Positively Passive Aggressive

Many years ago, the office where I worked brought in a communications consultant that the CEO had met at a cocktail party to work with all the employees of the company. We had a number of regional offices that needed to coordinate effectively with other remote offices.

We learned a lot of really great things from the consultant, a kind older woman who had her own practice based in South Carolina. But she taught us one trick that i will never forget:

“Instead of but, use and…”

“But” implies a negative or corrective train of thought, whereas “and” opens the doors for new possibilities. Or something.

Unfortunately, everyone, including senior management, really grabbed a hold of “and,” and started using it all the time. In fact, we would get emails with the word “and” in all caps, in red, underlined. It became an even more aggressive and negative word than a simple “but” even was.

In my current assignment, we are a small office that emails a lot, and I find that most emails I get have a “smiley face” emoticon (either an actual emoticon or  a tiny .gif) included in them. This serves the same function as AND.” Let me tell you, it does not work. Especially when I have made a mistake that you are correcting. 

Email is a difficult medium. It is hard to find the right tone, and the words remain forever (and ever and ever). It’s not the ephemeral phone call. But honestly, positive language is not positive if it is used so aggressively. And besides, crafting an email should be more like writing a letter than sending a text message, right?

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2 comments
  1. DanS said:

    Re.: exempt employment. When employed by a certain university we both know, I was required to fill out monthly absence reports, ostensibly for the tracking of vacations (taken and accumulated), sick days, and personal days. Yet my position, and indeed the whole department, as is common in the arts, had odd schedules. Weeks of fewer than 40 hours were rare. I routinely worked holidays, for which I should have been paid extra, but never pursued this. During 9 out of every ten weeks I worked at least one day of the weekend, sometimes both. I never reported a personal day or a sick day.

    We were told by the higher-ups that it was not acceptable to fail to report days off. Note: never taking a day off was not mentioned; failure to SAY I did was the problem. The university has no comp time policy. So how much, exactly, ought I to have worked if there was always work to be done? 24/7 if I am exempt? If I work Saturday and Sunday, but take off Monday, a regular business day, do I report that as a personal day and chalk up the weekend to my exempt status?

    I realize that these rules stem from a need in accounting and are really aimed at clerical staff and solid 9-5 types. But if you hire me in a professional capacity and expect sacrifices for the job, please do not nickel and dime me over this stuff. Luckily, I had a boss who understood the issue and let us take whatever time we needed, as long as the work was done. That’s sensible and human. Then I’d just report a day off here or there, or pretend that I stayed home when I had a cold, even though I went to work. When I Ieft the job, my vacation accrual was maxed out and I took the cash, with never a second thought, with the absolutely reasonable conviction that they really owed me more.

    Interestingly, I spent a year of that employment as a part-timer, voluntarily, due to a restructuring of the staff, with a promise (borne out) of better to come. But I was part-time exempt. What in the world does that mean? They defined part-time as 25 or fewer hours per week. I still worked 40, because that’s what the job needed. So, as full-time exempt I was fully-committed, as you’d expect. But as a part-timer exempt, I still worked full-time hours. If that’s the case, why not just pay me for an hour per week and call me exempt and I still have to do what the job demands? Why not call every non-union employee exempt (which i guess they did) and screw us out of time I expect the private sector to lead the race to the bottom for us wage slaves, but I held out hope that there was some humanity in the NFP world. The greater fool I.

    • This touches on a really important point:
      “So how much, exactly, ought I to have worked if there was always work to be done? 24/7 if I am exempt?”

      There is always too much work. In a deadline driven position like your at the Certain University, it makes it even more difficult to say no.

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