PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > The Little Things Matter

The Little Things Matter

By Carl Pritchard,

Were they're! Ahhhh, the rights of passage.

If that sentence makes you insane, you are not alone. As a culture, the world has arrived at a compelling juncture. We are watching an entire generation evolve with spellcheck, autocorrect and technological support for all things grammatical. (And yes, I just used spellcheck to validate my spelling on grammatical.)

But it's not just spelling and language. It's the culture as a whole. I was greeted at the market the other day by one gentleman in the deli and the other in the produce section. In the deli, the greeter wore a tight hairnet, wore plastic gloves and greeted me with, "Good morning, sir, how can I help you?" In the produce section, a different gentleman had unruly hair and a pair of earbuds firmly planted in both ears. When I waved him down to ask a question about tomatillos, he sighed heavily, acting as if my query was an intrusion.

I've talked this over with younger professionals I know, and they tend to counter that I'm "majoring in the minors." They suggest that these experiences that I consider lapses are just the new normal for their generation. I suggest that the next person who can steer the course back to coherent language, attire, and etiquette will be seen as a business sage, a pioneer, and a thought leader for a new generation.

Emily Post is Dead -- Long Live Emily Post

Propriety is definitely a relative term, but in the interest of courtesy (or conflict reduction) most project managers are loathe to bring up something as mundane as attire or office language if the job is getting done. But even if the job is getting done, it may be taking an unseen toll on those who aspire for something more.

Early in my professional careers, I worked in radio. The dress code in many of the stations that I worked in could be summed up in two words: not naked. But as I worked my way up the ranks, the rules changed. When I joined MetroMedia in Washington, DC, a tie and jacket was required. And as silly as that may seem in an "ears-only" medium, it wasn't. It created a decorum in the office. There was a sense of professionalism. That sense of professionalism was something you could actually hear on the radio. The demeanor that goes with a suit and tie carries over into attitude and tone.

Professionalism can be infused into almost everything we do. It can be seen in our emails, texts, conference calls, and conversations. And if we want to be in the vanguard of what I believe will be one of the next great revelations in the business world, we must take an attitude of professionalism and courtesy into the trenches with us.

Email and Text Professionalism

140 Characters. That's the limit for a tweet. That's also the excuse for many of the text crimes committed in the past decade. I couldn't use the definite article because it pushed me over the limit! (Really? Do you even know what a definite article is?)

IMHO, this is a problem. (Brrrr… It gave me a chill to write that just now.) Internet jargon and technical speak is not convenient, cool, or helpful. Above all, it's exclusive. It excludes certain parties from the conversation. And it does so by design. In projects, that's a crime. It hurts us to not have a shared understanding or to push certain parties out of the conversation. It also degrades the meaning of words. IMHO. In My Humble Opinion. I have a hard time seeing the person who uses that abbreviation as genuinely "humble." The humble among us are an inclusive bunch! And in projects, we want to ensure that we have created an environment where all of our stakeholders (friend or foe) feel that they are included in the conversation.

Spellcheck, Grammar Check, and the Use of Words

For better or worse, words are our primary mode of communication. And words mean things. We're coming off a cold winter. Let me rephrase that. We're at the end of a harsh winter. Hmmm… This past winter was downright nippy. Chilly. Frosty. Frigid. Arctic. Bitter. Let's go with that. This winter was an arctic, bitter experience. That's better. And it's a far cry from "nippy."

In my professional career, more than once, someone has referred to me as "Thesaurus Boy." I wear that as a badge of honor. It means that I dredge through the lexicon not to find a word (indefinite article), but to find the word (definite article). I believe that our choice of words clarifies goals, missions, and responsibilities. Clarifying those things is something at which a PM is supposed to be adept. The right words open eyes and achieve shared thought. The wrong words can actually shut people down.

Like most people, I've used its and it's inappropriately on occasion. And when I got an email back that slapped me hard for my error, I realized that the rest of my message was ultimately lost. Everything I had said in the rest of the email (". . . and that is how you end world hunger.") was forgotten.

We lose messages when we get sloppy.

We lose messages when we get sloppy about our deployment of the language. We lose messages when we forget common courtesy. We lose messages when we use language that excludes, rather than includes.

Want to change your project deployment for the better? Package the message to remove the interference and noise. Whether it's the attire, the jargon, or the basic application of effective grammar, it works in our favor as professionals. Think of it as a RITE of passage. It's a trip worth taking.

Carl Pritchard welcomes your thoughts at He also stresses he is a big fan of the late Emily Post. The queen of American etiquette died over 50 years ago. Her legacy is a shelf full of guidebooks, an etiquette institute, and generations of people who used her guidance as the arbiter of what's appropriate and what's not. Carl counts himself in that number.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

As a closet etymologist, I have waged this same war for many years with marginal success. I have recently taken to calling out publicly the ambiguity of poor grammar or overused indefinite pronouns combined with the lack of sentence emphasis an email doesn't afford.
I don't know that this has changed much individual behavior, but it has helped me keep my sanity through humor.
Nice job on the article!

Mr. Pritchard,

Thank you for pointing out that projects should be inclusive. Taking some liberties here, and thank you for pointing out that using "...internet jargon and technical speak is not convenient, cool, or helpful. Above all, it's exclusive. It excludes certain parties from the conversation. And it does so by design. In projects, that's a crime. It hurts us to not have a shared understanding or to push certain parties out of the conversation".

I do not understand the benefit of exclusion. At my job exclusivity is used as a tool for bullying others. You are the "butt" of the joke if you do not know and use the jargon.

On the dress code comments, I see things differently. I feel a dress standard does not improve the "morale", leading by example has more influence. The organization mimics the attitudes from the leadership team.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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