To a large extent, image is self-inflicted. Our actions and appearance project indications of our character, if not our expertise. Interestingly, the public probably equates the two, so that when we project positive character impressions, the general public presumes us to be more capable. While the two are not really related, human nature whispers that they are. It takes a conscious effort to separate them. It is also useful to recognize that our image can vary, depending on the audience in question. For instance, among our peersother surveyorsour image might be quite positive, while among the public it might be uninspiringor even poor. Enjoying a positive image in every area of business contact is important, primarily to induce others to rely on our product, both the public (so they feel comfortable in hiring us), and other surveyors (so they respect our work). The means to acquire that reputation is largely within our grasp.
Essential to any business, but particularly so among those whose legacy lasts well past the lifetime of the practitioner, written communications comprise the most durable component of our practice. This is more than a casual consideration for us. If we would hold ourselves out as professionals, we must recognize that our wares are not primarily mechanical, but intellectual. As such, our thoughts and opinions become the sought-after commodity, and, being intangible, are dependent upon the language used to convey them. Words are but imprecise vehicles for thoughts. They nevertheless carry, through their arrangement and idiom, a reflection of their author. We cannot prevent this any more than we can prevent our handwriting from telling tales about us. To the extent that those tales diminish our stature in the eyes of others, our image suffers.
Unlike personal appearance, our writings can leave an impression far beyond our offices. This can be the greatest opportunity or the greatest danger. Writings can be studied and restudied for hours. Errors occurring in conversations may quickly fade from memory, but documents can preserve them for centuries. To be sure, most writings by surveyors are not littered with mistakes; many routinely write letters and reports that are grammatically correct, informative and persuasive. I doubt, however, that anyone would characterize written errors by surveyors as rare. Here lies the impact on our image. Were the opposite truewere our writings usually error-freethey would contribute positively to our reputation.
Technical People Cannot Write?
It is not necessary for us to write as well as a William F. Buckley or a George Will. On the other hand, some writing penned by surveyors would be rejected by middle school English teachers. Recently, a surveyor I know circulated a one-page proposal containing no fewer than 29 typographical or grammatical errors. This is astonishing, given the tools at our disposal. Spelling checkers and grammar editors are now standard equipment on most word processing packages, yet many writers obviously do not use them. While not able to catch composition errors completely, these tools can considerably reduce the chance of gross errors escaping detection. Even if electronic aids are unavailable, other time-tested checks such as setting the writing aside and reading it later, or having someone else review the work, are effective methods of proofreading.
Some excuse shoddy writing by offering, "Oh, technical people cannot write." What sort of nonsense is that?? Are we suggesting that by choosing a technical career we abandon literacy? Trite excuses do not enhance our image, nor do presumptions that no one notices correctness anymore. Perversely, those most likely to notice poor writing are the very ones most prone to dismiss as second-rate (or worse) those surveyors unable to compose an error-free letter.
The appearance of our writing also sends messages. Folks, if your letters are still typed on a Royal Standard typewriter, I feel obligated to let you know that the average firm has moved way beyond that; therefore, along with the message from you, letters so typed send an unflattering message about you. Stationery should reflect the type of image the firm wants to project. Is your letterhead befitting a professional? It is pure folly to assume that no one draws inferences from such details.
We also impart glimpses of our character during conversations. Telephone conversations convey in tone and vocabulary what physical appearance does in person. Daniel Webster said, "The world is governed more by appearances than by realities, so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it." Have you ever practiced explaining a technical point to a layman? For instance, could you smoothly and accurately explain why there might be differences between surveyors boundarieswithout using words like "error propagation," "control" or "senior rights?" While jargon is useful in communication between colleagues, laymen are intimidated by it, and probably mistrustful of any surveyor unable to describe the work in "plain English." Surely, listening to a "professional" stammering and stuttering while trying to explain what should be his specialty would not inspire most to rely on his expertise. And yet, many surveyors stumble when presented with the most basic questions concerning the theories underpinning our practice.
Most of us are not endowed with natural talents in this area. Does that lower the publics expectations? You be the judge. I doubt if you would you undergo an operation by a surgeon who couldnt explain the procedure, and you wouldnt be alone. Clients need to have confidence in the professionals they hire. Persuasive conversation is an essential element in building that confidence. Our lack of natural ability merely highlights a deficiency that needs attention.
Project Our Thinking For Generations
We cannot avoid communications in our practice. Effective and timely communication encourages reliance and prevents disputes and complaints. Further, our writings allow us to project our thinking to generations of surveyors yet unborn, who will form opinions of our expertise and character just as we have done of the surveyors gone before. We have the means to leave a legacy of which they would be proud, influencing the future by being worthy of respect today. So let it be written, so let it be done.
Copyright 1997 By Joel M. Leininger, LS