Saturday, March 27, 2010

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All.

That is nice advice and can certainly spare people hurt feelings. However, in the working world, unlike on the playground, you can’t just ignore your boss or neglect communication with co-workers when tough topics need addressing.

In college whenever I needed to write an e-mail to a professor, supervisor or peer, I would painstakingly choose the right word, double-check any implied attitude and make sure it was respectful. I would double my efforts at professionalism if the e-mail was about a sensitive topic; for example, questioning a grade, voicing a controversial opinion or telling a group member that they weren’t pulling their weight.

Apparently, more seasoned “professionals” don’t take this same care to be…professional.

I was recently dragged into a little office tiff where two co-workers were exchanging snippy e-mails. And although I was required, by the rules of making office friends, to take sides with the woman who involved me, I couldn’t help thinking that the bigger issue was why this problem had even arisen in the first place. It was obvious to me, an indifferent bystander, that her first e-mail had been brief; thus, interpreted by him as short-tempered. In response, his e-mail was insulting, condescending and sarcastic. Never mind that it was also written while they sat 30 feet from each other. From my experience, when you doubt an e-mail’s intentions, it is best to interpret confusing messages as positive. Had these two co-workers simply clarified, “Oh, I’m sorry; did I do or say something that offended you?” this little bout, comparable to juvenile note-passing, could have been avoided.

Perhaps this lack of courtesy is normal in the work place, and I’m being silly to think that it is possible for people to remain respectful at all times. Or maybe I’m just surprised to learn that even experienced, professional adults can behave like teenagers. In past positions as an intern, I wasn’t seen as an equal; therefore, I wasn’t privy to co-worker drama.  And while you might suspect younger adults are less mature, my previous job on a radio promotions staff proves otherwise, for our biggest co-worker drama was who owed whom a beer.

I don’t write this to patronize my co-workers or suggest that I am more professional than they are, for perhaps the strain of supporting a family bears down heavily on them and causes emotions to run high. But all-in-all, work would be more pleasant if everyone erred on the side of being polite and proofread e-mails for evidence of a bad attitude – before hitting the “send” button. There is so much emphasis on treating clients like royalty and yet so little on interoffice courtesy.

Also, for those times when you really can’t say something nice and you must write an insulting e-mail, be sure to proofread it; grammar and spelling mistakes detract from your argument and hurt your credibility.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Just Say No

The sun god is a powerful one. And like all powerful figures, he has figured out a way to convince people that he is imperative to beauty, popularity and enhanced muscle tone.

This time last year I was in the middle of my first tanning bed-binge. And I looked good! I had always been extremely anti-fake tanning, criticizing it as a waste of money, dangerous, and just fake, darn it! I had gone sporadically in the past, but never enough to get results, so I am not sure if it was Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), vanity, or just some great coupons that changed my mind last winter, but I dove into that tanning bed, white buns first.

At first I justified it as preparation for spring break. A base tan would allow me to enjoy myself without worrying about burning as easily. After that trip, I decided I needed to look my best for formal pictures, and then for graduation pictures two months later.
A dozen photographs and god-knows how much money later it was summer and I was working a part-time job that provided the flexibility to hit the beach and soak in real sunshine regularly.

As winter approached again this year, I acknowledged that it had cost me a pretty penny to look as copper as one. More importantly, I wondered how many more pennies it would take, decades from now, to reverse the damage I had done.

I entered the fall and then winter months determined to first maintain my tan as much as possible, but then to be content with my inevitable paleness. It was easy enough—I am Caucasian after all. I reminded myself how much money I was saving and all the wrinkles and sunspots I was preventing.

This conviction started to falter as local tanning salons advertised unlimited tanning memberships at the same time as half of my Facebook friends were returning, bronze, from tropical spring break vacations and posting their pictures. Even a lot of my graduated friends were taking trips to Florida, California, the Caribbean and Canada (ok, not all of my friends were building base tans).

Still, I held my ground. I will get sun (and vitamin D!) when the weather and my work schedule permit, I told myself. I even got a little cocky, thinking that perhaps I would load on the SPF all summer to truly embrace my creamy complexion year-round.

Well it didn’t quite work out that way.

As soon as the temperature hit 70 degrees with bright sunshine (and on a weekend no less!), I was basking in the premature spring rays.

And don’t cha’ know it, here I sit today, my faint and splotchy burn itching, and I can only think about my next opportunity to get outside. Addiction is addiction whether it’s costing you money or not. Perhaps it would be best if I hit up one of these tanning salons to get my base tan…for protection of course. Hmm, I’m starting to wonder if I need protection from myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Not The "Real World" I Expected

Who Knew?

When I chose to start working as a Marketing Consultant (i.e. sales person) for a group of radio stations, I expected to learn a lot about sales techniques, paperwork and flight schedules. What I didn’t expect; however, was to end up learning about unusual industries like heavy equipment and power tool manufacturers and dealers. Not to mention assisted living facilities, public safety equipment, RV dealerships, or electric cigarettes. Yes, that’s right, there are at least 7 brands of electric cigarettes available right now.

If you plan on ever chatting up RV dealers, allow me to spare you some embarrassment. An RV’s “dry weight” does not refer to its weight while traveling though arid regions. Nor does it indicate your RV’s weight prior to transforming it into a boat. But rather “dry weight” means how much an RV weighs before you add the water for its plumbing systems—fresh water, waste water and reusable water, like what runs down the drain during a shower. Water weighs over 8 pounds per gallon, so plan accordingly! The good news is that the dealer thought my question was meant as a funny “industry” joke, when I really was just clueless.

A Masterpiece Measured in Seconds

Whether it be for the “Association for Near-Death Studies,” a generic breakfast diner, or your neighborhood lawn-care company, writing radio commercial copy is hard! Especially if you attempt humor in that spot.

Tips I’ve picked up along my short journey of commercial copy writing:
- Sound effects instantly create atmosphere and will save you precious time needed to establish setting.
- Silly and weird voices instantly create humor. Or at least get your spot some attention. So many radio spots are just “straight reads” that any deviation from the norm is noticeable.
- Too much deviation is burdensome for the audience. I recently heard a commercial that used a familiar and fun song. It immediately caught my attention as I started to bob my head along. However, 60 seconds later I still had no idea what the commercial was selling. I heard something about car insurance and bits and pieces of a man’s name. Weeks later after hearing this spot enough times, that I think I could find the company online, but it would require some research.
- Say the business’ name. You may think this is obvious, and it is! But in addition to increasing recall of a company’s name and products or services, it also flatters a CEO’s ego. He won’t know exactly why, but he will know that he loves the commercial and you, the writer!
- Commercial copy is no place for lofty language. If you find yourself thinking that your college English professor will be impressed, dumb it down. Commercials are quick, lumped in with other commercials, and are often ignored. If your spot it complicated, listeners won’t take the time to decipher it.
- Save those “big words” for creating humor. They are most useful in creating a nerdy character. Even if audiences don’t know what they mean, they’ll get the point.

Acting Helps in All Professions

ou absolutely must care about co-workers’ children and parents. Or at least pretend to. Now, I don’t consider myself a private person by any means, and I will definitely open up on the drama of my life when asked. However, the difference between me and many of my co-workers is that I don’t expect people to care about the intricacies of my life.

Although details about homework assignments, soccer practice, sinus-health, or whether or not your 13-year-old is going to grow up smokin’ hot might make for good conversation around the family dinner table, I can’t feign interest. As a friend put it the other day, “our stage of life often leads us to empathize more with these people’s children than we can with our adult co-workers.” While I can’t agree when it comes to their toddlers, I do relate to the stories about mean girls in middle school, the difficulties of soccer tryouts and the excitement of going to prom.

To be fair, not all of my co-workers are equally guilty. Some only mention their kids or elderly parents when they do something funny or say something inappropriate. Others wait until they have a story about their child that enhances the topic at hand. It’s even better when co-workers flatter my ego and ask my opinion about letting their teenage daughter try beer! (It’s fun for me to practice “solving” parenting conundrums especially when the outcome doesn’t affect my life).

Perhaps I’m cynical--I certainly am unfamiliar with the joys of parenthood--but I think when it comes to their offspring, parents should live by their own old-fashioned words of wisdom: speak only when spoken to.