Archives for category: Communication

‘Oh, nice one.’

I like receiving a ‘nice one’ from someone. It’s an elegant compliment I think. It’s almost an aside, almost an afterthought, quite understated, and for those three reasons it comes across as both appreciative and genuine. It doesn’t sound perfunctory.

Nice is often thought of as an underwhelming adjectival endorsement, a way of damning someone with faint praise.

‘What do you think of my dress?’

‘It’s nice.’

‘Gee, thanks for that glittering encouragement.’

Nice one, on the other hand, as well as its sister phrase ‘nicely done’, doesn’t carry that undertone of non-commitment. It’s not over the top either. It’s just about right, at least to my English ear which is tuned to appreciate signals of understatement, modesty and humility from others, even if I can’t always give them myself.

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I don’t watch much television. I don’t have the time or the staying power for box sets. I like to catch the occasional film and will watch most sport if it’s on.

When there’s nothing grabbing my attention, I will flick channels. I flick them relentlessly. I’m an inveterate flicker. And do you know what usually stops me and holds my attention? BBC Four.

BBC Four is a wonder. Its documentaries, especially the music-based ones, are extremely sticky for me.

The best compliment I can pay BBC Four is that it’s like the web. It’s a black hole. You can lose yourself in BBC Four for hours. I don’t know how many times I’ve promised myself 10 minutes of TV time before bed, chanced upon a 70’s collection of Old Grey Whistle Test clips of legendary bands or musicians, and lost a couple of hours. BBC Four tends to do themed programming, so if you find something you like, there could well be a similar program to follow.

Yes, on balance, I think BBC Four is the best television channel, possibly in the world, though I’m judging it from my limited sample size.

The Bum Call, otherwise known as the Butt Call by our North American friends, is that call you didn’t mean to make, when your phone shoved in your back jeans pocket feels pressure on one of its key keys – see what I did there? – and accidentally calls someone. It’s a mild annoyance.

Sometimes your bum call is the last person you spoke to. Sometimes it’s a completely random person, and you wonder what fidgeting and contortion combination you made as you sat that would cause your phone to navigate through a phone book, select a person and call them. Amazing.

True story: when I worked in Dublin as head of marketing of a software company I would occasionally answer the switchboard number if it was ringing out. On this occasion, I answered a bum call from a guy I had just been in a somewhat strained meeting with and he was bitching – about me! – on the phone to his mate in the car, for about 10 minutes. How cool is that! It’s the kind of frank, unguarded feedback we almost never get.

Then again, if you’re a pay-as-you-go customer and you’re only as good as your phone credit, the bum call costs you money as well as being annoying. As my son said to me the other day: ‘I accidentally bum-called Adam and it cost me a euro.’ That’s a big deal when you top up at 10 euro a time.

The bum call is a bit like the bum note in music. Surprising, unexpected, unwanted, annoying.

 

Perspective is such an important concept, both literally and figuratively. It’s how we see the world, both literally and figuratively. It colours our work and our play, down to every single micro-action.

I was reminded of the more literal sense of this recently as I contemplated the world from a high window, the same window from which I viewed booming Dublin. It’s like when you drive a lot and then on rare occasions you take a bus somewhere, sitting on the top level and seeing things you never saw from the ground.

You can see so much from high up. It informs your world differently.

Being high up gives you an advantage over those who don’t enjoy the same elevation. They can’t see what you can see. It puts you in a position of advantage, power or authority, because you can see more. Sometimes it gives you more respect than perhaps you deserve. It also comes with a responsibility. You must use that advantage, power or authority well, and not abuse it or people. To look down on people, or be condescending to them, that’s an abuse of your exalted perspective.

 

I think we often take ordering systems for granted.

Where would we be with a directory that didn’t alphabetise the entries? With a reference book that had no index? With a long street lined with numberless houses? We’d have to learn another way of finding things, more random, and vastly more inefficient and time-consuming.

We need systems that provide us with patterns by which we can navigate our way through the world.

Take the estate I live in. It’s a collection of 90-some houses of different shapes, sizes and colours. It’s a lovely estate. The only problem is if you have to find a particular house for the first time.

Most streets or houses have a sequential numbering system, or maybe even on one side or odd on the other. Either way, you can find your way around without barely giving it a second thought.

On our estate the numbers are jumbled. Some parts are numbered even and odd. Some parts are even only. Some parts are odd only. Some are numbered sequentially. Then there’s a block of 4 houses which were added late into the construction phase, also numbered sequentially but with no relation to houses on either side of them.

When someone asks residents where a certain number house is, generally they don’t know. Our house doesn’t have a number on it, it has the number spelled out in letters. Because we can.

It always makes me think how much we rely on ordering systems.

Just when you thought Ryanair were getting better and becoming a little more customer intimate – not too much mind you, because that would cost money, ask the pilots – Ryanair pulls what it probably considers to be a master stroke, and what passengers will feel is a low blow they can’t do much about.

We booked a family holiday a few months ago, towards the end of last year, paying for 2 check-in bags and planning to carry a cabin bag each, and a small bag to fit under the seat in front of us. There was no mention that I saw that the regulations were about to change.

A couple of weeks ago we started to get emails about a change in cabin bags, effective shortly and before we actually take our holiday. From this date, unless you have priority booking you can only bring on one bag that fits under the seat in front; you can’t use the overhead storage at all.

WTF! I went back and checked my original confirmation email and there’s no mention of a new cabin bag restriction. Ryanair has gone back to its policy of only one cabin bag, except that now it has to be smaller than before. Clearly pesky customers have been using all the overhead storage and that will not do.

As always, what’s at stake here is the principle. I’ve written before about how Ryanair competes primarily on operational excellence – and this is about operationally squeezing the last cent out of passengers, making them pack even lighter and still avoiding baggage check-in, thereby guaranteeing Ryanair comfortable flight turnarounds – rather than product leadership or customer intimacy. Presumably they’re allowed to hide behind small print that says ‘we can change the terms any time we like’, but to enforce it from the date of travel, rather than the date of booking, when they’ve got pre-booked passengers over the proverbial barrel, is petty, inconsiderate and will probably net them an extra few hundred grand.

Why do they do it? Because they can. For now.

I’m sitting on a train which is theoretically on its way from Galway to Dublin. I have a 2 o’clock meeting in Dublin, and then I’m back home on the train. I’m coming in just for this meeting, but my train is due in 2 and 1/2 hours before my meeting, so I’ve arranged to meet a couple ex-work pals for lunch. I’d decided on the train because my back is a bit sore and I could also get some work done.

The lunch appointment time is just passing now. We’ve been stationery for about 50 minutes. Ever since we rolled over something hard and metallic about 25 KMs outside Dublin, trundling to a stop about a kilometre further on. The on-board wifi is taking a terrible beating.

There are emergency response teams on the scene, presumably for both the incident and our train. I’m not sure if I’ll make my meeting, or whether we’ll eventually roll into Dublin and I’ll hop on the next train back to Galway, which will probably be delayed.

On Twitter Irish Rail has announced the suspension of all services in both directions due to a ‘tragic incident’. It is what it is. You can’t legislate for this kind of thing. You can’t manage away all of these possibilities and percentages. But when you have any single point of failure you run the risk of running into problems which inconvenience thousands of people.

I’ve written about the unreliability of public transportation for work-related meetings on numerous occasions. This is, of course, extremely traumatic for anyone directly affected by the incident. But for those of us indirectly affected, what it all boils down to is the usual: the loss of two important and related factors, namely time and productivity. This meeting I’m supposed to be attending is a dry-run for the real thing I’m running in 2 days time, for which I was also going to take the train. Decisions…

Ah, email, the scourge of modern lives, both work-based and social-based. It’s no wonder that the young are not embracing it as a communications vehicle in anything like the numbers that the older generations have.

Emails can represent both a time-suck and an intrusion into our daily lives. If you’re like me and you subscribe to suppliers’ mailings, or have simply bought something from a company which has your email address, you’ll know what a chore it is to wade through email subject lines from organisations you don’t want to unsubscribe from, in case the occasional email provides something of use to you.

Email has its problems. A large percentage of knowledge and intellectual property is buried in email, often not archived or indexed properly, and it can be difficult to find and retrieve. That’s not particularly efficient. Email intrudes on a regular basis, with a ping here and a ping there, and business gurus are lining up to tell us to ignore 80% of our email and do our necessary email work in batches so that we stay productive.  Businesses are soon to be subject to the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which places more stringent requirements on those companies that collect and use data on us, like our email address. Here’s a nice summary by a marketing automation provider on GDPR implications for companies that email their customers.

Email marketing has been trending down for some time, as search engine optimisation / marketing and social media have been trending up. By 2020, according to Forrester and CMO, email will account for only 2,5% of our digital marketing spend.

It’s not all bad for email though. For example, a couple of years ago I called a couple dozen customers of a client of mine and asked them what their communications preferences were, both as prospective customers, and as active, ongoing customers. The overriding preference? ‘Email. Yes, I get loads of them, but if you send me one that I know I need to read, from looking at the subject line, I can leave it in my inbox and get to it when I’m ready.’

So it seems that, at least for non-millennials and business folk, the hugely prevalent mechanism that is email is still the best of a pretty bad lot when it comes to written communications.

If you’re reading this post pretty much as soon as it’s been published, then I send you a heartfelt and well timed Happy New Year. If you’ve come to it later, by a different route, don’t click away just yet.

I have an observation to make. In England we tend to wish people Happy Christmas slightly before Christmas, and on Christmas Day, and not usually after. We also say Happy New Year on the stroke of midnight going into the first of January, and for a week or two afterwards. Never before.

In Ireland, you can be wished a Happy New Year before the new year starts.

In some quarters this would be thought of as slightly odd, unlucky even. ‘I haven’t got there yet, but thanks, I think.’

The Irish for December is Nollaig, which also means Christmas, so you’ll receive Christmas greetings from the first of the month, which is nice. Furthermore, in the Emerald Isle it’s not considered out of the ordinary to wish folk Happy Christmas slightly after the big day, or Happy New Year slightly before the other big day.

I consider it all part of the Irish way of friendliness, chattiness and welcomingness.

When to use farther and when to use further? Tricky one. Farther seems a bit more antiquated to me, with most people deferring to more common, if less logical further.

It turns out that both are fine, though for me you can justify farther when you use it with distance. Saturn is farther from the earth than Jupiter, for example.

I made a quick check of my 600-blog posts, for kicks and giggles, and I use the word farther twice in all of them. A pretty rare occurrence, then, among about 150,000 words. In the one instance I say ‘rippling out your original request in ever farther…’ In the other I’m saying ‘When you’ve got the word ‘have’ in there, it throws it ‘back’ farther to the ‘u’ word.’ Pretty opaque sentences when taken out of context, I know.

Yet both of these are distance-related you could say, rather than the figurative-related, as in ‘I could go further, but I won’t.’