Laura Grafius Blog

Who Have I Become? How Digital Technology Changes Communication

“…some of the things they do to others on social media that they would not say to the other person’s face.”

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Is an Increasingly Digital Lifestyle Changing Us? Long-standing Singer/Songwriter Sheryl Crow certainly thinks so. In multiple interviews this week, including Associated Press article “Sheryl Crow Argues for Return to Empathy in Her New Album” by Kristen M. Hall, printed April 16th in the Williamsport Sun Gazette, a newspaper local to Williamsport, PA.

Sheryl Crow
Source: Twitter @SherylCrow

Crow stated she was “upset” about the way “technology has changed the conversation” regarding elections, politics, and general approaches to communication. She goes on to emphasize that, “Now we have this forum for haters to come out and say the worst thing you could possibly say to someone without having the experience of the reaction.”

This is a topic I briefly touched on in my first blog post: “Think Before You Post: Showing Respect Online.” I want to examine this topic a little more closely. I agree with Sheryl Crow’s observations for the most part. I think that people say some of the things they do to others on social media that they would not say to the other person’s face. Crow believes that this is because we cannot see the person’s reaction when they see these posts. Crow goes on to say that “we have become a society without empathy and compassion.” According to dictionary.com, empathy involves the “psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” I believe that people sometimes lose track of empathy online because it is easier to separate the online post from the human being who made the post whenever you cannot see or hear that person.

Crow is encouraging time away from digital devices in order to help alleviate people’s lack of empathy. I do not believe that it is practical or realistic to ask all of society to significantly decrease their digital interactions during an era during which a lot of digital technologies are just being born. Rather than taking this extreme measure, I believe that is reasonable to ask people across the United States and the rest of the world, to consider how their posts and videos might be interpreted by anyone who might potentially view them. If it helps people to imagine that they are encountering their post for the first time as someone else, then I would recommend that as well.

Crow with guitar
Source: Twitter @SherylCrow

Though it is not reasonable to unplug entirely as previous generations have done, it may be reasonable to take temporary breaks from certain digital devices or websites if they increase stress levels too much. People could also set barriers by not using digital technologies or social media during family dinners or important events, as well as during most of summer vacation or spiritual endeavors such as church or meditation sessions.

 

 

April Fools Day: Positioning to Prank

April Fool’s Day is often met each year by one of two attitudes. There are people who roll their eyes, and put up with it, and others who are all in for a day filled with shenanigans. What most people do not realize is that this day has been a day of shenanigans for hundreds of years!

A Brief History of Communication Farces

April Fool’s Day is often met each year by one of two attitudes. There are people who roll their eyes, and put up with it, and others who are all in for a day filled with shenanigans. What most people do not realize is that this day has been a day of shenanigans for hundreds of years!

Although it is difficult to verify the origins of April Fool’s Day, many historians believe it is linked to the birth of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Up until then, many European cultures celebrated the new year around April 1st because of the renewing nature of Spring. The Gregorian calendar moved the celebration of the new year back to January 1st. Many people in Europe were slow to learn about this change, or refused to accept it. As a result, many people mocked these people and made them go on “fools’ errands” on April 1st.

 

Modern Day

These days, April Fool’s Day is used to spawn a myriad of miscommunication and a general state of confusion. Communication and PR companies often use the day to draw attention to their companies in a fun and unexpected way.

Cats-You-May-Know-01
Source: Linkedin.com

In 2014, Linked In created the Cats You May Know function on their site which recommended their users connect with cats such as T-bone the Laser Specialist, and Prissy Sissy the Hairball Hacker, rather than their regular professional network.

Risk and Reward

It can be a customer relationship risk for companies to prank their loyal customers. It could confuse or irritate certain customers who either do not realize that certain ads are intended to be humorous, or do not think that the jokes are funny. That said, the majority of customers will find humor in these ads, which can add to views on the company website or social media. Moreover, it can be profitable for some companies to use this day to create a buzz about a new product, create awareness about their brand, or increase foot traffic at a retail location.

How Novel!

One way companies create buzz is to create novelty products especially for the most prank-filled day of the year. ThinkGeek released the Useless Wall Switch in 2016, which as its name suggests, allows pranksters to install a wall switch that turns the switch off every time someone flips it. This allows ThinkGeek to not only generate added sales revenues for the novelty products, but also create brand awareness.

Petco is another company which took advantage of the April Fool’s opportunity to create brand awareness. This year, they conducted an e-mail marketing campaign which advertised the Doo Doo Drone 3000, available only on April 1st online. Most customers recognized when reading the ad that this product must be fake. Hopefully, for Petco’s sake, enough customers found the product video amusing, and shared it with their friends.

 

7 Common Grammatical Errors Which Make You Lose Credibility

“…in most business settings, the ways employees speak and write quickly expose their grasp of the English language. Employees who make basic grammatical mistakes signal employers and clients that they may  not be credible or trained in their area of expertise either.”

There are many kinds of grammatical errors made by students and professionals alike. Granted, many people make grammatical errors because they are short on time, or because grammar and language are not their forte. The purpose of this article is not to judge those who do not speak or write as well as others. Rather, it is here to bring attention to some common grammatical errors which can be avoided with just a little care and attention.

life-journaling-basics

Whether we like it or not, the way we speak and write affect how we are perceived as individual members of society, as students, and as professionals. Thus, a basic understanding of grammatical rules conveys a basic sense of credibility and literacy.

Employees are representatives of their companies when they are on the job, and out in their communities. There are some professions in which correct grammar is less important. However in most business settings, the ways employees speak and write quickly expose their grasp of the English language. Employees who make basic grammatical mistakes signal employers and clients that they may  not be credible or trained in their area of expertise either.

For those who are interested in preserving a consistent image of credibility, I have created a list of seven common grammatical errors. Included, are examples of proper usage, and some pointers on how these errors can be quickly recognized and corrected in day-to-day life.

  1. They, their, they’re

“They” is a pronoun that refers to a group. Ex: They want to go to the mall.

“Their” is a possessive pronoun referring to a group which owns something. Example: Their car is parked on the other side of the parking lot.

“They’re” is a contraction which means “they are”. Example: They’re leaving without you.

  1. Verb tense esp. see, saw, has/have seen

“See” is a present tense verb meaning what you can look at now. Example: I see the sign now.

“Saw” is a past tense verb meaning what you looked at in the past. Example: I saw it yesterday.

“Seen” is a past progressive verb which is always paired with a form of the verb “to be”, which includes: is, has, have.” Examples: I have seen him stop by here from time to time. Example 2: He has been seen here from time to time.

Note: Using “seen” as a past tense verb without either “has” or “have” is never correct. Do not say, “I seen it.” This may be colloquial, but it is grammatically incorrect. Most people who hear this recognize those who speak this way to be uneducated.

  1. Less vs. fewer

Contrary to many grocery checkout lines, these words are not interchangeable. “Fewer” should be used whenever the items in the sentence can be counted. Example: There are fewer people in the room than there were yesterday. Example 2: This line is for customers with 10 items or fewer. “Less” is used to compare amounts that cannot be counted. Example: Tom is less hungry than he was before he ate his sandwich. In this example, “hunger” is a concept, and is not a countable accumulation of items. If you really want to pair “fewer” with “hunger”, for example, you could say that Tom has fewer hunger pangs than before he ate. The pangs can be counted.

  1. I, me, and myself

The word “I” is a personal pronoun which always belongs in the subject part of a sentence. Example: I am going to the store. In this sentence, “I” is the subject, because it is “I” that is performing the action verb of “going.” The store is the object of the sentence, because it is what the action verb “going” is affecting. It answers the question, “Where is the subject “I” going?

The personal pronoun “me” is always the object of a sentence. Whenever the word “me” is used, something is happening to the person referred to as “me.” Example: The prize was awarded to me. Note: No one would ever say “The prize was awarded to I.” That being said, many people incorrectly say things like “Me and David went to the party.” This is incorrect, because the speaker is trying to use the object personal pronoun in the subject of the sentence.

This is a common mistake, especially whenever people are speaking. One thing which helps me remember which pronoun to use whenever there are two people or things in the subject, is to leave the second part of the subject out and see if the sentence still makes sense. If you take the “and David” part out of this sentence, it would read, “Me went to the party.”

No one except for Cookie Monster talks like this.  Cookie Monster may be endearing, but most interviewers would never hire someone who speaks like Cookie Monster into a professional office position, let alone assign him responsibilities. The sentence should be expressed as “David and I are going to the party.”

The word “myself” is a reflexive pronoun and always belongs in the object part of the sentence. Example: I can read the book all by myself.

Note: I have often heard people say things like, “Myself and Bob went to the meeting,” often in an attempt to sound more professional. Note: It is never correct to begin a sentence with the word “myself.” If you are in a work environment in which people know correct grammar, beginning a sentence with the word “myself” will make you seem instantly less credible.

  1. Its, it’s

The word “its” is a possessive pronoun meaning that something belongs to a thing. Example: A cat licked its paws. The paws belong to the cat.

The word “it’s” is a contraction which combines the words “it” and is.” Example It’s raining outside.

These words can be confusing for many people because an apostrophe (‘) usually means that a word is possessive. However, in this case, that is not true.

If you are writing, and are unsure whether to use “its” or it’s”, try substituting the words “it is.” If “it is” makes sense in the sentence, then you should use “it’s.”

  1. Than vs. then

The word “than” is a word used to compare two nouns (people, places, or things). Example: Mike is taller than Jim. In this sentence, the heights of Mike and Jim are compared to one another.

The word “then” is a word to denote time order. Example: First we went to the restaurant, and then we went home.

  1. Every day vs. everyday

These words are different. The words “every day” mean that something happens literally every day. Example: Pete forgets his book for class every day.

The word “everyday” is a more general word that may not literally mean every single day, but is  a regular occurrence. Example: Pete’s forgetfulness is an everyday occurrence.

This differentiation can still be confusing. A good way to tell the difference is to substitute the word “regular” and see if the sentence still makes sense. Example: “Pete forgets his book for class regular” makes no sense. However, the sentence: “Pete’s forgetfulness is a regular occurrence” does make sense.

 

 

 

 

Let’s Get Interpersonal: Focusing Our Full Attention on Others

When we listen to what others say, we gain insight into what they are thinking and feeling and can better understand why others think the way they do, and why they do some of the things they do.

Now that Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, it is important that we examine the nature of our interpersonal relationships, and how we approach communication can make a big difference in how well we get along with romantic partners, friends, and acquaintances. Interpersonal Communication is a broad topic, and interpersonal interactions can be complicated. That said, paying attention, listening, and asking the right questions can greatly improve the quality of our day to day interactions.

Many of us feel better about ourselves and the world whenever we are around certain people. Most of the time, we just go along with these feelings, and do not think about why these people draw us in. Sometimes this comes down to chemistry. More often than not, it involves feeling like the other person is really focused on you.

So how do you start showing that you are focused on the people with whom you interact, especially when you haven’t been doing that in the past? The first step to focusing more on your significant other, or others with whom you have interpersonal relationships, is to talk less and listen more. When we listen to what others say, we gain insight into what they are thinking and feeling and can better understand why others think the way they do, and why they do some of the things they do.

Listening is more than hearing. People often say “I hear you” to reassure others that they are paying attention to them. Though this expression has good intentions, hearing is not enough. Hearing is a physical sense. It is sound going into your ears and bouncing off of your eardrums. It may facilitate listening, but it is totally different.

Listening is a skill. Listening is a specific attempt to gather information from the other people you are communicating with. It is taking in their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on a topic before jumping in with your own opinion.

Ask Open-ended Questions. This means asking questions that cannot be answered with just a “yes” or “no.” When someone is talking, and takes a short pause (don’t interrupt), ask how the event they are discussing came to be, or why they feel the way they do about the experience they are discussing. This confirms that you are in fact listening to them, and makes them feel special. It also allows you to get to know that person better, and “what makes them tick.”14724073632_be85a28161_z

Mobile and Social Media Applications: If your interaction is online, you may not be face to face, but you can still apply some parts of what it means to be a good listener. If you get a text that is too vague to figure out what the other person means, call or text them back to ask questions to clarify what they mean. Often, social media applications have limit the depth and breadth of the communication that can be achieved by using it, such as Twitter’s 140 character limit. Realistically, social media are a large part of our everyday communication, and cannot and should not be avoided. However, if you require more information from someone after using these media, feel free to extend the conversation to a private message, e-mail, or face-to face interaction to build upon the communication that you have begun with this individual.

 

What’s Your Point? 5 Tips for the Novice Public Speaker

Many people, even those who are friendly or extroverted in interpersonal interactions, would rather have nothing to do with public speaking. But why?

There are a lot of reasons why people avoid these situations, including the increased likelihood that they will be judged or appear incompetent.

Is your best friend forcing you to make the man of honor speech at his wedding this spring? Has your boss just insisted you lead the presentation on your project team’s latest findings? Just the thought of having to stand in front of coworkers, clients, or friends could be stressing you out. Many people, even those who are friendly or extroverted in interpersonal interactions, would rather have nothing to do with public speaking. But why?

There are a lot of reasons why people avoid these situations, including the increased likelihood that they will be judged or appear incompetent. According to studies conducted by Statisticsbrain.com in September 2016, as many as 74% of people suffer from a fear of public speaking known as Glossophobia. There is no getting out of it.

The best way to handle your impending speech is to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you and the audience by being prepared.

The best way to prepare a speech is to plan what you will say and how you will say it. The following five tips will help guide you through planning and delivering a speech or presentation.

Make a point. If you do only one thing to prepare for your speech, be sure your speech has a main point: one solid message that people can remember after the speech is over. Even audience members who are paying attention to a public speaker usually do not remember every part of a speech.

Organize your speech. In addition to having one clear point, break the rest of your speech into a few sub points that relate back to the first point. This will make your words easier to follow and understand. If people are listening to your speech, they are likely to only be able to absorb one concept at a time.

Know how much time you will be expected to speak. Be sure your material fits into this timeframe. You don’t want to alienate friends or coworkers because you made them sit a lot longer than they expected. If you are nervous at all, or are unsure how long your speech is, time it ahead of time. When I first took Public Speaking classes in college, I was concerned I would not be able to speak for ten minutes. When I timed myself, I realized that I had over fourteen minutes of material, and had to cut a bit of it out.

Make (the appropriate amount of) eye contact. Too much eye contact will make you and your audience uncomfortable, whereas prolonged, unwanted  eye contact is widely considered intimidating in western cultures. Too little eye contact will cause people to lose interest in you and your topic, and make you seem meek or less authoritative. According to Carol Kinsey Goman in her Forbes article Fascinating Facts About Eye Contact,direct eye contact ranging from 30% to 60% of the time during a conversation – more when you are listening, less when you are speaking – should make for a comfortable productive atmosphere.” If you are not sure how much eye contact to make, try looking up and scanning your eyes across the room while you slowly count to five in your head.

Think Before You Post: Showing Respect Online

Whenever you see a new post on social media… take a moment to read it and think about it before responding.

So many things are being posted this week, especially on Twitter and Facebook, about the Women’s March on Washington, and Trump’s Inauguration. These topics have obviously opened a lot of communication online, and in person, at the marches, and places such as work, coffee shops, and home.

No matter who people voted for, most people have a lot of thoughts, feelings, and opinions about these topics. It goes without saying, that many posts and online exchanges are angry and disrespectful of others’ opinions. Money Crashers blogger, Brian Martucci advises, in his Social Media Etiquette Tips, “Don’t be reactive.”  Responding to an angry tweet the moment you see it may seem like the best way to handle the situation at first. On the other hand, a knee-jerk reply to an angry post may lead to an angry back and forth exchange.

Whenever you see a new post on social media… take a moment to read it and think about it before responding. Why would that person post that? What thoughts and feelings might have led that person to type that?  If the other person is a stranger, you may have almost no idea why he or she posted certain words or images. Thinking things through may prevent the interaction from becoming increasingly negative.

Granted, you may see words or images that you do not like. One of the most effective ways you can communicate with others is to let them express their opinions, even if you disagree. Extending respect and tolerance to others’ views online is a key component to gaining a broader sense of what other people mean, and where they are coming from.

It is fine (and likely) that you will still disagree with many statements made online and in personal interactions. The important thing is to distinguish between agreeing with someone, and showing respect or tolerance for them and their viewpoints. As much as we may want to, we cannot magically make others understand us. We cannot force people to like us or agree with us. Besides, you do not want anyone to try to force you to believe things you do not.

In the end, you may not be able to bridge the gap between diametrically-opposed points of view. If you extend an open mind, you may find ways to open lines of polite discourse on topics without discussions dissolving into senseless banter. At a minimum, you may gain a better view of what is going on around your community and the world.