Please don’t send me your chain letter

Please don’t send me your chain letter

I was ranting to my husband this morning about all the “tasks” being assigned on FaceBook whereby people are asked to post pictures of their favourite albums or book covers WITHOUT ANY EXPLANATION!

I was annoyed because I couldn’t understand how posting a picture of a book you loved, but not telling me why you loved it, doesn’t tell me very much about who you are and what you like to read. It’s a bit like going to book group and then not being allowed to talk about the book.

My husband gently explained that the requirement to post without comment was designed to lower the entry barrier so that people could participate without getting too anxious or feeling judged about their choices. He said it takes a lot of confidence to express your feelings and opinions and the ‘rule’ about not making comments makes it easier for people to join in.

“It’s all right for you and your family” he said. “You can all write, and heaven knows you all have opinions and aren’t afraid to share them”. Too true. We all have a lot to say and we aren’t backward in coming forward, as my mother used to say.

Chastened, I’ve had to change my stance on this FaceBook phenomena.

A friend has tagged me to share five of my favourite books and I can’t wait to do just that. I did complain about not being able to make any comments, but she said I could do whatever I liked, which is good because I’m not very good at conforming to rules.

I thought briefly about sharing the titles of books that I’d like to read, rather than books I’d actually read, just to make it more interesting, but that might confuse people so I’ll try to stick to the rules as much as I can. If you’d like to know which books I recommend, there’s a list here.

On the other hand, I have yet to be convinced about the value or worth of all these email chain letters that are going around. If you aren’t familiar with these, then let me explain that they usually ask you to share something with a person you’ve never met and then send the request on to 20 of your friends to share with 20 of their friends. The idea is that you’ll get a number of recipes, inspirational quotes or poems from people that you’ve never met. It’s a bit like pyramid selling without the selling.

 I thought I was the only person who dislikes chain letters, but it turns out that I’m not.

My friend said that she had received one about sending inspirational quotes to support and empower women, but she didn’t understand quite what she was supposed to do (the instructions weren’t very clear) so instead of feeling good about herself she said she felt stupid and uninspired.

Nothing is more disempowering that feeling dumb.

Another friend chipped in and said that she loved the idea of supporting other women, but she didn’t like the vaguely threatening tone of the email or the time limits. She also said she felt bad for women who don’t actually have 20 friends. What if you only have five friends?

Chain letters often contain high levels of emotional blackmail. If you don’t send the email on you will “break the chain” (be a bad person) or you’ll suffer some kind of bad luck.

The chain letter craze started in the USA in the late 19th Century and often involved people distributing cures for various ailments or asking for small amounts of money.

It may surprise you to know that chain letters asking for money (even small amounts) or any kind of valuable goods are illegal in the United States and were banned in Queensland in 1935. The other states of Australia thought that they were a craze that would die out naturally, with one prominent NSW Police Officer stating, “there’s a fool born every minute but there’s a limit to the credulity of the public”. I often wonder about this given that people still seem to feel obliged to send chain letters on, even when they don’t want to.

I’m not suggesting that a recipe swapping chain letter is by any means illegal, but they can be annoying (especially if you get the same one three times) so please don’t send them to me.

I think the intention behind empowering women with inspirational quotes is lovely, so if you feel like sharing some love, just send a nice email to your (five or more) friends. They don’t have to be women. I’m sure they will appreciate that you are thinking about them.

Alternatively, just put your nice inspirational quote on FB or Instagram and share it with the world.

I’m sorry if you can’t read this

I’m sorry if you can’t read this

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to be doing a short presentation at the Australian Evaluation Conference in Sydney.

So this week I fronted up (very nervously) and gave my five minute talk on getting past the imposter syndrome. You can watch it here. The sound is a little iffy at the beginning, but you’ll hopefully get the general idea.

I was very anxious about the whole thing so I’m glad it’s over.

But I wanted to talk more generally about the presentations and the communication styles of other presenters at the conference. I’m not suggesting that I’m good at public speaking (far from it – see above for evidence of this) but one thing that did surprise me was that the keynote speakers often seemed to have far too much content for their time-slots. I’m not sure if they were using a generic slide deck or whether they just think they will speak more quickly than they actually do, but in general lots of people ran out of time about half way through. I suppose that it didn’t matter because they were just so fascinating we were eager to hear anything they had to share, but nevertheless it surprised me a bit.

It sometimes felt as though they hadn’t really had time to think about their key messages.

There were a couple of really outstanding presentations. I was particularly impressed with a presentation by ARTD (an evaluation consultancy) who had clearly designed their presentation with the exact amount of information for the allotted time-slot. It was really interesting and really well done. They even had the key messages on a slide at the beginning of the presentation in case people had to leave to go to another session.

A notable thing at the conference was the big variations in slide decks.

The conference organisers had sent out a lot of guidance material about not putting too much details on the slides, but nevertheless some presenters couldn’t resist cramming their slides with a lot of very small text. I don’t think that I’m going to see this change in my lifetime but I would love to think that I’ll never have to hear anyone say “I’m sorry you can’t read this” again.

So there you have it. Overall it was a fantastic conference. I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to attend. Now I just need to go back to work and implement some of these great ideas.



I was reading an article on what to wear on long plane trips and the writer suggested that women should avoid wearing gym pants or tights as they felt that displaying your “fine china” could potentially offend other travellers.

I had never heard lady bits referred to as fine china before and this made me laugh quite a lot, but I do agree that sometimes you can see rather more than you would like to see when you’re standing in a queue at the supermarket.

It also got me wondering about why there are so many euphemisms for female body parts, and also whether fine china is merely rhyming slang for vagina or whether it means that some bits of your body should be valued as one would value fine china.

I found this article by Guardian journalist Annalisa Barbieri where she lists the many names that people have invented to talk to their daughters about their bodies. My favourite euphemism is also sparkly bits.

But back to the gym pants in public question. We’ve just been out for lunch and the beautiful young waitress was indeed wearing gym clothes. It surprised me a little but I have to say that she looked fabulous (she was tiny). I’ve also noticed that when I started going to my Saturday morning exercise classes several years ago I used to wear a skirt over my leggings but now I don’t bother. I just wander down the street in my gym gear along with all the other middle-aged women. To be honest I’m probably older than middle-aged, I’m heading into old lady territory, but I still don’t care. Perhaps its because I’m getting older that I don’t care as much or maybe because it’s so normal now that one doesn’t even think twice. Or maybe its because older women feel invisible most of the time, so they think no-one will notice.

Either way, I don’t think I’d be up for wearing my gym gear on a plane. I’d feel a bit exposed and uncomfortable and I don’t think it would be a kind thing to do to my fellow travellers. I’ll be monitoring what other people are wearing though, and looking out for any displays of fine china!

Do you have any favourite or funny euphemisms to share? Feel free to chime in with your comments.

Three words

Three words

What three words would you use to describe yourself? It’s a hard question, don’t you think?

At a recent job interview my daughter was asked to describe herself in just three words. I don’t think she was given any time to think about it, but her description of herself was interesting. She described herself as bossy, efficient and collaborative, all of which are true, but if she’d had a bit more time she could easily have added smart, funny, beautiful and kind, and these things would have been true as well.

I thought this might be a useful exercise for my team at work but when I broached the idea they misunderstood and thought I was asking them to describe me in three words. I was dismayed to find that the first thing they thought of to describe me was “grammar nazi”.

No, no, no! This is not how I want people to think of me. I like writing and I’m really interested in words and language, but heavens above, I’m not a grammar nazi. Perhaps they didn’t read my previous post where I made if perfectly clear that it’s not my aim in life to be a grammar snob.

Having said that I really enjoyed reading this post by Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes. There are some excellent links in this post if you’re interested in improving your writing skills. She also addresses, but doesn’t really answer the question of why we are so delighted to be able to point out other people’s mistakes. Perhaps this is just part of human nature?

I can’t quite decide on the three words I’d use to describe myself. I like to think that I’m collaborative, thoughtful (in the sense of being a person who thinks a lot, rather than being a lovely thoughtful person). I like to think that I’m loyal and supportive as these are qualities that I value in other people, but I’d be interested to know what three words you’d choose to describe yourself?

A fresh start

There have been a lot of changes at my workplace recently. We’re having a re-structure and this means that people are being moved into new reporting lines. This can have a profound impact on their sense of wellbeing.

It’s funny how reporting to a new boss can make people feel insecure even though their livelihood isn’t necessarily at risk. They still come to work every day, they still get paid, and they might even be doing the same work, but nevertheless they feel threatened. It’s that loss of the familiar that rocks people even though they might have been complaining bitterly about their situation. The old boss understand their quirks and foibles. They don’t have to explain their complicated family arrangements or the fact that they are more productive in the morning than in the afternoon. Communication styles are established across the team and everyone knows that certain people like to receive their instructions by email, rather than in person. They know that some people are best avoided until they’ve consumed at least one cup of coffee.

It’s true that people don’t like change. I don’t like change even though I pretend that I do. Change requires more concentration and makes me feel less secure about what I’m doing. I have to think more, and that’s tiring.

The upside is that I have the chance to start over and re-invent myself. If I’ve been in a bit of a slump it’s a chance to pull up my socks and show the world what I’m capable of. It’s a fresh start for me and for everyone in my team. We all get the chance to do things a little bit differently and a little bit better, and that’s a good thing.

Something’s coming between us

I’m becoming more and more of a podcast fan. One of my current favourites is Note to Self. It explores the impact of technology on our lives and how we can make smart choices about technology.

This morning on my walk to work I listened to an interview with Sherry Turkle, a sociologist, educator and psychologist, who has just written a book called Reclaiming Conversation: The power of talk in a digital age 

This is not a negative book, but it does ask some interesting questions about how technology, and smart phones especially, are impacting on our relationships.

One interesting fact is that when two people are having a conversation and there is a phone on the table in between them it will impact on the level of empathy between the two people, even if it’s switched to silent. Turkle says that this is the case even if the phone is in the periphery of your vision. The phone is a visual reminder that someone is not fully focused on you and what you are saying. It’s competing for the owners attention, even when it’s not ringing.

I noticed this yesterday when some lovely friends were visiting. One person’s phone vibrated very quietly and very frequently the whole time she was there and although she never once looked at it, I felt it was demanding her attention in a seductive and insistent way. I really wanted to take it off the table and pop it in her handbag, but I felt that my response was a bit childish or maybe old fashioned. Now I know that my reaction was completely normal which makes me feel better.

I’m as bad as the next person with checking my phone, but to be honest I have all of my notifications turned off so it’s not always seeking my attention. I just don’t think I’d get any work done if my phone was pinging all day. I don’t think I’m strong enough to resist peeking, so for me it’s better to have the notifications turned off.

I have two questions for you..

Firstly, do you ever put your phone away – completely out of sight and out of mind? Or is your phone always on and usually within reach

Secondly, do you have any great podcasts that you’d like to share?

Let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.



What we have here is a failure to communicate

English: Luis Javier Rodriguez Lopez, done for...
English: Luis Javier Rodriguez Lopez, done for wikipedia, might be found at my webpage in a future; (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early in my career as a teacher someone once told me that if my students didn’t understand what I was telling them then I should accept some of the responsibility for this. I have never forgotten this advice, even though it doesn’t stop me from being frustrated when I can’t seem to get my point across.

It’s easy enough to blame other people for their failure to understand what you are saying, it’s much harder to stop and reflect on what is causing the problem. Maybe it’s you?

I know that sometimes I am not very clear. Without wanting to make excuses, there are a lot of reasons that this can happen. Here are a few:

1. You’re not really clear what your point is. (I know I have talked about this before, but honestly it is a really common cause of miscommunication). It’s not so much that you are confused, it may be because you haven’t had a chance to really think through your point of view so you’re not really sure where you stand on the issue. If this happens, consider asking people to come back later when you have had a chance to think. This is actually quite flattering to the other person. Giving yourself a chance to think before you talk will give them a more considered and thoughtful response, and it will certainly stop you from sounding garbled.

2. Wrong time and place. Choosing your moment carefully. If you have something really important to say then you need to make sure that the person receiving the information is in a receptive frame of mind. Try to reduce distractions so that you have as much of their attention as you can.

3. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. There is a lot of evidence to say that if you use jargon and buzzwords, people just switch off. You might as well be talking to a brick wall.

4. Try and make your message relevant to the other person. People are basically interested in themselves so if you can frame your message in a way that relates to their interests and experiences they will be more engaged and more likely to listen to what you have to say.

5. Lay out the context and relay your information in an orderly fashion. I had an experience with this yesterday. I went to a meeting with a colleague who had an idea to sell me. He launched into the details without giving me any context or background for his ideas. He was well and truly up to speed with his proposal, but he didn’t bother to convey this to me and I was soon lost and confused. Eventually I just stopped listening. Spending a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting explaining the content and background (briefly) ensures that everyone in the room is at the same point and can move forward together. Try to avoid leaving people behind or you will lose them.

These are just some simple ideas that are worth are try. Next time you are trying to explain something important or complex or both, try to control the time and place that the conversation is going to happen. Be as well prepared as possible and reduce the number of external distractions for your audience. Give your audience a brief overview of the issue and the context so that know what you are talking about and above all, use simple clear language.

Let me know if you have any successes (or failures). I’d love to hear from you.