sit with writing implements considering all the best ways to put our thoughts and emotions into the prose on the page. In responding to correspondence, we no longer have the enforced delay of writing and mailing providing excellent opportunity to rethink what we just said and possibly take it back before sending it through the hands of postal workers to the person at the other end. Now, unfortunately, all that happens with the blink of an eye, blinding speed of fingers on keys, processing speeds of voice recognition software, and our knee-jerk reaction now wends its way towards the recipient with one click of the “Send” button. No take-backsies. There are delete buttons and even some ways that you can retrieve emails, but they don’t always have success in preventing a misstated comment from reaching the target.
Taking the immediacy into account, it is astounding the things that people are quite willing to say or do via electronic media that they might hesitate or even refrain from were they to find their communication companion in their physical presence. The relative anonymity of the internet has the dubious ability of making people extraordinarily unguarded in the things that they say to each other. Being unable to observe the consequences of what is said, people feel free to “flame,” berate, disparage, vilify, slander/libel, and humiliate the target. While it may seem silly or childish to be impacted by words appearing on an electronic screen, words can be powerful, sometimes more powerful that we expect or realize. Words have swayed populations of individuals who, though not inherently bad, were persuaded to follow leaders who advocated horrific deeds. On a singular level, the “cyber-bullying” of one young girl that took the form of a fictional relationship created to humiliate her resulted in her suicide. The impact of “friending” and “de-friending” has also been examined due to recent events receiving media attention, including a murder perpetrated by a teen on her parents who had removed her from their Facebook friends list.
Conversely, only about 20% of communication is conveyed by the words we use. That means that the rest of the 80% comes through body language, facial expression, vocal tone, and eye contact. The majority of our electronic communication and social interaction lacks the capability of translating these elements. I know. We have webcams and face time and teleconferencing software that lets you look at the people you are talking to, but it still misses some of the important nuances that are observable while sharing the same space with the person to whom you are speaking.
There have been any number of new social rules that have spawned from the misconstrued messages of the unwary. This “netiquette” as it is termed has provided some guidelines and methods of trying to add back into the text only format a bit of the nuances of in vivo communication. So, we know that all caps is yelling or putting particular influence on a word. For venues that allow it, there is also font changes that can lend mood or tone to the prose presented. There are also collections of letters that abbreviate phrases to take sting out of something that could be considered harsh. BUT… even with all the emoticons and acronyms the “interwebs” have to offer, in the end, all emotional content of a text-based communication is entirely in the head of the recipient. People forget that when they read something that someone has put into words that the tone and intent comes from the reader, not always the intended impact or emotional content of the writer.
Another adverse side effect of technology assisted socialization is how it has changed face to face social interaction. Once upon a time, I read a science fiction novel that was set on a planet where all the inhabitants wore masks. To not wear a mask was the equivalent of going naked in public. The upshot to this cultural evolution was that society at large had lost the ability to read facial expression or even to guard their own expressions. For outsiders, lying was incredibly easy, because no one had the ability to read microexpressions or sense dissembling. This seems to be part of the problem with our modern obsession with technological social interaction. People have lost their powers of observation. They fail to see discomfort, offense, interest, and pain. They also fail to measure and moderate their own physical (facial and body language) responses. In short, people appear to have forgotten how to be civil and have lost any sense of good manners. For all the “netiquette” that has been designed, we seem to have lost the etiquette of good manners.
From all of this, you may get the impression that I am anti-technology. That is not accurate. I truly believe that the advances we have made in technology have been and will be incredible for communication, keeping in touch with family and friends, commerce and business, and for the medical and therapy fields. The opportunities are enormous for geographically or physically isolated individuals to receive services previously unavailable. Thoughts and ideas shared across a wider expanse of people and geography has the benefit of spreading understanding and letting individuals separated by continents walk in the virtual shoes of their fellow human. Aside from that, it is just more convenient and downright fun to be able to text, talk, Facebook, etc. from wherever you happen to be and whatever you happen to be doing. I love feeling that I am sharing experiences with my loved ones who are many miles away. So, I would be the last person to toss the baby out with the bathwater. I do like my tech. You are reading my ‘blog, of course. As with anything, moderation appears to be the key.
So, all that said… things to remember:
Moderate your electronic socialization with actual face to face socialization when possible.
Try to take a break from your phone and/or computer for a couple of waking hours during every 24 hour cycle (they don’t necessarily have to be sequential hours).
Try an “off the grid” day or even a weekend, where you do not use any technology.
When engaging in face to face socialization, pay attention to the people, not the gadgets.
Remember that what you type has power and potentially greater longevity than the words spoken aloud (minus recording equipment).
Remember that anything you put out there on the internet has the potential of reaching an audience you never intended and may be out there for review for a long, long… long time.
The emotion you read into a text, post, email, etc. may not be what the writer intended.
Before responding to any electronic communication, take a moment to engage in some thought and consider how what you choose to put into words might be interpreted and whether the emotional response from any reader would be precisely what you were hoping to gain.
The internet and other electronic methods of engagement are tools for social interaction. Remember that. Be wary of allowing these tools to become the primary interaction partners in your life instead of the humans who are your fellow inhabitants of the planet. And now we return you to your regularly scheduled texting, instant messaging, posting, and tweeting.