Amy Newman is a senior lecturer of management communication at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, School of Hotel Administration. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in business writing, persuasive speaking, and corporate communication. Amy is author of Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online, 10e and Building Leadership Character: Lessons from Communication Failures. Prior to joining Cornell, Amy taught at Ithaca College, eCornell, and Milano. She also has 20 years of corporate and external consulting experience for Reuters, Canon, Scholastic, and other companies.
TheLadders tracked recruiters' eye movements when reviewing resumes. Using a heat map, we can see what this group looked at in the mere six seconds they spent reviewing your life's work.
Business Insider posted a video explaining the results. The biggest lesson is that your current and previous positions and education should be clear and easy to see. White space and font size matter.
What can we learn from the results?
Bloomberg Business selected its favorite graphics from 2015. My favorites are still the bubble charts, if only because they are easy for students to create. Microsoft explains how to create bubble charts in Excel here.
As is typical, this example shows different colors as variables and different sizes for, in this case, how many millions Swiss banks paid in penalties. (If you're wondering, BSI SA paid the most: $211 million.)
The New York Times also published its list of best graphics from 2015, including this interactive visual showing the impact of the recession on 255 industries.
The Washington Post has retracted a cartoon depicting presidential candidate Ted Cruz's children as monkeys.
The cartoonist, Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, defended her cartoon:
There is an unspoken rule in editorial cartooning that a politician’s children are off-limits. People don’t get to choose their family members so obviously it’s unfair to ridicule kids for their parent’s behavior while in office or on the campaign trail- besides, they’re children. There are plenty of adults in the political world who act childish, so there is no need for an editorial cartoonist to target actual children.
I’ve kept to that rule, except when the children are adults themselves or choose to indulge in grown-up activities (as the Bush twins did during the George W Bush presidency). But when a politician uses his children as political props, as Ted Cruz recently did in his Christmas parody video in which his eldest daughter read (with her father’s dramatic flourish) a passage of an edited Christmas classic, then I figure they are fair game.
However, The Post editor Fred Hiatt disagreed:
It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.
The controversy may have given Cruz's campaign a nice Christmas jolt: so far, his family video has been watched more than 1.7 million times.
Is any publicity good publicity? That hasn't always held true on social media, but in this case, it's working in the candidate's favor.
And because it's Christmas, I'm reminded of Mike Huckabee's video in 2007. Some didn't appreciate the rather obvious window-pane-as-cross.
It's hard enough for companies to announce organizational changes, but Caitlyn Jenner had a real challenge ahead of her. An interesting New York Times article describes the publicist and process behind Caitlyn Jenner's announcement that she is transgender and planned to transition.
Alan Nierob managed her announcement but prefers to stay out of the limelight himself. What's useful for business communicators is to understand his decision process: what was the best way for Jenner to announce her transition? Here are the options described in the Times article:
Reporters seem to respect Nierob's work. Here's a great description of an alternative to saying "no comment," which typically doesn't go over well. This is Nierob's response to questions about Mel Gibson's "blaming Jews for all the world’s wars"(!):
“What I remember,” said Jeff Jensen, a reporter for Entertainment Weekly assigned to write about Mr. Gibson’s saga, “is that Alan respected our inquiry without participating. It was like: ‘I know this is a story, I know you have a job to do, and I wish you well, but I can’t help, and Mel won’t comment.’ It was incredibly gracious and professional. He did his job for his client while showing respect for mine.”
The DuPont-Dow merger is big news with a big press release and two extremely long quotations. The statement uses "synergies" or "synergistic" 12 times.
PR Daily criticizes the release as "jargon laden" and presents as evidence this 140-word (not character) statement from the chairman and CEO of Dupont:
"This is an extraordinary opportunity to deliver long-term, sustainable shareholder value through the combination of two highly complementary global leaders and the creation of three strong, focused, industry-leading businesses. Each of these businesses will be able to allocate capital more effectively, apply its powerful innovation more productively, and extend its value-added products and solutions to more customers worldwide," said Edward D. Breen, chairman and chief executive officer of DuPont. "For DuPont, this is a definitive leap forward on our path to higher growth and higher value. This merger of equals will create significant near-term value through substantial cost synergies and additional upside from growth synergies. Longer term, the three-way split we intend to pursue is expected to unlock even greater value for shareholders and customers and more opportunity for employees as each business will be a leader in attractive segments where global challenges are driving demand for these businesses' distinctive offerings."
A close second, Dow's leader offered his own 111-word statement, which I'll refrain from pasting here. (You get the point from the first one.)
The press release follows the format of other, newer versions, which provide a bulleted list of main points up front for busy journalists. The headings also work well for skim-value.
Of course, the bigger issue may be the business decision itself. Steven Davidoff Solomon, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, questions a merger with a planned spinoff. He cites lots of research to tell us that spinoffs don't work in the long-run.
The University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld has apologized for using the expression "should be shot," in this case, referring to faculty who are unprepared. An email exchange between the president and a librarian shows a respectful interaction but indicates a reluctant apology.
The librarian, Lisa Gardinier, initiated a long email, calling his use of the term "flippant" and "horrifying and unacceptable" given "the tense atmosphere of racist law enforcement violence." She also criticized his "rambling, unfocused" talk—a bit harsh, in my view, but I don't have to listen to him.
Clearly, Harreld isn't happy to hear from Gardinier, but starting a sentence with "frankly," could indicate the opposite. It's like saying "honestly"; what's the alternative?
Later, Harreld denied saying "they should be shot" but admitted saying, "I have learned the hard way that if I ever walk into a classroom without a teaching plan, I should be shot."
As usual, this criticism is not in isolation. People were unhappy with Harreld's appointment because of his business background and questions about the hiring process.
A New York Times article by Amy Cuddy warns us about physical harm caused by the iPhone. Cuddy says our posture is taking a hit because of hunching over the phone, dubbed the iHunch by New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August.
Cuddy cites her own and others' work indicating that posture isn't just the result of our mood but could determine our mood. People slouch when they're fearful or depressed, but does slouching cause us to perform more poorly, or the opposite—does good posture improve performance? Cuddy cites several studies that indicate both.
Most relevant to business communication is probably the 2009 Japanese study of children's posture. When children were instructed to improve their posture, their "academic writing productivity increased."
To avoid posture problems, Cuddy offers this advice:
Keep your head up and shoulders back when looking at your phone, even if that means holding it at eye level. You can also try stretching and massaging the two muscle groups that are involved in the iHunch — those between the shoulder blades and the ones along the sides of the neck. This helps reduce scarring and restores elasticity.
Finally, the next time you reach for your phone, remember that it induces slouching, and slouching changes your mood, your memory and even your behavior. Your physical posture sculpts your psychological posture, and could be the key to a happier mood and greater self-confidence.
Once again, Donald Trump was front and center during the Republican presidential debate. The fifth of many debates to come, the CNN debate in Las Vegas focused on the two recent terrorist attacks in Paris and California.
CNN identified Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump as the winners, while The Washington Post highlighted Bush, Rubio, and Trump (but only for the first hour). Here are highlights from The Post.
Analysts credit Jeb Bush for pushing back on Trump. Calling him a "chaos candidate," Bush attacked Trump's leadership ability, according to Newsweek:
Blitzer asked Bush about his comments that Trump was "unhinged" after Trump proposed banning all Muslims from the United States after the San Bernardino attacks. "Donald is great at the one-liners, but he's a chaos candidate," Bush said, "and he'd be a chaos president, he would not be the Commander-in-Chief we need to keep our country safe."
Several tweets showed some questionable-looking Reese's trees. In addition to this example, people wrote, "I feel deceived," and "Does this look like a Christmas tree to you??"
These photos do look more like shapeless blobs than tress.
In response, Reese's shifted the focus with a funny play on appearance. In a second post, Reese's showed four trees with the same slogan; however, all of these examples are more, may I say, shapely than the ones posted by consumers.
Inquisitr called the response "epic."
People are fussy. Critics said Starbucks' polar bear cookies look as though their throats have been cut.
A clever piece in The Chronicle analyzes current pronunciation of often. Ben Yagoda questions recent pronunciations with the t.
He starts by identifying an example in the podcast "Reply All," hosted by P.J. Vogt: "...Vogt is young (I would judge in his early 30s), and speaks with vocal fry, list lilt, uptalk, and, generally, a pronounced Ira Glass-esque lack of slickness."
Turns out, the t-pronunciation is a recent phenomenon. Early dictionaries indicate no t, but two 20th-century dictionaries indicate a shift, with one calling the pronunciation "vulgar," "certainly unnecessary," and "an affectation of refinement." Yagoda provides interesting evidence in speech from 12 "My Fair Lady" musical versions.
Yagoda concludes that younger people pronounce the t. He has seen a shift in pronunciation among his students and increasingly sees—as I do— "oftentimes" appearing in writing assignments. Good grief.
Kimpton Hotels has emailed Inner Circle members to provide an update on the rewards program. Sent by the senior director of guest marketing, the email seems to respond to unanswered questions. With a conversational style, Maggie Lane promises more communication:
We know things have been a bit quiet on our end. There's been a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Our team has also been listening and we know you want more information. We get it.
Her conversational style is also evident in the email closing:
That's all I got for now. I wish you a delightful, eggnog-fueled holiday season and New Year with your loved ones.
The approach is interesting and may be a reaction to the news of Marriott's acquisition of Starwood. Much of that news has been about the great opportunities for Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest members. IHG's acquisition of Kimpton was announced in December 2014 and hasn't gotten much press since then.
You never know what you'll get on Twitter with a hashtag campaign. Lane Bryant's CMO Brian Beitler tried to engage customers with #AskLaneBryant, but he got a lot of tough comments. PR Daily captured many of them and complimented some of the company's approach:
To the brand’s credit, Beitler addressed several concerns during the hour, and the brand’s account tweeted its thanks for the “candidness” from chat participants.
Several comments criticize the plus-size retailer for product, model, and associate choices. Although some tweets were "snarky," as PR Daily calls them, Beitler could have been bolder in tackling some of them.
One of the more challenging tweets referenced a study published in the journal Social Problems. Here are the tweet and article abstract:
Drawing on participant observation at a women's plus-size clothing store, “Real Style,” this article draws on the unique experiences of plus-sized women in their roles as workers, managers, and customers, to examine how mainstream beauty standards, body-accepting branding, and customers' diverse feeling rules shape service interactions. Despite branding that promoted prideful appreciation for “Real” bodies, the influence of these body-accepting discourses was constrained by women's internalization of mainstream fat stigma, resulting in an environment characterized by deep ambivalence toward larger body size. This ambivalence allowed hierarchies between women to be reified, rather than dissolved; although plus-sized employees and customers expressed gratitude to have Real Style as a “safe space” to work and shop, workers experienced gender segregation of jobs, and thinner employees were privileged with special tasks. Further, managers and white (but not black or Latina) customers used body-disparaging “fat talk” to elicit workers' emotional labor while confronting thinner workers for defying aesthetic expectations. This research offers a more nuanced understanding of the ties between aesthetic labor and emotional labor, while highlighting some of the factors that prevent stigmatized groups from successfully reclaiming status within consumer contexts.
Donald Trump is taking a bold stand against terrorism—or his version of it. In a press release, Trump proposes preventing any Muslims from entering the United States.
DECEMBER 07, 2015 -
(New York, NY) December 7th, 2015, -- Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing "25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad" and 51% of those polled, "agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah." Shariah authorizes such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won't convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women.
Mr. Trump stated, "Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again." - Donald J. Trump
A Fox News article quotes Trump: “Look at what FDR did many years ago, and he’s one of the most respected presidents,” Trump said. “We have people in this country that want to blow up our country — you know it and so do I. They’re looking at the jihad. They want a jihad.” This seems like a logical flaw: how will preventing Muslims affect people already in this country?
Reactions to Trump's proposal have been mostly negative. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that most people oppose his plan.
Another lens on this issue is the perspective from Muslims on college campuses. An article in The Chronicle describes the experience of Muslim leaders: "It's like holding your breath."
A Washington Post article doesn't hold back in interpreting a Binghamton University study. Published in Computers in Human Behavior, the study compared receivers' reactions to periods used in handwritten and text messages:
We ask whether punctuation—specifically, the period—may serve as a cue for pragmatic and social information. Participants read short exchanges in which the response either did or did not include a sentence-final period. When the exchanges appeared as text messages, the responses that ended with a period were rated as less sincere than those that did not end with a period. No such difference was found for handwritten notes. We conclude that punctuation is one cue used by senders, and understood by receivers, to convey pragmatic and social information.
A New York Magazine article calls the period in a text message "the 'k' of punctuation." Apparently, "k" is highly offensive, indicating a power trip, laziness, and other terrible qualities.
The text period has come up before in BizCom in the News. A Mashable article quoted a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania:
"In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like 'This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.'"
The Binghamton University study proves it.
It's a sad day for grammarians everywhere. The Washington Post will allow "they" as a singular pronoun when we don't know the person's gender. A memo from Bill Walsh, the paper's style chief explains the decision:
It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.
When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.
I find Walsh's second example puzzling: why can't we write, "Everyone has an opinion..."? On the other hand, if we're talking just about the case for "everyone," I wouldn't rebel over it. I also understand using the singular they for transgender people including those who choose not to conform to a binary gender.
Of course, this is only an issue because we don't have an adequate gender-neutral pronoun. Unfortunately, none of several proposed options have stuck. The APA Style Guide provides a more reasoned approach to the dilemma.
Here's my favorite tweet on the subject:
The National Rifle Association is shifting blame for the shooting in San Bernardino county t0 President Obama and his administration's policies. In a letter in USA Today, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action uses principles of persuasion to focus on the tragedy.
Chris Cox uses strong language, accusing the president of "politicizing" the "horrific crimes." His argument is that our policies have made us less safe, so we need guns to protect ourselves.
California has the strictest gun control in the nation, so Obama's politicization of San Bernardino rings sickeningly hollow.
Just when we think that politics can’t sink any lower, President Obama once again proves us wrong by politicizing the tragedy in San Bernardino before the facts were even known. What we do know is that theAmerican people are heartbroken by these horrific crimes — and despite what the president would have us believe — America’s law-abiding gun owners are heartbroken by these horrific crimes as well. At the same time, we are sick and tired of this president suggesting the men and women of the National Rifle Association are somehow to blame.
The National Rifle Association is not to blame. Neither is our Second Amendmentfreedom. An act of evil unfolded in California. President Obama used it not as a moment to inform or calm the American people; rather, he exploited it to push his gun control agenda. Policy discussions should be intellectually honest and based on facts, not politics. And the fact remains that California has already adoptedPresident Obama’s gun control wish list: "universal" background checks, registration, waiting periods, gun bans, magazine bans and an expansion of prohibited gun categories. But those laws did nothing to prevent this horrific crime from taking place. Nothing.
Here's another fact: the president’s failed foreign policy has made us less safe. And his domestic gun control agenda would jeopardize our safety even further. In California, President Obama had what he wanted — the strictest gun control in the country — and it did not prevent this evil act. The plain truth is that the president cannot keep us safe. And his policies would leave us defenseless. That's why our Second Amendment right to defend ourselves must be protected. It’s not just a constitutionally guaranteed freedom. It’s a natural, God-given, human right.
Unlike the president, regular citizens are not surrounded by armed secret service agents wherever they go. When we find ourselves under attack, no one is there to protect us. That responsibility is ours and ours alone. The American people — including law-abiding gun owners — are scared these days, and for good reason. As a nation, we sit helpless and watch as innocent and defenseless people are slaughtered. President Obama's response is not one of unity, but rather a condescending lecture that we need more laws to restrict us from defending ourselves. Enough is enough with the self-righteous and self-serving demagoguery.
The NRA is calling on the president to stop exploiting tragedies to push his failed political agenda. It's shameful. Given the reality that he's unlikely to listen, however, we will continue to stand and fight for law-abiding gun owners who are both disgusted and heartbroken by these heinous acts — whether committed by madmen, gang members or terrorists. The NRA will neither accept the blame for the acts of murderers, nor apologize for fighting for our right to defend ourselves against them.
Of course, it's not just President Obama who is questioning the NRA's role in mass shootings, which, this year, have resulted in 462 deaths and 1,314 injuries. At the same time, now we know the shooters also had pipe bombs and links to ISIS, so have people blamed the NRA too quickly?
With an impressive list of speakers, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change started on Monday in Paris. The goal is for leaders from 195 nations to agree to limit carbon emissions. As expected, leaders, such as President Obama, began their speeches by expressing condolences for lives lost during the recent terrorist attacks in the city.
Reuters selected portions of leaders' talks as "highlights," and this video shows three hours of discussion.
The Telegraph analyzed 10 claims about climate change and comments "on just how far [leaders'] fears are really justified." The claims are about rising temperatures, melting polar ice, and increasing hurricanes.
A shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA, left 14 people dead and 17 injured. Two suspects have been killed, and their motivation for the attack at the facility for people with developmental disabilities is unclear. A holiday party was taking place in the conference room where the shooting took place.
County police have been holding press conferences, providing as much information as possible. The police chief gave an initial statement:
In this video, so many questions are unanswered that I wonder whether the conference was held too early:
As he has after other recent shootings, President Obama gave a statement: