Archives for category: Communication

I’ve been mentoring for a few years, to a range of SMEs, and I’ve learned a lot. Here are 5 of my distilled thoughts on mentoring. It’s not intended to be a how to, more a set of observations.

  • Listening more than talking. As a sounding board, I think our job is to listen and absorb, then to suggest, rather than to tell
  • Focus on the few. Any business has a thousand things it could do, so I try to focus on a small number of key points. If you end up handing out loads of pointers, then your mentee goes away confused and overwhelmed
  • Process is important. When you’re in the thick of all those entrepreneurial factors, it helps if someone external is helping you with simple approaches to process, structure, and priorities for execution
  • It’s easy to say, hard to do. It’s all very well for consultants, mentors and advisers telling people what they should do. We then get to walk away and leave it to them to do the difficult bit, which is executing. I’m acutely aware of this, which is why my company’s ethos is to focus on using my experience to being responsive and practical in my recommendations
  • Be humble. Generally you’re advising someone who’s getting out there and giving it a go with their own business. They deserve a ton of praise for that alone. They’ve put themselves out there and it can be a nerve-wracking, lonely existence. The last thing they need is arrogance or haughtiness. They need empathy, constructive criticism – which comes from our experience – and encouragement

Mentor can mean teach, but for me it’s better to think in terms of advise and support.


In the last of this week’s cluster of posts on the spelling and meaning of a couple of words in this glorious language, I want to touch on the application called Grammarly, about which I profess to know very little.

I often see ads for Grammarly playing before I watch a video on the BBC international website, and by the American accents on the ad and the American base of the company, I assume the application helps with US-English phrasings, spelling, meanings, syntax and so on. There may well be a UK-English version too, though I doubt there’s an Irish-English version, or a Scottish-English, Welsh-English or any other variant that blurs the edges between language and dialect.

Two lads from the Ukraine founded the application, so perhaps its real benefit is for those for whom English is a second language. For many of us, however, we already have a lot of this functionality built into our office productivity applications and our browsing applications. For instance, if you erroneously search for ‘Grammerly’ – presumably an easy mistake to make if you’re the person who might need and want to use the correctly spelled version – on Chrome, you get returned suggestions for Grammarly.

Those of us who already get help from our everyday software and have a decent command of the language are using our skill and judgement on the grammar and phrasing side of things anyway. We use the tools to correct typos and omissions, and we use ourselves to correct the other more subtle areas of the language.

Which possibly explains why the application is probably very successfully catering to the vast numbers of people who need to converse in the dominant language which is not their dominant language.

Hmm, discrete os discreet? Tough one.

Just when you thought there wasn’t a difference – or should I say just when I thought there wasn’t a difference, lo and behold there is. The root Latin word is the same, but the spelling and the meaning has diverged. I’m not sure why.

Discrete spelled this way means separate, as in the map can be split into discrete parts. In that sense, ironically, it’s the opposite of concrete.

Discreet spelled with the double e means careful, circumspect, delicate almost. It means something completely different to discrete. You could say they have discrete meanings :-).

And then, to further confuse, there is the abstract noun discretion, which is not connected to discrete as would make sense, but to the double e version. I must exercise proper discretion with these two words in future…

‘Always learning’, or so they say. Well I am, anyway.

Do you know the difference between cache, caché and cachet? I thought I did. I was quite confident in fact.

Cache – pronounced cash – is a hiding place, most commonly known these days as the place where your cookies, Internet and browsing history files reside until or if you clear it out.

Caché – pronounced cashay – is the past tense of cacher, to hide in French, so it means hidden. OK so far I think. It is not the correct spelling for the next meaning, however.

Cachet has a bunch of different meanings. It originally refers to an official seal or stamp on something, like a document, but lately is most commonly used to denote prestige, as in ‘her job carries a certain cachet’, or ‘this food has a cachet within the fitness community’. In this sense, it is not, as I thought it was, spelled caché. D’oh!

Speaking of which, who decided that d’oh! should have an apostrophe? What’s missing or owned there do denote such a mark?

Since I went away with the extended family for a warm weather break a few weeks ago, this is the first in a 3-post series on holiday travel. I was tempted to call this post the Ryanair Scam part 2, since they have recently introduced a rule by which you can only have your cabin bag in the overhead locker if you’ve booked priority boarding. Otherwise it goes in the hold. This is fine if you already have a large bag in the hold, but a pain if you’re travelling light, since you have to factor in extra time and effort to retrieve your bag from the destination baggage belts.

I recently experienced this policy at first hand. The reality is that it works pretty well if, as I mentioned, you already have large holiday bags checked in, at additional expense of course. We did, so it was a no brainer and it means less to carry on and off the plane. However, it’s a ton more work for the hard-worked, exasperated gate crew – the check-in/boarding staff and baggage handlers – who now have to manually tag and load around 100 additional non-priority bags per holiday flight.

As it happened, our flight was delayed leaving. The conveyor belt into the plane from the baggage carts broke, presumably under the workload of having to deal with many more bags than it was used to. This turned a useful conveying device into a shelf, so the bags had to be manually carried into the hold.

This is what often happens to a process which you’re constantly tweaking and looking to improve. You pinch here, you feel it somewhere else. Ryanair do keep moving, changing, innovating though. Fair play to them for that.

‘Can you just move a smidge to the left for me?’

‘I’ll take a smidge of milk with my tea please.’

What exactly is a smidge? It’s hardly an agreed unit of measurement, either by width or volume. I use it from time to time and always assumed it was a quaint olde English word from the 16th century, probably coined by Bill Shakespeare, who seems to have more coinages to his credit than extant plays.

It’s actually a shortened form of the equally arcane smidgen – the origin of which is uncertain, but you can also spell it smidgin or smidgeon – and American English in its origin.

WordPress wasn’t happy with smidge or smidgeon, giving them the red dotted underline of shame. All the more reason to use them.


In 1990’s Scotland there was a great series of TV adverts designed to reinforce our recall of the Tennent’s lager brand by judicious use of words ending in their big red capital T. Younger readers may also be familiar with the summer festival T in the Park, which does exactly the same thing.

Anyway, these ads featured the pouring of half of a glass of Tennent’s in front of someone, who either laughed with joy or cried with sadness, depending on whether they were an glass-half-full optimisT or a glass-half-empty pessimisT.

These days we’re under increasing pressure – perhaps it’s our gradual Americanisation – to be incorrigibly upbeat and optimistic about everything. Our positive outlook alone will affect the outcome. It’s the positive spin we put on life and especially in marketing. This is true in parts. I’ve always described myself as a realist, occupying the halfway house, a hope-for-the-best-plan-for-the-worst space in between the two characteristics.

The other day I was chatting to my son who can sometimes be sweepingly downbeat in that glum teenagerish way. I told him he was sounding like a pessimist. ‘I’m not a pessimist Dad,’ he countered, ‘I’m a non-delusional realist.’

Which opens up a whole new can of worms. Is that the same thing as a pessimist, or is it a qualification of a realist, or is it suggesting there are many shades on the pessimist-optimist spectrum, or many grades to the axis?

I know, thinking too much…

The title of this post should really be ‘tomorrow’s buttocks’, but that would send the wrong message entirely. There is a serious message to it believe me.

I don’t know about you, but I get ideas any time, any place. Ideas for things I need to buy, ideas for blog posts, business ideas, and so on. You have to strike while the iron’s hot. To prevent them from becoming simply a fleeting thought that I can’t possibly recall, I jot the idea down, sometimes with a few words of explanation, in case the title of the idea is too pithy or esoteric for me to get to the kernel of it.

I was telling my wife the other day that I needed to create a blog post. She recalled that I was driving an iea and asked her to put a couple of words into her phone’s notepad for me to use as inspiration later. When she pulled up the not, it simply said ‘tomorrow’s buttocks’. I know, me neither. It could have been autocorrected, but from what I simply have no idea. It’s gone, the fleeting thought has fleeted, for good.

Is this what it’s like to be a detective, trying to piece together from the tiniest of clues what happened in an event, what people were thinking and what caused them to behave the way they did? Tough gig.

If it were important enough, ike an idea for a great melody, it would have come back to me. But how many millions have been lost, or how different might the world be, and the things we take for granted, from fleeting thoughts that people never executed?

I meant to call my wife the other day, but ended up calling the next name down my favourites list, my youngest brother. His 8-year old son answered the phone. The call went like this:

  • Hello?
  • Oh…[nephew’s name], is that you?
  • Yes, who is this?
  • It’s your uncle Paul, sorry, I called you by mistake..
  • Do you want to speak to my Dad?

Kids are great, aren’t they? They have no filter. You always know where you stand with them.

As we get older we develop layers of self-consciousness and diplomacy. Consequently, we have to peel back layers with adults to get to what they really mean. Sometimes this can present a challenge with sales and marketing, especially when we’re looking for feedback or indication from a customer about what they really think of our product, service or company.

The number of layers each adult has depends on their own unique filter setting. As you probably know, some adults have a low filter setting, blurting out exactly what they think in an uncontrolled fashion, or else telling you exactly what they think because that leaves no room for ambiguity. I much prefer this, as honesty is true feedback, as long as they don’t express it in a needlessly nasty way.

Many adults on the other hand, and this varies culturally, have a high filter and our job is then to try and get to what they really mean, by probing and asking essentially the same question in a different way.

Getting work done – by other people who do it for a living – around the house is always difficult I find. It’s feast or famine, from a supply point of view.

When the economy is tanking, no-one has any money and providers can’t get enough work, so they get involved in other areas. Famine for them. When the economy is flying, there’s too much work to go around and you can’t get anyone. But, because providers can only do the jobs for which they have available people, they can pick and choose between jobs and their schedules are chockablock for the short term. That’s the feast.

For those of us who don’t want to wait around beyond the short term, we encounter voicemails and our messages don’t get returned. When we finally get them to agree to an appointment, they don’t keep it, or they rearrange it, more than once. They play a balancing act of keeping everyone on the long finger so they can do concurrent jobs and always know what’s coming down the pipe, at least for next new weeks. The end customer suffers from a less than perfect outcome.

You get what you pay for, which simply heaps the pipeline of possible work onto the few reliable providers of house-related work, those folk that call when they say they’ll call, quote when they say they’ll quote, and start the job when they say they’ll start. And, because they know that almost all the competition is unreliable, they can charge a premium for their services.

Yes, it’s feast or famine. Unless you have a relative in the professions or you can do it yourself, getting stuff done is hard.