Archives for category: Communication

Over the last 5 years or so, a simple ‘thank you’ – surely one of the most powerful phrases in the English language – hasn’t appeared to be enough. I’ve often felt that it depends on how much you mean it, how you execute the comment, but that a ‘thank you’ or ‘thanks’ should be all it takes to express your gratitude.

Instead, over the last half-decade the phrase ‘thanks so much’ has crept into the verbal repertoire of folks, especially the younger ones. Is it a US influence? I don’t know, could be.

I remember being taken out for dinner by my folks for my 18th birthday, half a world ago. After every piece of cutlery, crockery and course was delivered, after every clean-up, I said ‘thanks very much’, feeling that I had to dsiolay my extreme gratitude at being waited on. Half way through the evening my Mum leaned over and whispered, ‘it’s OK to just say thanks or thank you, not thanks very much every time. Maybe save that one for the very end.’ Which I did.

I often hear grateful kids say ‘thanks so much for my birthday present.’ You know they mean it, unless the delivery is laced with sarcasm.

It doesn’t feel natural to me, so I don’t use it. I find it hard to make it sound sincere. Instead I try to show my appreciation for the little things by saying thank you like I mean it, which I almost always do.

Advertisements

A spent a few enjoyable hours the other day in the company of the excellently apostrophised and excellent Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2018. This weighty tome’s reputation precedes it, as you probably know, and justifiably so. This was my first owned copy and it is indeed an invaluable resource.

It’s true what they say, and it’s repeatedly endorsed by all the published authors who contribute guest articles: everything you need to know about publishing and getting published is in this book.

One thing that struck me though was this: is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for young people? You wouldn’t have thought so. In fact, the readership is probably on the older side. All those people who’ve promised themselves to be true to the notion that they’ve a novel in them, now with a little more time on their hands and a still-burning ambition.

My point is this: the book is over 800 pages long and packed with useful information. Packed being the operative word, since…

..the print is tiny, really hard to read, even with reading glasses on. It’s a book for young eyes. I know it’s not simply an option to raising the point size a couple of points and making the book 1,000 or 1,200 pages long, since that might price the book at the point where people are put off. It’s a good job, though, that the information is invaluable since the size of the type is a turn-off.

Also, I have a suggestion for improving this esteemed organ. Why not have a section listing the literary agents by genre? There is a section doing the same with publishers. It should be relatively easy to do, and stops the reader having to wade through every single agent blurb to get to the nub: do they specialise in my area? This might also stop the majority of agents from the lazy, don’t-want-to-miss-the-next-big-thing catch-all of listing that they cater to ‘all’ fiction and non-fiction genres, all of whom I ignored.

I wrote recently about how many of us are in front of a device keyboard all day and manage to get by with 2 or 4-finger typing, rather than potentially the 10 digits at our disposal. When was the last time you saw a job ad for an predominantly office-based role that wasn’t for a PA or secretary that said ‘since the majority of your time is desk-bound, you must be able to type 50 words a minute or more to apply’?

When I had a few months off between jobs about 15 years ago, I went to a typing course. I didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Even though I wasn’t working, I couldn’t spare the lost productivity while my typing speed was cut into a quarter of ‘slow’. I didn’t have the time to engrain the behaviours to see the long term benefit.

Because I’ve probably typed a million words since then, I’ve improved my typing ‘organically’. I’ve made it up as I go along. My organic typing is now a flurry of activity as hands cross over each other and fingers overlap. I look like a piano player when I type, and it’s hardly a virtuoso performance.

Interestingly, one of my brothers can type properly, and he’s had some issues with RSI – repetitive strain injury. I wonder if the act of anchoring your wrists down more and being more regimented with the spaces your fingers occupy makes you more prone to these injuries of ‘isolation’ compared to the organic way of letting the fingers go where they want to and damn the downturn in efficiency.

How many of us spend large amounts of time at a computer, device, smartphone or other digital device? What do we do on them? Well, principally we’re typing our part of some dialogue.

Isn’t it amazing that computers have formed the central role in our working and playing lives yet so few of us can type properly? What a bonus it would be to type as fast as we can talk, as fast as we can think even. How much more productive could we be?

Many of us continue to get by on 2-finger typing. I’ve graduated to 4-finger typing, with the occasional thumb for the space bar and the pinkie for the return key, when I don’t use the dictate function on my mac. It’s still painfully slow, but it’s progress of a kind I suppose.

I find it flabbergasting that the primary and secondary schools my kids go to don’t get typing and keyboarding lessons. Boys and girls both need it; it’s an essential skill for the modern world, even if we never type anything during our working day.

We’re all looking at the keyboard, when we should be looking at the screen. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

‘Congrats on your work anniversary!’ I got a couple of these from contacts of mine via the LinkedIn network last week. I get them occasionally and I’m always a bit bemused by them.

That’s because I have one of those portfolio careers, so I have a small basket of ‘jobs’ on my profile. When someone sends me a congrats note, therefore, I’m not sure which anniversary they’re congratulating me on.

If we have one job, chances are we know when we started it, and maybe we also use the anniversary of our tenure there to take stock, reflect on where we’re at and decide if we’re happy to stay or think about a move.

When you have three or four of them, the chances are you don’t remember when you started each of them, hence the confusion.

Don’t get me wrong: I like that someone has taken the trouble to congratulate me, and I appreciate the gesture. It usually precipitates a couple of questions in my head, however. Anniversary where? Which anniversary, how many years? How many occupations do I list on LinkedIn these days?

Perhaps LinkedIn is better suited to one-track careerists than their portfolio counterparts.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or so the saying goes. There’s always some implied barter or quid pro quo implicit in the donation of a free lunch. The donor is expecting something in return – usually.

I was on Liverpool Street in London the other day. There’s usually a homeless man selling the Big Issue near the pedestrian crossing across from one of the station’s exits. He’s not a British national, as you can hear from his extremely chirpy ‘Good morning, ‘ave a good day’, accompanied by a thumbs up, to hundreds upon hundreds of passers-by during the 2 rush hours.

I was feeling particularly virtuous, or so I thought and I went up to buy a copy of the Big Issue from him. Sometimes I will give the Big Issue vendors a quid or two and not take the magazine, but on this occasion I fancied a read. I hadn’t read it for a long time.

A young chap, late 20s I would say, got there first, so I waited behind him. Except that the young chap didn’t buy a Big Issue, or slip him a quid or two. He gave him a lunch, a lunch in a paper carrier bag that he had just bought, and walked off.

What a lovely gesture it was. Thoughtful, easy to do, and for a few quid he’s made the man’s day. I’m slightly welling up as I recount the story. I felt that my own magnanimity has been seriously compromised as I profferred my cash for the magazine, and rightly so.

If we all made the young man’s gesture once every month or two, what a difference that would make.

The lunch donor didn’t look for anything in return, except perhaps his own reflected feel good factor. Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch after all.

One of the quainter English phrases is to ‘to and fro’, where fro is an old contraction of from. You can use the term ‘physically’, as in to go to and fro London, although I admit there’s the insertion of the verb ‘to go’ there. You can also use it figuratively, as in ‘I need to to and fro on this subject before I can make a decision I’m happy with’.

That’s fine, but how do you use the term in the past tense? Imperfect tense is OK – as in I was to-ing and fro-ing – although to hyphenate or not is slightly problematic. But what about the simple past tense, as in I did something? Here are some options, to my mind:

  • I to-ed and fro-ed
  • I to’d and fro’d
  • I went to and fro
  • I to and fro-ed

I’m not sure what feels right. Maybe the answer is context: if you mean it physically, then maybe use the verb to go with it. If your intent is mental, maybe it’s to-ed and fro-ed. Who knows, but this is the type of thing I think about and it’s one of very many small pockets of the language that I don’t have an answer for.

“You and me bud. Let’s do this. We’ve got a date with destiny.”

A ‘date with destiny’ is a phrase that’s become pretty popular these days. It’s got a nice ring to it, and it suggests an important milestone is coming up which could throw a serious shape on the future.

It got me thinking. Either you take an existential or a fatalistic approach to your destiny. By which I mean either you feel you shape your own destiny, or else you feel some higher power or a great systematic experiment has predetermined it for you. Whichever stance you take or belief system you adopt, isn’t it the case that every waking moment, every infinitesimally small action is a date with destiny?

Your destiny is your destination – I guess that’s why the words are related – so every division of time and distance is a part of the journey to get there. Not so much as a date with destiny then, as being on the destiny continuum.

Viewing destiny this way helps me stay in the moment, make everything I do of the best quality I can manage, if I have the energy, and avoid plundering time.

Your staff are your greatest asset. They form the culture of your organisation, and culture is almost everything.

It’s our job as employers – and plain common sense – to protect our staff. We get the staff we deserve, so it’s our responsibility to look after them.

I was reminded of this fact lately, when a story emerged in the English football premier league about a player who had transferred from a Spanish club to an English club at the very end of the last day for club transfers. Except that he didn’t. The papers had left the selling club, had been received and processed by the buying club, and all the papers except one had been received by the governing body. The last paper was received 15 seconds outside the transfer window, so the transfer hadn’t been completed properly.

Who suffers the most here? The player himself was in limbo, a kind of non-self-imposed purgatory. He wasn’t on the staff of either the selling club or the buying club. Both clubs were firmly in self-protection mode and distancing themselves from the situation.

In my day-dreaming moments of being a world-class footballer I naively imagine that my responsibilities would be to country first, club second, and self third. With money, stakes and ego all unbridled in football these days, that priority list looks more like club first, self second, country third.

It’s a pity that clubs can’t reciprocate, putting the player first and protecting their staff. It’s the staff that win the trophies, isn’t it?

Almost everything we do is guided by self-interest. It’s human nature. Heck, it’s in every sentient being’s nature, otherwise it would cease to exist.

This rule seems to apply to us humans at all levels of the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs, from the basic acts like food and warmth to the more sophisticated ones like self-actualisation, which I think means achieving our potential.

When we do something with family and friend interests at heart, there’s probably a degree of self-interest in there too. Even when we do something for people we don’t know, in an act of charitable kindness, self-interest figures in the mix, aside from the simple satisfaction we get from our generosity of spirit, time or money.

It always comes down to that, the underlying reason for why we do stuff.

The question for me is this. Can we rise above it? Can we do something that’s genuinely not self-serving? Not all the time, but once in a while, perhaps occasionally?