As an editor, I’m prone to avoiding verbiage that could be misconstrued, and one of my pet peeves as a business owner is having a misleading calendar that inaccurately or incompletely informs me of upcoming appointments.
Nobody likes being confused.
In both my professional and social circles, I have to rein in my irritation when people schedule appointments and get-togethers by saying “next” or “this” such-and-such a day. Especially with the holidays and the barrage of related gatherings just around the corner, it’s critically important to avoid any misunderstandings (and double bookings).
I recently received an email from a client who wanted to meet to discuss a project. Here’s how their message read:
I have something to show you. It’s hard to explain. You need to see it. Is that OK? How about next Friday?
My jaw clenched at that last question.
I’ve run into too many complications when using the “next” and “this” references in regard to days/weeks/months that I’ve all but dropped it from my written and oral vocabulary.
Because to some people “next Friday” means this soonest, upcoming Friday, while to others “next Friday” means the next Friday after this Friday, and saying “this Friday” can only imply this soonest, most immediate Friday. There is no other meaning for “this [day]” that I’ve come across.
It’s obvious we have a definition overlap. And, in business, that can make for a huge mistake.
Why it matters
Let’s say you have a big meeting with an important client. It’s a pivotal meeting, scheduled to dole out the final details of your contract so you can make money and their project can be on its way. Let’s say the latest email thread (or round of text messages) goes like this:
You: Let’s meet at the diner next Wednesday for lunch, at noon-thirty. We can talk the details over then and get this project started for you ASAP.
Client: Sounds great. I’ll see you then!
Simple enough, right? Except Client has a different definition of “next” than you do, so he ends up showing at the diner at 12:30 sharp a week before that meeting is even on your radar.
And he sits. And waits. And orders a coffee from a server who eyes him pitifully like he’s been stood up. And he waits some more, feeling stood up. (BTW, this isn’t looking good for you.) Eventually it’s been 45 minutes and he calls you, furious, to cancel the whole deal and ends up giving the project to someone else.
All because of that stupid “next”.
My Advice: 3 Ways to be Annoyingly Explicit
1. Get to the point
The vast majority of the time I communicate with my clients via email or text, so the words I use in those messages are critical. Each word has purpose; if it doesn’t, it’s outta there, because all those words are doing are filling space without adding value.
So, if a client tries to schedule a potential meeting or conference and uses “this” or “next” in their efforts, I grind my teeth, then reply with a “So, to confirm, we’re meeting Tuesday, July 12 @ 2:30pm on Video Chat to discuss changing the layout?”
It may seem like overkill and possibly redundant to the recipient, but getting clarification and making sure everyone is on the same page is the correct, professional response. Just like starting emails with a greeting and not using emoticons in business writing (though the debate continues).
“The best things in life are . . . Annoying.”
― Grumpy Cat
If I don’t get a response (because sometimes people, in their speed reading mania, don’t notice the question mark and think it was a statement and not a request for clarification), I send that email again. And again. And, gosh darn it, I’ll send it again if I have to and maybe even call! I’ll annoy them as many times as I need to to get confirmation because I don’t want to be the jerk who didn’t show up. (And, also, I passively hope to teach them to be more explicit in their future appointment-setting strategies.)
2. Make it short & sweet
Not only are each of the words in written messages critical, but the messages themselves need to be concise.
Let’s face it: This is the age of mobile devices and reading screens three-inches large. If the appointment information I’ve offered can’t fit on their screen without them having to scroll, I’ve written too much. ALL the details of the appointment should show up either in the subject line or within the first paragraph.
A solid schedule should include ALL these points:
- Day (e.g. Tuesday)
- Date (e.g. July 12)
- Time (specify AM or PM)
- Location (i.e. video chat, coffee shop, diner)
- Intent (e.g. to discuss changing the layout, to finalize the contract)
3. Don’t forget intent!
Often the most unappreciated part of scheduling an appointment, the intent of a meeting isn’t so crucial to showing up as it is to being prepared for what happens once you’re there.
“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants.
What are you industrious about?”
― Henry David Thoreau, Letters to Various Persons
There’s nothing quite as irritating to me as going to a medical appointment and having the doctor walk in with a big “So what am I seeing you for today?” as if he didn’t even bother to read the ten pages of questionnaire I just spent half an hour filling out in the lobby. #Facepalm
Sometimes I think I should say something quippy in those small moments, but I’m much quippier in writing than I am in person. Alas, a writer’s trials.
Still, knowing the purpose of a meeting helps you to prepare your best for it. Knowing what you’re in for gives you time to pull the proper files, research the given topic, and know your stats and figures before going into the meeting so you at least look like you know your stuff and can pass for an appropriately prepared professional.
Even if you’re just starting out, “fake it ’til you make it”. That is, act like a professional and people will treat you like one.
And professionalism starts with showing up on time.
Tell me about an appointment-setting snafu you experienced. What lesson did it teach you?