Why What We Say Affects Equal Play

Firstly, hello again. A few weeks off writing my blog turned into a few months… and before I knew it, I’d taken a full blown sabbatical. I’m back. I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.

I wrote this with half an eye on the England versus Scotland match in the Women’s European Football Championships. Gary Lineker’s twitter feed would suggest he was pretty busy last night fending off criticism about how much he is paid by the BBC, but if he was watching he would have seen Jodie Taylor score the first hat trick for any England football player in a major tournament since he popped up with three goals against Poland in the 1986 World Cup. The Men’s World Cup, that is – if we describe female competitions as “Women’s,” shouldn’t we start clarifying when tournaments are played by their male counterparts too?

Striker Toni Duggan recently became the first English player since Lineker to join FC Barcelona. I wonder if Duggan will outdo his 42 goals for the Catalans – and if she does, I wonder how widely it will be acknowledged.

While I’m on the subjects of women’s football and sports presenters, we watched Clare Balding’s excellent Channel 4 documentary, “When Football Banned Women” the other night. If you didn’t see it (and if so, I’d highly recommend tracking it down on catch up TV), it told the story of the little-known heyday of English women’s football, of Lily Parr and her Dick Kerr Ladies’ team mates playing in front of crowds of 25,000. The glory days were cut cruelly and unjustifiably short by the FA in 1921 and the women’s side of the game has been playing catch up ever since.

So why does this matter? It matters because despite the best efforts of Women’s Sport Week and This Girl Can, despite increasing female participation in netball, football and hockey, despite the baby steps we are taking towards a level playing field… we are still fighting against deeply rooted social prejudice. 

This was illustrated by both the decisions about and reaction to the show court allocation at Wimbledon this year. Among other things, a breakdown of the Centre and Court One allocations shows that:

“The top five seeded women played on court two and court three more times than on Centre Court this year. For men, not a single match was held on court two or court three, or the outside courts.” [BBC – http://m.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/40630043]

There’s no getting away from the fact that sport is about business and entertainment, but if administrative decisions are based on how good it is assumed a match might be and on a supposed current level of popularity, we create a situation which will always support the status quo. Fundamentally, it doesn’t enable change and it doesn’t provide female players the same opportunities to achieve their potential and push the boundaries of their performances.

Andy Murray received well-deserved praise at SW19 for correcting a journalist who described Sam Querrey as the first American Grand Slam semi finalist since 2009. However, for me it wasn’t so much what he said (“First male semi finalist”) as how he said it. The beauty of Murray’s response – low key, matter-of-fact, immediate – was that it shows his respect for and interest in women’s tennis is innate. He’s prepared to speak up about gender equality, but he just makes it a normal part of conversation. And guess what? Men are equally as important as women in this process. 

That’s why I was pleased that it was my husband who saw the advert for Clare Balding’s documentary and wanted to see it. And that he chose to switch on the England versus Scotland game (and probably watched it more closely than I did). Creating change is about the big things, but mostly it’s about the little things… having access to high level women’s sport in the media, valuing it in its own right (which is why comments about where Serena would be ranked in men’s tennis don’t even warrant a discussion),  choosing to watch it and talking about it afterwards.

Breaking down social barriers does need grand gestures and big examples to be made at times, but genuine social change is about challenging our conscious and subconscious biases. We need more column inches on Laura Kenny and photos of Serena Williams and young footballers who aspire to be like the England Lionesses just as much as Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but we also have to keep pulling ourselves up on our ingrained attitudes and the words we typically express them with.

If we don’t do these things, it’s too easy to hide behind statistics about positive change, whether in terms of participation, coverage or opportunity. Gender equality will only become a genuine social norm once our thoughts and values, and the way we express them all become reprogrammed.
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Seeing the Positives in Social Media

The modern world

Just as I thought I’d made a decision to try to embrace social media a little better, I saw a photograph that sums up the world we now live in. You’ve probably seen it too – it went viral, which was simultaneously powerful and ironic. In the picture (which you can see at the top of this post), a large crowd of people watches an event. Everyone is capturing the moment on a smart phone. All except one lady that is, who watches on with her actual eyes rather than through a screen. This hasn’t made me rethink my decision exactly, but it has made me think a little more about the good, the bad and the ugly of social media.

Let’s start off with a few statistics. It is estimated that globally, the number of people who are active on Facebook at least once a month is now 1.5 billion. That’s about 20% of the world’s population. Twitter and Instagram both have over 300 million monthly users. I’m stating the blindingly obvious when I say that social media is a huge, influential and growing part of our daily lives.

There’s an obvious irony in the phrase ‘social media’. Whilst the various platforms enable us to communicate, connect and share experiences, most of us have at some point looked up to realise that we are sitting with a group of other people and none of us are doing those things in ‘real life’. What usually happens next? Someone makes a comment along the lines of, “Well we’re sociable today aren’t we?” followed by everyone muttering, “Ha ha, yes, it’s terrible isn’t it,” before gazing back down at the screens in front of them.

Technology does and always has changed the way people live. Whilst it’s true that ‘big news’ – whether that’s a friend’s engagement/pregnancy/graduation, or the latest political, sports or entertainment bombshell – now spreads across the world via digital platforms, once upon a time developments like the printing press, wireless radio and television revolutionised the way in which information was communicated. A quick status update is an easy and efficient way to spread news instantly. I suppose the problem is that depending on the news, the rest of the world (or even your friends and family) might not actually be that bothered… but they’re forced to see it anyway.

This is where my own opinion about what’s interesting and what isn’t starts to get in the way. I know the only way I can avoid this is by steering clear of social media entirely… but there are some things I’m just not interested in. Depressing (or worse still, cryptic and depressing) Facebook statuses, incendiary political tweets, corny selfies or anything to do with the Kardashians sometimes make me want to delete the whole Internet. Equally, I’m aware that articles about sport or philosophy and videos of cute kittens/puppies falling off items of furniture don’t appeal to everyone, but at least they intrigue or amuse me. The challenge, the lesson, the issue – whatever you want to call it – is in filtering the things you do and don’t want to see on social media without wasting your entire life doing it.

I also read an interesting article about the use of Instagram this week. The writer was arguing that people are so obsessed with creating a perfect ‘insta-world’ that we aren’t documenting life as it really looks and feels. As a recent convert to Instagram, I understand the rationale behind this idea, but I think if you flip it around it can probably help us focus on the positives too. I believe that looking for a ‘photo opportunity’ can help you to look at the world in different ways: it can make you see the beautiful in the mundane or the tiny detail in the bigger picture. Creating a photo can actually make an experience more fun or memorable. Maybe on some level it does make me want to have some kind of pseudo insta-life where I’m having fun and amazing experiences all the time. The key thing is though, if that’s what I’m trying to represent, I’m also more likely to try and make that a reality.

Ultimately, social media can both bring us together and tear us apart. I think I’m starting to figure out my own attitude towards it: I don’t want to spend more time looking at a screen than interacting with the world around me and I don’t want to miss out on experiencing something because I’m too busy trying to record a diluted version of it to look at later. In fact maybe it’s a bit like writing this blog. I want to use it in a way that makes me and others smile or think. The fact is, like that lady in the picture, in order to experience, capture and share special moments through authentic words or powerful images, I have to have my eyes open to see them happening in the first place.

And now, the ironic plug… don’t forget to follow me on twitter @inkingfeeling or instagram @herbie17

Talking a Good Game (Part II): The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Coaches

It’s taken me five years, but last month I finally managed to complete my Level 2 coaching qualification. While I haven’t yet coached to anywhere near the level I’ve played, I always try to use my playing experience to improve my coaching skills. Just as every player is different, every coach is different – and that’s a good thing. However, I believe that to be a great coach you must be a great communicator.

I spend much of July and August working on summer hockey camps. This means I have to figure out very quickly how to communicate effectively with loads of different kids, often several days or weeks in a row. Sessions need to be safe, fun and understandable. The way I communicate can have a major impact on my ability to build rapport, and of course this isn’t just about what I say, but how I say it: my words, body language and demonstrations must all be chosen and adapted as appropriate to the group of players on any given day.

Broadly speaking, the same threads run through communication when coaching adults. Your tone may change and you might convey more sophisticated messages, but generally, the objectives for a coach are similar: create a learning environment, provide feedback, and make things safe and fun. Winning can be important too, but often that’s a by-product of those objectives: get the processes right and the outcome takes care of itself. One of my biggest priorities when I’m coaching is to be consistent and energetic at every session. As a player, I respond best to coaches who have these qualities –it’s easier to understand their expectations, trust their feedback and be open and honest in both directions.

On the field, I believe that an enjoyable environment tends to generate a steeper curve of improvement. That doesn’t mean every session will be fun, and it certainly doesn’t mean that training will be easy. However, as I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, I think often having fun = playing better. Players motivated to push themselves – whether through hard work, concentration or repetitions – are likely to make more effective, robust progress. In terms of communication, that means rewarding improvement, giving constructive criticism and sometimes allowing the players to work out the answers for themselves… and knowing when each of these things may be required.

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen we would have two mouths and one ear”
Mark Twain

Game day brings further challenges. Depending on the situation, a coach has to judge when to motivate or pacify, praise or criticise, stay calm or get riled up. Often, coaches are dealing with similar expectations, frustrations and anxieties as players, so communicating during competition needs real perceptiveness and an ability to detach oneself from the often emotionally-charged environment.

Of course, the role of a coach extends far beyond the field. The biggest communication challenges may relate to selection, disciplinary problems and dealing with poor performances or results. The approach taken in these scenarios can make or break player-coach relationships, the dynamics of a squad and even the psychological or emotional well-being of a player in the longer term. It’s important to recognise that these situations (and the weight of responsibility they create) can be emotionally draining for a coach too, but I honestly can’t emphasise enough how important – and how impactful – sensitive, intelligent communication can be at these times. I won’t pretend I’ve had to make any huge decisions as a coach, but even in dealing with less significant issues – an under-confident player, a disruptive child or an out-of-form team mate – my good and bad experiences as a player have definitely shaped my awareness of how the style, method and content of coaching communications can have a positive or damaging effect.

As I’ve talked about previously, I believe that while technology, statistics and equipment can be important, the ‘human’ parts of sport tend to elicit the greatest mental and emotional responses from us as players and supporters. Coaching, too, is about people: reading people, understanding people and figuring out what makes people tick. The best coaches may be tactically astute and experts in technique, but often ‘people skills’ are the essential key that can unlock the more sport-specific capabilities of a coach. I’ll finish where I started: to be a great coach, you have to be a great communicator.

 

Click here if you missed ‘Talking a Good Game (Part I): How Players Communicate’

Follow me on Twitter @inkingfeeling for updates and please share if you enjoy reading. Thanks!

Talking a Good Game (Part I): How Players Communicate

Talking a Good Game

As the “Pomicide” unfolded in the fourth Ashes test yesterday, cricket journalists must have been hastily searching their thesauruses for synonyms for ‘unbelievable’. There’s always a lot to discuss in cricket – maybe it’s the amount of statistics or the brilliant banter between the pundits, or maybe it’s just because it gives us Brits an excuse to discuss the weather. Stuart Broad’s bowling was the obvious talking point yesterday, but I also read an article about how the lack of sledging in this Ashes series may be contributing to the quality and entertainment of the cricket itself. This got me thinking about how the things that are said on, off and around the sports field can affect sports performance.

In this blog, I’m going to look specifically at communication between players. There’s no doubt that communication within and between teams has the potential to significantly influence training, mindset, confidence and ultimately, performance. Sledging – where, players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player” (thanks, Wikipedia) – is probably as old as cricket itself. Sometimes it’s good-natured, sometimes it’s simply verbal abuse which has led to inevitable discussions about its place in the game. However, in general, sledging illustrates how language can be used as an attempt to directly influence or unsettle a player’s performance. It’s safe to say this happens in most team sports – who hasn’t heard (or made!) a sly remark between players in football or hockey? Sometimes one comment can be enough to sidetrack an experienced professional completely – remember Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt after an alleged insult from Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final?

In individual sports, a war of words often precedes the physical battle. One of the best examples of this is ‘trash talk’ in boxing – weeks are spent trading insults before a single punch is thrown. Of course, often these exchanges are encouraged by the media in their attempts to build excitement about the event. Even in sprinting and tennis, where there isn’t direct contact between athletes during the competition, interviewers often try to stir up rivalries or antagonisms. In F1, there is the added dynamic of competition within teams. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg aren’t just driving against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’ Valerie Bottas – they seem to be engaged in a constant battle with one another both behind the wheel and on the team radio. They may be teammates, but at the moment they are also one another’s greatest rivals.

Communications within a team can have a huge impact on building a successful dynamic. In my experience of both international and club hockey, this has been a regularly revisited aspect of our attempts to create an effective performance environment. It’s always going to be difficult to find ways of communicating that suit everyone in a squad of 11, 16 or perhaps even 30-odd players. One person may prefer direct criticism, while another prefers it to be sugar-coated. One player might yell, while another prefers to discuss something quietly after the game. When you add in pressure, fatigue and the ‘heat of the moment’, it becomes almost impossible to get this right for everyone 100% of the time. My own attitude towards communication is that some things are negotiable, but others aren’t. If I’m not working hard enough, I fully expect to be yelled at (hopefully this doesn’t happen too often!). If I miss an open goal, most of the time I probably don’t need a teammate to give me aggressive verbal feedback about it.

Something that’s often forgotten is that it isn’t just about how players talk, it’s also about how they listen. Most people have a default way of saying something in a given situation: a player makes a mistake – teammate A shouts criticism at them, teammate B has a quiet word at the next break in play. We also tend to have a default way of hearing that feedback. Some people will perceive yelling as a personal insult and go into their shells, others will find it motivating and use it to spur them on. Ultimately, we can’t expect people to change the way they talk to us on the field unless we are also prepared to try and be flexible with how we listen.

Sometimes it’s also about what isn’t said. Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole forged a successful striking partnership for Manchester United when they didn’t actually talk to one another. Perhaps this Ashes series is better with the players focusing on cricket rather than on sledging. Alyson Annan, one of the greatest ever hockey players, used to practise taking penalty strokes, “with teammates throwing water at her and yelling in her ear, so she could perform the skill regardless of any distraction” (p128, ‘Beyond the Limits’). In the 1996 Olympic final, she stepped up to take a stroke in total silence – the one scenario she hadn’t anticipated. She scored and Australia won. I suppose in the end, the best players write their stories in their own words.

 
Next time… I’ll be exploring communication between coaches and players.
Follow me on Twitter @inkingfeeling for updates

New Year’s Aspirations

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So, 2015 is upon us. Now you’ve finished unwrapping presents, bickering with relatives and eating your own body weight in Quality Streets, perhaps you’ve begun to think about a few New Year’s Resolutions. 

I’ve made New Year’s resolutions before, but it isn’t something I do every year. I’ve kept some, broken some and forgotten most of them either way. I understand the reason for making them, but to me a resolution often ends up being an objective that is measured in a very black and white way: Have I run a mile every day? Have I gone to bed earlier? Have I lost x-amount of weight by the end of March? Have I overhauled my diet, raised a million pounds for charity and travelled to twenty five new countries (…and have I achieved all this in the inordinately small amount of time I predicted it would take me when I was chatting at a dinner party during the festive season)? Some people manage to stick to their resolutions. The vast majority don’t. The problem with most resolutions is that one slip, one mistake, one bad day and it usually makes us feel like we have failed, so we give up completely. 

Maybe it’s all just semantics. I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago and she asked me what my aspirations are for the year ahead. I was struck by the idea of ‘aspirations’ – it makes me think of hope, positivity and striving for something. It doesn’t necessarily follow that aspirations are something you succeed or fail at, as long as you are trying to make something happen. I think that’s a good way to think about what you want to try and do, change or achieve. I may not complete my list, but if I have backed up my intentions with effort and some kind of action in the right direction, I won’t have failed. 

The list below is very much made up of personal aspirations that will (if I stick to them) impact on my own life. You might read them and think I am being selfish – there isn’t anything about volunteering to help others or charitable donations. I don’t want to publicly state my intentions on those things. I have a pretty good idea of the people I would like to be better at supporting and helping. You’ll just have to trust me that I’ll be trying to do just that as well as trying to challenge and enjoy myself.

My Aspirations For 2015 and a little bit about why I have come up with them:

1. ‘To get something published’
I got the ball rolling on this last year… I started this blog, I embarked on a Masters in English Language and Creative Writing, I entered two writing competitions (I didn’t win in case you were wondering) and I have tried to be braver about asking people other than my immediate family to read things I write. The next stage is finding the courage to submit my writing to publications. And to write something I think is actually good enough to submit… obviously!

2. ‘To get 20,000 blog hits by the end of January 2016’
It’s been just over 11 months since I started the blog and I’m almost halfway there. The next phase of this aspiration is partly down to me – write more blog entries, write better blog entries… and partly down to you – read the blog, share the blog! The one thing I have learnt so far in my brief writing career is that you have to swallow your pride and put yourself out there. So this is a shameless plug. If you enjoy reading something I’ve written, please tell someone else to read it too!

3. ‘To have fun at hockey’
I have spent a lot of hours of my life on hockey. The last few years have been pretty mixed as far as the ratio of good:bad hours is concerned. I know it is just chasing a little white ball around a field… but it is important to me. When I enjoy hockey and when I feel like I’m making a positive contribution to my team, this generally has a reasonably big impact on my overall happiness and wellbeing. The last few months have taught me that my hockey performance and experiences are generally summed up by a simple formula: having fun = playing well. And for good measure: playing well = having fun.
This season, my team is trying to defend a national championship and going on a European adventure at Easter. I intend to enjoy this experience as much as possible.

4. ‘To undertake at least five new / physical challenges’
Last year, I completed my first Tough Mudder and bike sportive, I jumped out of a plane in New Zealand, I hiked up a mountain in St Lucia, I started a Masters and a blog. All of these experiences – some of which were scary, some of which hurt, some of which were tiring, some of which just made me smile (and not necessarily in the order you’d assume) – made 2014 very memorable. It’s probably really self-important to quote from my own writing, but I’m going to do it anyway: “Suck it up and breathe it in… Not every moment in life is perfect, but every moment is unique.” I’m going to try and remember that.

If you’ve made it this far, you now know my aspirations for 2015. My question to you… what are yours?

Baby Talk: What if it All Made Sense?

baby talk

Today we had a lovely visit from a friend and her little one-year-old cutie-pie. A couple of hours later, bubsy had entertained us with smiles, giggles, wobbly walking and even a few tears whenever the cat went anywhere near her. She (the baby, I should confirm) communicated with us purely through her facial expressions, body language and of course the little – or sometimes loud – noises that accompanied them. Children’s speech development obviously varies and can occur at different rates, and at different ages. Crying, pointing, rhythmical noises and gurgling are all part of the journey towards that magical first word. Secretive attempts to coerce a baby into uttering, “Mama” or “Dada” first seem to be in good spirits but I’m sure Mummy and Daddy are desperate to win that little battle, however much they might try to deny it. But what if babies could talk coherently from the moment they arrive in the world? What if we could understand their thoughts, feelings and view of the world from the start?

I should probably clarify at this point that much as I love kids, my experience is mostly limited to evenings of babysitting as a teenager and more recently, time spent with the children of my own friends. These are just a few musings from an inexperienced, thus far childless viewpoint and subsequently anyone who has kids may read this and disagree with everything. Maybe you’ll agree, or think of other ways life could change if babies could talk. Either way, leave any comments at the bottom and maybe at some point in the future I’ll realise how wrong (or how right!) I was.

I always imagine that one of the scariest things as a parent must be when your child is crying, and clearly ill or in pain, but you don’t know what is wrong. A baby can convey that he or she is unhappy or suffering, but sometimes it must be difficult to know why. If bubsy could just explain what is hurting rather than just screaming the house down, it could allow a parent to treat the problem or even just know it’s nothing major to worry about after all. I feel like it could help solve that awful trouble on plane journeys when a baby keeps crying and crying. I suffered from bad ears as a kid, especially 30,000 feet up in the sky, so I always try to stay sympathetic in this scenario, as it is often down to earache. However, you do sometimes wonder if the desperate, tired and often embarrassed parents have a clue what is actually wrong. If baby could tell them, maybe it would help point them in the right direction. Of course, maybe the infant would say, “I’ve got terrible earache” and then spend the next eight hours bawling anyway, so it might not help after all.

Then there’s the potential eye-openers that hearing baby’s viewpoint could create. Sometimes a new perspective is just what we need to refresh our own overcomplicated views of even the simplest things in life. If we go on the assumption that coherent baby speech was possible without being accompanied by an associated surge in brainpower, maybe the little ones could help us to appreciate the simple things in life through what they said. But then again, maybe they do that anyway, without needing to ‘make sense’. That happy little gurgle is the cutest noise ever. Playing with a toy, throwing a ball, or a game of peekaboo can create a smile and a giggle that would probably be ruined by hearing a running commentary.

Of course, we assume from the fact that a teddy bear or ‘talking’ toy can make babies giggle repeatedly for hours on end that they are less sophisticated, intelligent and generally ‘grown up’ than us. That they need help eating, cleaning themselves and moving seems to support this. But what if it’s all a big game? Maybe if babies could speak, the first thing that they’d tell us would be, “Stop speaking in that stupid voice! ‘Goo goo gaga?’ What are you talking about, you idiot?”. My Mum’s favourite character in the animated TV show “Family Guy” is Stewie, a one-year old talking prodigy. According to Wikipedia, the show’s creator has stated that, “Stewie is meant to represent the general helplessness of an infant through the eyes of an adult”. Maybe babies are smarter than we give them credit for and perhaps we do them a disservice through the rubbish we tend to babble at them. But I promise you that if you do try to speak to a small child in the same way you talk to an adult, you’ll be the one who feels stupid.

And what about when we’re all grown up and we get to watch home videos of ourselves as kids? The joy of seeing yourself totter about, fall over and believe in Father Christmas as a small toddler… all of that might be lost if you were recorded talking to the camera about these things at the time. The magic is in watching the smiles, the relief, the growing confidence embodied through action, not in hearing it spoken about. I’ll probably regret sharing this with the World Wide Web, but we have a great home video of me as a three-year-old exclaiming, “Goodness gracious me! It’s another book” as I tear open a Christmas present. If I had already spoken like a fully-fledged adult for my whole little life, I doubt this would seem so funny when we watch it back now. Good to know I was already a bookworm at that stage though.

As I’ve said, I don’t have any kids just yet. It seems to me that overall, it’s probably the most rewarding, enjoyable, challenging and tiring job in the world all rolled into one. And now I’ve thought about it, I’m not sure I’d want a baby chatting to me all day if I looked after one 24/7. Some people grow up to talk too much and so maybe a year or two of nonsensical gurgling from your little darling is a preferable start to parenthood. If I could change things, I think babies should try to develop their pointing skills a bit earlier. That way, although verbally expressing what hurts, or what object they want to shake and dribble on would be beyond them, at least we might have a bit more idea of what we could help with.

 

Follow me on Twitter @inkingfeeling

re: The Trouble with Email

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Technology is brilliant. At the touch of a few buttons, I can send my furthest-away friends in New Zealand a message, picture or video that arrives just as quickly as if I send it to a person in the same room as me. Postman Pat has now largely been reduced to being a parcel delivery guy and with an astounding 182.9 billion emails sent and received per day in 2013 (See: http://bit.ly/1hyizk5) it’s not hard to see why. Whether for business or pleasure, email is just one aspect of modern communication that has completely changed our lives. But despite its brilliance, I have found a few problems, questions and unimportant things to have a bit of a moan about!

Firstly, it’s a five letter word that most of us say or hear multiple times a day. Is it Email? email? e-mail? I am a bit pedantic about spelling and believe me, if I make a mistake on here and realise later (or worse, have it pointed out to me) it troubles me more than it probably should. I would therefore like to know how the devil to write electronic mail in its correct shortened form. For the purposes of this entry, from now on I will stick with ’email’. It’s easier to type. I should warn you, I will be tapping into my inner pedant quite a bit here. Part of the beauty of modern communications is its speed, efficiency and convenience. I value these things. However, I also quite like proper English and the idea of some basic guidelines when we communicate through cyberspace.

In the modern world, it is a golden rule that you have to reply to an email straight away. The immediacy of modern communication technology and accessibility to our inboxes almost anytime, anywhere, means that our expectation levels regarding how promptly we get back to one another have been elevated to a slightly alarming level. I’m sure this is partly down to the business world where it seems if you don’t check your Blackberry for new messages every 15 seconds, you will probably go bankrupt. I’m not a business woman and yet I often catch my thumb hovering over the ‘check mail’ button far more than it needs to be. I’m making a stand. I should say here that I absolutely want to be polite, helpful and responsive. If I’ve missed a deadline or things are getting slower than snail mail then a little nudge is fair enough. But when I get an email reminding me to reply to another email that I have barely even had time to read, I just start to think the person on the other end of the broadband fibre needs to chill out a bit. I promise I’ll reply as soon as I can and that everything will work out. If you’re really, really panicking and even the little red ‘!’ isn’t conveying the urgency of your message, you can always regress to the 20th century and phone me instead.

The world of electronic communications has also led to the development of some strange jargon. We are asked to “ping back” replies. We hope we’ve typed someone’s address correctly so that our message doesn’t “bounce”. We all hate “spam”. The abbreviated ‘text speak’ that is used widely on text messages and social media has also made its way into the world of email, despite the fact we don’t have to fit our messages into a measly 160 characters. I’ve just done an experiment. “You” takes roughly 0.1 seconds longer to type than “u”. And it looks nicer. As for “c u l8r”, well… do I really need to say anything more?

Sometimes I have to write emails to people I don’t know and may never meet. The information I have is: their name, the thing I am emailing about, my name. I write the email. I then spend 15 minutes trying to figure out how to address whoever I am writing to and what to say when I sign off. Do you go for “Hi…” or “Dear…”? Do you use their first name or a full title? Sometimes when I’m emailing an organisation without knowing who will be reading my message at the other end I have no idea how to open proceedings and end up with a creepy / cheesy, “Hi there”. As for the sign off, I definitely spend too long deciding how I am trying to portray myself and my message. This will probably get me in all sorts of trouble with people I do send emails to at some point, but here are some examples:

Sign off What I really mean
Regards I don’t know you / I’ve been forced to email you / You’re annoying me
Kind regards I’m grateful for your help / I’m sucking up / I’m trying to sound sophisticated
Best wishes I like you / I feel our email exchange has reached its logical end
Thanks Please do whatever I have asked
Cheers I’m trying to sound breezy and relaxed / Whatever is “cool”

 

I’ll also mention inappropriate kisses at this point. If I don’t really know you, we are talking about something formal, making arrangements or having a ‘conversation’ over email, I won’t sign off xxx. I don’t expect you to either.

Considering email is supposed to make our communications easier, I do sometimes wonder whether people could try a bit harder to make things more efficient. For example, on a sports team, lots of emails tend to fly around a regular distribution list to organise fixtures, give or request information and so on. When people then use a previous email to get in touch with everybody without changing the email’s subject box, it all gets very confusing. For example: you receive 10 emails about next week’s game. Somebody then decides to invite everybody on the team to their birthday party. When you’re frantically searching for the details of said party, the email about “Next Saturday’s Game” is not the first place I tend to look.

A friend of mine who works in a government office (that’s right: I have friends in high places) told me that her pet hate is when somebody on the desk opposite emails her. Now obviously there are exceptions to this rule: sending a lot of data or providing information that needs to be read and recorded may have to be done via computer. But when somebody calls across the office to you from three metres away, “I’ve just emailed asking you to pop past my desk when you have a minute”, it does make you wonder about the efficiency of how things are done in some workplaces.

‘Reply alls’ can cause no end of hilarity in a sports team. Jokes, usually at the expense of somebody on the distribution list, whizz around cyberspace spreading laughter and joy. Unfortunately hitting ‘reply all’ by mistake can also lead to that really awkward moment where you share a detail or a story with many more people than you meant to. Alternatively, you send what you think is an hysterical response to everyone, only for it to be met with no reply from anyone: a techno-tumbleweed moment.

Finally, we come to the end of emails. I literally mean the end of emails. I don’t really understand the necessity for a disclaimer that is 30 times the length of the message you’ve received. I know this is probably down to the ridiculous lawsuits that are filed for some things. However, when my phone fails to download a one line email because the disclaimer beneath it is too big for it to cope with, the main person I feel like suing is whoever invented email disclaimers.

As I said at the beginning, I think our communications technology is great. It certainly makes life easier in many ways. Some people who have made it this far down are probably thinking I need to relax and not worry about whether the subject box has been correctly filled in; to them, I send my regards. To those of you who agree with me and think we can makes things better, I really do give you my best wishes.

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