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Credibility and Communication

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Credibility and Communication

Postby Lady tehMa » Jan 11th, 2013, 8:23 am

In this era of texting and facebook, it seems that the ability to communicate clearly has fallen by the wayside. Communication is a skill; a detail oriented one at that. How many of the job applicants out there today are capable of forming coherent sentences? How many people have the skills to convey complex thoughts?

This one person has found that testing on grammar is an ideal way to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of selecting job applicants.

I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why.

by Kyle Wiens | 8:02 AM July 20, 2012

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If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building.

Some might call my approach to grammar extreme, but I prefer Lynne Truss's more cuddly phraseology: I am a grammar "stickler." And, like Truss — author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves — I have a "zero tolerance approach" to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.

Now, Truss and I disagree on what it means to have "zero tolerance." She thinks that people who mix up their itses "deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave," while I just think they deserve to be passed over for a job — even if they are otherwise qualified for the position.

Everyone who applies for a position at either of my companies, iFixit or Dozuki, takes a mandatory grammar test. Extenuating circumstances aside (dyslexia, English language learners, etc.), if job hopefuls can't distinguish between "to" and "too," their applications go into the bin.

Of course, we write for a living. iFixit.com is the world's largest online repair manual, and Dozuki helps companies write their own technical documentation, like paperless work instructions and step-by-step user manuals. So, it makes sense that we've made a preemptive strike against groan-worthy grammar errors.

But grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can't tell the difference between their, there, and they're.

Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn't in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.

On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?

Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use "it's," then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.

Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.

In the same vein, programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. You see, at its core, code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are "essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms." The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.

And just like good writing and good grammar, when it comes to programming, the devil's in the details. In fact, when it comes to my whole business, details are everything.

I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren't important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren't issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.

That's why I grammar test people who walk in the door looking for a job. Grammar is my litmus test. All applicants say they're detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/07/i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo.html

When one is communicating, clarity is key.

I believe that some people would challenge this as being discriminatory based on the fact that their skill level in this area would be less than ideal. I personally find those who are unable to clearly communicate concepts lack credibility.

Thoughts?
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby Piecemaker » Jan 11th, 2013, 2:31 pm

I think it depends upon what the job entails. There are many with a good work ethic who have difficulty with grammar and punctuation. I suspect some of them could better repair my vehicle than an English professor could!
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby Glacier » Jan 11th, 2013, 5:55 pm

No one is infallible, and especially when time constraints kick in. I agree that resumés should ideally be error free as a result of taking the time to proofread the thing. Yes, grammar, spelling, and clarity count, but a minor typo should not be grounds for an automatic fail. Despite reread my resumé a dozen times before submitting it to my current employer, one spelling mistake remained. My boss brings it up every once in a while as a "ha ha" because it happened to change the meaning of my intent into something humorous.

Up until last week, I used to believe that lack of clarity was a new phenomenon, but after researching my family history on the new Royal BC Museum website, it became abundantly clear to me that legibility - and therefore clarity - was just as big a problem 100 years ago as it is today. The last name "Thomson" enters my family a century ago, but for the life of me I could not read the name written. Thankfully, someone else figured it out. Similarly, the name "Steele" is in my family tree way back when, but people misspelled it as "Steil" because of illegible writing.

I agree with Piecemaker. Does it really matter a whole lot if your doctor can't spell or sling together four words like "I Tarzan, You Jane" when he's the best surgeon around?
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby Piecemaker » Jan 11th, 2013, 7:03 pm

Well, it kinda matters if my surgeon can't spell if he's writing up medication instructions or follow-up care, but I get your point!
(Oops. "Kinda" isn't a proper word!)

I wouldn't want someone to refrain from expressing themselves because they knew they lacked good writing skills. However, I think writing everything in "text" form does reduce one's credibility. It is difficult (and annoying)to read. If one knows better, one should do better.
Typos happen and making the occasional one is a given. A quick read allows one to catch most typos (provided they haven't been partaking of the fermented beverage).
It's possible to do all the right things and still get a bad result.
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby fluffy » Jan 14th, 2013, 8:53 am

It's a sign of the times that traditional grammar and vocabulary skills have given way to internet shorthand and emoticons, economy of time being a consideration when dashing off a quick text message. I don't think language and writing skill requirements to get through high school have dropped any, I don't even think it's a matter of laziness as some would imply, it really depends on the environment and context the language is being used in. Piecemaker has it right in that there are situations where language skills may not be an accurate measure of qualification, it is more of an indication of the level reached within our traditional education system, and there are plenty of extensively skilled tradespeople who don't hold a high school diploma.
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby Lady tehMa » Jan 15th, 2013, 8:10 am

Are people less intelligent nowadays, that they can't learn to express themselves correctly via written communication? I don't believe so.

I work in an office, in a consulting firm. I deal with all manner of people from all walks of life. I have seen egregious errors, lazy shortcuts and simple bad choices in all forms of communication. To me it speaks of a general laziness, of less care given "I don't have to make sure things are spelled correctly because this is how I talk to my friends. . . " a sort of attitude where they can't be bothered. It irks me to no end when I receive a letter in a professional capacity, where the person who sent it can not differentiate between their/there/they're; it isn't all that difficult, I learned it in grade school!

Quite often it is the older people who can communicate efficiently, regardless of their own professional capacity (tradesmen for example). Often it is the younger person, under 30, who even though they are in a position where they are representing their company through written communication, will riddle their correspondence with what are simply embarrasing mistakes. I would question whether that person had the capacity to fulfilll their job efficiently; be they realtor, mortgage broker, banker or what-have-you.

My own writing is prone to the occasional typo, I abuse commas and my grammar is less than perfect. I would not pass a University level English course with a 4.0 score. However, I take the time to proofread, I know the difference between they're/their/their and to/two/too (you would be surprised how many don't!) and if I am unsure of a word I will often make the time to check the spelling thereof.

In my own opinion I believe that this laziness with language translates as a lack of respect not only to the person to whom the missive is being directed, but towards the company represented and towards the English language as a whole. If a person does not care enough to make sure their communication is clear, should I be sanguine about their efforts in other areas? I am not.
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby steven lloyd » Jan 15th, 2013, 8:23 pm

I believe I have to agree with you completely on this issue Lady. I understand the point about typos and the odd grammatical errors here and there. We all make them from time to time. However, I rarely bother with posts (or blogs) where it seems the poster (or blogger) has barely bothered. Occasional mistakes can be excused. Repeated and continual mistakes, however, reveal a pattern either in ability or character. If the poster/blogger doesn’t care how his or her post/blog is received, why should the reader care about the poster’s opinion? I’m certainly not going to read a single seven hundred word run-on sentence making up one paragraph (no sentence breaks, no capital letters, no paragraph breaks, not enough, too many commas and commas in the wrong place, etc.). It is unfortunate because perhaps a person does have a point worth considering - but one would expect that if that person believed his or her point worth considering it would be worth presenting in a structured, well-expressed, easy to understand, clear and articulate manner.

Like you, I don’t want to believe people are becoming overall less intelligent but we can’t dismiss that possibility outright. The alternative is to say people are becoming overall more apathetic, and of course – sadly – that may be exactly the explanation. In fact, that could actually explain a great deal.
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby flamingfingers » Jan 15th, 2013, 8:54 pm

Like you, I don’t want to believe people are becoming overall less intelligent but we can’t dismiss that possibility outright. The alternative is to say people are becoming overall more apathetic, and of course – sadly – that may be exactly the explanation. In fact, that could actually explain a great deal.


No, I don't believe people are becoming overall less intelligent. But I do agree that people are more apathetic in this golden age of instant text messaging and pay less attention to language skills in day to day communications. I was quite taken aback when my kids were in school and teachers did not mark them down for grammar and spelling mistakes. But then I am and have been in a profession that REQUIRES accurate spelling, grammar and often sophisticated editing skills.

But I do agree that a well thought out post, resume, article with pristine spelling, grammar and appropriate capitalization would prevent me from throwing that application into the round file.

There is a difference between:

Helping your Uncle Jack off a horse.

And

Helping your uncle jack off a horse.
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby Lady tehMa » Jan 16th, 2013, 11:26 am

:coffeecanuck:

A very good example, ff.
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Re: Credibility and Communication

Postby mexicalidreamer » Jan 16th, 2013, 3:23 pm

This thread is very timely in my opinion. I tend to believe that there is a mix of both apathy and idiocy in our youth in general but certainly not all. It is astonishing that in today's world, if a word or phrase is misused enough, it becomes part of the lexicon.

Apparently it's easier to give in than to correct.

I believe that there is far less emphasis being placed on grammar, certainly at the high school level and that, in my opinion, is very disturbing.

I do not profess to be an expert but I do feel that overall I have a firmer grasp when it comes to written communication than many.

To suggest that credibility is linked to communication is an accurate sentiment I think. I grow weary of those who respond with "whatever" when challenged with spelling and/or grammatical mistakes which simply shows that accurate communication skills are not viewed as being important.

The feeling that "as long as you know what I meant" is all that is important is rampant in the world in which we live.

As long as texting continues to be the preferred method of communication, we are all doomed.

I love the article referenced in the opening post. The writer has it right. IMHO.

Apologies for any mistakes.
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