Saturday, March 11, 2017

A rant about communication.

I find modern communication increasingly disappointing.  Instead of being more connected and efficient, we are increasingly disconnected from one another and wasting time with inefficient communication.  Think about this: it used to be that you would make plans with someone for a date in the future, write it in your calendar, and then on that day at the specified time, you would meet up and enjoy one another's company.  The same plans today involve multiple text messages ("When do you want to get together? Where do you want to go?  Where are you now?  I'm running late.  Can we change the time/day? etc) and then when you are in the company of others, the conversation is punctuated with beeps and dings and people looking at the screen of their phones rather than the person they are visiting with.

I'm by no means saying I'm not as guilty of this as anyone else.  My smart phone is a tool that often gets misused, though I do try to keep it to a minimum when in the company of others, and encourage those around me to point it out when I'm being a screen whore.  There's nothing more annoying and completely rude than being in the company of someone who is clearly not even listening to what you're saying while they type on their phone or scroll their Facebook feed.  And, like everything, this usually gets dumped most on the ones who are most important to us, like partners and family.

I resisted getting a cell phone for years, until after I finished University, so I am glad that I went through school without that distracting device.  I have never personally owned a smart phone, they have always been supplied for me through my work.  After experiencing frustration with many low-end smart phones, when I finally decided to get one for my work on the farm I went for an older model iPhone and it has vastly improved my ability to do our online marketing efficiently.  It also runs our debit machine that we use at the markets, and takes great photos (the only camera we have currently).  It's truly an indispensable tool on the farm for the realm that I am in charge of.  But, like every other tool on the farm, it has it's place, and that place is not in my hand at all times: you wouldn't carry around a wheel hoe at all times, right?

Our reception is very poor at both farms and even inside the houses.  I can get email and run Facebook more reliably than I can make or receive voice calls.  For that reason, I encourage our customers to contact us via email as much as possible.  Also, there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, any veggie question, comment, or issue doesn't need immediate attention.  "What's a good recipe for celeriac soup?" and "I'm missing my lettuce from my CSA bag" are not emergencies.  By not taking voice calls as they come in I can relegate my communications to customers to the times of the day when it makes sense, in the long days of the growing season when we work from dawn until dusk and sometimes later.  "I ate your lettuce and now I'm sick" however, would be a completely appropriate time to call! (that's never happened, and we take measures to prevent it from ever happening, but yes, I would consider that a "produce emergency" worthy of a phone call!)

I have some tips.  Some of them might just be my own personal preference, others I know are things that are being ignored by many and becoming a detriment to general communication as a result.  The general context of this is meant to apply mainly to our business and customer interactions, but some of the points are universally applicable.  It always helps when everyone is on the same page, but the problem is that if you are reading this, you are likely not the problem!  It's those who wander through life sending poor communication and not reading or absorbing any information who are the problem, and I don't know how to effectively reach those people.  They don't look up from their phone screens very much!

Teri's Tips on Email Etiquette

Failure to adhere to any of these will definitely gain you an eye roll when I read your email, and some of them may even get you a bordering-on-rude response from me!

Format:  Sign your email with at least your first name.  You can set it up that all of your devices include a signature.  Mine has at minimum my first and last name (on my phone) and at best my first and last name, address, email address to reply to, website and social media pages.  You know who you are writing to, it's appropriate for me to know who I am replying to.

It helps to have your first and last name set in your email program, including when you send from your phone.  I can do nothing with "Did my order come through?" sent from  As a rule, I don't go out of my way to look up who you might be if you don't have the courtesy to sign your email.  You are wasting time that I don't have.

While you're signing that email, be courteous and include a salutation.  A simple "Hi," will suffice!  When an email is sent as though it is a text message it can come across as very rude, even if you don't intend it that way.  Emails should have the very basic bones of a letter, like this:
I was wondering if you have any lettuce for sale?
Jill Smith"
It's a matter of courtesy here, folks. "Do you have lettuce" does not have the same impact, and makes me annoyed as soon as I read the email.  I would never send an email out to all of our customers and say only "Do you want vegetables" because it doesn't have enough information and wouldn't achieve the desired result.  Instead, I make sure to include the details about how to order, any links that might be relevant, and I also try to head off any frequently asked questions that may arise (such as price, or varieties available, etc).

Don't even get me started on punctuation!  If you are asking a question, use a question mark. 

Subsequent replies can be less formal.  Sometimes the conclusion of the interaction can be a quick message that says "Sounds good!" or, "Thanks!" or, "See you then!".  But only after you've laid the groundwork in the initial email.  Often for the sake of sending less email, I skip unnecessary replies, and I appreciate when others do, too.  For instance, when I send out an order form to a few hundred people it would be terrible if everyone who wasn't placing an order sent me an email to tell me so.  So, if the reply isn't necessary, then it's not rude to skip it.

Spell check and keep auto-correct in check!!  Contrary to what I see from a lot of people these days, spelling matters.  I'm an English Major so of course extra sensitive on the subject, but regardless of that: it's just part of being a member of the literate human race to make sure that you are communicating in a way that others will clearly understand.  I have no problem when I can tell that someone is doing their best and I am of course aware that English is not everyone's first language, and there are varying degrees of literacy.  When you are doing your best to communicate, that always comes across very clearly.  When you are being lazy and not even looking at what you are sending, that is also very clear.
I once asked a customer the day after she received her order, how the pickles went over with her family, and got the reply "Pickles were shot!".  My brain immediately looked at the QWERTY keyboard and surmised that "shot" was auto-correct-phone-speak for "a hit" based on the placement of the letters in proximity.  I almost did this without thinking, I am so used to people not reading things over before they hit send.  Mom also saw the email, and as she still uses a flip phone where she presses 1 three times to make the letter "C", her brain converted the message to "Pickles were shit!".  I still don't know to this day whether those pickles were a hit, or complete shit, but as the customer couldn't be bothered to distinguish, I decided not to waste my time on it, either!

Provide the right amount of information for the response you are looking to get:  I'm less likely to be annoyed with too much information than not enough.  I am a complete communicator more than I am a concise communicator.  I find that spending more time making sure that all of the information is included the first time is a lot more efficient than having to answer a bunch of questions and more emails following my initial response.
When there is a lot to do and lots of emails to answer, my response may reflect your effort in the first contact.  So, "Do you have lettuce" might get an email back that says "Yes", whereas Jill Smith from the example above would get:
"Hi Jill!
Yes, we do have lettuce for sale!  It is a great mix with 8 different tender and crunchy varieties.  We sell it Fridays at Lady of the Lake from 10 - 2 and it costs $6 per bag.  We try to have it available from June - Oct.
Hope to see you soon & let me know if you have any other questions!
Teri "
I work really hard to extract and answer all of the questions when I receive detailed or courteous emails, because I appreciate them!
How I manage emails:
I follow the Inbox Zero method of email management, which basically means that many regular items have automated folders that they go into directly, and my goal is to have everything filed, replied to, or otherwise dealt with and my inbox empty at least once per day (and believe me, that's a great feeling!)  For instance, orders don't go into my inbox, they go into a folder in my inbox.  It is not critical that I read every order as it comes in, and so I don't want it popping up on my phone because then I end up wasting time reading it.  Once a day or as necessary I print off the orders and deal with them: much more efficient.  Regular emails go to my inbox and then I set aside time to reply to them in blocks, rather than getting on the treadmill of replying to things as they come in.

I usually reply to emails very early in the morning and I also purposely don't reply to emails immediately.  I've found from managing a large CSA in the past that the more emails you send, the more emails you send!  The quicker you are to reply usually just means there is a higher likelihood of the person you are writing to replying immediately.  The conversation then quickly devolves into a back-and-forth text message type email stream that could be wrapped up in a 2 minute phone call or 1 really complete email message but instead results in multiple emails, usually with incomplete information.  I can't count the times that I have asked 2 - 5 questions in an email and gotten a response to only 1 of my questions.  I now list, number, and highlight in bold when I have action items or things that I need someone to reply specifically to, and I have found better results with this method. 

I have a 3 day hold box in my email program, it's where I put emails that make me annoyed.  After leaving them for 3 days I have had time to calm down and come up with a reasonable response that doesn't sound rude.  Even the slightest bit of annoyance can come across as really rude when it's in writing where the recipient has no way to sense tone of voice or body language.  I try to not be rude in writing, despite what I may be thinking in my head.

If you are very rude, you may bypass the entire email management system and go straight in the junk.  An example I can remember is when a student emailed and basically copied and pasted the questions from their assignment with little explanation and didn't even take the time to re-word the questions (example: "Find out how they sell their products").  It went right in the junk with no reply.  Next time I would find out who their teacher was and contact them so they could teach a clearly needed lesson in communication!

We adhere to Canadian/US Anti-Spam legislation.  Nothing is more inconsiderate as when someone starts emailing me with no permission and they aren't using an appropriate email program to administer their list.  I want to be able to click "unsubscribe" if I change my mind about receiving those emails, and I definitely want to be the one deciding if I'm going to receive them in the first place!

Teri's Tips on Text Messaging:

I use texts as a means to keep in touch with my friends and to send messages.  A message is defined as: "a verbal, written, or recorded communication sent to or left for a recipient who cannot be contacted directly".  So, by defining it as a message and using it as such I am setting some boundaries.  When I send a text, I NEVER expect an instant response: If I need an instant response, I call.  I am sending a message because whatever I am writing about is not critical and can be dealt with when the recipient has time.  I always hope that they will just deal with it when it suits them, but I notice a lot of people apologizing when they don't reply instantly.  Don't!  I purposely don't reply immediately to many of my texts, especially if I know it will get me involved in a back-and-forth conversation which will turn what could be dealt with in 2 minutes of information sharing into 20 minutes staring at and typing on my phone.  A friend called me a couple of weeks ago and we had a lovely chat, and discussed so many things in the space of an hour.  It would have taken at least an hour to sit down and convey all of it in email, and then it would have been one-sided.  Instead, we had a great conversation and built a deeper bond because of it.

My biggest tip on text messaging, in regards to my own personal preference in the business: DON'T.  I am happy to text with my friends and family, and even farm employees.  I DO NOT see it as an appropriate way for customers to contact us.  Mom and I share the email program so that we can both see what is happening, though I do most of the communications.  When customers text me, the communication becomes disjointed and Mom is left out of the loop.  Also, I have no way to easily look up information in text messages, and so then I waste time searching through multiple avenues looking for "what kind of lettuce did Jill want again?".  If you are one of our customers and text me, the response will always be "please email us at".  You wouldn't text your doctor or lawyer, and this farmer is no different!

That being said, everyone has a different tolerance for text messages and I by no means think that I'm the norm.  I have strong feelings about it and really don't like it as an avenue for most communication.  The biggest value I see in it is for a handful of friends that I keep in touch with on a semi-regular basis this way, and to touch base with my Mom who is my business partner, and husband Jon.  "Do we need milk?" or, "How many jars of pickles are left?" is a great use of text message.  "Do you have lettuce?" is not, because there is more information required in a complete reply than makes sense to send in a text.  It's like texting your Doctor "Am I sick?"  You want more than a yes or no answer, so use the appropriate avenue to ask the question!

Teri's General Tips for Better Communication:

#1: Get off your phone.
 I have one customer who blames her phone every time she misses picking up an order.  She's one of the only people who ever misses pick ups, and I think the majority of our customers do have phones... So, if everyone else is able to remember, logic follows that it's probably not the phone that is the problemYou can't just shut your brain off and assume your phone will look after your life for you... and I don't know why you would want to!  You are putting too much faith in a pile of plastic and software, there's a real world happening all around you: engage with it!

#2: Get off your phone.
This also applies to tech support.  Nearly 100% of tech support questions I get can be fixed by someone using a computer rather than their phone or tablet.  Phones are great, but not everything can be reliably done on them.  The first thing you should do if you run into problems signing up for something or placing an order from us is to get on an actual computer.  I don't make apps or write code, and so I am at the mercy of software creators.  When something goes awry, there's not much I can do, but I do know from experience there's a significantly less chance you'll have problems if you're not using a mobile device.  Plus, you'll be more focused when you're doing the task, which is likely half of the problem in the first place!

#3: Get off your phone!
Like already mentioned, I am guilty of staring at my phone screen too much just like many of us.  Have you ever left your phone in one place for the day rather than carrying it around with you?  It's very liberating!  By carrying it around with you all day you are also carrying the burden of constant work and constant ability to be reached.  Whatever did we do before cell phones?  We still had phones, and we could still be in touch with people, though maybe not instantly, which I would argue is better anyway.  90% of the time my phone does ring I am driving or doing something else and it's not convenient for me to answer anyhow.  If it was sitting in a house on the receiver, the person would know,"Oh, Teri must be out or otherwise engaged", and they would leave a message so I could call them back when it was convenient for me.  Now when you call someone and they don't answer you assume they are ignoring your call because you assume that they have their phone on their person at all times.
If you call me and I don't answer, it may be because I don't have reception, or because I don't have my phone with me, or because I don't want to talk to you... It's up to you to figure out which!

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