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  • When you should use apostrophes

    When should you use apostrophes?

    I find people often have trouble using apostrophes in the right way. Here are three examples of incorrect usage –

    • Microsoft Windows was launched in the 1980’s
    • More people expect to be working into their 70’s
    • He went to the mens room

    In the first two, the words in bold are plurals and plurals don’t need apostrophes. In the third, mens is possessive and means ‘the room of the men’ so it should have an apostrophe. The correct versions are –

    • Microsoft Windows was launched in the 1980s
    • More people expect to be working into their 70s
    • He went to the men’s room

    When should you use apostrophes?

    If you’re interested to know when you should use apostrophes, The Plain English Campaign instances three main occasions when they should be used – 

    • When there are letters missing, as in ‘’I’m going out’ (where ‘I’m’ is short for ‘I am’)
    • To show possession, as in ‘The company’s management’ (where ‘company’s’ is short for ‘the management of the company’)
    • In expressions of time such as ‘We have been given a week’s notice’ (where ‘a week’s notice’ means ‘notice of one week’)

    Land’s End or Lands End?

    But things are seldom straightforward: there are often exceptions to times when you should use apostrophes. Many relate to place names. In September last year Cornwall County Council decided, as part of a review of electoral boundaries, to change the spelling of Lands End to Land’s End. Whether or not you agree with this depends on your point of view and whether you believe Land’s End is correct, denoting possession – ‘the end of the land’ – or you think it’s the unique ID of a place called Lands End. Just to complicate matters, Visit Cornwall is still showing Lands End without an apostrophe, and Lands’ End, the American casual clothing brand, makes Lands plural in its brand name.

    Looking at place names elsewhere, there’s little consistency about the use of apostrophes. For example, correspondents on this language forum instance the city of St Albans in Hertfordshire but St Alban’s Head on the Dorset coast. If you’re travelling on the London underground you can go to Earl’s Court using an apostrophe, or Barons Court without using an apostrophe. And King’s Cross is commonly spelt both with and without an apostrophe.

    The apostrophe should be cherished!

    In 2013, Mid-Devon County Council caused public outrage when it proposed removing apostrophes from street signs. The public outrage was echoed by no less than the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). A spokesman said, ‘Whilst this is ultimately a matter for the local council, ministers’ view is that England’s apostrophes should be cherished’.

    I know text-speak commonly ignores apostrophes – and other punctuation – but I don’t think that means apostrophes should be swept away across the board. I’m with the DCLG’s spokesman – I think using apostrophes assists our understanding of the English language and removing them would leave our language the poorer. However, decisions about when (and if) you should use apostrophes is not in our collective gift: the English language has always evolved organically and not as the result of decisions made by regulatory bodies – and that’s why it’s such a delightfully rich and versatile language. 

    If you love the English language …

    If you’d like to know more about how our language has evolved, read Emma Bates’ (with an apostrophe!) excellent article Why I Love the English Language. As she says, ‘The only effective way to influence the language is to be good at using it’.

  • Overcoming call reluctance

    Overcoming call reluctance

    Last week I took part in a webinar given by Steve Mills, a business results coach.  During the webinar he described the ten keys to growing your business. In order to achieve better results, he said, we need to do things we aren’t doing now. One of these is making phone calls. But some people don’t like using the telephone, Steve said, so for them it’s about overcoming call reluctance.   

    In order to increase your sales, you need to be comfortable calling people in your network – people you’ve met through networking or connect with on social media, including current prospects and past clients. Steve emphasized how important the telephone (well, smart phone these days) is as a business tool. He calculated he’d achieved business worth about £60k over a year as a result of speaking to people on the phone. 

    Fear of rejection can increase call reluctance

    A basic human fear of rejection lies behind call reluctance, it seems. After Googling the term, I saw that various organisations offer training  to help with overcoming call reluctance. There are positive steps you can take to reduce it, as Connie Kadansky at Hubspot explains in her blog on cold calling.

    So far, so good. But what would you say to someone who won’t use the phone? Indeed, they have no experience of using it, because they communicate solely by text messaging? A friend of mine who works for a local county council interviewed a nineteen-year-old for a job recently. During the interview the subject of making calls came up. This was because the job involved using the phone regularly. The candidate should have been ruled out if they couldn’t overcome call reluctance and use the phone as part of their work.

    Texting vs making phone calls

    Being a person of mature years, call reluctance is foreign to me: in my teens and into my twenties, I remember being on the phone to mates and friends endlessly. It used to cause arguments at home because nobody else could use the phone for hours while I was on it! OK, we didn’t have smart phones then. But if you’re used to communicating by phone, overcoming call reluctance may not be as big a problem as it obviously is for a nineteen-year-old with no phone experience.

    What’s the solution? I’m guessing this isn’t an isolated case and there are plenty of nineteen-year-olds who text all day long but don’t phone at all. Texting is a very different type of communication with its own linguistic characteristics; so for them it’s a big step overcoming call reluctance and developing a confident telephone manner.

    People buy from people

    Perhaps there’s a need for more focused coaching, in school and through career and employment organisations, to help young people overcome call reluctance and become confident making telephone calls? Of course, you can read books about increased prospecting but that’s a stage beyond offering advice on using the telephone to prepare yourself for work.

    Steve Mills is right – the phone’s an essential verbal tool because ‘people buy from people’. We need to build relationships, so talking on the phone is next best to having a one-to-one meeting. Once you’ve established rapport, the other person should feel confident enough to buy  from you, whether it’s a window-cleaning service or something else.

    Verbal skills are vital

    Don’t get me wrong – text messaging has its place, just as emailing or posting on social media do. But human beings are social animals and we need to use our verbal skills too, so we don’t lose them. That’s why overcoming call reluctance and being able to communicate by phone – whether to increase sales or just make somebody smile – is vital.

    Our story has a happy end – my friend saw that the nineteen-year-old candidate had many great attributes and she was taken on. This friend then spent time teaching the new employee how to overcome call reluctance and become confident on the phone.