When Nice is NOT Nice

Most of us understand that  “no means no” when it comes to our bodies. We’re taught to speak up. However, too many of us do not have the same respect for our time. You’d say no if someone was trying to molest you, right? Or steal your purse? So, why is your time or self respect any different? Just because it’s an intangible doesn’t make it any less valuable. You life is counted in minutes. When someone takes your time and wastes it, they are literally taking portions of your life!

Cat outside the Mosque

No doormat here. Tread at your own risk

Many of us simply don’t say no to these violations that waste our time. They come in all shapes and sizes. The worst of them usually get offered up with a smile and that horrible phrase, “You understand, right?” That’s what I have been told so many times. “Oh, so-and-so is so busy. We very sorry for the miscommunication”, or, “It’s just so confusing these days, getting everything together.” And of course, you’re supposed to smile back and say yes, of course you understand. But why? Why should you just lie down for the muck that’s about to be tracked over you? As soon as you smile back and agree, be prepared to be someone’s well used doormat. And doormats do not get respect or good return on their investments.

Let me illustrate. I responded to a want ad for a job in another city a few years ago. A man from the company called me, and from his conversation, I thought that I was possibly dealing with an intern. They represented themselves as an establish international school online. I knew I was quite qualified. He didn’t have his information ready, so he said he would email me. I let him know that I was several hours away but still happy to accommodate. He told me to arrive on a particular afternoon. That morning, as I left for the interview, I messaged and called the front desk, his personal number and his desk number to let them know I was coming.

He did not see me, though he did see someone else who arrived. A woman who appeared to be acting as an assistant pulled the decision out of thin air. Then, after leaving me waiting for 45 minutes, she sat down and talked to me for five minutes. I realized as I said goodbye that she considered that my interview. I drove home, trying to be generous, but in many ways, simply regretting that I had given the guy the benefit of the doubt and shown up. Especially now that I had learned a few things, such as the job was a 24/7 position, that the company was incredibly unorganized and that no one I met had been giving me straight answers.

When the assistant called back two days later, asking if I couldn’t just stop by for another interview. I let her know it was not possible for me to drive all the way over again. “I can understand if it is easier for you to work with someone locally,” I told her. I did not apologize. “I also have a few questions about what the position actually entails and the posted salary.” She became flustered and got off the phone.

I keep tabs on the industry, since I still have ties to it and funny enough, that school has to advertise regularly for new instructors.

Hopefully, I’m a little smarter next time someone asks for an interview. I’ll expect them to be as on top of their game as I am. And hopefully, someone learns a little from my lesson. The pay, when I crunched the numbers, was going to work out to be around 2.78 an hour, since I would be on call 24/7, on site and on duty. How they treat you at the start, is likely the best they’ll ever treat you.

No thank you. I’d be better off in my local library learning a new skill than working for that wage. There’s definitely no respect there. I wanted to be ‘nice’ and give the the ‘benefit of the doubt’ but there is a price tag to ‘nice’, especially when others are assuming you’re going to be ‘nice’.

I’d rather be ‘professional’, ‘dependable’, ‘forward thinking’, and ‘efficient’ than ‘nice’. It will take me farther and ultimately, take the people I partner with farther. I’ll be helpful, open to opportunity, willing to mentor, and ‘passing it on’ but I’m done with being ‘nice’.

Communicating Through Barriers

More and more of us are finding ourselves in a position where we are trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t’ speak our language, or doesn’t speak it well. As we race into an ever increasing global 21st century, this isn’t a situation that’s going to change any time soon. Even with the massive amounts of English classes being pushed by governments and private companies around the world, language acquisition is a slow process and the quality of English spoken by non-native speakers is extremely variable, as are our own second language abilities.

Communication is still possible. Here are a couple of ways to approach situations with language barriers if an interpreter is not readily available.

Smile:

This is the best possible advice anyone can give you. People are more willing to work with someone who is relaxed and pleasant. They’re probably as worried as you are.

Whatever you do, raising your voice, using baby talk or getting angry will not help. Keep it light and treat the person your speaking to with respect. Language barrier or not, people will know when you’re treating them badly. Even though their language might sound childish or naive to you, they’re likely mature capable adults and sound like that in their own language.

Use sign language:

This is actually pretty effective. Sound effects, pictures, facial expressions and miming are all useful tools that we’ve used before entertaining children and making jokes with our friends. These are skills we already have, at least nascent.

Pictures:

If you know ahead of time that you will be in this kind of situation, whether for social reasons etc, preparing a simple slide show of pictures and clip art can fill in the awkward gaps in the “conversation”. Alternatively, you can upload a drawing app on your device or go old school and keep a pad of paper or a pencil to help you describe things or ask questions as you go along.

Finally, think about investing in an electronic dictionary. You can also download dictionary apps to your computer or other portable electronic device. There are even apps being advertised now that allows you to carry on a verbal conversation with your smart phone translating as you speak. I can’t speak for their accuracy but  in a pinch, it probably works.

Keep a sense of humor.:

You might just find yourself having the time of your life miming eating long noodles or finding the entrance to Tokyo Tower. Don’t be a afraid to look a little silly! It’s worth it.  Besides, half the time you’re probably in a country where nobody knows you. Who’s going to make fun of you in twenty years, or even the next five minutes, unless you tell on yourself, of course. And even if you are in your home town, you’re probably a hero, because everyone else is too self conscious to try to communicate with the “difficulty”. They’re all secretly glad you stepped up to the plate. Remember, someday, you could be the difficulty for someone else in the future, or maybe your son or daughter is miming their way through buying fruit in some car away country hoping someone will take the time to understand them.

To Rate or Not to Rate

It used to be that you could go down to the store, find a CD on the shelf, maybe ask the person behind the counter what was “hot” but in today’s online shopping arena, that’s no longer the case. We go online, read Amazon or Goodreads reviews to decide whether or not to buy a book, check Yelp for the latest restaurant experiences or drop into LinkedIn to check on someone’s profile.

It’s a self sustaining system, requiring the constant input of thousands of us as we go about our daily lives. Without the social proof of reviews, a completely wonderful new bar in town or a promising young author is going close up shop and leave us without their new vibe or perspective.

Stars, reviews, votes and shares today are worth more than a single purchase. If you know of an author you enjoy, an artist who’s music moves you or a movie that you thought just rocked, go out and review. Even if its a short one liner or a quick star rating on a podcast, give it a shout out. If we want our favorite businesses, entertainers, writers and artistic to continue to serve us, entertain us or motivate us, then we have to lend them the modern stamp of approval.

The great thing is we can do this without spending money or getting up and delivering a speech. And it means that we’ll likely be enjoying more of what we like.

So get on your keyboards and vote. It’s not just a political thing anymore, it’s a stand for how you like to be entertained, serviced and spoken to.  It does make a difference. Those likes, votes, and ratings are often the first things donors, supporters, publishers and potential interviewees look at.

If you don’t like the social proof that’s being awarded, get out there and give a little to those you believe deserve it. Make the world a bit more how you want it to look, sound or read. In the end, it’s to your benefit.

Job List Wilderness

My husband and I are searching for jobs in the United States. This has led to reading thousands of job posting advertisements on sites like Indeed.com, LinkedIn.com, Cragislist.com and others. We’re both college graduates in our mid twenties with a mixed work history, mostly in education and mostly in Asia. We have our hobbies and passions we’ve spent our non-working hours developing. We graduated from an excellent university. Jobs were scarce in 2009 when we graduated, so we both went abroad, worked on building up experience and continued to learn.

Looping around back to the present we start reading the requirements as listed in these job advertisements. It’s tragically hilarious. I swear they’re being written by copy monkeys hopped up on something legit.  I’m not talking about all, just some. There’s just enough of them that its like yeast seeping into the whole loaf of bread. Many jobs, and this does apply to most, do not even list the company from which they come. Zero research into the company possible.

It seems every job requirement lists requirements like “must have 5+ years of dental office experience” for a office coordinator position. Really? I learned how to teach a massive test to a bunch of high school students in a month and doubled their testing rates over the next nine months without doing anything even remotely questionable or having an hour of formal training.

If there are a few words that I could magic out of every job ad I read I would start with “expert. Then I would move on to “energetic”, “desire to succeed”, “excellent”, “driven”, “proven track record”, “success”, “team player”, “self motivated” and “written and oral communication”

Especially if any of those words  are used then and finished off with: “minimum wage and full time”. Look up living wage and compare it to minimum wage and you’ll understand why that would get me hot and bothered, the bad way.

My husband and I will find jobs. There’s really no choice about the matter. We have the ability to take a different road, adapt and learn new skills. We will change careers and probably in the end, five or ten years from now, be working for ourselves or a team we love.

What’s getting to me is just how soul crushing this system of seeking employment can be. In the dark quiet of our thoughts, we know that we can’t all be “experts”. When I think of experts, I’m thinking of people like Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and Yo-Yo Ma. They knew or know their field in ways that other people don’t. They are above and beyond the average practitioner of their trade.

Those are extreme examples, let’s bring it down a bit. According toe Google definitions an expert is someone with “a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge or skill in a particular area”. Comprehensive knowledge of anything is a pretty high standard. It takes years to develop. Do you really need an expert in anything to sit down and schedule appointments at a doctor’s office? Could you take a journeyman? Someone who’s well trained? A capable, well rounded human being with people skills? Where’s the pipeline creating these “highly skilled and experienced professionals”?

The point of my diatribe on job advertisements is they rarely seem to cut to the heart of what an employer needs. Many advertisements read the same or practically the same. My husband recently found a IT position at two different companies with exactly the same job posting. As a job seeker you can do your best, write a nice cover letter, tell them you’re a functioning adult with oral and written skills that makes you into an upstanding member of society. Then you can cross your fingers and hope that you get looked at out of the mass of other applicants who also stared at the job advertisement and wondered who wrote it and what did they really want.

It’s a soul crushing experience, sending out resume after resume, like a blind man at a shooting range, hoping that you’re going to wing a target here or there. I can only image it is equally frustrating to an employer, shifting through reams of resumes, hoping to find the one that sparks a bit of recognition  and tells them that this is the person who will fit into the team, be able to earn their trust and truly get the mission and vision of the company.

As a job seeker, I would love to craft you a beautiful cover letter showing you exactly how I can provide for your needs in the workplace. I would love to only apply to places where my talents would actually excel, but I’m shooting in the dark. Someone turn on the light.

I’m already turning away and looking for employment beyond the pages of jobs lists and newspaper ads. I’ve only been at this a week, but logically the odds seem to be against almost anyone making a good match out of this. It’s like online dating without a photo or a bio.

Here’s the lesson I’m learning from reading job descriptions. Employers seeking employees, put as much thought, description and soul into your advertisements as you hope dozens of applicants will put into their applications. It boils down to communication. If you want to attract the “amazing”, “talented” and “driven” people you say you want, then put a little of that into your posting. This is not an opposites attracts situation.

Caichang’s and the International Market

This piece was written in 2012. Since then, China has only moved forward and chain stores like Wall Mart and others innovations have  continued to advance. The rise in websites and networks in the organic farm industry in the U.S.  leads me to believe that the situation will come to some sort of balance, given time. Judge for yourself.

I visited the local farmer’s Market in Port Orchard this past weekend. It was their first opening of the year and there were less stalls than I remembered from previous years. There were quite a few people wandering about. Many people were walking their dogs. One young Newfoundland, an affectionate pup, held our attention for several minutes; true beauty and a heart of gold.

The first stall I stepped into disturbed me. The elderly lady in a long indefinitely colored skirt and fuzzy vest over conservative shoes explained proudly that her materials came from all parts of the world, including several countries in South America. A hat went for the bargain price of 90 dollars. A two-foot by two-foot rug was 200 dollars. In a city with a per capita income of 25,004  dollars per year, or just over 1,200 a month, purchases of this kind will be carefully considered and far between. It’s definitely not a goods and staples market for weekly shopping.

Compare this with my experience in China.

The caichang in China is an exciting, diverse and very thoroughly local market space. Farmers and intermediaries sell their meat, fruit, vegetables and preserves to city folk at prices that practically everyone can afford. Although I never shopped for all my produce at a caichang, I definitely enjoyed and appreciated their function in city life. The restaurants where I usual ate definitely shopped in these places Prices were significantly below that of large chain stores. The sanitary levels varied significantly, but it was usually not an insurmountable challenge.

The caichang in China has a rising competitor, the large chain stories. Much of the U.S. has already fallen under the onslaught of lower mass negotiated prices with international sourcing. I walked every row in my local farmer’s market, but there were at most four stalls that qualified as selling goods from local farmers. It would have been better, I think, to rename the market the local craftsmen’s market, or maybe, the local artesian market. We turn to our local economies for extras and the international conglomerate for necessities. What will China look like when it has reached the same point on a national level? Is it ready for that?

Like everything else, the answer is probably yes and no. People who made their living at the caichang will go through a period of hard transition, social networks will be broke, drift apart or morph. Eventually, economic imperatives and social choices will lay a path for the future of the caichang, whether it becomes a crafty, artistic shadow of itself like my U.S. farmers market or something else entirely.