Reach Out and Touch Someone

When I was a child growing up in Maplewood, N.J., my father was an amateur radio operator, or a Ham. He would spend evenings down in his radio room in our basement trying to communicate via radio to all parts of the world (causing the televisions in the house to be all static, usually right in the middle of the show you were trying to watch), and over the years he ended up speaking to people in well over 100 different countries or territories in all corners of the world. The acknowledgement of the communication with the person was done through something known as a QSL card, which was literally a 3 ½ by 5 ½ inch card that was sent through the mail with the identification of the station that my father had spoken to, when the communication had taken place, and what frequency the communication had occurred on. For my father these cards were a source of pride for the accomplishment of being able to talk to someone new in a place far away that he knew that he would probably never get to in his life, especially considering that up until the early 1990s there wasn’t that communications tool that we have all grown to rely upon maybe too much these days – email.Now I am not going to go on for the rest of this piece complaining about email. I think it is a necessary tool that we need to use both in business and in our personal lives. It has allowed us to do what my father tried to do thirty years ago, which is communicate with anyone we want to just about anywhere we need to at any time we want. What I am going to go on about is the insistence of some to communicate solely by email and not pick up the phone and talk to someone. Before you start thinking that I am going to say that this is an issue with younger people, I don’t think it is. In fact, I really believe that this is an across the board issue with people of all ages. It is far easier to send an email in 30 seconds than to dial a phone and maybe have to talk with someone, and with the email you have something that someone who I used to work for called “plausible deniability.” In other words, your butt was covered if you needed it.We need to communicate by voice more. It is too easy to misinterpret someone’s message and intent by relying on the printed word only. I’m not saying it is time to ditch the email, but it is time to make the call first and follow it up with the email or email and follow with the call. When I was at the M&E I would speak to most, if not all of the customers first thing in the morning every day. It was the best way to ascertain their true needs (it is really easy to say “I need the car ASAP” in an email, where they really needed the car by the end of the day), and you also were able to read between the lines as to what was going on in the customer’s company, because you were able to communicate directly with the person, and not through an indirect email that someone spent way too much time thinking about composing, just so they said the “right” thing.While we are not exactly in the age of the QSL card taking weeks to arrive by mail acknowledging that the communication took place, we are in an age where we shouldn’t just be happy with “I sent them an email.” Follow up the email with a call, or vice versa. You will probably get more than just a one-word answer.--By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. At the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR's Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA's board of directors.