Using the Tools as Intended & Respecting Each Other

I hate the telephone, I hate text messages, I hate meetings, and I hate work emails. Just about the only way to contact me that isn’t going to annoy me is to hang out with me, or @reply me on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong these are amazing tools, and as a tool I love them. Like a hammer though that someone is using to hit you over the head I hate the tool when it is being used improperly. A hammer for hammering nails is great, a hammer for bludgeoning me pisses me off.

I have been thinking a lot about why I hate these tools so very much and it finally occurred to me that I hate the lack of respect they give for other peoples time. I know I sound like a crotchety old man, but honestly why is it that we have no respect for other peoples time? What is so damned urgent that you must interrupt what they are doing with a text message?

In my life I have only met a handful of people who knew how to property use any of these tools. That is what makes Twitter so great, you can only send me a 140 character message (including the length of my username) and you have no clue if I am online, so there is no expectation on when and if I will reply to you.

My Gripes

The Telephone

  • People expecting me to answer when they call. If I don’t answer then they are mad because I ignored them, they don’t ever think that I could be doing something more important, or just simply be busy when they called.
  • Voicemails are a horrid thing, what the hell good does it do to leave me a message telling me to call you back, because you need to ask me something? I wouldn’t hate voicemails so much if people just left a message telling me what the hell they want on them. “Hi, it’s me call me back. Bye!”
  • Expectation of a return call. If you call me and leave no message, I am not going to call you back – why should I? Clearly your call was not that important otherwise you would have left a message right, right? Also if you leave me a message and it is only informative, why should I call you?
  • Caller ID was quite the feat when it first came out, still is a great tool – there is one tiny problem though. Well two problems actually, screening and blocked calls. You ever get a call from someone that has a blocked phone number? Me too, guess what I refuse to answer those calls. If you want to hide who you are then I couldn’t care less about answering your call – you can remain anonymous. Call screening is another bitch, either you can talk on the phone or you can’t talk on the phone, who is calling shouldn’t matter (sorry Mom I will be better at answering your calls). We either need to force everyone and not allow blocked calls, or go back to blocking all the numbers.

Text Messages

Now we are going to get really ranty, god are text messages annoying. Don’t get me wrong I use text messages just as I use the telephone, it is just that so many people use them incorrectly.

  • Keep it short stupid, don’t send me your biography on a text.
  • Conversations are for talking, not thumb tapping. If you want to talk to me, to have a real conversation just call me, or ask me to jump into a chat room or IM. Texting back and forth is a big pain in the ass and a waste of time for everyone.
  • Why the hell do you just assume I got your text message. We have all seen text messages get delayed due to reception issues, don’t send someone a text unless you really don’t care when they get it. If it is urgent call them. A call in lieu of saying “I’m headed to the hospital” goes a long way…
  • If you text me asking me to do something, and I don’t respond, it not OK for you to go ahead and assume that I am going to do what you ask.
  • If you text me something in appropriate it will still show up on my screen, on my desk regardless of who I am with, or whom else may be at my desk.
  • I love funny pictures you take when you are drunk, but the other people in my meeting that saw that picture now think less of me.
  • Just because I saw your text and got it ‘right away’ I am not obligated to respond right away.

Meetings

  • No One Comes Prepared: What are we meeting about? If a meeting starts with anyone asking that question it is guaranteed that the meeting is a waste of time. The confused party is either in the majority, or will waste the majorities time trying to figure out just what is going on. It is so common for participants of meetings to show up with nothing but a blank notepad, when an effective meetings requires you to bring information that you wish to share with others.
    Do not be the person in the meeting that is wasting everyones time. Do not put up with the person in the meeting that is wasting everyones time. Make sure you ask before hand that everyone comes prepared, and most importantly that you always come prepared.

  • Meetings Waste More Time Than Other Forms of Communication: Meetings have every communication problem possible, all at once. Several people trying to catch up with each other, people trying to assert their dominance by talking over each other and topics jumping around with nothing nearing a resolution. I think every person can raise their hand attesting to the fact that they have been in many hour long meetings where they left more confused then when they entered.

  • No One Follows the Agenda: Agendas should set the tone, pace and order of everything the meeting will be dealing with. In my experience whenever there is an agenda no one follows it past the first 10 minutes of the meeting. Often people read ahead, wanting to get straight to the nice resolution or enticing item at the end of the agenda. You need to assert control and tell people that X topic will be covered after you cover the other items on the agenda. The real problem is not that people are incapable of following directions, but that everyone thinks what they have to say is important. People want to be the first to speak their ideas at meetings, lest someone else get the credit.

  • People Don’t Respects Others Time: On the rare occasion that I do have a meeting I make sure there are very clear start and end times, out of respect for the other things I need to do that day, and the time of the people I am meeting with. Too often though people arrive late, people keep talking long after the meeting was scheduled to end. In effect a one hour meeting can turn into 3 hours of your time wasted.
    e.g.: The meeting starts at 1:00p and I show up early at 12:45p. The entire meeting group does not arrive until 1:15p. Two people decide that we need to press through to a resolution and the meeting ends at 2:30p. So far this meeting has wasted 1 hour and 45 minutes of my time. A far cry from 3 hours, but then remember there is the after meeting chit chat that people expect, the follow-up emails and calls that must be made to appease others. When all is said and done, you will be well over 3 hours wasted for 1 hour of meeting.

  • Everyone Wants to Hear Themselves Talk: (#2 and #3 briefly touch on this point, it deserves its own number though.) I cannot tell you just how many times people start talking in meetings, saying things that make no sense or that reiterate what has been said. The problem is not lack of communication, rather that people feel compelled to say something. When people are in an environment where there are clients or their boss they always try to speak up and contribute, which alone is no problem at all. What becomes problematic is when people just so others see them talking, not contributing useful information at all.

  • No Follow-Up: Lack of follow-up will turn a good meeting into waste. Take the time to do a quick write up after every meeting of the following:
    What was discussed
    What your tasks are
    What others tasks are
    Any deadlines
    I then like to take that information and get it to the fellow meeting participants. We use Basecamp, so I can just assign the tasks with due dates to meeting members and file a message of the meeting notes. Email works just fine as well. Keep the notes concise and on point.

  • Most Meetings = a Presentation: Would you sign up for an hour long presentation on how you screwed up? Neither would most. The biggest reason most meetings suck is because most meetings consist of one person giving a presentation while the rest watch, and ask questions of the presenter. If you need to show a team how to use a new piece of software don’t call a meeting, tell your team that you will be giving a presentation. Meetings should never just be one person talking, that defeats the purpose of a meeting.

  • Arguments: The most feared/laughable/traumatizing part of a meeting is the ensuing arguments that form during meetings. It is the unfortunate fact that during meetings there are often arguments. Arguments are never productive, debate is productive, not arguments.

  • A 30 Minute Meeting Is 45 Minutes Too Long: Before attending a meeting you need to prepare for it, and that will take at least 15 minutes (lest you fall into the unprepared trap from #1). The problem is that no one takes the time to recognize that people need to prepare before a meeting and make notes after a meeting. If you want to only take 30 minutes of someones time, you probably should just email or call them.

  • The Use of Technology Is Often Shunned: This hits closest to home for me, and is a personal pet peeve of mine. When I show up for a meeting and people “prefer” that I not use my iPhone or Laptop for notes all I want to do is let them know that I “prefer” not to meet in the first place. Most people who know how to type, can and will type notes faster than they can hand write the same notes. Not to mention the fact that computer based notes are: searchable, shareable, archivable, and rarely lost. If someone wants to use technology in any form to help them get the most out of a meeting and you shun it, then you are wasting everyones time.

  • People Let Calls and Emails Interrupt the Meeting: I feel like meetings need to start with the little public service announcement that movie theaters put before they show any of the movie: “Please silence your phones now”. If you get an email, text, or phone call during a meeting you have effectively interrupted the meeting. Vibrate is still loud, you reading something on your phone is obvious to everyone, so just don’t do it. If you are expecting an important call that you will need to take, reschedule the meeting. Do not waste everyones time leaving a meeting for 15 minutes to take another call.

  • No One Wants to Be There (Except That One Guy): Jim, he loves meetings, one would assume it is because he has no actual work that needs to be done. Everyone else, they hate meetings, bane of their existence, biggest productivity suck of their day. When people don’t want to be somewhere they are not actively involved. Without active involvement of all meetings participants, the meeting has been a waste.

Business Emails

See this post and this post.

Making a Change

You may have picked up on the fact that I hate technology that allows someone to interrupt me at will, technology that people hide their rudeness behind. To be better at all these technologies all you have to do is use these tools with respect, respect for everyones time – yours included.

Before you send your next email, or make your next call, stop and think about whether you are using the appropriate tool for the job, and whether or not what you have to say can wait. And if it can wait, does it really need to be said?

I don’t have all the answers, nor am I perfect at practicing what I say above. But I figure that if I take the time to think about what I am doing before I do it, if I take the time to think about the time someone else will have to spend on something, then just maybe I will make someone else’s day a little less annoying and they in turn will return the favor to someone else.

Originally posted for members on: August 17, 2010
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