Has technology made us lazier communicators?

Remember when we used to wait by the phone to ring or when we checked our answering machines when we got home, in anticipation of a special phone call? We relished the communication and our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the person’s voice.

Now, it’s Facebook. Or Twitter. We get a ping. Or a poke. Or a Like.

HiRes

We don’t get a Happy Birthday phone call but there’s a post on our walls. Any recognition is nice, of course, but what’s missing is the personal aspect of communication. I won’t dwell on this too much because by now, there have been countless articles and blogs about this. But a newer trend I have been noticing is that blogs and Facebook/LinkedIn posts have been getting less comments. But they are getting Likes.

Similarly on Twitter, you tend to see a lot of re-tweets or favorites, but there are fewer conversations. And rather than personally messaging people to thank them for a follow, many tweeters are programming annoying auto-responses with a link to their websites. Boy, that’s personal.

My point: technology is resulting in less effort to communicate. It only takes a second to hit a Like button but to actually have to comment and participate in a back-and-forth conversation? Forget about it. People just don’t have the time these days. However, they do seem to have time to play Candy Crush or Pengle. Games win out over thinking and communicating any day.

Technology and social media are great, but through all our gadgets, texting, and tweeting, we mustn’t let our brains turn to mush. We need to remember to keep engaging, keep conversing, and keep building the relationships that we want to grow. We need to actually be SOCIAL.

Advertisements

It’s not in the cards

What’s not in the cards, you ask? Proper sentiments.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, or maybe I remember a time when greeting cards expressed the perfect sentiment. These days, however, many cards have become downright insulting. Jokes about getting old, watching your weight…whatever happened to simple sentiments – short and sweet greetings that get the simple message across: “I think your great.”? Or, “I hope your day is truly special.” Done. The End.

Yes, I am writing about this topic because it’s Mother’s Day. I went to two different card stores before I found an appropriate card for my Mom. And when I did, I knew it was the one. It was cheerful and tasteful. Do you know what it said? “Mom, you’re awesome. Love you.” That’s perfect.

You don’t need a paragraph of schmaltz. Or a card that’s going to poke fun at what a handful you were as a child. That actually brings me to another thought – is it just me or have cards, like most humans of 2014, become increasingly self-absorbed? Or they’re a reflection of our self-absorbed society. I’ve read countless cards with similar written messages – “Sorry, I only had time to get you this card.” Or – “You already have the perfect gift – me!” I kid you not.

And people wonder why the greeting card industry is suffering.

While we’re at it, can we talk about cliches for a second? With Father’s Day coming up next, I know I’ll be faced with the typical yearly dilemma: my Dad doesn’t golf, he doesn’t drink beer, he’s not into race cars. Well, that just about wipes out every card theme for fathers, or men in general. 

My Dad loves cats. Why aren’t there Father’s Day cards with cats on them? Because felines are viewed as too feminine? Hence the crazy cat lady cliche? How about a sweet card that reads, “For a purr-fect father”?

Too corny? Maybe. But I’ll take that over insults and self-absorption any day.

The art of email writing

If there’s one form of communication that people bitch about, it’s email. Messages flood our inbox and reading each one can be time-consuming, yet alone responding to them. Before you know it, you have one big email chain.

With such a large volume of messages, how do you ensure that yours get read? It’s all in the writing. If you want to persuade someone to do something (in my case, it usually involves an interview for an article), you need to come up with an effective method to get the response you need. Here’s how.

1. Subject line – In your subject line, you need to get to the point. If it’s an interview for a newsletter article, I state that right up front. With time being a factor for many, I usually like to add the word “quick” – such as, “Need a quick quote for the newsletter”. If it’s something that won’t take long, make that clear so people realize the action won’t take up too much of their time.

2. Tone – Always maintain a pleasant tone. Even if a person hasn’t gotten back to you after two attempts, remain persistent and polite. If you use phrases, like “Following up”, people will know you’ve contacted them before and that they need to respond. Reiterate that your meeting (or other action) will only take up a little bit of their time. Ending the email with, “I look forward to hearing from you,” is again, a subtle way of reminding the person that you’re awaiting a response. Throwing in a “Best wishes”, “Kind regards” or “Cheers” is always a plus. Sometimes signing an email with only your name can be a bit impersonal.

3. What’s in it for them? – As with most things in life, people want to know “what’s in it for me?”. In the case of newsletter/intranet articles I write for clients, many pieces typically highlight a particular program or employee. Everyone loves to be recognized for noteworthy achievements so that’s the chord I strike when reaching out to people. I let them know that they’ll be spotlighted for exemplary work and ten times out of ten, they call me to arrange an interview.

4. Less is more – Busy schedules and shortened attention spans are always a challenge so be sure to keep email messages short and sweet. Summarize your main points in a short paragraph, offering the opportunity to speak on the phone or in person to discuss further.

5. Proofread before sending – My golden rule of email writing is to proofread all messages before hitting the send button. Even the slightest typo can indicate a lack of attention to detail. Treat your emails like regular documents. Make sure they’re error-free and that the sentences flow. People will be more likely to respond to you quickly if your emails are well-written and typo-free.

6. Add a personal touch, if necessary – I recently had to send a mass email to 15 different people inside an organization. Do you know how many people responded to my initial email? Zero. So I re-sent it a few days later (2-3 days is usually an effective rule for a gentle prod). I reminded them that the end of the month was nearing and I needed the information as soon as possible. Including a date is often a good wake-up call for people because it gets them thinking in terms of a deadline. As a result, I started to get some responses. However, there were still a few people who owed me a reply. The solution? Email each individually, and voila, I got my remaining responses. If you opt for one-to-one communication, it adds a direct, personal touch, vs. a group email which many may tend to ignore.

7. Name-drop – Want a surefire way to get a fast email reply? CC supervisors and executives if the situation calls for it. If your contact sees that a boss is awaiting a critical piece of information, include the boss in the correspondence. That way, your message carries more weight. Plus, you’ll be creating a paper trail that shows that you did everything on your end to obtain the information needed.

8. Give thanks – Follow what your Mom taught you: always say “thank you.” Seems like a no-brainer, but during a busy work day when you’re writing multiple emails, the possibility of forgetting to say “thank you” exists. Sometimes adding an exclamation mark is also a good idea – it shows added appreciation and increases your chances of a quick response.

9. To smiley-face, or not to smiley-face? – Ah, the smiley face. Equally loved and hated by many. So is it too cheesy to include in corporate correspondence? Generally, yes. However, it depends on how closely you work with the person you’re contacting. If it’s a colleague you know very well needing an extra prod to do something, feel free to include a smiley face if you feel it’ll soften the blow of bugging the person multiple times. Obviously, if you’re emailing a higher-up, leave the smiley-face to your personal Facebook messages in the evening!  🙂 – Sorry, couldn’t resist using a smiley face here!

10. Timing is everything – Finally, if you’re sending an important email, make note of the best time of day to send it. Since Monday mornings tend to be hectic, wait till early afternoon if possible. I find Tuesdays and Wednesdays to be an excellent time to send emails since by then, many will have gotten caught up. Friday mornings are also favorable since people tend to be more relaxed the day before the weekend.

Follow these words of advice and you’re sure to see results!

A lesson in commuting etiquette

Apologies for the lack of blog posts in recent weeks. I recently took on an exciting long-term editorial assignment so I’ve been happily busy amid scores of print and digital copy.

Unlike many of my other freelance writing gigs, this job requires me to work in an office, putting me back into the 9-5 commuter world. Being shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of New Yorkers in tight subway cars is actually a job in itself! You never know what sights and smells you will encounter on any given day.

Rather than sigh and complain, I’ve decided to post this lesson in commuter etiquette which will hopefully inspire slightly better behavior and more pleasant train (and bus) rides across the city.

Here are 5 ways in which our commutes can be made more bearable. Riders, are you listening?:

1. No perfume before 9am – The other morning I nearly gagged on a floral scent worn by the woman sitting next to me. At 8am, a strong smell like that is hard to take, yet alone at any time of day. My advice? Save the heavy perfumes for your hot Friday night dates, not an early morning subway ride. And gentlemen, that means you too. The only old spice I want to smell at that hour is the cinnamon in my cappucino. If the offensive perfume smell wasn’t enough that morning, the woman wearing it was sitting so close to me, she was practically in my lap, which brings me to Tip #2.

2. Mind the gap – No, I’m not talking about the gap between the train and the platform, I’m referring to the amount of space between seated riders on a train. If you see there’s hardly any room, don’t sit there. If I had a choice between being squashed or standing up, I’d choose standing every time. So why don’t other people feel the same?

3. Listen to the music (but quietly, please) – Okay, we all like our music (myself included), but is there really a need to blast it from your iPod or iPhone? Maybe the rest of us don’t want to hear “Blurred Lines” for the 1000th time or the latest Justin Timberlake song. So do us a favor – by all means, enjoy your tunes, but do so responsibly. Hey, you’ll benefit too – you’ll reduce your chances of going deaf!

4. Get a grip – Actually, #4 is not about griping; it’s about gripping. My “tips for grips” when riding the subway is to hold onto the poles via the palms of your hand (instead of grasping them with your fingers). It’s simply more sanitary. And if you do wind up fully gripping the poles, make sure you have some hand sanitizer nearby. (Frankly, I don’t know why the MTA doesn’t install hand sanitizer dispensers at subway stations – if gyms and hospitals can have them, why not subways? We pay enough for our metrocards!)

5. To the left, to the left – My final tip is an organizational one. In London, what I like most about riding the Tube is that commuters are instructed to stay to the left of stairs and escalators so those in a hurry can pass them on the left. It’s very organized and works well. Why New York does not follow in London’s footsteps is beyond me. Every morning it takes several minutes for people to navigate the stairs at the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station. With so many people moving in all different directions, transferring lines or exiting a station can become a complete headache. Why not implement a system like London’s that will keep foot traffic flowing?

Got that, MTA?