Wednesday, June 17, 2009

online presence

Listened to a story on NPR this morning about the modern job search. They said using LinkedIn and having an online presence is essential. They also said it can be difficult to take seriously anyone who sends in a paper resume. My wife uses Facebook all the time, I'll have to get her to use LinkedIn as well, apparently. She's looking for a job as a teacher. Of course, I doubt school administrators are LinkedIn. After all, they still think the same way they did in the 1950's. More on that later, complaining about the miserable state of the education system is one of my favorite soap boxes.

I recently was involved in a hiring process. It was for an intern and it was part of an organized program, so I'm not sure how similar that is to a normal full time hire. But it consisted of picking from a list of candidates on an internal SharePoint site, reviewing the electronic resumes that had been attached, and arranging interviews. The resumes were traditional resumes, just in electronic form.

One of the things that bothered me a little bit about that process was there was a minimum GPA requirement for the program. That doesn't seem right. Personally, I would rather not even know a candidates GPA. Because it's a basically meaningless number. So you can jump through the hoops and fit the higher educational mold of testing. So what? What does that have to do with skills you need in the real world? Nothing. I was talking to a relative who is a manager at another company and he said he never even considers anyone with below a certain Grade point average. That's just stupid, I see no reason why that would benefit either the employer or the candidates. It's just a lazy way to narrow down the list of potential candidates. Especially considering college is just a money making scheme that does very little to prepare you for your actual career.

Just so you know: I was one of those people who considered a C a failing grade and rarely saw a B. My grade point was 3.7 something. I fit the educational mold of testing. My experience was that as long as you showed up to class, payed attention, and made sure you completed the graded assignments, you would get at least a C and in most cases an A or B. But some people don't test well or aren't willing/able to pay attention and get work done. Or perhaps have some sort of learning disorder. Should those people be punished by being excluded from job market?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Social rules

I hate many social "rules". They are silly and pointless. Like if I don't say hi to someone I pass in the hall, I'm considered rude or antisocial. Maybe I am thinking about something or distracted, but most likely I just figure you have better things to do then talk to everyone you meet. I've always said the Golden Rule is BS. Whenever I follow it, I get in trouble. I don't chat with people in the lunchroom because I wouldn't want them to chat with me. But my manager says I come off wrong, so now I chat. Especially with certain people that I know are sensitive about that.

But the one that has always bugged me is the polite/courtesy dance where nobody really does what they want because they are worried about "offending" someone. The classic example is giving money for a neighborly deed like watching a kid for a few hours or doing some yard chore. The person doing the nice thing is offered money, refuses it, the person insists, it just becomes a ridiculous spectacle. My rule is: if you offer me money, I'm going to take it because you would be offended or feel embarrassed if I did something for free. If you don't really want me to take the money, then don't offer it. Another similar example is sending someone a check that you know they will most likely not cash. Again, I'll cash it because I don't want to screw up their checking account, in addition to the reasons stated above. I'll admit to being on the sending end of that one - the dance is a bit more bearable via mail. The flip side is the person who does something that they should do as a good neighbor and don't want to get paid, so would refuse if you offered. But they get offended if you don't. HUH? WTF? These people are stupid. It's all part of the silly social dance us humans sometimes fall prey to.

Another one that really goes beyond annoying and into hurtful. When someone doesn't say what they are thinking or what they want because they "don't want to hurt any one's feelings". HUH? You think I would prefer that you lie to me? Omissions are just as dishonest as outright lies. Lying to me is less hurtful then being honest? 2 reasons why this is stupid: 1) you could be wrong, it might not hurt their feelings, if you just tell them with a little tact 2) if they find out anyway, their feelings will be MORE hurt then if you had just had the courage to be honest to begin with. And don't pull this you were supposed to get the hint crap either. If you want me to do something, not do something, or say something - tell me! Don't assume that I'll figure it out. 1) I probably won't 2) even if I do, I will be uncertain if I am "taking the hint" correctly (could be misinterpreting or "taking a hint" that was not intended) 3) It's all a silly waste of time, effort and aggravation that could have been avoided if you had just told me what you want/felt to begin with. I've always been a firm believer in stab me in the front, not in the back. That and never make assumptions. Occasionally, you might be right to hesitate and you do end up hurting their feelings. But it is far better to know you can trust a person to tell you how it is then to never really trust any feedback they give you because they might be "trying not to hurt your feelings".

Don't be afraid to give honest feedback. If you have something to say that you are pretty sure your audience won't like, take 2 steps. 1) Is this really that important to you, to risk the possible harm to your relationship? Will it bother you if nothing is said and nothing changes? If not, then remind yourself that you decided you could live with it and don't let it become a point of resentment. 2)If it is important to you, then you need to find a way to tactfully say it. If tact is not your thing or you just can't find the tactful way to say it, you just have to say it anyway. Don't be afraid of the confrontation. Remember, you never know what the other person feels about it - they might be ready and willing to adapt their position to be consistent with your desires and feelings or maybe didn't even feel that strongly about their position anyway and easily change. Perhaps the immediate reaction will be intense and negative, but most likely they will eventually figure out a way to accept your position. Certainly, they can only do so if they are aware of it. Ultimately, confrontation is much preferred to simmering resentment or constant frustration.

One final thing that is not really a social rule, but a related major relationship thorn: be aware of the difference between advice and judgement. Some people have a very hard time accepting the fact that just because someone makes a choice different then that which they would have made, it does not mean it is wrong. Or even if it is - everyone has to make their own choices and their own mistakes, deciding for themselves if it was wrong. Usually, many of the "mistakes" that they continue to bring up were not really mistakes at all, but just different choices. You could point to several mistakes they have made, some of which they would acknowledge, but many of which they are completely oblivious. I don't point these out though, because not only would it be be pointless, but I try very hard to remember that any conclusion could be incorrect. In contrast, they think their opinions and perspectives are facts and that anyone who does things differently is being foolish. They can't help it, they think that their way is the only way. Not in their head perhaps (I hope!), but in their hearts. It ranges from the big things in life like what religion to follow to the little things like which bait to use when fishing. A good rule of thumb for this: say it once, if they heed the "advice" then that's fine and dandy, if not - then let it go and move on.

random thoughts on Jesus

The heart of Jesus' message: It is not the letter of the law that matters, but the intent. He reminded people that what matters is what in your heart, that you have to form a relationship with God through prayer and study. He spent a lot of time fighting against the established religion. Any religion that lasts more then a few generations becomes about the Church and its leaders. God and the true message gets lost. That is why the Jewish leaders wanted him dead - he threatened their power by reminding the people that it is God that matters, not them. Unfortunately, Jesus did not take enough steps to avoid the same fate for future generations of those who followed his message. If he spent any effort denying that he himself is not God, that effort has been lost. It's been edited out. For some reason, the religious feel the need to make their most important leaders into gods. So 300 years later, the Church created the concept of the Trinity so that they could make their irrational belief kinda sorta fit within the only one God as taught in their holy book. This was the beginning of Church over God and the loss of Jesus' message. The first Council of Nicea was the turning point at which the Christian Church began to lose it's connection to God and His message.

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Communication Methods

After a struggle communicating with my taciturn father-in-law, I've made some observations about forms of communication. In my professional and personal experience, some forms of communication are more effective then others.

1) Document sharing/ emails. In many cases, this is the only effective means of communication. It is certainly the most flexible and is almost always available as an option. It gives you time to compose your thoughts and make sure everything is covered. In addition, you can read and respond at a time when you have the time to do so in the right frame of mind. It also allows for the opportunity to reduce emotion. I'm not talking about quick notes - I'm talking about documents that you have taken time to write and proof read at least once. Although it does occasionally need to be followed up with face to face or phone call, just to confirm understanding. Also, if it gets beyond 3 or 4 replies, then something is not working correctly. Usually it's because someone isn't taking the time to think about what they say rather then a problem with the method of communication. Anyone who thinks that E-mails are never the best way to address an issue have clearly not learned how to use the medium correctly. They just haven't figured it out yet. Or are just plain poor communicators, no matter the medium. Or possibly have some sort of technical hangup or legitimate reading disorder, in which case I'm sorry and I hope you find some way of surviving the digital age. Emails are almost always a safe and effective option. Sometimes less proficient users let a thread go on too long, can't express themselves clearly, or clutter up inbox with unneccesary information. However, in the hands of an experienced, concientious user, emailing is by far the best way to address any issue more complicated then what to eat for dinner tonight. It is difficult to imagine anyone being successful in business or in life without learning effective email techniques.

In my experience as a business professional, emails and document sharing are the backbone of all communication. Any other form of communication is supplemental and secondary to email/document sharing.

2) face to face, preferably with Whiteboard and/or computer available. This is usually the most effective, unless you are talking about something complicated and/or involving multiple steps with each step requiring research and thought. In that case, face to face will not work very well unless it has been preceded and followed up by document sharing/emails. In some cases, with certain individuals, emails work better because they can't think on their feet and/or emotional distance is required. The only reason face to face is superior to email is because it allows you to see body language, gestures and experience the "vibe" of the conversation, as well as allow a back and forth to help make sure the message is understood. Even that advantage can be cancelled out if someone is difficult to read or if the issue requires careful thought.

3) instant messaging - very effective for informal communication. It has the back and forth of a conversation, while allowing time for composing thoughts and/or breaks for when you are otherwise occupied. It's flaws include a lack of nuances like sarcasm and a tendency to type lazily or poorly.

4) video conference - marginal improvement on a phone call, but usually plagued by technical problems and usually the first 5-10 minutes of video conference is spent trying to get everything to work. Assuming it's even available as an option.

5) phone calls - only to be used for quick questions or when nothing else is available. If it can't be covered in less then 5 minutes and with less then 3 or 4 inquiries, then it shouldn't be a phone call. It does work well as follow up to email or face to face, but is pretty much worthless as primary means of communication. It does not allow you time to compose your thoughts, does not capture nuances very well, does not allow the use of visual aids, and can be difficult to even carry on a basic conversation due to technical difficulties and/or distractions in the environment. Not to mention if either party has some sort of accent or speech pattern that makes it difficult to understand. Basically, only to be used when communicating with someone that is still stuck in the 1980's or earlier. Be prepared to deal with multiple failed attempts before understanding is achieved (if it ever is). If you're stuck using the phone to communicate, your primary goal should be to either conclude quickly and/or setup some other means of communicating. Unless of course, you're not actually trying to get anything accomplished and just desire to talk for no particular reason.

6) facebook/twitter/online forums/blogs. Obviously not intended to be a serious form of communication and cluttered with tons of garbage. But occasionally can be effective, if you manage to find the right posting.

The incident with my father-in-law is the perfect example of how emails are extremely effective and phones are completely worthless. We are trying to plan a fishing trip. After a couple of phone calls where nothing was accomplished and nothing was resolved, I took the time to compose an email sharing all my concerns and ideas. It took me a couple of hours to compose it and I managed to cover everything. He responded with a simple - I'm not big on emails, call me. THAT made me furious! I was fuming about that for the entire day (still am, I supposse). So we had a few phone conversations, had the wives deal with it instead of us, and still couldn't get it resolved. So he finally read my email that I wrote and took the time to compose a response. We still don't have everything resolved, because that man has issues with planning in addition to communicating, but I finally know where he's coming from and what he is thinking (somewhat). I feel sorry for anyone he contacts in his professional capacity. But maybe it's just me he can't communicate with.

I admit - personal preference does play a role. I am in love with the written word. It is how I best process information. I struggle with verbal communication, both giving and receiving. It's just so difficult to figure out what is really being said and there is so much noise and irrelevancy that has to be filtered out on the fly. And I am completely uncomfortable with using the phone. I almost always screw up a phone conversation and will put it off as long as possible because I dread that stupid contraption. I would rather go to a store and find it closed then call ahead. I have been known to make phone calls at a time when I expect to get voicemail so that I can control my message without getting confused. That gives us both time to think and compose a response. I will do everything I can to avoid a phone call. For instance, just the other day, I was ordering something online and had a question that wasn't clear on the website. I called the order by phone number, asked my question, and then hung up and continued my order online. I have been called by my congressman several times to participate in a phone based town hall. I would love to participate in a Town hall, but no way would I do it over the phone. (Besides, he is a clueless conservative Republican, I could talk to an alien from Mars and have a better chance of being listened to and understood). Basically, the phone is one of those inventions that I wish had never been invented or that I wish would stop working now that superior methods of long distance communication have been invented.

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