Posted by: Kristen Ridley | July 20, 2017

The race to judge – what does it mean to comms?

Yesterday I saw a post on LinkedIn from someone I don’t know and am not connected to, but it appeared for me because someone who is a connection of mine commented on that post. Without giving too many details, the poster made a choice to not report a shoplifter her child observed because it was apparent the situation was a desperate parent obtaining needed items for a child. The poster opted instead to give the shoplifter money and make this a teaching moment for their child about how life sometimes has “grey areas”.

The reaction from others on this post ranged from positive “way to go” and “great example for your child” comments, to “Keep this off LinkedIn” and “Is this Facebook now?” from others.

The negative comments on this post reminded me yet again of a trend I have noticed more and more in recent years as the use and impact of social media channels has increased – the race to judge. It’s something that often perplexes me, but it is also a cautionary tale for anyone who works in a communications role, as I do.

From a personal perspective, I just don’t understand in some situations why people even feel the need to wade in to certain discussions. The post I talk about that initiated my post is a perfect example. The person who posted the situation about the shoplifter was on her own page. She was not using a corporate LinkedIn page for that, nor did she link to any other account or in any way suggest that this was anything but a personal post. To me, it seems odd and kind of silly for so many people to get their knickers in a twist about this, to the point where they felt they needed to comment about it on this person’s post to judge the appropriateness of that post.

My own question in situations like this is almost always: “Why do you care?” My own reaction to the vast majority of posts like this that I may see scrolling by on my various social media accounts when I think something is wrong or irrelevant or unnecessary, is usually to shrug my shoulders and move on with my life. What do *I* care if someone I barely know [or in many cases don’t know AT ALL] thinks/says something I disagree with? What is accomplished by my snapping back or judging someone else’s opinions on stuff that, in 99% of cases I will have forgotten all about 15 minutes from now? Why bother? My answer is almost always: It doesn’t matter.

However, the fact is that I am in the minority holding that opinion in our new social media world. Many, many people feel completely entitled to immediately and publicly judge anyone and everyone whose opinions they may come across. Whether that is right or not is another post entirely, and one that I am not prepared to even try to write. What I DO want to talk about, though, is the impact this new reality has on the job of communicator.

As a communicator, whether I am talking with employees, or with external customers and audiences, I need to be cognizant of the fact that everything I share in any way and on any platform will be instantly and possible publicly dissected, judged and commented on by anyone with – or without – any level of knowledge about the subject under discussion.

That means I need to consider even more possibilities and reactions to what I will be sending out to the audience and be prepared for what may come back in response.

That doesn’t mean that I need to respond to every single reaction to the information I share on behalf of my organization – because that would be impossible, even if it was a good idea to do that, which it almost always is NOT – but thinking more thoroughly and deeply about the social media world reality and how people *might* react to what we are saying is important so that we aren’t caught unprepared if something boils up that we do think requires a response. Even if that response is only: “Thank you for sharing your perspective. We will certainly take that into consideration”, sometimes the acknowledgement of a comment and the attached commenter is enough to settle down a social media bubble.

And, when it IS appropriate to provide a more fulsome response to reaction or objections to something we have shared, having a plan prepared, and appropriate responses prepared before the message is even released is a good way to smoothly and successfully handle social media tempests.

I so often see issues with things organizations have said or done turning into maelstroms on social media, and with my communicator hat on I think: “What on EARTH were their communications people THINKING?!” about how they respond [if they do] or “How could they not have anticipated THAT?!” when they don’t respond, or respond too late and allow something that could have been dealt with quickly and efficiently to turn into a major dramatic “thing”.

Obviously, nobody can anticipate every single thing that people might say about your messages. Human nature being what it is, sometimes the reactions people come up with, way, WAY over there in left field are just unfathomable, and not something anyone could possibly have anticipated. But if you are a communicator, then you are – or should be – using social media, either for your organization or at least on your own, because that is part of doing your job well. So anticipating as much of the reaction to your messages as possible is an advance investment which will pay big ROI on minimizing the damage control you have to implement after the fact while the interwebs are screaming about how much your organization sucks. This is still one of the newer skills for some communicators [particularly those of us who have been doing comms since before the internet and social media became a factor] but it’s now a key part of doing our jobs, and something that needs to be factored into the plan, just like setting the objective and evaluating the audience if we hope to be successful in the new world we now live in.

What do you think? Is anticipating the social media reaction a standard part of your strategic planning for communications? If so, how do you manage that anticipation? What are your steps? I’d love to hear from others how you approach this!

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | July 19, 2017

Connecting dots – Communication & Life

The – to say the least – unusual environment we are currently living in, both politically and otherwise, has really been yet another reminder that communication has never been more relevant and important. As a writer and communicator, this makes me happy, and depresses me [in empathy for those who are less effective communicators] in equal measure.

There are weeks when I literally have to ban myself from social media because I feel like my head might explode from the crazy stuff that people will say – and, worse, BELIEVE – just because somebody Tweeted it – and I’m not just talking about “you-know-who”.

I alternate between removing myself from the online world, and trying to have thoughtful, respectful conversations with people who have differing opinions from mine. It’s a challenge, but I continue to believe that – continuing to talk to each other, even, heck, ESPECIALLY when we disagree, is the only way that humanity will survive. So I keep trying, even when it doesn’t go well.

And this experience reminds me of why I love being a communications person so very much. That desire, that NEED to connect with other people, to learn new things, to share ideas, to help people find information they want and need, it’s a very cool thing. My LinkedIn profile tells people that “I love what I do, and can’t imagine wanting to do anything else” and that is completely true. When I realized years ago that communicating with other people was actually a job that you could get paid for, it was pretty exciting! One of the things I’m really good at can be the thing I spend my days working to get better at? Sign me up!

And being a communicator is something I take seriously and continue working to be better at. That drive to always be learning and improving my ability to support my company and the people who are my customers or clients, whether that be external or with employees, it keeps me excited and engaged, and thrilled to hit my desk every day.

Right now I am between jobs, so job-search communications are my main form of using my skills as I look for the next right place to use my skills. But reminding myself daily that good communication isn’t just helpful or important – but critical to helping others, whether that be in my next job [hopefully soon!] or in the larger world, that’s what keeps me focused and positive as the job-search continues.

Here’s hoping that your communications will always be thoughtful, respectful and result in better connections between you and the people you connect with!

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | March 14, 2017

Knowing your audience has never been more important

“FAKE NEWS!!!” That statement has become ubiquitous in our current society. The impact  of what it means can’t really be overestimated. The social media world we all live in means that virtually any information you want can be accessed in seconds with just a click on your phone. But ease doesn’t automatically mean truth, and therein lies the rub.

There are lots of people out there who are more than happy to take advantage of our willingness to just accept information at face value – sometimes because it’s easy, and sometimes because what we find fits our existing perspective on a fundamental level so we want to believe it is truth.

As a communicator who has worked in mainly corporate environments, I usually have a “captive” audience for the information and messaging I share on behalf of my organization. That is a bit of a positive, because it means I don’t have to work that hard to GAIN my audience’s attention.

The second part of successfully communicating, however, gaining my audience’s ACTION based on what my communication is trying to accomplish can actually be harder because  of the fact that they hear from me a lot. So I’ve found that really knowing my audience: who they are, what they know [or think they know] and what they need and want in terms of information is even more critical than if I were a business trying to gain followers on Twitter.

Here are a few of the ways I do that:

Build a real relationship with the audience – you can’t effectively communicate with people you don’t really know, period. You MUST spend quality time talking with and, more importantly, listening to your audience to understand how to communicate with them [note I said “with them” and not “to them”]. I make it a point with my audiences to regularly talk with as many members of the audience as I possibly can on a regular basis. If that means making “check in” phone calls on a monthly basis, booking a touch-point meeting with key folks, or simply getting up from my desk and walking around to say: “hi, what’s going on?” the important thing is making sure my business partners know that I am interested in, and genuinely care about their needs, challenges and interests.

Tell the whole story – Sometimes that is challenging. Because much of my experience has been as an internal communicator, my main audience has often been employees of the business. Sometimes, leadership can be concerned about telling employees everything that is really going on, particularly in times when the business is facing challenges or difficulties. As a communicator, it’s my job to advocate for telling our employees the truth and thereby allowing them to be part of helping the business successfully navigate those challenges. Because I have found that in almost all cases, that’s exactly what the employees WANT to do. They are there because they want the business to succeed, so allowing them to do that requires a clear understanding of what is happening and why, as well as what needs to happen to move forward. Obviously, in some types of businesses there are regulatory or other legal constraints that must be followed in terms of sharing information. But barring those, telling employees as much as possible is almost always the right path forward in my experience, and that’s what I recommend to my leadership to keep the team moving ahead.

Do what you say you will – one of the biggest challenges with internal communication is making sure that information-sharing is two-way. It can become usual to send out information to employees without making sure you are asking for, and listening to the response to that information. As the communications person, it’s my job to find ways to receive as well as deliver information, and to make sure the right people in the organization hear those perspectives and act appropriately on them. There’s an old quote I like that goes: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”, and I think that’s a very important thing to remember as an internal – well, really as any type of –  communicator. We talk a great deal in communication about “WIIFM” or What’s In It For Me? because that is absolutely how anyone on the receiving end of information responds to it. The instant question that pops into someone’s mind when unsolicited – and sometimes even solicited – information is presented to them, is “Why should I care?” Having a communication approach that answers that question clearly, and ensures the audience can respond to your information and feel that their perspective is heard and acted upon is the best way to maintain a successful information highway between your organization and all its stakeholders.

Tell the truth – ALWAYS – last, and most importantly, this brings us back around to where this post started, i.e. fake news. In the years I have spent working as a communicator, if there’s one thing I’ve learned that has always proven true, it is don’t lie to your audience. It virtually always comes back to bite you in the posterior, especially with employees. Once employees believe you are not being truthful with them, they stop listening to anything you say, and that is a very difficult place to be when you NEED your employees to take certain actions to help your business succeed. Additionally, it is incredibly difficult to repair a relationship with your audience – whether employees OR clients – once they don’t believe they can trust you. It is so much easier and more effective to maintain a strong relationship with stakeholders by telling them what’s really going on consistently. If there are reasons why you really can’t share something, then you say that, but you don’t lie or dissemble or “PR” them, because it won’t help and will probably hurt you – and by extension the business – in the long run. Twitter followers might be lazy or gullible enough to believe fake news, but your clients, and especially your employees, almost always know better, and they won’t forgive you for it.

I always marvel when I write a post about communications, that doing it successfully “sounds” so easy, and yet DOING the right things can be so challenging. Of course, that’s also what makes it such a wonderful job, and why I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. It’s also why I keep looking for the next opportunity to challenge myself in a great organization where I can help build successful communications with great employees!

 

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 27, 2017

Mistakes – handle them gracefully

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a movie buff. And as a movie buff, the annual Academy Awards are like Christmas for me. I look forward to it all year and spend the entire evening online with my friends discussing everything that goes on.

Last night’s Oscars had an epic fail when the presenters – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – were given the wrong envelope for the Best Picture award. What followed was everyone’s worst nightmare, as the people from the film announced [but which DID NOT win] were on the stage and halfway through their acceptance speech before the mistake was corrected and announced so the actual winners could get on stage to accept their award.

Mistakes can happen with the best planned situations. Granted, this was a pretty massive mistake, what with a BILLION PEOPLE watching on national television, but still, when you’re dealing with humans, who are, well, human, it happens.

As a communicator, I have experienced my own share of mistakes throughout my career, so this has me thinking about what you do AFTER a mistake happens to try not to make it worse. I think a reminder is always helpful, so, let’s review shall we?

Step 1 –  FIX the mistake AS SOON AS IT IS IDENTIFIED – The Academy Awards did this step and they did it well. The producer of the film that was incorrectly announced first was the person who told the correct winners that a mistake had been made and immediately got them onto the stage to accept their award. I have to give it to that man – he behaved with grace and respect during what has to have been a disappointment of the most monumental proportions in the history of the world for him. Despite that, he was completely focused on letting the correct winners know and get their award. “Kudos” doesn’t begin to cover it here, but well done to him. In the business world, it is just as important to fix any error as soon as it is discovered. Even though, for the most part, we don’t have the entire world watching when a mistake is made in a corporate environment, the people affected by an error we make – whether those are customers, employees or other business partners – are just as displeased, trust me. So the most important thing is to fix a mistake as quickly as you possibly can. Having a leader of the business simply step up to our stakeholders a

Step 2 – APOLOGIZE, if appropriate – the accountants responsible for the Oscar envelopes – the people who physically hand the envelopes to the presenters – Price Waterhouse Coopers were quickly out on Twitter with an apology to all the folks involved. That was, I think the correct way to handle this. First off it was absolutely appropriate in this case to apologize for the embarrassment and the upset this error caused to all involved on the Oscars stage last evening. But as importantly, putting their apology on Twitter ensured that the largest number of people possible saw their apology – what with over a billion people having seen the mistake, and all. And because the world now looks at Twitter to see what people are saying about anything that is “news”they got in front of the situation right away. In the corporate world, whether an apology is appropriate is a bit more involved to determine. Sometimes, apologizing could have legal implications, sometimese apologizing can make a situation worse instead of better. I’m absolutely not saying that corporate errors don’t require apologies, there are plenty of situations where a simple “We made a mistake, and we are sorry for the difficulties it caused” can help to rebuild a relationship damaged by a mistake, and an apology is an important step that should always be carefully and thoughtfully considered. In general, my advice to my leaders is that making an apology is a “yes” until and unless we have a truly compelling reason not to make one. In the vast majority of cases apologizing is the right thing to do.

Step 3 – FIGURE OUT HOW IT HAPPENED & MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T REPEAT – this is probably the hardest, but most critical part of recovering from an error. People will usually forgive you for an honest mistake . . . ONCE. Where last evening’s Oscar mistake is concerned, my bet is that this morning at the L.A. offices of Price Waterhouse Coopers there was a very intense meeting going on to re-vamp their process for envelope management at the Academy Awards going forward. I’m willing to be this will not happen again. As a corporate communicator, part of my job is to help my leadership and my business partners to do a similar process review after a mistake is made. As the communicator, I am connected to our business and its processes, but I am outside the day-to-day things. So I can offer an objective perspective on how we do things now [that allowed a mistake to happen] and how we might adjust to fill the gap that obviously isn’t ideal from a results perspective. This can be a complex process, as corporate processes can be dense and entrenched, so changing them can be challenging. But ultimately, if our processes allowed a mistake to happen that created issues for our business, we need to reconsider them, and take action to address the situation. That’s just good business.

As the talking heads said this morning, the 2017 Best Picture Academy Award winner will forever be remembered by pretty much everyone thanks to what happened at the awards. In the film industry, the old adage that “any publicity is good publicity” is probably true, so the fact that a mistake happened isn’t going to destroy the film industry. In the corporate world, however, sometimes a mistake can have devastating results for the success of the business if it isn’t handled effectively. The steps suggested above, while they sound simple [they really aren’t in practice] can make the difference between weathering a mistake and getting back to business, or spending weeks or months trying to recover instead of doing what we do. As a communicator, it’s my job to help my business get past a mistake quickly, efficiently, and to the benefit of all our stakeholders. I take a lot of pride in the responsibility, and in helping my company and my colleagues to respond to our stakeholders and show them that while we may be human, we also care about the people we work with.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 23, 2017

Giving advice that’s useful [hopefully]

I am frequently asked by friends or contacts for advice about career searching. Since I have changed jobs perhaps a bit more frequently than some [due to things like corporate restructuring and maternity leave contract replacement roles, among other reasons] I guess I’ve gotten good enough at the ins and outs of it to have knowledge others find worthwhile. Since I’m a communicator, and therefore a very social person, I’m always happy to share anything I know that might help someone else.

And when I’m asked for advice about job searching and how to manage the process, I generally offer the same three pieces of insight, which, on reflection, I realize are also the main things I use to be a successful communicator when I am in a job:

Always stay focused on the objective – when you are job-hunting, this can be hard, because the nature of looking for a new job is not fun. Between recruiters/HR people who are too busy to spend more than a few seconds scanning each resume, the fact that there are always many other applicants for every job and then there’s the emotional aspect of constantly being judged and rated and often never hearing back on an application, the process of finding a job can be brutal, and it will wear you down if you let it. So when people ask me what I suggest, I always say focus on your objective, which is finding a job. There are steps and actions that will help you to do that, and focusing on those instead of the emotions that will pop up to distract you will be the best way to not let the setbacks get to you. Communicators also have distractions: executives who don’t see the value in effective communication practices, employees who are too busy to read the information we work so hard to deliver for them, budgets that won’t stretch to allow you to do things the way they really should be done. And the only way to not get discouraged is to keep going back to the objective and find a way to get it done, even if that means taking an alternate route.

Don’t take it personally – this one is hard to do sometimes, whether we’re talking about job-hunting or delivering communications. As a human being, we naturally see the world through our own, personal lens and perspective. When someone does something [or doesn’t do something] the way we were hoping for, it can feel like they are intentionally trying to hurt/annoy/frustrate us. But when you flip that around, and think about the things YOU do every day, you realize that when you do or don’t do something, it is rarely motivated around someone else, but rather we do things because they are helpful or appropriate for what WE need or are trying to accomplish. True, our actions may impact someone else as well, but the main intent isn’t typically them, but us. So when we are tempted to insert an intention to another person’s actions in relation to us that seems negative or malicious, I always recommend stopping and remembering that it’s very likely the other person wasn’t even thinking about us when they did whatever they did. So trying not to take things personally is a helpful strategy, both for job-hunting, and as a communicator! Those employees who didn’t look at the intranet article? I can almost guarantee it wasn’t because they don’t like you, or want to ruin your performance appraisal – more likely they had to choose between reading your article before the end of the day, and making their train home on time.

Take a break – My final standard piece of advice for both my job-hunting friends and myself when doing communications, is to step away and think about something else when you need some perspective. Both job searches and communications work can easily take over your entire mind if you allow it to, and no matter how important something is, or how dedicated you are to it, it will not deliver good results without balance and perspective. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step away and do something else: take a walk, read a book, talk to someone about a subject you love, play with the dog, etc., etc., etc. You get the idea. Even a small brief break to allow your brain to re-set can be extremely helpful in your motivation and effectiveness. Every communicator knows that the longer you have spent looking at a document you created, the less likely it is that you will be capable of proofreading it successfully. You need to step away for a while, so that when you look at it again, it is fresh and new. It’s the same with job searching. It will wear you down at times, and when it does, the best thing is to take a break and do something uplifting and encouraging so that you are in the right frame of mind when you come back to it, so that you present yourself to hiring managers as the talented, excited, capable candidate you actually are, not the exhausted, frustrated cranky person who has spent nine hours scanning job descriptions online.

These items all seem obvious, but I have found – both for others and for myself – that because they do seem fundamental, they are easy to push to the side and forget about. So writing them down here is not only an offering for those who may be currently looking for a new role and could use the advice, but also a reminder for myself, who is not only looking for my next exciting challenge, but who is also a communicator and can use that advice in two different areas of my own life. What’s that old saying? “Physician, heal thyself”.

Hopefully, some of this will resonate. I know that the contacts I’ve offered this advice to in the past have found it of assistance. And any time you can help someone else out, I’m all for that!

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | February 15, 2017

Full circle . . . again!

I’ve been away from blogging for quite some time. Life has been . . .  interesting . . . over the past year, and it has taken all my energy to manage, leaving little time for the kind of thoughtful reflection that results in blog posts I’d actually put out there for the world to read [okay, not the world, exactly . . . but, you know, I have a handful of friends who find something interesting here occasionally]. Lately, however, I’m finding myself back to feeling like I have something to say that is worth sharing in a blog post.

But to focus my perspective, I’ve looked through my past posts, and decided that a great way to re-start things here would be to list some of my personal favourites. So here [in no particular order] is my top 10 list of the posts I’ve written on the blog which I’m most fond of/proud of/entertained by and that are a good reflection of my approach to writing and thinking about the world around us:

  1. People lessons learned – things my work has taught me about working well with others.
  2. 12 Days of Christmas – the Communicator version – one of my holiday posts.
  3. Hockey’s lessons for communicators – exactly what it sounds like!
  4. Evolution of a communicator’s career – in movies – I talk about how movies have been a metaphor for the route my career as a writer/communicator has taken.
  5. It may look like I’m goofing off, but REALLY, I’m working – the activities required to be a good communicator/writer don’t always look like work . . . but they ARE!
  6. What the Dalai Lama can teach business leaders – surprisingly, quite a bit.
  7. The Princess Bride’s advice for communicators – using my favourite movie to consider good approaches to successfully writing and communicating.
  8. Ode to a communicator – a light-hearted poem about the life of a communications person/corporate writer.
  9. Do you write with lightning, or lightning bugs? A post about the importance of writing well and thoughtfully [plus homage to my hero – Mark Twain].
  10. Do or shut up – there is no whine! How I keep my eyes on the prize in trying times.

I had a lot of fun reminiscing about my past post here, and now I’m going to start thinking about some new things to talk about in hopes of re-energizing the blog. I hope to see you out here soon!

 

 

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | April 30, 2015

Brave new world, or wild, wild west?

Recent events, in particular the violence and rioting in several U.S. cities following the injury or death of African-Americans during or after arrest by law enforcement, have really made me consider – and struggle with – the “new world” of information delivery that social media and the 24-hour news cycle have created.

On the one hand I love social media! I use Twitter, Facebook and other websites daily, and find them a tremendously valuable resource for information, connection and staying abreast of what people are talking about. As a communications professional, those are the foundations of what I do and they are critical tools to enable me to do it well.

On the other hand, the immediacy, speed and ease of posting things for the world to see has reduced, if not entirely eliminated the obligation that has traditionally been part of mainstream media’s content delivery, to scrupulously fact-check and identify sources to ensure the truth of a piece of information before publishing it. With the advent of social media absolutely anyone can post anything, any time with no thought or responsibility to confirm whether something they are saying or validating is factual.

The democratic nature of this wild new west of information has the benefit of allowing those who in the traditional media landscape would not have access to present their messages, to do so unfettered by anyone’s agenda but their own. And therein lies both the benefit and the risk.

These recent instances of violence have particularly resonated for me because they have highlighted something about social media that has disturbed me for a while. I call it “repost-because-you-agree-with-it-and-would-like-it-to-be-true” syndrome. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. Someone posts a “news” story that is highly inflammatory or extreme in terms of bad behaviour or a terrible act by someone whom you don’t like/support on a political or philosophical level [or even something/someone you DO agree with] without researching to confirm whether what we’re reposting is accurate, whether it happened exactly as the meme says it did, or frankly, if it happened at all. We’ve all done it – heck in my early days on social media I did it myself [I’m not proud of it, but honesty requires me to admit it].

Human nature is what it is – we are predisposed to accept people, stories and perspectives that align with our own world-view. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with gravitating to people with similar world-views – although I’m proud to say that I have a number of online friends with whom I agree on very little, but whom I consider as, if not more important to keeping me honest in terms of my views and opinions, because they challenge me to seriously consider the validity of those views and, when appropriate, ask me to defend, or at least explain them in a clear and sensible way. [Note: in fact, it was one of those very types of friends – Isaac Pigott – who’s Facebook post of this morning  helped inspire this post.

But my hope for the possibility that we can do better continues to persevere, despite mountains of evidence suggesting it’s a well and truly lost cause [what can I say? There’s obviously some Pollyanna left in me even at my advanced age!]. So I am publishing, here on my blog for anyone who cares to read it, the things that I promise to do when I see these oh-so-tempting heinous-sounding stories and want to knee-jerk hit “share”:

I will:

  • Stop-drop-and-think – similar to “stop-drop-and-roll” from our childhood fire safety training, I think that our obsessive access to social media stories almost designed to start metaphorical fires and create angry wedges between us at exactly a time in our history when we can least afford that, does all of us a huge disservice. So when I see these things, no matter how tempting, I promise to stop and really think about it before I share. A few minutes quiet contemplation aren’t going to kill anyone if I don’t repost that story immediately, or ever! [I’m really just not that important]
  • Find out if it’s TRUE – this is a big one, because as we all know when you post a really juicy sounding story, it often ends up as “front page” and makes its way around the entire interwebs before somebody points out that IT NEVER HAPPENED! Or at the very least, it didn’t happen the way we’re saying it did. The biggest problem with that is that it’s almost impossible to stop something like that once it spreads. It keeps popping up because someone new sees it, reposts it because it “sounds” like it could have happened, and the whole nasty cycle starts all over again. The good thing about the interwebs, is that thanks to Google, it really isn’t difficult or time-consuming to find out if something is true. Sites like Snopes.com make it super-easy to find out if “Starbucks refused to send free product to marines serving in Iraq, saying the company didn’t support the war or anyone taking part in it” ever really happened [I’ll save you some time – it didn’t! See details here]
  • Challenge my contacts who post things that aren’t true – I’ve actually done this [the Starbucks think was one of those challenges] and I think we all have a responsibility to say: “Just so you know this “whatever” story isn’t actually accurate, and here’s the link to the confirmation of that,” because we can use our social media power for good, too, by stopping these online fallacies before they get shared hundreds or millions of times. Because do you REALLY want to be sharing untrue things as though they’re really?! I know I don’t.
  • Consider whether sharing it is necessary/valuable – now, far be it from me to try to dictate what anyone else shares or reposts on their own social media accounts, because I couldn’t even if I wanted to. So instead, I’ll just say that *I* will give serious consideration to whether there is a value or a usefulness in passing along that inflammatory post [even if it IS actually true] to continue to whip people up about it. Because if it’s not something I truly believe my circle is going to run out and DO SOMETHING ABOUT, then I’m not so sure I see the necessity of getting everyone’s righteous indignation into a full-on froth. Which brings me to another thing – if I AM going to try to engage your emotions into overdrive, and believe that is an honourable action, I will suggest something you can DO about it. Because there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to act – write to your politicians, donate to an important cause, go out and join the demonstration for a cause you believe is just, and I have actually done that. But to just post something to get my, and your knickers in a twist on Facebook? Yeah, probably not.

I won’t change THE world by committing to these “rules” for social media sharing [again, I’m not that important], but what’s that quote:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

So, what the heck – let’s give it a go, and see what happens.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | October 17, 2014

People Lessons Learned

PeopleLately I’ve been reflecting on people. The team I work in has been experiencing a larger than normal amount of change recently, and as the communications person, I’ve had a role to play in helping people manage that, both a formally and informally. This has reminded me of a few basic truths that I think are worth noting because not only are they, I believe, universal, but also they will help anyone who interacts with people [and is there anyone who doesn’t?!] to be a little more successful if we keep them in mind as we go about our daily work.

Most people mean well – frequently people do things that to other people may *appear* to be intentionally irritating or difficult. But my experience has proven that 9 times out of 10 those actions are in no way about you [or in this case, me]. The vast majority of the time, other people are just trying to get the things done that they need to do. The truth of the matter is that for most of us, and most of the time, it’s all about US! We are only really thinking about what we need to do, when we need to do it, and how to navigate the inevitable obstacles to doing it that we face. Nowhere in that list are we thinking about how our doing those things will affect other people around us, unless those people are directly related in some way to us, i.e. family or friends. This isn’t in any way malicious! It’s just a factor of our crazy-busy world and the multiple competing demands on all of us.

Lesson: don’t automatically assume malicious intent from someone’s behaviour. Give people the benefit of the doubt and ask for clarification before reacting.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about – this is a famous quote attributed to Plato, but I have found it to be surprisingly true almost across the board. Particularly in a work setting, most people try to behave in a professional way. Our society frowns on bringing any personal issues into the workplace, so generally people don’t. But just because it isn’t politically correct to talk about your sick child, or your elderly parent, or the financial difficulties, or a myriad of other issues at work, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t weighing on someone’s mind, and affecting the way they interact with people they come into contact with.

Lesson: be kind to others, even when that is not your automatic response to something. It costs you nothing, and could mean a world of difference to someone who is struggling.

 It isn’t a crime not to instantly understand everything – in the corporate world, where I have spent most of my communications career, everything always moves extremely quickly. The demands on employees are endless, complex and challenging. If someone is only expected to do their own particular work, that is the exception rather than the rule. Instead, most people are required to do their day-to-day work, participate on special [often unexpected] projects, provide information to colleagues as requested, and any number of “other duties as required”. Is it any wonder that people may struggle to digest all the things they are asked to understand? Sometimes we forget that not everyone takes in information at the same pace and become annoyed when someone asks more questions, or requests more detail. Instead, let’s see that as the opportunity it is – this is our people WANTING TO GET IT! The very fact that people care enough to tell us that they don’t quite understand means they care enough to ask, which is great news!

Lesson: provide more explanation, not less, and do so graciously. Sometimes people need a little more time, or a little more detail to fully grasp what we may be asking of them. Try to be patient, and help people to get where you need them to go by giving them as much information, as much detail, and as much explanation as they need. It will benefit everyone in the long run to help people help the business to be successful.

You don’t know everything – sometimes when you are in the position of having access to more information than the average employee does, you can fall into the trap of thinking you know it all, that you know best. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 15+ years in the corporate world, it’s that there is ALWAYS more for me to learn, and anyone could be the teacher I need. No matter how much information we have, we still can’t know everything all the time. There are always going to be aspects of a situation that the people in the trenches, who are actually doing the work will have a better handle on than you do. They are hands-on with whatever it is, so if they offer you a different perspective, or more information to consider, LISTEN!

Lesson: everyone has something to share that could add value. Cultivate an attitude of humility and openness, so that people feel comfortable offering information to you. Become that person everyone feels they can talk to about anything. As a communicator, there is no greater gift than having this kind of reputation.

Your sense of humour is the most important tool you’ll ever have – the world has become a complicated and often difficult place and if you are anything like me, there are days when you despair for the continuation of our species! But despair is a depressing place to live, so I make a conscious effort to look for and enjoy things to smile or laugh about every day. Even if the extent of that is a quick look at a Dilbert comic, or Facebook videos of kittens and puppies, finding something to uplift your day can make a world of difference in your overall ability to maintain equilibrium in the face of challenges. Personally, I like to laugh at myself, and there are multiple opportunities to do that on a daily basis, I assure you!

Lesson: Find those things that make you feel happy, as long as it isn’t at the expense of others, and lean on them when tough times come along. Laughter truly is the best medicine for almost everything. It’s hard to feel bad when you are enjoying a full-on belly laugh.

So these are the lessons I’ve learned that have helped me to maintain serenity – most days! – in the face of challenges. I hope one or two of them will help others as well.

Being a collector of quotes, it seemed appropriate to end this post with one of my favourites, from Mother Teresa, which fits the subject at hand quite well:

People are often unreasonable, and self-centered; FORGIVE THEM ANYWAY. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives; BE KIND ANYWAY. If you are honest people may deceive you; BE HONEST ANYWAY. If you find happiness people may be jealous; BE HAPPY ANYWAY. The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow; DO GOOD ANYWAY. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; GIVE YOUR BEST ANYWAY.

Okay, your turn! What people lessons have you learned, that the rest of us could add to our toolkits? Please comment and share your ideas.

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | July 28, 2014

Good Grammar Matters – REALLY!!!

Bad grammar 2Recently “Weird Al” Yankovich released a new album of his parodies of famous songs. One of them is particularly close to my heart as someone whose job is all about communicating. It’s called “Word Crimes” and while it parodies [hilariously, I might add] the song “Blurred Lines” it’s all about – as the title suggests – bad grammar. The song, as are all Weird Al creations, is absolutely hilarious! But it also is quite clever, and makes a point – a very important point – which, as someone who communicates for a living is in fact what I like to call a “big doo-da deal”.

Yes, if you haven’t already figured it out, this will be a rant [but just a little one!] on the increasingly common lack of correct grammar in both verbal and written communications in recent years. It makes my teeth hurt when people use bad grammar, and the advent of Twitter and texting has really made it worse. I have heard all the excuses for why good grammar isn’t a big deal – here are just the most egregious:

  • With texting, Twitter and Instagram, nobody actually EXPECTS perfect grammar anymore” Yes, they DO! Even if you slack off in your own private texts, I promise you that people out in the world – even those who are also texting and Tweeting – WILL think less of you if your grammar is terrible out around the interwebs. Because another feature of the social media world is that nothing is ever really private. You never know who will forward or share what these days. So err on the safe side and use correct grammar in all your communication – taking that approach won’t ever hurt. “She always uses proper grammar, I hate that”, said no one ever.
  • Eh. Mostly my grammar’s okay. If I slip up occasionally, nobody will notice.” Wrong! We notice. Most people know when they hear or read something that’s incorrect, grammar-wise. They may not even be able to put their [NOT they’re or there, please note] finger on exactly why it’s [NOT its] wrong, but they know it is. And those little grammar mistakes echo inside our heads when we hear them. They distract us from the message you are actually trying to deliver, while we try to figure out why what you just said isn’t right. It’s hard enough to get your message across successfully without adding unnecessary distractions, isn’t it?

But, if you still aren’t convinced it matters whether you know the difference between “It’s and Its” or “Their, There and They’re”, here are three BIG reasons you really WANT to care about your grammar skills:

  1. You may NOT get the job you want –  No less than the Harvard Business Review has run articles – here’s one – confirming that companies want people – even people who won’t “officially” be writing in the job they’re applying for – to have basic grammar skills, and won’t hire people who don’t.
  2. You may make less money – do I have your attention now?! Another article I came across, here, we learn that a study of LinkedIn profiles showed that those with fewer errors in their profiles correlated with more promotions. And since promotions mean more money . . . well, enough said.
  3. People think you are less intelligent when your grammar is bad – you may not THINK you care what people think of you, but really, there are some areas where we’d like people to think well of us, now aren’t there? That attractive person of the opposite sex you just met at a business association meeting, for instance. Or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, say. Or any group of people where intelligent conversations are happening. Wouldn’t you rather make it easy for people to think well of you, as opposed to making them think you are ignorant or uneducated? And you’d probably be surprised to discover just how MANY people categorize you as not-very-bright [I’m trying to be kind, here] when your grammar sucks. I came across this Yahoo Questions thread while I was researching this post and you’ll see that pretty much everyone who commented on this random post agreed that you are judged less intelligent when your grammar is consistently bad. Why would anyone intentionally want to create that impression?

Now, I appreciate that English is a bit of a nut-job where languages are concerned. Because it’s basically a mish-mash of stolen bits of a number of other languages, the rules are all over the map. So, yes, it does take a little work to keep things straight. But here’s where our new online world is a benefit – there’s an app for everything – including grammar!!! Here are a few you might want to download that will help you with using proper grammar [there are many more to choose from – these are just some I personally like]:

So please, I’m begging [and I almost NEVER beg!] use proper English in your communications. If you don’t want to do it for me, or your co-workers, or your friends, do it because you want to be promoted and make more money. I don’t really care what your reason is, I just have my fingers crossed that you will take this heart-felt and kindly meant advice . After all, you don’t want to end up on the receiving end of a Weird Al parody – do you?! 🙂

Posted by: Kristen Ridley | May 28, 2014

Words make me happy!

Happy

Everybody has atrocious days. It’s an inevitable fact of life. I had one today, in fact, and, as I cogitate on things, I imagine everyone deals with such heinous days in their own astute ways.

Me, I’m a writer, dyed-in-the-wool, and down-to-the-bone, so when I’m crotchety after an especially irksome day – you know, the kind where supercilious people seem determined to thwart me at every turn? – I envisage some of the words that make me smile, and indubitably my mood improves.

I think of the words that are really fun to say, and have gargantuan, extravagant meanings like:

  • Jubilant [the uncontrollable, bouncy, bubbly kind]
  • Snarky [which is what I can quickly become when treated with superciliousness –you’ve been warned!]
  • Omnipotent [like “Q” from Star Trek]
  • Calliope [a two-fer: both  a musical instrument, and a goddess muse of epic poetry]

Words aren’t the superlative answer for everyone, of course. The eloquencetactility and just plain wallop of just the right, and therefore sublime words will always be my quintessential go-to!

How about you? What’s your answer to turn an abominable day into one that is utterly resplendent? Tell me in the comments. And, if, in a serendipitous turn of events, it just so happens that yours is words too, share some of your absolute favourites – I’d love to know what they are.

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