On being … a hugger

By Ingrid Sapona

Are you a hugger? I’m talking about perfectly innocent, platonic hugging. For the longest time, I thought there were two kinds of people in the world: those that are huggers and those that aren’t. Applying that simple, binary approach to the issue, I fall into the non-hugger category.

I think the reason I saw the world this way is because most of my friends are also non-huggers. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, by the way. I think the fact we don’t normally hug each other is actually something that helps bind our friendship. I’ve never felt less close to my friends because we don’t hug at hello or goodbye. Indeed, for those of us who aren’t natural huggers, it’s kind of comforting to be around others who behave the same.

But, even though I think most folks would have little trouble self-identifying as either a hugger or non-hugger, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve adopted a more nuanced view. In fact, I now think of it as kind of a bell curve with non-huggers at one end and natural huggers at the other end.

Natural huggers are folks who, without any hesitation or pause, automatically reach out toward everyone they meet with arms wide open and – before you know what hit you – they embrace you for a moment and then release you. (Please don’t misinterpret this – I’m not talking about Trump-like groping or anything.) The hallmark of a true hugger is how wholeheartedly they envelope you in their embrace.

If you’ve ever come across a natural hugger, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I love – and admire – natural huggers. There’s something so genuine about their hugs, there’s really no room for embarrassment – on the hugger’s part, or on the huggee’s part. Whenever a natural hugger embraces me, I feel a human connection that’s both grounding and transcendent.

Clustered in the middle of the bell curve is a variety of what I term social status huggers. Social status huggers engage in a wide variety of hugs. Everything from the leaning forward, bending-at-the-waist-so-that-no-lower-body-parts-touch quick clasp of the other person’s shoulder hug, to the yo-how’s-it-goin’-bro, pat-on-the back kind of hug, to the fake-affectionate cheek-brushing-cheek hug. (Of course, if you’re greeting someone who’s French, that involves both cheeks.)

The reason I think a bell curve is an apt description is because when you’re at the non-hugging end of the curve, even social status hugs can be unnatural and uncomfortable. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, surely you’ve had this happen to you: you’ve leaned into someone, ready to do the cheek-to-cheek hug thing and as the other person leans in, they quickly turn their head and you end up brushing lips instead of cheeks. Awkward! That happens because the other person grew up a non-hugger. It’s true – when you’re a non-hugger, you never know which cheek to start with!

Once I began thinking of it as a curve, I began wondering whether everyone remains in pretty much the same place on the curve their whole life. I first realized it’s possible to move along the curve when I noticed my Dad’s behaviour the last three or four years of his life. Growing up, it was clear to me that Dad was not a hugger. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, after all.) But those last few years of his life, I noticed that with increasing frequency, he reached out to give friends a hug when they parted company. It was always a subtle gesture – in fact, I’m pretty sure most of those he reached out to hug never really thought about it. But, it was noteworthy to me, not to mention touching and inspiring.

So, the past few years I’ve been making an effort to move away from the non-hugger end of the curve. I realize I’ll never be a natural hugger (by definition of the word “natural” – you are either born that way or you’re not). But, I now aspire to selectively give whole-hearted hugs in that transcendent way a natural hugger does.  

A somewhat uncomfortable encounter I had last week – or, as I suspect the huggee might put it – that I precipitated, reminded me that my technique still needs a bit of work. The circumstance was a brief meeting I finally had with a woman who works for one of my clients. She lives in Europe but was in town for a conference and so we planned to meet.

Because we’ve worked together for four or five years, I felt close to her and very comfortable chatting. At the end of our meeting, I opened my arms widely and reached in to hug her. By the time I registered the slight panic on her face, I had already committed to the hug, and I carried through with it. But, unlike a natural hugger whose sincerity seems to triumph over such awkwardness, I was a bit embarrassed. So, as soon as I released the hug, I quickly reiterated how nice it was to have finally met her and I scurried off.

Despite that little setback, I’m not giving up. Though I still value my no-hugging-required friendships, I’m determined to initiate hugs more frequently. After all, I figure most of us could use more human contact.

What about you? Where are you on the curve?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … incredulous, nervous, and sad

By Ingrid Sapona

There are a few reasons this is a tough topic for me to write about. But, it’s the elephant in the room – the subject that has kept me up at night for some time – so I must write about it. The column is about Donald Trump.

To be honest, one of the main reasons I hesitate to write about Trump is because when I write On being… I try to present coherent arguments and thoughts. But, when the topic of Trump as president comes up, I often end up ranting. On that front, all I can do is promise that I’ll try to be coherent and that I’ll be heavy-handed in my editing.

I know that the fact the Trump candidacy has gotten this far is certainly a surprise to many. But that’s not the incredulity that the title alludes to. What I’m referring to is the way the media has covered his campaign. Going as far back as the Iowa Caucus, the media has turned cartwheels to find neutral ways of describing Trump and his campaign.

Fact: Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus. I know, it doesn’t matter at this point. But what does matter is that Trump lost – but no media outlet said that. Instead, they said things like: Trump came in second and Trump suffered a defeat. Now, no one can fault the media for putting it in those terms – they’re correct and true. But it’s equally true that Trump was the loser. Why would they not say that? Perhaps because it sounds unnecessarily mean or hurtful…

I know, I know, back in the early days of the primaries, Trump’s penchant for simple, straightforward words hadn’t quite made their mark. Of course, if Trump were a reporter covering that story and talking about anyone who hadn’t actually won, I’m sure he’d have had no problem calling them a loser.

But, what really bothers me is how many different acronyms the press uses to describe Trumps lying. He gets away with nicknaming Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” and referring to Clinton as “Crooked Hilary”, but when discussing his penchant for lying, the press speaks of him as making “false statements”, or that he makes claims that are “not the truth”, “provably false”, and that he “mishandles facts”. Again – all reasonable synonyms – but they are also very benign and easy to gloss over. As Trump knows, nothing drives home to people the truth than simple, short words. So, the bottom line is Trump lies – a lot.

I should say that I’ve noticed that over the past couple weeks or so, the press has finally come around and that various media outlets (the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times, for example) have finally begun to label his lies as “lies”. Bravo!

Another thing I’ve found unbelievable is that almost nothing has been said about conflicts of interest between Trump’s business empire and his running of the country. I’ve been wondering about that since the day he entered the race. This issue came up here in Canada years ago when businessman Paul Martin, who owned a huge shipping company, became the federal Finance Minister. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, Martin signed an obligatory blind management agreement under which he handed over autonomous operational control of his companies to the manager. And, when he was running for Prime Minister, he transferred his company outright to his sons. What would Trump do? Would he continue to run his empire from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Why doesn’t anyone at least ask? Doesn’t anyone care?

In mid-September, Newsweek finally ran a long story about the potential conflicts of interest that could arise from a security point-of-view. I was relieved when the article hit the newsstand, as I was SURE that the topic would become the focus of attention and questions. But, the issue has kind of gone nowhere. (Mind you, it’s not because the press can’t wrap its head around the issue of potential conflicts of interest – they certainly seem to think it’s an issue for Clinton and the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, a non-profit corporation that carries out humanitarian programs.)

Another thing about the press coverage that has bothered me is the propensity of folks in the US to use game analogies – things like Trump “doubled down”. For heaven sake – that just means he told a bigger lie or he refused to back down off a lie. Again, I understand the writer’s desire to be clever, or to find new ways to describe (crazy) behaviour, but it doesn’t help. The thing about such analogies is they make it acceptable to use other game analogies. Think of the folks who, claiming they’re tired of the current crop of elected officials, say they’re willing to “roll the dice” with Trump. But the election isn’t a game!

So, to my American readers, all I can say is that you should know that much of the rest of the world is nervous – very nervous about the idea of Donald Trump as president. In a post-debate editorial, the Toronto Star put it this way, “If Trump was seeking to run almost any other country, it would be a tragedy just for his own people. But the prospect of Trump in the White House presents a danger not only to Americans but to the entire world.” 

And finally, the other reason I initially hesitated to write about Trump is that the column isn’t meant to be about politics – it’s about behaviour. But here’s the thing – this column isn’t about politics. Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, I feel sad seeing that his way of behaving – of bullying, belittling, bragging, lying, being nasty, aggressive, hurtful, and hateful seems to have become acceptable in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for society, I think…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … unimaginable

By Ingrid Sapona

I sometimes buy on-line vouchers/coupons from Groupon and other such sites. Though many of you probably know what a Groupon is, for those who don’t (like my Mom), here’s a brief explanation. Groupon’s an on-line service where merchants offer special deals on their products or services. To get the deal, you buy the Groupon voucher, which you then redeem with the merchant. WagJag is another voucher/coupon service we have here in Canada and it works the same way.  

I tend to buy Groupon and WagJag vouchers for restaurants I like or that I’m interested in trying, and for things like oil changes and sometimes tickets to shows. I don’t buy many vouchers, but they send out emails to entice you, and I will confess to breezing through the e-mails frequently, to see what’s on offer.

Last week an email from WagJag advertised tickets to see Trevor Noah’s stand-up act. Out of curiosity, I clicked through to the website to find out about the deal. As I was scrolling around, I noticed they were also offering tickets to see comedian Amy Schumer, so I clicked on that first.

A number of things about the deal surprised me. Besides finding it odd that she’s playing a huge sports arena, I was surprised when I saw the price. The tickets ranged from $70 to over $600. (Actually, the highest price was over $950, but that wasn’t for just the show – it included a limo and dinner, though there was no indication that Amy would be at the dinner, which you’d hope at that price!) Oh, and for some reason, though the shows are here in Toronto, all the prices are in US dollars, which means we can add an exchange premium of at least 25%.

Out of curiosity, I then checked the price on Trevor Noah’s show. He’s playing a smaller venue (nicer, I think, for a stand-up act), but tickets to see him aren’t exactly cheap either. They range from US $84 to US $613. Now, I like Trevor Noah quite a lot, but at those prices, I’ll have to settle for enjoying him four nights a week on the Daily Show.

You know, WagJag claims to be “an online deal community where Canadians and their families can find great savings on things they need and love…”. So those ticket prices are supposedly a savings! I guess I had NO idea comedians command such prices. Clearly I’m woefully out-of-touch.

A few days later, another ticket offer caught my eye on WagJag – tickets to Adele in October. I know Adele is hugely popular – so popular, in fact, that she’s playing four nights here. Naturally, I was quite curious to see what her tickets are going for, and so I clicked on the deal.

Well, my first reaction was that there was a misprint. There had to be. There was no way the high price was over $8,800. Thinking I was misreading a comma for a period, I clicked to make the font bigger. To my shock, it really was a comma. Oh – and in case you’re wondering – no dinner or limo included – just the show. In fact, $8,800 isn’t even the all-in price – there’s an additional $1,100 in fees on top of that. Did I mention that all those amounts are in US dollars and they are PER TICKET!

There was also a disclaimer-like notice for each of these offers to let buyers know that the offeror is a “resale marketplace, not the ticket seller”. For what it’s worth, apparently you also get a “200% worry-free guarantee”… I guess that’s the difference between the WagJag tickets on offer and those you buy from a common scalper.

Normally when I hear about something I can’t afford, I may think about it for a couple minutes – maybe dream about buying it when I win the lottery – and then I move on. But not this time. I can’t tell you how many times the past few days I’ve thought about the idea of spending $8,800 for a concert ticket. For the longest time, I just couldn’t get my head around why anyone would pay that kind of money for a concert.

Eventually, however, I figured out what’s really bothering me. It’s not about Adele at all. It’s not even about wondering who has the kind of disposable income that allows them to spend thousands of dollars for two hours of entertainment. What I’ve really been hung up on is that I lack the imagination to think of anything I’d find so entertaining that I’d be willing to spend $8,800 on for two hours.

What would you spend $8,800 on?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … situationally aware?

By Ingrid Sapona

One of the more fun things about writing On being … is finding the right title. Sometimes a couple different titles come to mind. Sometimes the mere addition of a question mark makes all the difference (to me, at least). As you’ll see, this column falls into both those categories.

This past weekend I went on a club cruise to a nearby yacht club. It was a hot day and so before the happy hour festivities, I decided a shower would be nice. Besides the fact that my little boat doesn’t have a shower, it’s environmentally better to use facilities that are connected to the municipal water/sanitation system – in other words, to shower at the club.

So, I with my shampoo, towel, flip-flops, and a change of clothes, I headed to the clubhouse to find the showers. Now, I know that some folks, when they hear “yacht club”, may envision some luxurious, spa-like facility. Well, that’s rarely the case (at least, not with the majority of clubs on Lake Ontario). Instead, what most clubs have is a few shower stalls. In fact, that’s pretty much what this club had. One bonus was that each shower had its own small change area with a couple of hooks for clothes and towels.

As I stepped into the shower, I noticed that the floor was really un-even. As I was lathering up, I looked down and around at the stall itself. It wasn’t a pre-fab stall. It was the kind with the floor and walls all tiled. There was a drain hole in the middle of the stall floor and I thought they probably wanted the floor sloped so the water would flow into the drain. But, it seemed to me that they did a pretty sloppy job and instead, the floor was more un-even than sloping toward the drain.

Anyway, later, as I reached for my conditioner, I looked down and noticed that on my right foot I was wearing one of my dollar store flip-flops that I always wear in public showers. On my left foot, however, I was wearing a sandal. Besides being irritated with myself for showering in one of my favourite sandals, the 1-1/2 inch height difference between the flip-flop and sandal pretty much explained the unevenness!

I had to laugh… There I was – so present to the moment, noticing the contour of the shower stall floor. Not only that, I was so analytical in my assessment of the situation, and so sure of the explanation for it (poor craftsmanship). And yet, I was so wrong!

When I was done showering and doing my best to dry my poor sandal, I thought of other times I’ve had this kind of situational mis-awareness. One of the most memorable happened years ago when I was driving from Buffalo to Cleveland.

It was a trip I had made many times because I went to grad school in Cleveland. About 40 minutes after getting on the NY State Thruway, I saw a sign for a sod farm. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Gee, isn’t that interesting – there’s a sod farm on the way to Cleveland.” But my thoughts didn’t end there. As it happens, I knew that there’s a sod farm on the way from Buffalo to Rochester. So, when I saw the sign for the sod farm, I reasoned, “Wow, I guess Western New York is pretty fertile – two sod farms. Who knew?”

Ten or so minutes later, I saw a sign for the first Rochester exit. Yup… turns out the sod farm I saw the sign for wasn’t a new one on route west to Cleveland – it was the one that you see when you head east to Rochester. What can I say? I got off at the exit, phoned the friend I was going to see in Cleveland to explain that I’d be late and I made damned sure that when I got back on the Thruway I was headed west!

I wonder, does this kind of acute, albeit not-quite-accurate, situational awareness happen to others? I think it must happen to folks who, like me, want to make sense of things that just don’t seem quite as they should be. Then again, maybe there’s another explanation…

Can’t think of one? Well, here’s a hint: the other title I considered for this column was On being … a dumb blond move.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a blind spot

By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. Brown’s a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She does qualitative research using something called grounded theory. I liked the book – and, for the most part – I found the ideas she put forth compelling.

Though I know that may sound like less than a stellar review – it’s really not meant to be lukewarm. You see, the reason I hesitate to gush about the book isn’t so much about the topic or Brown’s ideas. It’s got more to do with a metaphor she uses that drives me crazy. In explaining certain behaviours, she often describes humans as being “hard wired” for … [fill in the blank].  

I know, it’s a pretty common figure of speech – and one of the reasons I think people use it is that it invokes a definitive image. (For me it instantly conjures an image of a delicate – but securely soldered – circuit board.) But, it’s precisely the concreteness of the imagery that gives me pause because it seems to foreclose other explanations for a given behaviour.

Indeed, every time I hear the expression “hard wired” used in a social science context, a voice inside my head mumbles a line from Yentl: Where is it written? For those who don’t remember the movie, it’s about a young Jewish woman who wants to study religion but isn’t allowed to. And, when a bookseller tells Yentl she’s not allowed to read sacred books because they’re for men, she protests by asking: “Where is it written?” The bookseller says it doesn’t matter where it’s written, it’s the law. To that, Yentl responds: “Well, if it’s the law, it must be written somewhere. Perhaps [it’s] in here” (pointing to the book she wasn’t allowed to read). I’ve always loved that line and, though I don’t usually say it aloud, I think of it often. I guess to me it’s a kind of the inquiring mind’s way of saying, “Oh yeah, who says?”

In defense of my reaction, I think Brown’s use of the metaphor was so discordant to me because Brown takes a lot of pride in the fact that her thoughts and conclusions are not simply from her own experience. She really emphasized that her conclusions are based on her qualitative research. But, every time she used the expression, I felt she was trying too hard to convince readers of the scientific validity of her conclusions. Though I do think she’s an astute observer and that her research was far-reaching and methodical, to me, the subjective nature of the inquiry doesn’t really lend itself to such concrete conclusions.  

The first few times Brown used the “hard wired” expression I was so distracted by the mental image and Yentl’s voice in my head demanding definitive proof of the assertion, I felt like simply returning the book to the library. But, instead of quitting, each time I wrestled with my irritation and eventually let it go so I could continue reading. I’m glad I persevered because the book truly does offer lots of valuable insights into human nature in general.

Not only that, about half way through the book I realized my little struggle with her choice of metaphor was also helping me in a most unexpected way. It was helping me see – and overcome – one of my blind spots. This particular one relates to my being too literal. I first realized I’m too literal years ago when I noticed my adverse, knee-jerk reaction to use of the word “absolutely”. Like comedians, literalists tend to believe there are really only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

It took some doing, but I eventually managed to get over what I often thought of as a cavalier use of that very powerful word. Now I get that when most people say “absolutely”, what they’re really doing is trying to convey confidence, rather than certainty. I can live with that…

Blind spots are interesting. Like cars, I think we all have them. Often, however, we don’t recognize them and so they can catch us by surprise and cause us to swerve momentarily. But, once we identify them, we can learn to compensate for them.

So, besides learning about what it means to dare greatly, Brown’s book helped me realize I’m absolutely hard wired to get distracted – sometimes to the point of disbelieving someone – when I feel someone’s chosen their words, or used metaphors, carelessly. But, thanks to this realization, I guess you could say I’ve learned to adjust my mirrors and take a second look so that I can continue along the road to learning, growing, and perhaps even daring greatly.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … in bulk

By Ingrid Sapona

We’ve all heard the adage: cheaper by the dozen. Before sitting down to write today’s column, I decided to look up where it comes from, figuring it’s been around for a looooong time. Apparently, it’s not that old – it comes from the name of a novel published in 1948. In contrast, the idea of 13 making up a baker’s dozen goes back to the Middle Ages when baker’s started including an extra loaf so they wouldn’t be charged with shortchanging buyers by making loaves that weighed less than legally required.* (I thought cheaper by the dozen might have a pedigree like the baker’s dozen, but it doesn’t!)

Cheaper by the dozen came up recently when I was shopping for corn at my local farmer’s market. A friend was coming for a barbeque and, though I thought it might be too early for local corn, it was worth a look. I was delighted when I found two farmers selling what they described as the season’s first.

They were still setting up when I got there, so there was no indication of the price. I went back when they were fully set up. When I got to the table, I heard a gentleman ask the price of the corn. While I expected a price difference depending on how many you bought, I was very surprised when the farmer said $5 for 6 or $7 for 12. From the look on the face of the man who asked, I think he was surprised too!

While I didn’t mind having a couple ears left over for another night, there were only two of us for dinner, so there was no way I could use a dozen. But, $5 for 6 seemed really unfair. When the gentleman who asked the price also hesitated, I asked him if he wanted to split a dozen. Though he was surprised at my suggestion – he quickly agreed. As I handed him $3.50, a farmer within earshot said, “That’s the way to do it!” and another joked, “See how the market brings people together!”

On the way home, though I was pleased at my quick deal with the stranger, I was still irritated at the price difference. The “cheaper by the dozen” phenomenon – and variations of it – come up a lot. I’ve often pondered the rationale – and I have to say, in most circumstances I don’t get it.

I can understand it if the vendor needs to move a big quantity and so they set a low bulk price encourages people to take more. But with the corn that morning, I don’t think that rationale applied. Since it was so early in the season, he didn’t have that many bushels. I doubt he’d have had trouble selling what he brought to the popular market. 

Sometimes I figure they charge more for a smaller amount because there’s added costs involved in providing an unorthodox size. For example, I understand paying more per pound for a wedge of watermelon than for a whole one. In that case, the seller spends time cutting, wrapping, and weighing the cut piece, not to mention they need to be more careful the way they display or store cut pieces because they’re more delicate.

Other times I suspect the discount offered for a large quantity is related to the marginal cost. For example, when a fast food place only charges 30¢ more for an extra large coffee instead of a medium – clearly the incremental cost of the added volume of coffee is low. In other words, the sunk costs are the same on all sizes: the cost of a cup, a lid, and labour to make a cup, etc. So the additional 30¢ only has to cover the cost of a bit of extra coffee, cream, milk, sweetener, and profit.

But there are lots of situations where a healthy price difference just seems discriminatory. The most egregious example is the so-called single supplement that’s often charged to singles joining a tour group. I get that a couple staying in a hotel might spend more on incidentals, and the marginal cost of having a second person in the room is minimal, but why should a solo traveller have to pay more to be in a room alone?

I know that for most folks, the favourable price available when buying in bulk is seen as a bonus. But for those who don’t need the added quantity (for example, because they live alone or don’t have a ton of storage space), such bonuses feel like a penalty. In the scheme of life’s irritants, this might not rank high for some, but it does irk some of us who fly solo…

I don’t know, maybe the solution is to always shop with a friend – someone willing to split the occasional dozen or multi-pack. Actually, maybe I should be looking for a Silicon Valley whiz kid to work with me on an app to bring the sharing economy to those interested in bulk buying!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … game

By Ingrid Sapona

No, today’s column isn’t something ripped from the headlines about Nintendo’s release of Pokémon Go. As it happens, last month I started a column about enjoying old-fashioned games – you know, board games, card games, and the like, that you play with people in person. But, I scrapped the idea then because I figured such games might be passé. But, with this week’s news about Pokémon – and some of the perils encountered by those playing it – I decided that old-fashioned games deserve equal time.

The topic of games was on my mind after friends and I finally got together for a “games night” a few weeks ago. We had been talking about doing so since last fall, but we never managed to find an evening. The topic came up again when we ran into each other in May, but we agreed the odds of us finding time for a game night in the near future was unlikely, as summer weekends inevitably fill up with concerts, barbeques, sailing, and other activities.

Then we had a brilliant idea: since we’re all sailors, why not sail our boats over to a nearby club for an overnight stay and some games. So, we agreed on the date, the destination, what games we’d bring, and who’d bring what for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. 

The weather cooperated and it was great! We did have to laugh, however, when we realized on Sunday morning that we had only played one game. Feeling a bit guilty, we played one more after breakfast, before heading out for our voyages home. On my sail back I couldn’t help smiling and thinking about how the games night was, in large part, an excuse for an afternoon and evening of delicious food, drinking (no one was driving home, after all), and great conversation.

A few days later I was telling this story to another friend (I’ll call her Anne) and we got to talking about the social aspects of playing board games and card games. Growing up we didn’t play that many as a family. But, for the past 20 years or so, games have become a central feature of our family’s holiday get-togethers.

Anne commented on the fact that when her daughter was little, she realized the important socialization skills we learn by playing such games with others. She explained that because the way she and her family interacted while playing games was very different from the way her husband’s family interacted, her daughter learned how to read people and adapt to different styles.

I could totally relate to what she was saying because I know that the way our family plays word games is very different from the way others do. We play them kind of communally. Each person comes up with their own words on their turn, but once they’ve made their play (or if they’re ready to give up in frustration), we all jump in and see if we can rearrange the letters to come up with more points. If we improve the score, the points go to the person whose turn it was. I know, it may seem odd, but this way we’re all sort of invested in each play. I think it helps that we’re all only mildly competitive – so we keep score, but given the way we all contribute on each hand, the winner’s bragging rights don’t amount to much.

Anyway, with the topic of games suddenly in the news, I decided to write about the virtues of getting together for some old fashioned games. Mind you, in singing the praises of such games, I’m not impugning digital games. Heaven knows I’ve passed many an enjoyable few minutes (OK, maybe the odd hour here or there) playing them. But every time I pick up the iPad or sit at the computer and play something, I’m very aware that it’s more time spent alone, rather than in the company of others.

I know, for many folks, the alone time is part of the appeal of digital games. I also realize that there are other benefits to digital games. Some are tools for learning. Some are useful for improving physical dexterity. (Any readers old enough to remember when computer mice were introduced will remember learning to use the mouse by playing solitaire on the computer.) And, Pokémon Go has already been credited with getting folks off the couch and out into their neighborhoods as they chase the Pokémon characters who – thanks to technology called “augmented reality” – magically appear superimposed on the real world on their smart phone screen.

I guess all I really want to say in closing is that if you’re thinking that maybe you’d like to augment your reality a bit this summer – there are alternatives to high tech games. Why not augment the reality of what would otherwise be an ordinary Saturday night by inviting some (real) friends to join you at your table for some old fashioned games? Who knows what laughter,  conversation, and bonding might ensue…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


On being … under delivered

By Ingrid Sapona

When I worked at a big consulting firm, one of the partners had a motto that I strive to live up to in all my work situations: under promise, over deliver. I like that saying because it embodies two separate and equally important aspects of customer service: managing the customer’s expectations to make sure they are reasonable and delivering service that goes beyond what the customer is expecting.

Some businesses manage customer expectations by offering service levels at different prices. Courier companies are the prime example. Courier services quote you a rate to get a package from point A to point B within a given period. But, they also offer to deliver packages faster, for a premium.

Indeed, if you’ve used a courier company like FedEx or DHL recently, you know that many such have honed performance pricing to practically an art form, with options like: standard, two-day, overnight, and even overnight and before a specific time the next day. So, the customer decides what the delivery speed is worth to them, and both parties are clear on the expectation based on the price the customer paid. Clever – almost enviable – business model, right?

Well, earlier this week my sister wanted to send me something. She knew I was going to be at my mother’s house in Buffalo from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, so she decided to send it to me there, rather than send it to my home here in Toronto.  She paid a premium to have the package delivered between 4 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday. When it didn’t arrive, I phoned her.

She then phoned FedEx. It turns out that the FedEx plane was delayed at her end due to circumstances beyond their control – bad weather. The FedEx plane made it to Buffalo early on Wednesday and so they said the package would be delivered on Thursday. She let FedEx know I was leaving on Thursday early afternoon and they said they’d get it to me before 1.

Well, by 2 p.m. it was not there, so I phoned FedEx. While I was on my second call to them, I saw a FedEx truck pass our house and then turn around a few doors down. The truck then pulled up in front of our house and delivered a package to the neighbor across the street before driving away. Then, five minutes later, our neighbor came over with the package addressed to me. Not only was it nearly 24 hours late, the driver didn’t even seem to care what number he was delivering it to!

I could understand when the package wasn’t delivered on Wednesday because there was a delay due to bad weather. But when they set the expectations so high by charging a hefty premium for delivery within a certain period, they should go out of their way to make sure the package is delivered within their revised promised delivery time (in this case by 1 p.m. Thursday), not to mention that it is delivered to the right address.

I had a similar problem a couple months ago when a client in Buffalo sent me something via DHL. They decided to send it via courier because a few months before that they sent something via ordinary mail and it took a week to get here. Well, despite paying for “overnight delivery”, the DHL envelope took seven days to arrive. When it didn’t show up on day four, I asked the client for the tracking number. In tracking it, I found out that the envelope went from Buffalo to Cincinnati and then to a DHL office in Northern Alberta before being sent to Toronto. Though DHL never explained why it took seven days to get an overnight delivery from Buffalo, it seems odd that they were shipping things via Northern Alberta at that time because it was in the midst of the Fort McMurray wildfires.

As a kid, I used to get my hopes up about things. And, if something I was looking forward to didn’t happen, I was bummed out. I’m sure that happened to everyone. I’m also sure that as we get older, we learn to temper our expectations a bit to avoid disappointment.  But, just because we’re adults, we shouldn’t have to settle for service that’s not what we’ve been promised.

When companies build up our expectations and charge in proportion to their promised service, we shouldn’t have to temper our expectations. Is it too much to ask that businesses – including courier services – make sure their promises are realistic and that they can deliver on them? I don’t think it is…

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona