From Chapter 5, “Communication: A Lost Art” in Ingredients of Outliers
I must admit I’m not always the best or most appropriate in terms of my style or manner of communication. I’ve also learned over the years to take most things with a grain of salt (partic
ularly if it’s followed by a shot of tequila and a slice of lime), so I don’t get too worked up over much of anything that’s directed my way. This has been tested of late, but more on that later.
That said, I’ve learned a thing or two about how not to communicate and what not to say or write, mostly from experience. The following are styles of communication I frequently observe, which ultimately do little to further the intended discourse or outcome.
- Talking with your arms folded across your chest or with your fists clenched at your side. (It conveys aggressiveness.)
- Blowing your nose or wiping your mouth and then shaking someone’s hand. (I’m not sure what it conveys but it’s disgusting.)
- Rolling your eyes when someone is speaking to you. (My children will tell you this is a sure way for me to say: “The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on the list.”)
- Talking over your shoulder while walking away or out of a room. (It conveys disrespect.)
- Crossing your legs and folding your arms while sitting. (It conveys that you’re hiding something, or that you’re cold.)
- Snapping gum or chewing with your mouth open. (It conveys that your parents were first cousins.)
- Shifting eyes or shifting back and forth while standing. (It conveys that you’re being deceitful or have to hit the bathroom!)
- Staring at the opposite sex in an inappropriate manner while talking to them. (Enough said, you know what I mean!)
- Working, reading, texting, writing or watching TV while someone is trying to have a conversation with you. I’m guilty of this one and am still working on always being “present” in the moment. (It conveys disrespect.)
- Not making eye contact while speaking directly to others or shaking their hand while not looking at them. (It conveys lack of confidence.)
- Frequently misspelling words or writing in different tenses.
- Spelling someone’s name incorrectly, despite it being part of the correct email address. (This one always amazes me: “Dear Mr. Schoefelt,” sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
- Using excessive legalese in a document (heretofore, etc.).
- Using email or written communication to convey important information that should be communicated in person. (For example, telling a close friend or long-time business partner, via email or voice mail, that you’ll be dissolving the relationship!)
- CAPITALIZING EVERY WORD IN AN EMAIL OR TEXT MESSAGE.
- Using multiple exclamation points. (I was sooooo drunk last night!!!!!!!!)
- Using shortened versions of words or phrases in a business email. (Examples: prolly, ur, OMG, IDK, lol, eieio.)
- Multiple smiley faces, frowns or any other kind of word art in a business email.
- Creatively interchanging: to, too and two; your and you’re; its and it’s; and their, they’re and there.
- Excessively long sentences without any punctuation really drive me crazy almost more so than anything else even chewing gum with an open mouth or swearing in a meeting or one time at band camp this guy like really thought he was cool and then started drinking OMG he was so drunk that his parents were called and then he like he passed out in front of me.
- Using “I” and “me” interchangeably. (“Him and me went to the tractor pull and drank Buds.”)
One caveat: grammar changes, rules change. What may be a no-no today is okay tomorrow. So don’t be one who “doth protest too much, methinks!”
There’s no question that we’re turning into a nation of functional illiterates, so I was happy to learn that at least a few folks are trying to change it. Meet Jeff Deck, founder of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL). Jeff and his partner, Benjamin Herson, travel America “to stamp out as many typos as we can find, in public signage and other venues where innocent eyes may be befouled by vile stains on the delicate fabric of our language.”
They visit stores, restaurants, and other facilities to fix typos, add missing apostrophes and delete incorrect ones on signs and billboards, often with permission of the owners and on occasion, without. Not surprisingly, one case in the latter category got them into a bit of trouble.
It happened at the Grand Canyon, operated by the National Park Service. Like most—perhaps all—government agencies, it isn’t exactly known for either common sense or a sense of humor. It seems these desperadoes had corrected a couple of small signs, only to find themselves arrested and charged with “conspiracy to vandalize government property.” They were sentenced to a year’s probation and have been banned from national parks for a year.
Anyone seeing this pair perpetrating a similar crime is urged to call Silent Witness or the local police. Or just give them a well- deserved round of applause.
About the worst writing advice I’ve seen is to rely on spellcheck programs. A couple of years ago, a popular magazine published an article titled “How to Appear More Intelligent” and included this bit of really bad advice: “Spell-check. Seriously. This is one of the world’s great inventions—maybe better than the wheel. Use it religiously to correct your typing mistakes.”
Great invention? Better than the wheel? Not even close! Sure, a spellcheck program will catch some typing mistakes, but it will miss many others and its grammatical suggestions are generally wrong as well.
I have dozens of illustrations to prove my point, but I’ll leave you with just one which, as a physician, really caught my eye. It was a magazine article in which the author described a hospital visit where a lab technician took “vile after vile of blood.” What was especially vile was this bit of writing.
- Like saying “like” like every few words (I, for one, don’t like it.)
- Using threats, “If you don’t do XXX, then I’ll do YYY!” (The conversation can only go one direction from here. It’s rarely positive, as you leave the recipient no way out.)• Speaking in the third person (although this is really fun, saying “John’s getting angry!” is like super annoying).
- Mumbling, low-talking or talking into the hand (sadly, I used to silently mouth words to my grandmother to see if I could make her tap her hearing aid. I’m sick, I know).
- Saying “Whatever!” whenever something is annoying.
- When someone asks a legitimate question, respond by exclaiming, “I can’t believe you didn’t know that!” (Conveys that you believe the person’s that stupid.)
- Saying “Trust me,” and then proceeding to say something completely untrue.
- Trailing off in midsentence and waiting for someone else to finish your sentence. “In 1930, the Republican controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the… anyone, anyone, Great Depression, passed the… anyone, anyone, tariff bill, the Hawley Smoot tariff act which … anyone, anyone, raised or lowered… anyone, anyone, Buehler?”
- Interrupting while the other person is still speaking.Perhaps the worst “crime” in this category, one that has taken on epic proportions, is the dreadfully annoying “ya’ know.” And it’s by no means limited to the poorly educated members of our society. For example, professional actress and television personality Whoopi Goldberg, when she was a guest on the Fox New program Hannity, used the expression numerous times.Well-educated Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late JFK, used it many times a few years ago in attempting to explain why, ya’ know, she thought she should, ya’ know, be given Hillary Clinton’s seat in the U.S. Senate. The ridicule heaped on her as a result may have had something to do with why, ya’ know, she eventually withdrew.