Carnival of Journalism: Talking to People IS a Life Hack!

The question for this month’s Carnival:

“What are your life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills and techniques that allow you to work smarter and more effectively?


One of my favorite scenes in the Dead Poet’s Society is when Robin Williams tells his young students to stand on top of their desks.  It’s a lesson on seeing life from different perspectives, and not following the pack and doing what everyone else is doing.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.  Usually in the middle of his concerts, Springsteen goes into a monologue, saying:  “I want you all to GET UP OUT OF YOUR SEATS…..”

So, how does this relate to work hacks?  Don’t worry, I’m getting there.

When I first saw this question from David Cohn, I thought of one word:  Twitter.   It’s become a place I turn to for information, updates, breaking news, etc.  But as I thought through the question,  I thought I would get radical on my buddy Dave.  I enjoyed Will Sullivan’s post as well, including this section:

  • Only use the “http://five.sentenc.es/” technique for (most) email responses (Or four or three or two sentences)
  • If it’s not time-critical, try to focus on emailing people around 8-9 a.m. in the morning so it’s at the top of their mailbox as soon as they get in, responses tend to be higher because they haven’t developed email fatigue yet.

But what struck me was, well, the lack of the personal touch.

Yes, I’m going to get radical here and suggest GETTING UP OUT OF  YOUR SEATS and actually talking to people!

There, I said it.

Radical, huh?

Now, I’m not sure how much discussion about face-to-face communication came up at the hip kids gathering organized by Mr. Cohn but it’s something I stress often in my Journalism classes at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  And, frankly, such suggestions usually freak out 20-somethings.  Well, most people actually.

Yes, put aside your laptop, smart phones, tablets and mind-melds and go talk to folks!

And, you know what?  It works.

Recently, I was trying to deal with a complicated personal issue and my reflex was to send an e-mail.  You know what I did?  I called the person instead.  The discussion went smoothly and things worked out rather nicely.

Would I have achieved the same result via e-mail?  Probably not.

E-mail is actually a terrible form of communication, even moreso in a work environment.  You never know when one word might be received the wrong way, destroying a relationship.  Tone and body language are absent in e-mail — two critical forms of communication, especially in the workplace.

My old boss was fond of saying that if an e-mail goes back and forth three times, end it and go talk in person.  I try to follow that advice but even better advice would be this:  Why send an e-mail when you can actually talk to someone?

There, I said it.

Anyone who has shot photos or video has heard of the phrase:  “Focus with your feet.”   So, the next time you sit down to hammer out an e-mail at work, consider “focusing with your feet.” 

GET UP OUT OF YOUR SEATS AND GO TALK TO THAT PERSON!

Get Rad People!

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About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in Carnival of Journalism, e-mail, E-Mail Interviews, Interviews, Teaching, Twitter, video, Web journalism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Carnival of Journalism: Talking to People IS a Life Hack!

  1. Courtney says:

    Steve, this is great — and even better because of the references to Dead Poets Society and The Boss. It’s all too easy to resort to email, text messaging and social media for communication that would be better served in person or over the phone. I’m guilty of doing that very thing. Sometimes I wonder, too, if I should have friends over to play Scrabble instead of battling them virtually via Words with Friends. 🙂

  2. I like this post a lot even though my first impulse is not to talk to a real person. I learned this through my last job. My coworkers and I were pretty crammed in rows, so you knew everything that was going on. When people my age (20-somethings) had questions, we turned to our computers. But when the 30-something and older people had questions, they always asked around.

    When I’m working on journalism stories, I try to remember to talk to people if I can find the people and have the time.

  3. Pingback: ‘Hacks for hacks’ Carnival of Journalism results are in | Journerdism

  4. Andre Natta says:

    I’m pretty sure that more issues come from sticking only to email or texting than anything else nowadays. It lets folks easily avoid having to talk to others. The more you get a chance to talk face to face or even over the phone, the better it is in terms of telling a richer story. It reminds you how to talk with others in a conversational way when necessary and not just from behind a digital wall.

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