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Business Communication with Cengage Learning

 

  • Error in "12 Years a Slave" Story

    The New York Times has just corrected an error in spelling the name of the man featured in the Academy Award winning movie 12 Years a Slave . The 1853 article about the free African American man who was sold into slavery spelled his name Solomon Northrop and, in the headline, Northrup, rather than the correct spelling, Northup. The New York Times correction acknowledges a tweet for pointing out the error: An article on Jan. 20, 1853, recounting the story of Solomon Northup, whose memoir '12 Years a Slave' became a movie 160 years later that won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, misspelled his surname as Northrop. And the headline misspelled it as Northrup. The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives. (The errors notwithstanding, The Times described the article as 'a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared.') Rebecca Skloot's tweets revealed the error but also included a typo: In a later tweet, Skloot admitted, "The irony, of course, is that I'm a terrible speller and proofreader." Discussion Starters: How could an error like this happen? What technologies and processes may be in place today that might have caught the error before going to press? Does it surprise you that the error was revealed in a tweet and that The New York Times didn't catch the mistake until 161 years later?
  • OfficeMax Apologizes for Insensitive Letter Address

    A promotional letter from OfficeMax identified a customer by name and a line under it: "Daughter Killed in a Car Crash." The Seays' daughter, 17 years old, was killed in a car accident last year, so the information is accurate, but you might imagine how upset the family was to read such an address. When Seay contacted OfficeMax's call center, a manager denied that he received a letter with that address. Later, OfficeMax told the LA Times that the mistake "is a result of a mailing list rented through a third-party provider," but the company is still trying to sort out how this happened. At this point, Seay is asking for an apology from the CEO and an explanation of how this happened. He said to the LA Times , "Why do they have that? What do they need that for? How she died, when she died? It’s not really personal, but looking at them, it is. That’s not something they would ever need." Discussion Starters: How do you think this happened? Who is responsible? What should OfficeMax do now? Do you think an apology from the CEO is appropriate? One writer noted that no one from the company called the family personally to apologize. Should someone? If so, who?
  • Restaurant Owner Terminates Employees but Fumbles the Explanation

    Two employees of Famous Dave's barbecue restaurant in North Dakota were fired for a Facebook post implying that Native Americans are bad tippers. The photo was posted during United Tribes International Pow Wow , a festival attended by more 20,000 people, according to event organizers. According to The Huffington Post , the employee shown in the poto "denies creating the cardboard sign, but she doesn't deny posing for the picture." Good move! Thinking the photo would disappear, the employee's friend shared the photo via Snapchat. Snapchat describes the app on its website, but in this case, the image was shared on Facebook: "Snapchat is a new way to share moments with friends. Snap an ugly selfie or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They'll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears. "The image might be a little grainy, and you may not look your best, but that's the point. It's about the moment, a connection between friends, and not just a pretty picture. "The allure of fleeting messages reminds us about the beauty of friendship - we don't need a reason to stay in touch. "Give it a try, share a moment, and enjoy the lightness of being!" Snapchat has been criticized as an unsafe "sexting" app . Although the owner of Famous Dave's may have done the right thing by terminating the employees, his Facebook post needs editing: Discussion Starters: Assess Mike Wright's Facebook post. What works well, and what could be improved? Edit the post for accuracy. What's your view of Snapchat's claims? Can the site ensure that photos "disappear"? Is the company responsible for images that are shared in the interim, or do users hold this responsibility?
  • I "Literally" Can't Stand This Definition

    We all succumb to grammatical sloppiness from time to time. I, for example, regularly split infinitives and end sentences in prepositions. But one error I cannot abide is using "literally" to mean exactly the opposite. Apparently, I am the outlier. Following Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, and an appalling list of others, Google is the latest to add a new definition for "literally": Merriam-Webster includes the definition, "in effect: virtually," with this discussion: "Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary." MediaBistro lists other sources that have evolved their definitions, for example, Oxford: " Oxford Dictionaries begrudgingly admitted the shift : 'In recent years an extended use of literally (and also literal) has become very common, where literally (or literal) is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect, as in they bought the car and literally ran it into the ground. This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.'" Cambridge , which refers to an "informal" use: "used to emphasize what you are saying." Sellouts, all! Parks and Recreation fans: here's a compilation of Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) saying "literally": Image source. Discussion Starters: What's your view? Should we accept the evolving definition or literally fight it to the death? What other words are misused and considered acceptable in some circles?
  • Embarrassing Typos in School Book List

    A Long Island school district published its summer reading list riddled with typos . The Hempstead Union Free School District suggested that students read "The Great Gypsy" among other remixed classics. Written for all grade levels in the district, the list includes 30 errors according to one count . District spokesperson Alicia Figueras said, "I would like to announce that disciplinary action has been taken against the personnel who made the unfortunate clerical errors while compiling the list." Although Figueras described the incident as an isolated event, the errors are part of bigger problems, according to Newsday : " Hempstead consistently has been one of Long Island's worst-performing school systems. Its 2011-12 graduation rate of 38 percent was the lowest of the Island's 124 public school districts." Discussion Starters: What action is appropriate for the employee who made the errors? Who else, if anyone, should be held responsible, and how? Read the entire document . How many errors do you find?
  • "Flordia" Road Sign

    Never hire someone from Arizona to create traffic signs for Florida. That's what the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is saying in response to a sign that misspells Florida—twice. For extra embarrassment to the FDOT, the sign points to the University of Florida. Local news organization WOKV.com reported the story with the appropriate level of criticism. But WOKV is not flawless either. Here's an excerpt from the article: "After posting the picture on WOKV.com and Facebook, WOKV News contacted the Florida Dept. or Transportation for comment and their spokesperson, Mike Goldman, says the FDOT had already realized the mistake when the sign was delivered and had left them by the side of the road while they awaited a replacement." Can you find the two errors (one typo and one punctuation mark)? Image source . Assignment Ideas: Spend the next couple of days looking closely at signs around town. Take photos of signs with typos or misused punctuation. Try to get one of the signs fixed. Identify the owner and talk to him or her in person or try to get an email address. Report your progress to the rest of the class.
  • Wendy's Employee Provides Another Unfortunate Photo

    Just days after we saw a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of shells, a Wendy's employee took a direct shot from the soft serve machine. Ragan's PR Daily wrote a prosaic version of Wendy's possible response and what the writer calls a "more human statement." Compare the two: "Wendy’s hasn’t released one yet, but rest assured that it will read something like this: 'At Wendy’s we hold ourselves and our employees to the highest standards. We are aware of a photo circulating online that depicts an employee using company property in an inappropriate manner. We apologize, and will take steps to rectify the situation.' "A better, more human statement might read: 'We know—it’s gross. But when you employ legions of teenagers, you’re going to get a few bad apples in the mix. We’ll find this dopey S.O.B. and fire him and tell our franchisees not to hire idiots, but let’s face it—teenagers do stupid stuff.'" Wendy's spokesperson Bob Bertini did respond to the Daily News : "We don't know the exact date the photo was taken, but we believe in it was in May. The incident was totally inappropriate, and we're taking it very seriously." Bertini also said that the employee is not longer working at the restaurant. Discussion Starters: What's your view of PR Daily's attempt at a more "human" statement? What are the potential advantages and risks? Try another variation of Wendy's statement. What else could the spokesperson say?
  • Whole Foods Criticized for English-Only Policy

    Two employees claim they were suspended for complaining about Whole Foods' policy that employees speak only English while at work. The New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens and ProgressNow New Mexico are threatening boycotts of Whole Foods. On its website, the company posted this response—in both English and Spanish: Whole Foods Market® responds to AP story about Spanish speaking team members Article is misleading; company celebrates and honors our diverse team members AUSTIN, Texas (June 6, 2013) – At Whole Foods Market, we do not have “no foreign languages spoken” policies in any of our stores. Our policy is that the default language is English, for consistent communication, inclusion, and especially for safety and emergency situations. We want our team members to use their judgment about when it’s appropriate to speak other languages. We are proud of our multilingual team members and try to work with customers in other languages whenever needed! The facts are: two team members in New Mexico became upset when they believed they were told in a team meeting they could not speak Spanish at work. That was not what was communicated. They were suspended with pay due to rude and disrespectful behavior. Their suspension was due to their behavior alone, not for speaking Spanish. Nevertheless, the store leadership launched a full investigation and seventeen team members who also attended the meeting confirmed that the language policy was discussed, and at no time were the two team members told they could not speak Spanish. We will be looking at written guidelines across our multiple regions on this front to ensure clarity. The statement could use some editing. For starters, "Spanish speaking team members" needs a hyphen for clarity. Also, isn't speaking Spanish a behavior? The sentence, "Their suspension was due to their behavior alone, not for speaking Spanish" is unclear, and "due to" is best reserved for owing money. Image source. Discussion Starters: What's your view of English-only policies at work? Do you buy Whole Foods' justification? Assess the company's response. What works well, and what else could be improved?
  • The FTC Needs a Proofreader

    The Federal Trade Commission , the government agency responsible for consumer protection, needs to protect its own reputation. An embarrassing automated email response is riddled with errors. Posted on Jim Romenesko's blog , the email received its share of snarky comments, such as this one: Discussion Starters: What errors do you see in the email? How do mistakes like this happen? Do you consider this more embarrassing because it's from a federal government agency? Or would it be equally embarrassing from a corporate office?
  • A Grammarian After My Own Heart

    I want to meet this person: someone with a sharp grammatical mind and a sharp pen fixed errors at a sculpture park at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. As yet, no one has accepted responsibility, but I may have found my soul mate. I admit, I've done my share of marking public typos. In some cases, I just take a photo, but other times I can't control myself. In this first example, I asked the Starbucks barista for a marker, and she obliged. In the second exmaple, I was alone in the stairwell with a pen. What choice did I have? Discussion Starters: When have you found typos on public signs? What did you do? Shouldn't we have a law protecting typo vigilantes, sort-of like the Good Samaritan Law? No?
  • E-Board Member Embarrasses Her Sorority

    An executive board member of the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Maryland let the entire sorority know how she felt in a scathing, obscenity-filled email . In her rant, she accuses her sisters of being boring, awkward, weird, stupid—and worse. Apparently, the last straw was an event with Sigma Nu fraternity, during which some sisters weren't at their best. Still, one wonders whether their behavior was so egregious as to deserve being threatened: "I will...assault you." One of the great ironies of the email is her concern about the sorority's image: " Seriously, if you have done ANYTHING I've mentioned in this email and have some rare disease where you're unable to NOT do these things, then you are HORRIBLE, I repeat, HORRIBLE PR FOR THIS CHAPTER." The president of the University of Maryland chapter responded: Discussion Starters: Assess the chapter president's response? What works well, and what could be improved? Should the email author also respond? If so, what should she say? How, if at all, do you think this incident reflects on Sigma Nu? Should the fraternity do anything in response?
  • Good Grammar Improves Job Prospects

    A study by Grammarly examined 100 LinkedIn profiles and found that good grammar improved job prospects: "Professionals with fewer grammar errors in their profiles achieved higher positions. Those who failed to progress to a director-level position within the first 10 years of their careers made 2.5 times as many grammar mistakes as their director-level colleagues. "Fewer grammar errors correlate with more promotions. Professionals with one to four promotions over their 10-year careers made 45% more grammar errors than those with six to nine promotions in the same time frame. "Fewer grammar errors associate with frequent job changes. Those who remained at the same company for more than 10 years made 20% more grammar mistakes than those who held six jobs in the same period. This could be explained in a couple of ways: People with better grammar may be more ambitious in their search for promising career opportunities, or job-hoppers may simply recheck their résumés between jobs." One-hundred is a small sample size, but the results aren't surprising. In another survey , 11% of employers who checked applicants' social media posts did not hire them because of "poor communication skills." I might assume that included poor grammar. Although few spelling mistakes were found on LinkedIn profiles, probably because of the spell-check feature, careless and grammatical errors could be a dealbreaker for your future employer. Image source . Assignment Ideas: Review another student's LinkedIn profile. Do you find any errors? If so, how does this affect your opinion of him or her as a job candidate? Look at your Facebook page, if you have one. If you were a potential employer reviewing the page, what would be your impressions? Consider making changes to these sites and other social media spaces that employers may visit.
  • Yahoo! Email: No More Working from Home

    New Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is making her mark, but she's ruffling a few feathers. In an email to employees , HR head Jackie Reses asks "all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices." As expected, remote employees aren't too happy about the change. YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD Yahoos, Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productiv e, efficient and f un. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices. To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo !, and that starts with physically being together. Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices. Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come. Jackie Hundreds of Yahoo! employees currently are working remotely, including customer service representatives and workers who don't have a Yahoo! office close by. After a series of layoffs, Yahoo! may be taking a different approach to reducing headcount and increasing productivity. Some speculate that employees who can't or won't make the change will quit, making reductions easy. Yahoo! responded to the controversy with only these statements: "This isn't a broad industry view on working from home. This is about what is right for Yahoo right now." "We don't discuss internal matters." The email inspired a wave of articles, include a Wall Street Journal cover story covering the number of people, benefits, and possible career derailment from working remotely. Discussion Starters: How would you describe the tone and approach of the Yahoo! email? Yahoo! management clearly didn't want the email to be released. What, if anything, could have prevented this? What's your reaction to employees' forwarding the message: are they justified, acting inappropriately, or something else? Why would an employee forward an email that's marked "proprietary and confidential"?
  • Facebook Admits Hacking

    After weeks of reported breaches , Facebook has admitted that it was hacked. The same issue with Oracle’s Java software that allowed hackers to access data from 250,000 Twitter users provided inroads to Facebook. Although Facebook apparently knew about the breach for at least a month, the company just came clean. In a blog post titled "Protecting People On Facebook," Facebook assured users that personal information was not compromised and that its systems have been fully patched to prevent future break-ins. The first two paragraphs provide context and the admission: "Facebook, like every significant internet service, is frequently targeted by those who want to disrupt or access our data and infrastructure. As such, we invest heavily in preventing, detecting, and responding to threats that target our infrastructure, and we never stop working to protect the people who use our service. The vast majority of the time, we are successful in preventing harm before it happens, and our security team works to quickly and effectively investigate and stop abuse. " Last month, Facebook Security discovered that our systems had been targeted in a sophisticated attack. This attack occurred when a handful of employees visited a mobile developer website that was compromised. The compromised website hosted an exploit which then allowed malware to be installed on these employee laptops. The laptops were fully-patched and running up-to-date anti-virus software. As soon as we discovered the presence of the malware, we remediated all infected machines, informed law enforcement, and began a significant investigation that continues to this day." Next, one sentence appears in bold type: "We have found no evidence that Facebook user data was compromised." The post echos Twitter's blog post from February 1. Discussion Starters: What arguments does Facebook use in its post to convince us not to worry about the breach? Which do you find most and least convincing? How easy is it for non-technical people to understand Facebook's post? What, if any, jargon or business slang can you identify? How does Facebook's blog post compare to Twitter's? What similarities and differences do you notice?
  • Good Grammar Is Sexy and Improves Your Chances of Finding Love

    A survey of 1,700 online daters found that 43% consider bad grammar a turnoff, and 35% consider good grammar sexy. Eighty-seven percent of online daters posted their profile without having someone check the grammar. This could be bad news if they want to attract love, particularly if they're looking for someone who earns more than $100,000 a year. This group cares about grammar 10% more than do those earning less. Women surveyed had stronger feelings about grammar than did men, a finding inconsistent with a survey I conducted with Professor Judi Brownell in 2009 . In our survey, we asked hotel managers to rate how challenging they found "poor grammar and incorrect punctuation" in emails they received. Women rated this 1.42 (with 1 being the least challenging and 5 being the most), while men rated this item 2.88, for a difference of 1.46—by far the biggest difference of the 16 items we asked people to rate. Full infographic . Discussion Starters: Do these findings surprise you? Why or why not? How important is grammar to you in your personal relationships?