February 2004
Issue 2
Volume 9

In This Issue

When Things Get Hot: To Talk or Not
Avoiding the Caller I.D. Trap Takes Two
Grammar Trap: Percent Is vs. Percent Are

When Things Get Hot: To Talk or Not

Sometimes responding to a crisis can fan the flames instead of put them out. You have to keep an eye—and an ear—on the fire.

Fire up your common sense. Was anyone hurt? Could the situation get worse if you hang back?

When the 4-H camp in West Virginia was criticized because campers engaged in fisticuffs, officials should have known it was bad news and getting worse. The idea of a camp pitting one kid against another would attract a great deal of interest all by itself. Add a mad mother and the name of a universally recognized icon famous for developing great kids, and you've got a national news story.

The situation demanded a quick and comprehensive response. It didn't get one.

Listen to the people you care about. What do your stakeholders think? This list could include your colleagues, the county council, your boss, your clientele, and state legislators. If they’re concerned, you should be, too.

But know that there’s a difference between the troops being upset and the opinions of people who can affect your destiny. An unflattering article or an editorial can make the people around you steam, but you need to take other temperatures before you add more fuel to the fire.

A few years ago a major metropolitan newspaper did a series on animal waste spills in Indiana. Animal producers were livid and thought the articles were an attack on them and their industry.

Yet, despite controversial headlines and some inflammatory promotion, the series didn’t really burn anybody. One of the commodity groups did a public opinion survey and found many people hadn't read the whole series and most retained a positive image of animal producers. If the farm folks had gone on an all-out offensive, they could have sparked more interest in the topic than the original articles did.

Keep track of the issue, and see who takes interest. If the fire spreads, you need to know. But remember that the response should be in direct proportion to the threat. Small threat, small response.

One last fire safety tip: No matter where you work, every institution has rules governing who pulls the fire alarm and who talks to the firefighters. It’s always a good idea to ask your bosses first.

Chris Sigurdson [ sig@purdue.edu ]

Avoiding the Caller I.D. Trap Takes Two

In the age of telemarketers, non-profit organizations, and collection agencies, many of us automatically glance at our caller I.D. indicators to see who’s on the line and respond accordingly. This is fine at home, but at work, you can be caught in the caller I.D. trap.

For example, Jessi has a caller on the phone who wants to talk with a specialist about mad cow disease in the food supply. Because this is not her area, she transfers the call to me in Ag Comm's News Unit.

As my phone rings, I look up at the phone display and see Jessi’s extension. I pick-up the phone and reply, “What’s up, chica?”—not realizing that she is transferring a call. The person on the other end of the line who is greeted by my banter is a reporter with CNN, not Jessi! See what I mean?

To be safe and not sorry, don't answer the phone with “What’s up,” “Howdy,” or whatever other personal salutation you greet your co-workers with. When you answer the phone at work, you are representing Purdue, so answer it professionally. Once you’re sure whom you're talking to, you can kick back if that's appropriate.

But what about the person in this little example who set the trap (i.e., transferred the call)? She’s a guilty party, too, because she didn't announce the caller to me before releasing the call.

If she had, I'd be spared some embarrassment and would have had the chance to prepare myself for the conversation. And the reporter would have gotten the information she needed—and ended up with a better impression of Purdue.

For more information on call transferring traps, see, “Transferring Calls Is Not Always the Best Option,” in the January 2004 Issue of On Target.

Vanessa Puckett [ vpuckett@purdue.edu ]

Grammar Trap: Percent Is vs. Percent Are

The rule with “percent” has to do with whether or not there's an “of phrase” following the word.

When there’s no “of phrase” following the word, you use the singular verb.

Example: Fifty percent is a reasonable figure.

When there is an “of phrase,” you use the plural verb.

Example: Fifty percent of Purdue students are spending Spring Break at home.

I've used “is” and “are” here, but the same holds true for any verb.

Thanks to Gerry Harrison, Ag Economics, for suggesting this topic.

Do you have a grammar (or usage) trap you'd like to see discussed? Do you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid one? If so, please let me know.

Visit our archive for past “Grammar Traps.”

Laura Hoelscher [ email ]

We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of On Target? If so, please e-mail any of our writers.

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