Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room the other day, I found myself becoming increasingly irritated by an unnecessarily large collection of instructions. Alongside the questionable assortment of obscure magazines, and the throng of way-too-graphic posters, I was assaulted by a number of barked commands, stuck to various surfaces, each screaming for my attention. You already get the picture, don’t you? CAPITALIZED, bolded, occasionally italicized, randomly underlined, and executed in the ugliest, most unloved of extra-large fonts.
Use Capitals with Care
It started as soon as I walked through the door.
HEALTH CARDS MUST BE SHOWN AT EVERY VISIT. If you were reading from a script, there’s no doubt that you’d be shouting that sentence. Why do people do this? When we use capitals, or any other indicator of emphasis, in anything but the most measured doses, we’re effectively screaming our message. It’s almost always guaranteed to upset an audience. Why do we think we should write so differently from the way we speak? Written communication is simply an alternative form of conversation. Write as if you’re talking to your patient, your customer, partner, supplier, friend or loved one in the most relevant and appropriate way possible, using “Please” and “Thank You” to encourage and reward compliance. We don’t have permission to turn into authoritative, dictatorial monsters just because we’re using a keyboard.
There’s nothing worse than an instruction without an explanation. When we issue a directive without context or justification, people get pissed. Readers can be independent and stubborn creatures. Faced with a unilateral command, they’re more likely to rebel. Net result = instruction ignored.
As I made my way to the crowded waiting room to the only available seat, I passed at least four notices telling me
CELL PHONES ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE WAITING ROOM.
I searched for a logical explanation. Should I have left my cell phone in the car? Why would the very presence of an intelligent communication device be unwelcome? More likely, I was being told not to make cell phone calls in the waiting room. Why? Maybe because a phone conversation could disturb other patients or annoy the receptionist. In which case, should there also be a ban on conversations between waiting patients, or receptionists on a landline? What’s the difference between a cell phone call and a live chat? I continued to question the instruction. Perhaps the prohibition was due to potential interference with critical medical equipment, or the risk to nearby planes on take-off and landing. Joking aside, I’m not asking for a dissertation, but please tell me why you don’t want me to use my cell phone, and I’m much more likely to comply willingly. I’m significantly more obedient when I understand the reason behind your request. In the absence of any explanation, I came to the conclusion that the ban related to the noise and annoyance factor, and I decided to do some surreptitious texting and tweeting to soak up the hour’s wait before my ten minute appointment.
Don’t be Ridiculous
As I left the doctor’s office in a far worse mood than when I’d arrived, I noticed a small label stuck to a low-level filing cabinet next to the receptionist’s desk.
DO NOT SIT ON THIS. Seriously? I was tempted to counter with my own directive: PROVIDE MORE CHAIRS OR STOP OVERBOOKING APPOINTMENTS AND WE’D BE LESS LIKELY TO MISTAKE YOUR FILING CABINET FOR FURNITURE.