Thursday, May 26, 2011

Successful Interpersonal Communication?

Whether you’re deciding if you should accept or what to charge for a freelance assignment, finding out parameters of a new project at work, what’s expected of your kids at school (and what you as parents are expected to contribute) or dealing with your significant other or family members, successful communication is the key to a positive, rewarding outcome.

The problem is that people communicate in different ways. We’re required to take trigonometry or calculus and other subjects the vast majority of us rarely or never need. Yet we communicate with a variety of people every day. We may have to take public speaking, but why isn’t there a mandatory Interpersonal Communications course, in both high school (to facilitate relationships with parents and peers) and college (so students learn how to present themselves in work situations...many young’uns I see apparently haven’t learned how to be professional)? The prevalence of relatively new forms of corresponding, such as texting and social media, make knowledge of quality communication even more crucial.

Dozens of methods for improving communication exist, from books such as Men Are From Mars... to tests such as Myers-Briggs® (I’m an ENTJ, by the way) to marriage counselors to assorted kinds of presentation consultants to advice on the Internet. But many may not avail themselves of any of these options, either because of cost, time involved, or not realizing they could benefit from them.

Also, we don’t always know all the right questions to ask. Nor do others always offer up all the information we might need. The more people involved in a given situation, the more ripples lack of or unclear information can have. Some people fear speaking their mind or are shy, some become defensive and so aren’t willing to listen to or accept others’ opinions.

What kind of communicator are you? Here are a few articles/sites:

Chris Witt

Associated Content

Live Strong

Thursday, May 19, 2011


There are things we mean to do, keep saying we’ll do, but put off doing. Whether it’s not tackling that project due next month, exercising, eating better, cleaning/organizing, looking for more work, scheduling a doctor’s appointment or finishing that book/play we started, often we find reasons or make excuses we convince ourselves are reasons why we can’t or won’t do them.

Certainly there are more fun things to do than vacuuming, scrubbing the toilet, or self-marketing. There are countless media options from TV shows to Youtube videos to distract us. Scheduling social plans every night means “I don’t have time” to write. If you don’t fit in a trip to the grocery and your cupboards are bare, grabbing a hot dog and fries or ordering in is easier to justify.

Why do we procrastinate, and in the process make ourselves worry about not finishing what we’ve set out to or need to do? Why scramble to meet deadlines? Why berate ourselves for not working out or being late?

I think the key is finding the right mix of discipline and reward, work and play. We can learn to control some of our impulses to have fun so we can complete projects we’ve been putting off. If the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you'll feel after getting something off your plate isn’t enough incentive, many sites promote rewarding yourself when you achieve a goal.

Wouldn’t you rather be checking items off your to do list and reaping the rewards than fretting because you’re behind schedule or disappointing yourself?

Writing Rewards

Reward Yourself

Goal Setting

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Technology Troubles & Tradeoffs

When our cell phones and/or PCs malfunction, most freelancers can’t work or get work. Getting them back up to speed is a priority. That’s how dependent we’ve become on modern technology. Last week, I was preparing to upgrade my phone’s software and receive a new PC.

Phone: Loading the latest version of Android on my cell phone went smoothly, as did re-personalizing. But then I saw that somehow my FB contacts had been added to my phone contacts. I like my FB peeps, but don’t need all of their info in my phone because that many contacts makes it more difficult to find info. Despite backing up as instructed by customer service, I had to call again. They said I’d clicked “sync to FB” or something, but I didn’t. (I found it later as a default in setup that had to be unchecked . Hmm.) One by one we went through the contacts I wanted to save. Yet some still didn’t make it to my phone. I asked for some compensation for my time and frustration. They offered a $20 credit.

PC: I ended up having to pick it up @ FedEx. Not happy about that. Setup went smoothly until I turned it on. The first thing I saw on my brand new, state of the art Dell PC was “CPU fan error. Press F1 to continue or F2” blah blah. Who wants their PC to overheat? I pressed F2, but couldn’t see what to do. I pressed F1...everything seemed to work fine. Monday morning I called customer service. A half hour after the guy took control of my PC to investigate, he told me I needed a new part and a technician would call. He’d check back on Wednesday.

No call came. I called back Tuesday afternoon to learn the part was on back order, and if it didn’t arrive, they’d send a new system. Why hadn’t anyone bothered tell me that? No good answer. Then he asked if I’d opened the PC case. I hadn’t. So he walked me through the process. Lo and behold, the instant I got the cover off I saw cables blocking the fan. Probably happened while the thing spent several days rumbling around in FedEx’s truck. All I had to do was tuck the cable out of the way, and voila. No more error message.

If the first guy had told me to check inside, I’d have saved a lot of time and frustration. If they’d clipped the cables in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. So I asked to speak to a supervisor, who offered up to $100 in Dell products. A credit would’ve been more useful, but…

The moral of the stories:

Vendors, please ensure consistent procedures and provide easy access to information so callers don't have to laboriously repeat themselves. Train your representatives to be good communicators, believably friendly and sympathetic to the value of each caller's time.

Customers, if you’re having technology troubles, consider asking if the vendor will provide some compensation.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The importance of customer service vs. technology

I've written before about customer service issues, here and here.

These days we have more gadgets than ever that we rely on to do more things. When computers, printers, etc. perform as expected, we may take them for granted. But when they act up or are on the fritz, most of us get frustrated trying to trouble shoot. Our lives can be put on hold if that document/resume we need for a meeting/audition today won't print. Or if your cell phone keeps telling you "your device is extremely low on space" and won't let you send a text even after you've deleted all kinds of apps, cleared caches and more.

Manuals rarely seem to yield the solution. With online help, it's often challenging and time consuming to find the FAQ that resolves your issue or wade through help forums. Reaching a live customer service person is a feat in itself, and finding a helpful one can be like running a marathon.

This week, so far:
Waiting for 3 boxes from Federal Express. My building has a locked package room, but they just left the first one sitting in the lobby. A box clearly marked Dell Multimedia Speaker System.

Fed Ex's door tags don't list delivery hours. I clicked all over their website but couldn't find them. The guy I finally got on the phone (who said to press 00 to get to a person right away; I'd tried that but it didn't work) was very pleasant but couldn't do anything except tell me that I could pick up the boxes at a delivery center near me.

I'm sure FedEx employees are very busy. But you can't even request a window of opportunity, you have to be available the entire time...which I think is 9A to 8P. I wasn't, so I signed the first tag for the other boxes. Well, they didn't leave them....

U.S. Cellular: I've found USC customer service to be friendly and helpful. However, I'm not thrilled by their advice. To get rid of the "low on space" error message on my HTC Desire, they say to install two pieces of software on my PC and back up stuff on my phone. Then I have to install froyo 2.2, which basically wipes clean all settings and apps but should improve performance and battery usage. Finally, I'll have to reinstall and set up everything as if the phone was new. This is expected to take at least 45 mins (during which time, of course, my phone won't work...and of course that'll be when FedEx arrives...).

When they work and arrive when expected, electronic devices and software can make our lives so much easier and more fun. When they don't, waiting for or fixing them can take over our lives.