A New Personal Best

This morning I got up a little before 7 a.m. and got right to work on a long list of chores. I was so busy cleaning, organizing, assembling, and rearranging that I didn’t check my email, internet news sites, or any social media until 11:49 a.m. — nearly five hours later. In fact, I didn’t even touch my iPhone during that dead zone.

It’s got to be a personal best for me, at least in the years since the advent of smartphones and immediate access to email and the World Wide Web with a few taps of my thumbs. And you know what? The world didn’t end while I was in social media silent mode. I’m confident no one noticed my absence. And focusing exclusively on completing simple, somewhat mindless chores, without trying to “multitask,” was pretty darned enjoyable.

With my vacation underway, I might just try to establish a new personal best tomorrow.

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Email Tag Lines

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in email “tag lines.”  At least, that’s what I call them.  They are the little quotes that some people have added to their email communications.  They appear at the end of every email, as part of the writer’s signature stamp.  Like “An unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates” or “All you need is love. — John Lennon and Paul McCartney” or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. — Knute Rockne.

quote-live-fast-die-young-leave-a-good-looking-corpse-james-dean-47-99-73Email tag lines are kind of strange (not to mention pretentious and presumptuous) when you think about it.  It’s hard to imagine that one quote, no matter what it is, could provide an appropriate coda to every different kind of email that a person might send.  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. — James Dean” might go well with an email planning a trip to Las Vegas, but it doesn’t really fit with an email expressing concern about a colleague’s illness or sorrow about the death of an aged relative.  Similarly, a tag line like “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination. — Napoleon Bonaparte” seems jarring when it appears at the end of a email passing along some bad jokes.

When I get emails from somebody who uses one of those tag lines, I always wonder about their motivation and how they came to add the quote to their email in the first place.  Did they just stumble across a quote from somebody that they thought was so true to the very core of their being that it just has to be included as a matter of course in every communication they send to people on any subject?  Or, did they first conclude that their email communications needed a little extra kick, and would be empty without some kind of concluding intellectual, political, or social statement from Descartes, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King?

The bottom line, though, is that an email tag line, even when it does fit with the subject of the communication, can’t save you from yourself or mask your true nature.  Intellectual quotes can’t salvage an email filled with typos, poor grammar, and incorrect word use, and tag lines about love and peace won’t change the tone of a message establishing that the writer is an angry, unprincipled jerk.

In the end, content speaks louder than tag lines.

Thanks, And Thanks!

We got into a discussion the other day about proper etiquette when it comes to the ubiquitous “thanks” email in the workplace.  Put aside the fact that some people hate it, and accept that the “thanks” email needs to be sent as a matter of common courtesy — and also, by the way, to confirm that the prior email has been received and read.

rapkprhNo, the question is: should the email be “Thanks.” or “Thanks!”?  How important is it to put that ending exclamation point on your expression of personal gratitude?

Exclamation points are, of course, used to add emphasis, and can express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong sentiments.  Interestingly, exclamation points were apparently originally called the “note of admiration” — and admiration seems pretty close to gratitude.  Also, the “Thanks.” email comes across as just a little bit flat, doesn’t it?  If you’ve asked someone a question or made a request and they’ve provided you with the information or response you want, the least you can do is put a little emphasis on your expression of appreciation.  If you then ask a follow-up question and get a follow-up response, you can always go with the “Thanks again.” email on the second go-round.

I do think, however, that we need to guard against overuse of the exclamation point in workplace communications.  For example, one exclamation point is perfectly sufficient, and multiple exclamation points should be reserved only for the most extraordinary circumstances.  And let’s remember that the exclamation point should be used rarely, and it is the good old period that should be liberally employed.  Too many exclamation points make the writer seem breathless and overly excitable.

But none of that should prevent the use of the exclamation point on that initial “Thanks!” email.  As in, to all of the readers of this blog:  Thanks!

My Email From United’s CEO

At 1:37:54 a.m. this morning, I got an email from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.  1:37 a.m.?  Geez, Mr. Munoz is one hardworking dude!

united-airlinesMr. Munoz sent me the email to apologize for the disturbing recent incident in which a ticketed passenger was dragged from a United flight leaving O’Hare in order to allow a United employee to take his seat.  Mr. Munoz says the treatment of the passenger broke United’s promise to not only “make sure you reach your destination safely and on time, but also that you will be treated with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect.”  That’s a bit of an understatement, Mr. Munoz!  Something that doesn’t square with the “deepest sense of dignity and respect” would be, say, getting wedged into a seat next to a smelly, morbidly obese guy wearing a tank top who intrudes into your personal space.  Being left bloodied and semiconscious as you’re dragged from your seat doesn’t even square with the lowest level of service or the shallowest sense of dignity and respect.

But let’s not quibble about words.  Mr. Munoz thinks the incident happened because United’s “corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values” and “[o]ur procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.”  He wants the incident to be a turning point for the company, so he’s changing United’s policies.  So now, United will “no longer ask law enforcement to remove customers from a flight and customers will not be required to give up their seat once on board – except in matters of safety or security.”   That seems like a pretty basic, but certainly appropriate, step.  United also will offer up to $10,000 to entice passengers to voluntarily rebook, and will implement a “new ‘no-questions-asked’ $1,500 reimbursement policy” for “permanently lost bags.”

Finally, Mr. Munoz wants me to know that United Airlines intends to live up to “higher expectations in the way we embody social responsibility and civic leadership everywhere we operate.”  The goal, he says, “should be nothing less than to make you truly proud to say, ‘I fly United.'”

I’m not sure I’ve ever said that I was “proud” to fly any airline — or for that matter to own any particular brand of car, or to engage in any commercial transaction with a large company.  I found the United incident unsettling, but it wasn’t going to keep me from flying United.  Let’s face it, we’ve all seen weird incidents in which overzealous people have overreacted and made really bad choices, and when the United incident occurred I figured that United employees would, if anything, overcompensate in the opposite direction and do everything they could to try to fix the company’s PR nightmare.

Mr. Munoz’s early morning email suggests that that effort is still underway.

Ending The Email Chain

There’s a colleague at my office — we’ll call him the Young Fogey — who hates being thanked.

It’s not that he thinks people should be unappreciative.  No, he just hates getting that “thanks” email that frequently serves as an awkward effort to finally bring the lingering email chain to an end.  The first email poses a question, the response seeks clarification, the next email provides it, the following email gives an answer . . . and when the process finally ends, the Young Fogey gets that “thanks.”  He hates it, because it clutters his inbox.  “You don’t need to thank me!” he thunders.

I understand the Young Fogey’s point, because sometimes email conversations can be an exhausting, protracted process.  How are you supposed to end that long email chain in an appropriate way?  Just moving on after you ultimately get the answer to your question seems kind of cold and curt, like you’re ignoring what the other party to the conversation did.  On the other hand, the closure process can be . . . ungainly.

But I don’t think we should discourage people from saying “thank you” when they’ve been helped, either.  We could always use more manners and politeness in the world, and people who routinely say thank you just tend to be more pleasant to be around.  In fact, when I get the final “thanks” email, I often respond “No problem!  Happy to be of assistance.” — which no doubt would really drive the Young Fogey around the bend.

I’m not a fan of a cluttered inbox, and sometimes it can be a challenge keeping it to manageable levels.  Those “thanks” emails, though, aren’t really the problem.  I think the Young Fogey needs to take a deep quaff of Metamucil, accept those “thanks” emails with good cheer, and reflect on the positive fact that the people he’s working with feel the need to express their appreciation for his help and insight.

Anthony Weiner Turns Up, Again

Just when you think — and fervently hope — that we’ve finally heard the last of Anthony Weiner, he turns up in the news again.  He’s the proverbial bad penny on the national political scene.

160922-anthony-weiner-featureWhen the world learned recently that Weiner was “sexting” with a 15-year-old girl, I didn’t write about it because, frankly, I think enough attention has been paid to a guy who is obviously a disturbed and narcissistic loser.  He clearly wants attention of some kind or another, so why feed the creep’s ego?  But now the investigation into Weiner’s texting with an underage girl has shaken up the presidential campaign, just when we thought it was about over.  In their investigation of Weiner, the FBI seized his laptop, as well as his iPad and cell phone — and yesterday FBI director James Comey sent a letter to Congress stating that, in that unrelated investigation, the agency found emails that relate in some way to their investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.  The New York Times is reporting that the FBI found tens of thousands of emails involving Huma Abedin, a long-time Hillary Clinton aide who is married to (and now estranged from) Weiner.

There’s not a lot of information about the emails on Weiner’s server.  Comey’s letter to Congress says only that he felt he needed to supplement his prior congressional testimony that the investigation into Clinton’s email server was completed, that the FBI has now learned of emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation,” that Comey had been briefed on the findings, and that he agreed it was appropriate for agents to determine whether they contain classified information.  The letter concluded that the FBI can’t yet assess whether the emails on Weiner’s laptop are significant, or when the FBI will finish reviewing them.  

So we don’t know much about the emails right now and, given the pace of the FBI’s prior investigation, we probably won’t know much more until after the election is over — which is why some people are criticizing the FBI director for calling attention to the issue at all.  The disclosure obviously roiled the presidential campaign at a crucial time, with less than two weeks to go.  I would note only that I appreciate the fact that the FBI director obviously takes his obligation to truthful in his testimony to Congress so seriously.

I’m not going to speculate about what might, or might not, be found in the emails.  I’m just going to groan at the fact that we have to hear about Anthony Weiner, again — and hope that we don’t learn that this creepy, apparently sex-obsessed jerk had any kind of significant national security information on his laptop.  Anthony Weiner is about the last person I’d want to have access to sensitive information.

Another Email Fail

You’ve no doubt heard people lecture that you shouldn’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the New York Times.  Colin Powell is the newest living proof of that statement.

rtr237zj-1024x682As, indeed, the New York Times and others have reported, Powell has confirmed that his emails were hacked and have been released to the world.  They’re pretty sensational reading, too, as a chatty Powell candidly expresses his opinions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and others.  Powell thinks Trump is a racist, an international pariah, and a national disgrace, he thinks Hillary Clinton is greedy, sleazy, possessed by unbridled ambition, and unfairly dragged him into her own email scandal, he thinks Bill Clinton is cheating on his wife with “bimbos,” and he thinks Cheney is an “idiot.”  Colin Powell apparently is something like “Mikey” in the old TV commercial for Life cereal:  he has disdain for everybody.

Powell’s comments are so pointed that the Washington Post has a story just about the “juiciest” comments in his hacked emails, and USA Today has a piece about the “top insults” in Powell’s emails.  I’m sure dinner parties inside the Beltway are buzzing with talk about Powell’s unvarnished views about the high and mighty.

I feel sorry for Powell, that his personal email was hacked, but I’m also amazed that he would share such candid views in emails, without appreciating that once you send an email, you totally lose control over it and have no way to prevent it from being shared, far and wide — or hacked.  I guess he’s not as sophisticated as I thought he would be.  And there’s no doubt, too, that the leaked emails will affect people’s perception of Powell, who has projected the image of being an above-the-fray, statesman-like national figure.  Now we see that he’s as gossipy as a high school kid and not above throwing around crude words for sexual relations.  The emails certainly contradict his carefully cultivated public image and suggest that under that placid demeanor seen on news shows there lurks a brimming volcano of acidic opinions about other national figures.

It’s a good lesson, though, for those of us whose emails aren’t going to make headlines like Powell’s did:  Think about whether you really want to have that email out in the world at large before you hit “send”!