Examining the “fire brigade” approach

Some of you may have heard of this but for those who haven’t, let me enlighten you.

You know that colleague who rushes to you the instant you step foot in the office, when you haven’t even dropped your bag? Yes, the one that asks you for a document in a mad panic. EVERYTHING seems to be an emergency with this person. Well, that’s the fire brigade approach. And it can be lethally annoying!

Photo courtesy of http://isntlifeterrible.com

The first thing I’m thinking is: Take a deep breath. Ask yourselves some keys questions like, ‘Is it life-threatening?’ Usually, it isn’t but it doesn’t stop the fire brigade.

Recently, I bought a phone from eBay. The moment I became the highest bidder, he sent me an email asking whether I was “real” and that he had had some bad experiences so he was just checking. I was fine with this, I understood perfectly so I replied saying I was real. Then as soon as I won the auction (literally 10 minutes later), the seller emailed me again to say that if I paid that day, he would post it the next morning with special delivery. ‘Great,’ I thought as I sat in the cinema watching ‘I don’t know how she does it.’ As I left the cinema 2 hours later, I noticed another email! This time, the seller said since I didn’t pay that he could no longer send it the next day and I’d have to wait till the day after.

This person was giving me a headache. It was standard fire brigade behaviour. The problem with this approach is that I react strangely to it. I generally slow down (the opposite of what they want me to do) and start watching the person intently, looking for signs of mental illness or anti-social tendencies. I admit that I usually just see a person that is impatient and in a hurry. I have not found evidence that links this to mental illness – yet.

Since I could not watch this seller intently, and I really wanted the phone sooner rather than later, I went on PayPal and paid. Then I sent an email to say I had and casually asked what the mad rush was about, AND to please still send the phone as I couldn’t see why not – after all, it was still today!

Can you sense how exhausting this approach can be for all parties involved? There are times when this approach works – like when there’s imminent danger. But I really wish everyone would calm down. I have used this approach in the past, you’d be surprised to know but I always got a bad vibe from the recipient. And as you know, I’m very perceptive so I deliberately watched out for when the behaviour was coming and I stopped it. So if you are a fire brigade junkie, try these top 5 tips:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Consider if there’s any real cause for alarm e.g. is it murder or is it life threatening or will lives be lost?
  3. Does your victim look like they are in the mood to be hassled?
  4. Is your victim holding a weapon? If so, back off.
  5. Could you perhaps come back later when they have had their morning coffee and done emails?

Do you know any fire brigade junkies or are you one yourself? Come on, everyone knows at least one person that behaves like this. I’ll try not to judge :-).

Classifieds: Urgent requirement for phone call endings…

I’ve got some nerve writing this.

It's not that I want to hang up....I kinda have to

It wasn’t long ago when I made a fuss about email etiquette in my post ‘Save the brain-insects with your email etiquette’. Now, I have a little confession of my own – I don’t know how to effectively end a phone call. Maybe it’s always been like this. When I was a teenager, my dad got fed up of my constant telephone presence and (according to him) the ‘boys’ that would call then hang up when they heard his voice. He was so tired of it that he did the unthinkable – he got me my own number and phone in my bedroom. I know! I know! OUTRAGEOUS. Especially if you know my dad.

I’ll tell you how it starts. I want to call a friend then I think about all the stuff we have to catch up on and I just don’t make the call. Why?

Well, because I usually have a maximum of 10-15 minutes before I have to get on to the next ‘thing’. The ‘thing’ could be getting to work, cooking, bathing the kids, going to church, knitting, blogging, studying e.t.c. Often, I KNOW the conversation will run up to the best part of an hour. My main worry is: How do I end the call? It seems simple, right? Not for me. I worry that I’ll cut off a great discussion or that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings. I’ve tried, ‘Eh, let me run and catch you later’, and I’ve tried, ‘Let me let you go’….(reverse psychology). But it’s predictable and I’m sure my friends are on to me. This has caused me to be behind on goings-on. There’s only so much that can be said on text before the phone sends cheeky advice of its own (e.g. SEND AN EMAIL, DEARIE!). It’s worse when I need to end a call that I didn’t make to begin with because I think I’m being a little rude. Argh!

What I do now is make a list of folks I need to call on the weekend but….I’d still need to end the call…!! So now that I’ve confessed that somehow in the last fifteen years or so I’ve never truely acquired much needed call-ending skills, my father should be the most annoyed (as per his initial investment e.t.c).

Any sound advice on how to end a long conversation and come out smelling roses? I have money.

Bonus post- My top 3 posts- Jan to Apr 2011

Postaweek2011 isn't only for the swift - you can start today! Credit: Free photos from acobox.com

Erica Johnson of WordPress has thrown a post topic out there and I couldn’t resistant engaging. I’m now 33% through the year and through the Postaweek2011 challenge. I have written over 30 posts and received in excess of 3,000 hits this year alone. I’m very proud of WordPress bloggers. Success here, I think, is not hedged on who writes the best posts but on a supportive community who get to know and encourage each other to overcome blogging challenges. So after a laborious few minutes, I’ve narrowed down which posts I think are my best ones this year. It’s based on:

  • Number of comments and/or likes;
  • My personal favorites.

Unsurprisingly, these criterion were conflicting.

Post 1: Footwear, My toe and other people’s thoughts

Post 2: Another personal reflection completed…but not quite there

Post 3: Invasion of extreme sports (I am the Resistance)

The following posts are special to me because they make me smile 🙂 :

Here’s to the next 67% of the year. Cheers!

I wish I had a magic blackberry (things I said that don’t add up)

The Magic Blackberry by David Thompson

I picked this book at London Heathrow Airport on my way back from a business trip. It was a great, quick read and I was done before I got home to Aberdeen (1 hour 10 mins flight). As you’ll see from my post about blackberries, I’ve been leaning towards owning one for some time now but still no traction. The author of the book, David Thompson used the idea of a genie in a phone to send a very strong message about email etiquette. It centred on the moments when we should refrain from replying an email. ‘Aha!’ I thought when I saw this. After writing ‘Save the brain-insects with your email etiquette’, I was rather excited about spicing things up even if it meant contradicting myself.

The magic blackberry describes a working guy who replies impulsely to provoking emails. He gets an email from his boss or colleague asking him to do more work or criticizing an earlier decision and he explodes. On email. One fine day, he sends off another fiery email and it just hangs. The phone “refuses” to send it. And then the phone starts talking to him and basically tells him that it’s the last straw and he needs to learn one or two things about relationships at work.

I remember receiving an email once that really made me furious. I was going to reply, in fact I had a draft and was going to press SEND when somehow I didn’t. The next day, I was glad I didn’t. I read what I was going to send and realised that instead of me receiving an apology from this person, I would have had to apologise. I also remember pressing SEND on at least one thoughtless response and later wishing that I didn’t. Those were the times I discovered that the RECALL EMAIL function is useless. People can still read what you recalled…. Anyway, David Thompson emphasised that relationships have elasticity and that you have to know your stance with a person and that determines  the amount of slack you’ll get. The more positive interactions you have with someone, the more slack you’ll get if you mess up. In a nutshell, don’t mess up too early on or you’ll be toast.

Here are some of my favorite advice from the book:

  • The glue that holds businesses and careers together is relationships. The power to get things done, the power to break the rules and the power to express yourself.
  • De-personalize the message, take the emotion out of it, and craft a rational and considered response.
  • Your reply represents who you are and how you work- make sure you are replying with decorum, dignity, respect, and professionalism.
  • Just because a conversation begins on email, doesn’t mean it has to continue on email.
  • Use your emotions as a kind of barometer: if you feel frustrated, let that tell you that an email reply is not the right communication option.

The most valuable for me was certainly the relationship elasticity theory:

The amount of stretch in your relationship will depend on a number of things 1) the past history that you have with that person, 2) the current status of your relationship with them, and 3) the amount of time that you have known them or worked with them. It’s certainly worth a read if you’ve got under an hour to spare.

Save the brain-insects with your email etiquette

Nuvola-like mail internet

Image via Wikipedia

I may have indicated at least once that non-replies to emails and texts really really bugs me. Well, I’m indicating again. But this time I’m going to give you some details and take you into my mind where most of my analysis (and paralysis) happen when there’s a non-reply incident.

First of all, emails and texts can be classified into 3 broad groups. Note here that I’m not talking about junk or unsolicited stuff. (But I read my junk mail from time to time since my offer letter for my current job ended up in junk mail and I nearly missed it. So read your junk mail! It’s not all junk :)). Anyway, the groups are: (1) Greeting messages e.g. hi, what’s up? Just thought to say hi, happy birthdays e.t.c (2) Request for information messages (3) “Emotional” emails e.g. an apology, bearing good or bad news (births, deaths), a love letter and whatever tugs at heart-strings. I’m sure there’s more but this is mainly the stuff I send and/or receive. When I send an email or text and I don’t get a reply, the insect in my brain starts to twitch. I give 48 hours and then the insect goes berserk, like jumping up and down: furious. Then one week, the insect does a last and final poo and gives up all hope of living. The process can be long and drawn out and I have to say I don’t enjoy it at all. It’s always easier if people just reply my messages.

My analysis paralysis

Sometimes folks claim not to have received the email or they say they replied. Cyberspace is an enormous place but still, I think emails are generally sent and received unless the email address is wrong (verifiable). I know I probably sound very scary and you’re probably hoping that I never send you an email. But I’m not the worst of them. I know at least a dozen people who activate the ‘Notify when email is received’ option and even more courageous is the ‘Notify when email is read’ option. This second button will actually tell you if the person read your email AND what they did with it e.g. deleted it (Ouch!). I’m not that brave. You can rest assured that I don’t know what you did with my mail. I only speculate until my poor brain-insect kills itself.

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