Wednesday, October 31, 2007
That means dealing with the hordes.
Last year, more than 200 kids came to our door. That is no exaggeration. Apparently, our home is in a Halloween Hot Zone. Vans bring in children and drop them off. Small kids, big kids, and kids who should have given up Treat or Treating several Halloweens ago come by seeking loot. We turn no one away until the candy is gone and since my earnest goal is to get these calories out of the house, I'm half-way tempted to empty it all into the sacks of the first three tricksters.
But, to quote Richard Nixon, that would be wrong.
Consider what’s happening in India and China. As Carson and Vaitheeswaran point out, car ownership in both countries has been and still remains, by U.S. standards, almost absurdly low. There are nine personal vehicles per thousand eligible drivers in China and eleven for every thousand Indians, compared with 1,148 for every thousand Americans. But incomes in the two countries are rising so rapidly—the Chinese economy grew by eleven per cent last year and is expected to grow by the same amount this year—that millions of vehicleless families will soon be in a position to buy automobiles. Assuming that incomes continue to rise, in a few years tens of millions of families will be buying their first cars, and eventually hundreds of millions. (To satisfy increasing demand in India, the country’s second-largest auto manufacturer, Tata Motors, is set to start producing a four-door known as the one-lakh car—a lakh is a hundred thousand rupees—that will sell for the equivalent of twenty-five hundred dollars.) Were China and India to increase their rates of car ownership to the point where per-capita oil consumption reached just half of American levels, the two countries would burn through a hundred million additional barrels a day. (Currently, total global oil use is eighty-six million barrels a day.) Were they to match U.S. consumption levels, they would require an extra two hundred million barrels a day. It’s difficult to imagine how such enormous quantities of oil could be found, but, if they could, the result would be catastrophe. “Just consider the scale of the potential problem—for instance, the effect on global warming of seven hundred and fifty million more cars in India and China, belching carbon dioxide,” Carson and Vaitheeswaran write.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
All without once, not even for a minute, listening to and internalizing what I was saying. I ended the call with the request for more information to share with my team. Information I have not received. Sadly, this was his version of lead generation – pushy, unkind, and one-way. A conversation it most certainly was not.
Now, I have no problem with sales professionals. I think they are very special people – it takes patience, resiliency and ability to adapt to be in sales. Today, it also takes a generous reserve of emotional intelligence. If this is your sales team, pull them off the phones and teach them some manners.
[HT: Tim Berry ]
Monday, October 29, 2007
The public-relations firm hosts an annual Black and Orange Bash, a party of socializing and networking for its staff and clients. There is usually musical entertainment and novelties such as fortune tellers or temporary-tattoo artists; this year, an artist will be drawing caricatures, said Linda Clarke, executive vice president for the firm, based in the San Francisco Bay area.
Yet you're not going to find the 200 attendees mingling in creative Halloween costumes, Ms. Clarke said. The party attire is simple and direct: Wear orange and black.
"You never know what you're going to get," Ms. Clarke said, referring to the creative -- and sometimes office-inappropriate -- costumes that adults might wear. Plus, she said, making a costume mandatory might make some people uncomfortable and turn the invitation down.
Read the rest of Amy Houk's article on how some organizations celebrate Halloween at work.
Fortunately, the actual moment that Buffalo chicken wings were invented has been described by Frank Bellissimo and his son, Dom, with the sort of rich detail that any historian would value; unfortunately, they use different details. Frank Bellissimo is in his eighties now, and more or less retired; he and his wife, Teressa, are pretty much confined to an apartment above the Anchor Bar. According to the account he has given many times over the years, the invention of the Buffalo chicken wing came about because of a mistake—the delivery of some chicken wings instead of the backs and necks that were ordinarily used in making spaghetti sauce. Frank Bellissimo thought it was a shame to use the wings for sauce. “They were looking at you, like saying, ‘I don’t belong in the sauce,’ ” he has often recalled. He implored his wife, who was doing the cooking, to figure out some more dignified end for the wings. Teressa Bellissimo decided to make some hors d’oeuvres for the bar—and the Buffalo chicken wing was born.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
It was a sleeping carriage, the start of a run east. Tomorrow I would cross the border to Nepal on foot. Then on to Kathmandu. Then Lhasa. Then over Tibet and onward, sometimes west and always north, to places unknown. Tonight the train was jostling, hot, full of brilliant Indian colors and smells, the famous synesthesia of the subcontinent, too much of everything. The cabin had four bunks. The pair on the right were occupied by a Brahmin couple, having their feet kissed in farewell by their adult children. And on the bunk below mine, what had to be perfect luck: a Buddhist monk, his elegant robes dark mustard, his disposition affable.
One is enjoined to seek, on the road to the hidden kingdom, the blessing and advice of wise monks, and around midnight, after rubbing menthol all over himself, this learned man listened to my plan. I was setting out on the ancient pilgrimage route to Shambhala, I told him, to seek the king and paradise here on earth. I was afraid, I said. Did he have any advice?
I'm an office manager at a very small company, where I work with three other girls. In short, I am much smarter than my co-workers. When one of them asks a dumb question (i.e., "What's so bad about Fox News?"), I try to be sensitive and explain without making them feel stupid. Sometimes, though, I get very frustrated, and it's difficult to hold my tongue. Yesterday, my co-worker's sister came in to visit and announced shamelessly that she had never heard of Craigslist. After she left, I exclaimed to my other co-workers, "I can't believe she's never heard of Craigslist!" My co-workers defended her, saying they had never heard of Craigslist until they moved to New York City. I find this preposterous. I didn't say anything else because I didn't want to come off as a snob (which is probably how I'm coming off in this e-mail; my apologies). How does one handle working with people like this? I could keep my mouth shut and go with the flow, but it makes me feel dumb when I don't speak up—I feel that if I don't acknowledge their stupidity, then I'm not doing my duty as an informed young woman.
- Rejection slip from a Chinese economic journal, quoted in The Financial Times
Saturday, October 27, 2007
So I'm well-disposed to the laconic. Seated next to Calvin Coolidge, a lady supposedly said to him, "Mr. President, my friend bet me you wouldn't say three words to me." Coolidge replied: "You lose." We want the story to be true because his conversational stinginess reflects his belief in parsimonious government: he was a magnificent tax-cutter, and he vetoed hugely popular farm-subsidy bills on the grounds that, "if the government gets into business on any large scale, we soon find that the beneficiaries attempt to play a large part in the control. While in theory it is to serve the public, in practice it will be very largely serving private interests. It comes to be regarded as a species of government favour, and those who are the most adroit get the larger part of it."
My friend often summarizes for me what he sees, firsthand, every day and every month, year in and year out, in his classroom. He speaks not merely of the sad decline in overall intellectual acumen among students over the years, not merely of the astonishing spread of lazy slackerhood, or the fact that cell phones and iPods and excess TV exposure are, absolutely and without reservation, short-circuiting the minds of the upcoming generations. Of this, he says, there is zero doubt.
Nor does he speak merely of the notion that kids these days are overprotected and wussified and don't spend enough time outdoors and don't get any real exercise and therefore can't, say, identify basic plants, or handle a tool, or build, well, anything at all. Again, these things are a given. Widely reported, tragically ignored, nothing new.
No, my friend takes it all a full step — or rather, leap — further. It is not merely a sad slide. It is not just a general dumbing down. It is far uglier than that.
Resisting the urge to add around ten more, I'll mention one that is not directly on business but is one of the best books on leadership that I've ever read: Wooden On Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The world's largest jetliner just completed its first trip ...with passengers paying as much as $50,000 for two seats.
From Portfolio: The Internet is harming the porn industry?
Pass the steak: Still another book on the evils of carbs.
Adfreak wonders about this ad: Cautionary or sexist?
Cool Tools gets excited about ice chests.
On the Thomas stories, which I read not when they came out but when they began to come under scrutiny, I had a similar thought, or a variation of it. I thought: That's not Iraq, that's a Vietnam War movie. That's not life as it's being lived on the ground right now, that's life as an editor absorbed it through media. That's the dark world of Kubrick and Coppola and Oliver Stone, of the great Vietnam movies of the '70s and '80s.
If that's what you absorbed during the past 20 or 30 years, it just might make sense to you, it would actually seem believable, if a fellow in Iraq wrote for you about taunting scarred women, shooting dogs, and wearing skulls as helmets. This is the offhand brutality of war. You know. You saw it in a movie.
If you'd had a broader array of references, and were less preoccupied by the media that is the great occupying force in our own country, and you were the editor of the Thomas pieces, you might have said, "Whoa." Just whoa.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The secret menu appears to be on the upswing, so I decide to taste-test this theory on local terrain. I press Monitor intern, Alison Tully, into service – she hits Jamba Juice and Starbucks; I take the rest.
In-N-Out, which used to be the Golden State's own fast-food secret with its freshly stamped fries and authentic shakes, is known for its helpful servers. It's also famous for offering a select, few items on that glowing outdoor board – basic burgers, shakes, sodas, and fries. I speak my secret desires – in proper lingo gleaned from the website – into the squawk box, "a two by two, animal style, and a neopolitan." Translation: a two-patty mustard burger, with everything, including extra sauce and grilled onions, and a three flavor shake (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). The box cheerily blasts back, "Pay at the first window, please. Have a nice day!" Say goodbye to the days of "Five Easy Pieces," when Jack Nicholson couldn't get toast at a coffee shop because it wasn't on the menu.
Read the rest of The Christian Science Monitor article here.
The West Virginia Employment Law Letter provides some analysis. An excerpt:
No doubt about it, employee carelessness can be very costly for you. Some of the equipment you provide employees in today's high-tech world, such as laptop computers and BlackBerries, can be quite expensive.
Pay-docking policies, however, can create a lack of trust, anger, and resentment in your workplace. They also can breed secrecy. For example, if an employee thinks there would be a detrimental consequence for losing company property, he may be reluctant to report it. That could be extremely damaging to you if that missing piece of equipment contains confidential information.
Oren Harari provides a quick lesson in strategic schizophrenia.
Christopher Hitchens sees the values of the Anglosphere as an asset in the war for civilization.
Seth Godin notes that Apple just sent an important message by firing 800 of its employees.
Nidra Poller on why Sarkozy is popular in France.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
So you feel most of your books have survived the transition to the screen?
Lately they have survived. But one of my books, The Big Bounce, when I saw the movie, I thought, there must be something worse, but that's gotta be the second-worst movie ever made. Then they remade it a few years ago, and set it in Hawaii, and when I saw that, I knew, aha! Now I know what the worst movie ever made is. It had a decent cast, Owen Wilson was in it, but it was so bad the director basically gave up. He sent me the script and said, "Do what you want with this." Then they wanted me to play a part in the movie, playing dominoes with Harry Dean Stanton. But it was shooting two days after Christmas, and when I learned that, I said no.
For the most part, yeah, my books have done OK on the screen. Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, it worked for those.
Put your hands up, said Amis, if you think you are morally superior to the Taliban. When a minority of the audience did so, Amis muttered: ‘About 30 per cent…’ His implication is that, in our current relativistic climate, it is taboo to assert your superiority to anything – even the Taliban. Anyone who values freedom, Amis says, should have a problem with Islamism. He graphically went through some of the feudal punishments that the Taliban metes out to women who step out of line. ‘We’re in a pious paralysis when we can’t say we’re morally superior to the Taliban’, he said. His attack on cultural relativism is welcome, and it certainly exposed moral sheepishness amongst the assembled at the ICA. But I couldn’t help thinking: is that it? Is that what it means to be ‘Enlightened’ and principled today – to be Not-The-Taliban? Amis didn’t go any further on the matter.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
You call your home answering machine to see if your home is still standing.
How does all this generosity relate to our high average levels of prosperity? Let's begin with individuals and families. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, completed in 2000, is a survey of about 30,000 people in more than 40 communities across the U.S. and is the best single source of data available on the civic participation of Americans. The S.C.C.B.S., which takes into account differences in education, age, race, religion, and other personal characteristics, shows that people who give charitably make significantly more money than those who don't. While that seems like common sense, it turns out that the link in the data between giving and earning is not just one-way. People do give more when they become richer--research has shown that a 10 percent increase in income stimulates giving by about 7 percent--but people also grow wealthier when they give more.
- Mark J. Penn
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Eclecticity has possibly found the perfect gift for the person who has everything.
Lava Lamps in the lobby? Sheridan Prasso looks at Google in India.
The incomparable Ronald Colman in A Tale of Two Cities.
Here's the problem: Your role in the story (victim, hero, etc.) is based on the listener's perception. You may believe you were blameless or even worthy of praise for your actions in the life stories you relate, but the person who hears your story three degrees away from the actual event may see things differently. Can you afford to have your professional reputation tarnished by a personal anecdote (or saga) that puts you in a less than favorable light—fairly or not?
Another key to product success, Mr. Twitchell argues, is "innovations in supply." Thus megachurches offer playgrounds, coffee shops and a mall's worth of services. But megachurches have also, crucially, found ways of attracting men. Just as department stores put men's products near the entrance because they know that men are the hardest customers to draw into a retail space, so megachurches, Mr. Twitchell says, have catered to men's interests.
Citing Bill Hybels, the pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Mr. Twitchell explains: "Men are the crucial adopters in religion. If they go over the tipping point, women follow, children in tow." So now megachurches sponsor sports ministries and groups whose members ride motorcycles together. The language of prayers and sermons has moved away from a condescending lecture tone and taken up sports metaphors instead, asking congregants, for instance, to step up to the plate and help the team. In such a way are men induced to buy the megachurch product.
Monday, October 22, 2007
- Your team members. They will make important contributions and you should not have to do all of the work, but they are not in charge. You are.
- The schedule. It can be brutal and unreasonable but it is inanimate. Numbers on pages are not in charge.
- The resources. You may not have all that you'd wish; in fact, you probably don't. Too bad. Make do with what you have.
- The goal. If you didn't like the goal, you should have mentioned that before taking on the assignment. You did and got overruled? Then if the project is ethical, do your best to achieve the goal. If the project is unethical, do nothing to implement it.
- People who promised things and didn't come through. When you are in charge, you are responsible for anticipating such problems, not moaning about them. You should have had a Plan B and perhaps even Plans C and D.
- Dissenters. Someone doesn't like your approach? Listen carefully. If they have a good point, make a change if doing so with not be harmful. If they don't, proceed with your plan of action. You can't please everyone.
- Perfectionists. Your plan has flaws? All plans do. Don't let prolonged analysis turn into paralysis. You're in charge. Make things happen.
Here’s what conventional wisdom thinks:
The more X hours you work, the more $X you’ll make.
The more stress you have, the more $X you’ll make.
The more hectic your schedule is, the more $X you’ll make.
The busier your schedule, the more $X you’ll make.
Reality check time:
No one cares how hard you work.
No one cares how tired you are.
No one cares how many stars you have.
The world doesn’t care.
Your mom doesn’t care.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Kara Shea, writing in the Tennessee Employment Law Letter, answers questions about comp time.
Some colleagues who share some of my doubts argue that the only way to get our society to change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe, and that therefore it is all right and even necessary for scientists to exaggerate. They tell me that my belief in open and honest assessment is naïve. "Wolves deceive their prey, don't they?" one said to me recently. Therefore, biologically, he said, we are justified in exaggerating to get society to change.
The climate modelers who developed the computer programs that are being used to forecast climate change used to readily admit that the models were crude and not very realistic, but were the best that could be done with available computers and programming methods. They said our options were to either believe those crude models or believe the opinions of experienced, data-focused scientists. Having done a great deal of computer modeling myself, I appreciated their acknowledgment of the limits of their methods. But I hear no such statements today. Oddly, the forecasts of computer models have become our new reality, while facts such as the few extinctions of the past 2.5 million years are pushed aside, as if they were not our reality.
Read the rest of Daniel B. Botkin on ethics and discussions about global warming.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Peter Lynch's advice came to mind the other day when I was reviewing a manager's hopelessly complicated strategy for turning around an operation. The strategy was the equivalent of reciting The Lord's Prayer backwards while hopping on one foot and solving mathematical equations.
In other words, it was doomed.
Left unchecked, we veer toward the complex, the ad hoc, and the irrational. Simplicity requires enormous planning but simple systems pay off enormously in the rough and tumble of events.
The complexity of some systems is not revealed until the responsibilities are assumed by a less competent individual.
Friday, October 19, 2007
There doesn’t seem to be anything in this piece that suggests short people have an unhealthy attitude to life. It just says the shrimps think they’re less healthy. We’re not talking about people like me, who stand at a Napoleonic 5’4”, but the Lollypop Guilders who top off at 5’3”. It seems that they have more difficulties in education, employment and relationships. Really? Education? Well, yes, you get picked on in school, but it’s not like you fail college because things most people would understand go right over your head. Employment? Probably; taller, better-looking people will always have an advantage over those of us in the Leprechaun range. Relationships? There are lots of short women out there. I had no trouble finding women my height, and even dated a few who made me feel like Charlie McCarthy. People would look at us and think: at the end of the night, she puts him away in a suitcase. I married a knockout brainiac an inch or two shorter, and we match well. We don’t look tiny. We look like actors from an HO gauge production of “Land of the Giants.”
The woman who was the main target of the blamer's tirade sat quietly. She knew what everyone else in the room knew: The attack was a ridiculous ploy to evade responsibility. Her attempts to assist the blamer had been repeatedly ignored or neglected.
Had the blamer made her move at the beginning of the meeting, she probably would have been grilled and ground up for the hogs. Instead, a quick scan of the facial expressions revealed that a silent but firm decision had just been made. The blamer's moment was over. Her words had violated an unwritten code of the organization: One may be a bumbler and still survive and one may be a blamer and still survive, but being both is simply not allowed.
John Updike on the new book about Peanuts creator Charles Schultz.
XN-TRX: The once a week work-out.
Why insomnia shouldn't be ignored.
Too much information? Amazing ways to tie sneakers. [HT: linkbunnies ]
Michael J. Totten on the Shia awakening.
Overheard in Chicago has found a dedicated vegan.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The very idea of my needing a handbag is puzzling. How is it that men, of whom I am the equal in all other respects, seem to be well served by their back pockets or (if they’re European) sleek little manpurses? Why can’t I manage as well? All I have to carry is lipstick, eyeliner, pressed powder, reading glasses, sunglasses, small perfume spray, sunscreen, Kleenex, small brush, tic tacs, chocolate bar, small sewing kit, liquid soap, wash-n-drys, address book, key chain (with nine keys, three of which I have no idea what they open), and a wallet (containing charge cards, check book, pictures of children, membership cards, and cards that are stamped for one cup of coffee at a shop I’ll never visit again). When my children were small, I also carried crayons and coloring books, fruit snacks, and a change of underpants.
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
- It avoids those pesky meetings about pay raises.
- There is little likelihood that a union will be formed.
- All dissenters and their allies have a short shelf-life.
- Management's decisions are rarely challenged.
- "Employee benefits" are as common as the unicorn and dodo.
- Although new employees have to be trained, all other training costs are nonexistent.
- The organization often benefits from the work of highly skilled workers until they catch on to the game.
- The incompetent human resources department can justify its pathetic existence.
- It reinforces management's view that people are disposable.
- You're always meeting new friends.
- Why should a person who arrived in this country a year ago and who is unlikely to have been a victim of discrimination while in this nation receive any hiring preference?
- Why should a daughter of a millionaire be given any hiring preference over the son of a mechanic?
- Why should a disabled employee who can no longer perform one job be automatically moved into another position in the organization even though doing so may close a promotional opportunity to another employee whose disability may be even more severe?
- If affirmative action is not synonymous with quotas, then why do so many affirmative action advocates assert that the specific banning of quotas will gut affirmative action?
- If preferences are given to attain diversity, won't that eventually lead to the setting of ceilings on the hiring of various groups once the magic representational figure has been reached for those groups?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
My story is like so many others. As Dylan said, “I started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff.” For me, it was Pez dispensers. Not too many. Just a few. After that, I kind of messed around with a number of other stimulants, experimenting to see what kind of collecting might give me the best buzz.
Watches… a few years ago my house was robbed. Among the things that the thief made away with was a pre-WWII era Titus Geneve chronograph made of pink gold, with a dark brown face and a lovely alligator Spidel twisty wristband. I put that into my favorites, so a permanent search was established. By the end of that year, I had sprung for six or seven really nice watches, none of them the exact same as the one I had lost, though. They say you can’t go home again. Maybe they’re right. But I was trying.
Read the rest of the Portfolio profile of Mukesh Ambani here.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Nothing-new-under-the-sun skeptics point out, correctly, that marrying at 27 or 28 was once commonplace for women, at least in the United States and parts of northern Europe. The cultural anomaly was the 1950s and 60s, when the average age of marriage for women dipped to 20—probably because of post-Depression and postwar cocooning. But today’s single 27-year-old has gone global—and even in the West, she differs from her late-marrying great-grandma in fundamental ways that bring us to the second piece of the demographic story. Today’s aspiring middle-class women are gearing up to be part of the paid labor market for most of their adult lives; unlike their ancestral singles, they’re looking for careers, not jobs. And that means they need lots of schooling.
When an American businessman calls upon a guru of the Eastern persuasion, he is generally seeking to be abused for his attachment to success and worldly goods while also learning how to acquire more of both. Swami Parthasarathy, eighty years old, a native of Chennai, India, having renounced a lucrative career in the family shipping business and the Rolls-Royce that came with it, and founded the Vedanta Corporate Academy two hours southeast of Mumbai, has a deep understanding of this delicate role. In the past, he has harangued and soothed supplicants at Microsoft, Ford, and Lehman Brothers, and has been invited by the deans of Kellogg and Wharton to instruct M.B.A. students in the use of the Sanskrit Vedas for purposes of serenity and profit. On a recent visit to New York, he appeared at “21” to instruct members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (to join, you must be younger than forty-five and run a business) in the management of self and stress.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Sandy Siberia is the view from the back deck of Lauren's Montauk domain, perched high on an ocean bluff that might as well be the end of the earth. For someone who has devoted his life to observing—and romanticizing—the Sancerre set, Lauren shows a surprising allergy to socializing with them. "I gotta tell you, years ago, when we did that, it was hell," he says. But dodge enough dinner invites and they dry up. "We were driving around one Saturday afternoon and all of a sudden we see a pile of cars outside someone's house. I said, 'We're not invited to anything anymore! What's going on?' We were totally off everyone's list." Oscar Cohen, who grew up with Lauren in the Bronx and now runs Polo's charity—a $15 million foundation devoted to education, health care, and the arts—tells me that Ralph is still the same as he was at age 10: "Quiet, low-key, almost shy…always marching to his own drumbeat." Lauren hardly ever drinks, and has spent most of his downtime with his family and fellow autophiles. He's reluctant to name names, but eventually they trickle out: Rolling Stoner Jann Wenner, who first turned him on to Ferraris, or Ned Tanen, who ran Universal Studios back in the Jaws years. "Ned would get into New York and he'd come up to my office just to get a car fix," Lauren recalls. "We'd sit down, and we'd start talking about cars—not movies, not clothes. And then he'd say, 'Okay, Ralph, I'm finished, I'm going back.' I always loved movies, so I'd say, 'You think I got a role here? Maybe a part?' But no, he was finished."
She provides a fine list but misses time-honored reasons such as "toothpick," "bookmark," and "grocery list."
[HT: BusinessPundit ]
- The clarity - or lack thereof - of various procedures and policies;
- The smoothness of operations;
- Special challenges faced by people who are learning the ropes;
- Problems with technology;
- The responsiveness of the organization's problem resolution program;
- The perceptions passed on by more seasoned workers (and whether those are desirable) and;
- The availability of resources.
Building a two-way street requires time and effort. The employer has to embrace the attitude that the new person can contribute some real insight. Doing so, however, will foster continuing benefits over the years as the older employee keeps practicing the habit of thoughtful observations that started that first day on the job.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
- Level of feeling and intensity;
- Tone and emphasis;
- Body language and eye contact;
- Choice of words; and
- Underlying meaning.
The last point is crucial. What the person says is far less important than what is meant and when you sense a gap between the two then you will have to probe for the true meaning. You can ask the person to give examples or to elaborate on what was said. On some occasions, you may not get further explanation but that lack of an explanation may speak volumes.Beware also of your own tones and body language to make sure that you signaling that you are interested and are listening carefully. Do otherwise and you'll indirectly reduce the clarity of the message as the other person will sense your disinterest and will act to shorten the conversation.
People like to be read, especially on the most sensitive of topics, and although it would be nice if they would spell things out often they'll be reluctant to do so because they are fearful or shy or the matter is not clear in their own minds.
When the speaker can not or will not be clear, it is the listener's responsibility to obtain clarification. Blaming the communicator is the habit of a poor listener. A good listener is not a passive recipient but instead takes an active role in obtaining information. In doing so, the listener becomes an ally of the communicator and both share in the benefits of a message well sent.