eMusings Newsletter

MAY 2011



3 Human Elements


When I was a kid in St. Louis, a big night out meant a trip to Grone's Cafeteria on Grand Avenue. They were known city wide for their fried chicken and homemade rolls baked on site by Lou Grone. Outside of those two things, I don't remember much about the food. I do remember the people. My father was an incredibly slow eater and he waited to have coffee until the end of his meal which meant that dinnertime was agonizingly long and frankly, if it hadn't been for the chicken and the fact that I was five, I would have stayed home. And since my parents refused to let me run around the place like a little hellion I was reduced to watching other people eat. And here's what I saw.

Older couples...sitting at tables...not speaking. Oh, not every older couple was giving each other the silent treatment. But there were enough that I noticed. And when I asked my mom why they weren't speaking to each other, she said they just ran out of things to say to one another.

I still people watch in restaurants and I still notice the ones who sit at tables and don't speak. Only now I can tell the difference between the easy silence between people who still care about each other and the silence that hangs heavily between people who no longer connect. And the ones who no longer connect seem so sad. I made a vow not to be one of those people.

Last week, at lunch, I became one of those people. I was with a friend and we barely said a handful of words to one another. She spent most of lunch on her phone, either texting or talking. Seems she was on deadline and had last minute rewrites and there was a problem with the graphics and...well, you get it. We didn't connect.

I wondered how often that happens with other people. I was surprised to come across a survey done by insurance company esure that found that 41% of people who responded choose electronic communication over face-to-face. And 13% of couples said they have to use Facebook to keep track of what their significant other is up to; 10% said they communicate exclusively via technology.

Technology's opened up the world for all of us...which is a good thing. But when our communication relies primarily on a keyboard, I think we build barriers that undercut courtesy, propriety and proficiency.  If we want to connect, we need to look for ways to save "face".

What's your take?


Jennie Ayers

Senior Partner, BoldWork  
In This Issue
Do We Really Need An App for This?
Sounds of Silence
Join Our Mailing List!

Quick Links

collaboration cubes

Let the World Know You do BoldWork!

BoldWork MousePad
BoldWork Triad Coaching by Building Colleague Alliances
Traditional coaching, where a trained, seasoned coach works one-on-one with an individual client, can positively impact an organization in many ways. The coaching relationship provides career & skill development, accelerates change, enhances personal productivity and improves organizational effectiveness.
This same positive impact can also be achieved through colleague coaching, a cost-effective way to provide coaching to a larger number of employees.
Contact us and we'll tell you more.
"Do We Really Need an App for This?" by Jennie Ayers                                           

(551 words - estimated reading time: less than 3 minutes)


email on computerRecently, a client showed me an email he received from one of his team members. He was ticked off at what he perceived to be a curt and aggressive message. Wondering if he was overreacting, he asked me to take a look at it. While I'm not sure the sender meant to come off as either curt or aggressive, I understood why my client perceived the message as such. Three short, rat-a-tat style sentences, containing several words all in caps; no salutation; no sign off and no context, meaning no back story regarding the message or in what environment the conclusions expressed were drawn. In general, a message that was easily misinterpreted, something that happens all too often in the world of emails. I remembered coming across a reference to a product called ToneCheck and made a mental note to check it out later to see if it might be something my client could share with his team.

I looked through my files and there it was - a short article on ToneCheck, a new "emotional spell checker" tool, created by Lymbix, that alerts users before they hit the "send" button by flagging emails that contain language that could be perceived as emotionally charged. (Lymbix CEO Mark Eldridge admits that sarcasm and irony are hard to detect, which is too bad for me since most of my friends seem to be either sarcastic or ironic.) According to research done by Lymbix, text-based communication is having a profound impact on relationships and productivity, much of it negative. Email presents endless possibilities for misunderstandings - recipients correctly interpret the tone of emails only about 50% of the time.

My first reaction? "What a terrific idea!" Then I thought about it...and changed my mind. I mean, come on. Do we really need an app for this? Why not develop our capacity to recognize feelings (our own and others') and manage those feelings instead? Why not develop our ability to act wisely in the way we interact with people, instead of downloading a gadget to do it for us? [Daniel Goleman IDs the former as Emotional Intelligence (EI) and the latter as Social Intelligence (SI).] These are skills we need to be effective communicators, whether by email or any other medium. These are skills we need to be effective in life.

Don't get me wrong. I love technology. But it's a blade that cuts two ways. While it opens the world to us, it also makes it easier to duck accountability when it comes to human relations. Email can be quick and easy - it isn't always. Think of how many times you've gotten an email that turns into a dozen back-and-forth comments. And frankly, sometimes email is simply inappropriate, devoid of non-verbal messages and vocal tones which lend nuance to our words and invest them with emotional context.

By developing our EI and SI, we'll know when the "tone" of our emails is on the mark. We'll also know when to forgo email and use a personal touch. Until then, consider this advice. If there's even a remote possibility that your message will be misconstrued - or you're dealing with a sensitive issue - choose to communicate face-to-face. Barring that, pick up the phone. Any message that carries the risk of misunderstanding should definitely be delivered off-line.

"Sounds of Silence" by Rebecca Ripley

(489 words - estimated reading time: less than 3 minutes)


  "And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
and no one dared
disturb the sound of silence"

                                               Paul Simon & Art old newsroomGarfunkel - 1969

I recently read an aritcle written by Molly Guthry about a woman celebrating fifty years of employment with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Aside from Ms. Grossman's impressive longevity, I was struck by what she said about the 21st century newsroom. According to the article, Grossman used a manual typewriter in 1961. She has since adpated to may forms of the latest technology - electric typewriters, computers, fax machines, voicemail, email. "Fifty years ago, you'd hear the slamming and dinging of the typewriters. The telephones rang constantly," she said. "It's interesting how quiet the newsroom is now because of email. Even when everyone is here and busy, it's so silent.

I was in a newsroom recently with my best friend who has been a journalist for over 30 years, and had the same observation. The energy level in 2011 is totally different than it was in 1974. Not worse, just incredibly different.

So Jennie's opening letter raises an intriguing question. When our communication relies primarily on a keyboard, do we necessarily build barriers that undercut courtesy, propriety and civility? Probably. Let's consider the newsroom again. They're now quiet because journalists connect more often with their sources via email.  Breaking story ideas are found on-line. Computers don't have movable parts that slam and ding against the rush of deadlines.  Sure, we may gain a thin slice of peace and quiet and maybe even increases in efficiency and the ability to think big thoughts. But what might be lost by the lack of face-to-face or phone connection at work?

female hands on keyboardWhen we email colleagues repeatedly and risk rampant miscommunication, what are we buying with our silent exchange?  Hurt feelings? Deteriorating relationships? Costly mistakes due to unintentional misunderstanding? Perhaps it's time we get up and talk with people. Notice the nonverbal signals. Check our perceptions by asking clarifying questions. Share our assumptions. Engage in spirited dialogue as we exchange ideas. Go back and forth in real time. Collaborate.  Explore possibilities. Then, return to the silence of our offices to reflect on the conversation and tackle the next project. 

Check out Guthry's full story at http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_17816115?nclick_check 

"Fools, said I, you do not know.

Silence like a cancer grows.

Hear my words that I might teach you.

Take my arms that I might reach you.

But my words, like silent raindrops fell

and echoed

in the wells of silence."

                                                    Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel - 1969


boldworklogoAt BoldWork, we specialize in helping businesses and organizations optimize the performance of the people who work for them.

Typically, our clients come to us when they are seeking to change, to solve problems or to challenge a status quo that no longer works. Most importantly, they call us when they want to create a WorkClimate that increases motivation and strengthens employee engagement.

Please take a moment and visit our website at www.doboldwork.com to find out more about us and what we have to offer. Or contact us for additional information at info@doboldwork.com