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Blogs January 2004

January 28, 2004

The February STC Intercom magazine featured an article about Michele Marques (More info), a technical writer in Canada who is a novelist. This past November, she participated in the National Novel Writing Month (More info) where she completed a draft of her novel, Mysterious Paris. The next National Novel Writing Month starts March 1, so get ready!

But Michele isn't the only technical writer to try creative writing. Geoffrey Chaucer was writing user documentation over 600 years ago. His user guide was yclept A Treatise on the Astrolabe (More info). He obviously used Microsoft Word's spell checker. :)

January 21, 2004

My new hero is American Idol's Simon Cowell. More info He is often portrayed as the show's evil judge who pulps people's dreams of fame and stardom. Although my own evaluation style is more like Paula Abdul's (More info), I have come to understand Simon's harsh response to sub-par musical talent.

Of the over 70,000 people who auditioned for the show across the United States, there were many who couldn't carry a tune but were still convinced they could be the next Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, or Clay Aiken. One contestant in New York argued with Simon when he told her she didn't have talent. He made a bet with her that she would empty a bar when she sang. So, American Idol host Ryan Seacrest took her to a local bar to sing. Simon won the bet. Patrons covered their ears and took off.

I'm sure that these contestants have been told over the years by well-meaning friends and family, "Oh, you're so wonderful! You've got so much talent! You are the next American Idol!" As well intentioned as these people are, they are being dishonest. And their dishonesty sets these poor contestants up for failure and humiliation. Simon said, "I'm not trying to be rude. I'm trying to give these people a reality check." And public embarrassment in front of millions of American viewers is as harsh a reality check as anyone can get.

When we give people feedback, we need to be motivating and supportive, but we must also be honest. If people need considerable improvement, we need to tell them so and also give advice on how to improve. Honest and constructive feedback, even if it shatters people's illusions about themselves, is ultimately much kinder and much more supportive than having them face greater humiliation later on.

January 18, 2004

Marilyn August, founder of Wealth & Wisdom seminars (More info) gives the following advice about public speaking: "When you give a speech, ask what gift you want to contribute to your audience." This is a great lesson for all of us.

January 12, 2004

We've all heard the saying, "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar." I've seen a demonstration of this recently.

I belong to a message board that has strict rules about the posting of off-topic (OT) subjects. Someone had a technical question that wasn't directly related to the forum. Another member took it upon himself to bring the discussion back on-topic aggressively. He said, "Another stupid OT post...[I]f you *know* this is the wrong place to ask your question, [why] ask it here? Is it because you're too lazy to look for the right place?" Rather than bring the forum back on-topic, the message resulted in two messages complaining about this person's behavior. In one of them, the poster said her coworker wouldn't post on this forum on the basis of such behavior.

In contrast, I've seen forum moderators give courteous and firm reminders that almost instantly break up off-topic threads and ad hominem attacks without any further comment.

There are a couple lessons for us:

1. We are more likely to get the results we want with courtesy and respect.

2. Even though people can't see your face when you send e-mail, you are still showing yourself. Your e-mail reflects you. Don't click Send unless you're sure that your message reflects positively upon your professionalism and image. 

January 7, 2004

It's an election year in the United States, and we didn't have to wait long for politicians to say something stupid.

We were first treated with a Bible lesson from the Reverend Howard Dean. (More info) And this past Saturday, we had Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's attempt at humor. (More info) At least she didn't use an old Monica Lewinsky joke.

Please don't think I'm being partisan in pointing out politicians' verbal buffoonery. I've also dinged conservatives like Trett Lott. More info

Such verbal screw-ups are more than embarrassing. They undermine the one thing politicians want to build with their voters credibility.

In Dean's case, he wanted to attract voters in the U.S. southeast, an area known as the Bible Belt. But how can voters who study the Bible diligently and seriously trust a candidate who doesn't know that the Book of Job is in the Old Testament? In Clinton's case, her feeble joke at the expense of Mahatma Gandhi wasn't just offensive to Indians living here. Imagine if she became president, and she had to keep the prime ministers of India and Pakistan from nuking each other over Kashmir? (Let's hope that the current negotiations bring peace to that region.)

Another way these incidents undermine the candidates' credibility is that they show them trying to be something they're not. If Howard Dean isn't demonstrably religious by nature, suddenly proclaiming his love for Jesus seems disingenuous. Likewise, if Hillary Rodham Clinton shouldn't pretend to be an Ellen DeGeneres if humor isn't her forte. More info

My advice to Dean and Clinton: Be yourselves, do your homework, and think twice before you speak. Minutes of research and seconds of restraint save weeks if not years of apologizing and damage control.

January 3, 2004

The holidays are over. It's time to get back to work, start on those New Year's goals or resolutions (More info), and start burning off those extra pounds we've been packing on since Halloween. 

Part of my plans for the new year include catching up on my reading. I have a couple of books on my "to read" stack:

Career Warfare by David F. Alessandro (More info) is a new book that provides ten rules workers like us can use to improve our professional stature and improve our chances for workplace success.

How to Speak, How to Listen (More info) by Mortimer J. Adler shows how to speak and listen more effectively.

I'll write reviews of these books when I finish them. In the meantime, I hope you'll include reading as part of your New Year's goals.

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