Some stress is unavoidable, and some is actually positive. Then there is stress which is completely avoidable and really a silly waste of time.
Stress associated with vague, ambiguous communications is at the top of this list. That’s why it’s important to be clear in both your language and your meaning, and save everybody tons of grief. Especially in the age of hurried text messages and cryptically short emails, who can afford to be any more confusing than necessary?
So this bit from the Globe “Social Studies” column made me shake my head:
“Ask any randomly selected group of English speakers to answer this question: If a meeting scheduled for Wednesday is moved forward two days, what day will it fall on? ‘More or less 50 per cent of the people will say Monday,’ says Rafael Nunez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California-San Diego.
“The word ‘moved’ allows the ambiguity that the meeting is either being moved forward in time, meaning it will happen later, or being brought closer in time to the person.”
I’m not a cognitive scientist, but I’ve spent 27 years pondering language and the meaning of words and phrases. I’ve also set up and run hundreds of meetings in my time and I can only imagine how disgusted a group of busy people would be to travel to an offsite meeting only to find they are four days early or four days late.
The word “moved” isn’t ambiguous at all; it means what it says. It’s the word “forward” that is unclear and confusing is this phrase as it could mean either direction to anyone you ask – forward to Monday, or forward to Friday. Time is both relative and confusing, as Einstein showed us a century ago.
Never mind all that gobbledygook, though – let’s just consider common courtesy and basic consideration for other people’s time. Why make them expend the effort required to guess what we mean by “moved” or “forward” or “backward” or “closer”?
Let’s just make a clear, unequivocal statement of fact:
“The meeting originally scheduled for Wednesday March, 2nd, has been rescheduled for Friday, March 4th. The time and location remain the same. Thank you.”
“Get the facts,” Carnegie wrote in Stop Worrying. “Half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions before they have sufficient knowledge on which to base a decision.”
Everyone you know and work with is far too busy and stressed to have to guess at the ambiguous meaning of your messages. Help people “get the facts” from you so they can quickly make an intelligent decision – be clear and precise in your communications and as much as possible, provide all the information required in one place. People will love you for it.
By way of a fun current illustration, here’s a FaceBook posting from my friend Lydia Di Francesco’s page this week:
Lydia: Let’s do a fun survey!! If someone tells you they’ll be there soon, how much time do you think they mean? Respond in the comments section. ·
Danielle: under 20 min
Dawn: 10-15 minutes.
Natasha: LOL, it depends on the person! For most 10-20 minutes. For others…an hour or more!
Natasha: OMG, is your man in trouble?
Natasha: I meant Lydia’s man…
Nancy: Within the hour
Angele: Depends what the context is. If it’s for something everyone is waiting for you for then 5-10 min. Otherwise, within an hour.
Lydia: Thanks guys!! Natasha, no, Dan isn’t in trouble… we just have different ideas of what “soon” means
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