Remember the Dashes and Digits, Folks!

numbersEvery day we are surrounded by numbers. Many of those numbers have a dash or are spaced in clumps, such as a credit card number. Most people understand that a space or a dash equates to a pause when speaking the numbers. If I call in to pay my bill with a credit card, I know to say, “5555 <pause> 5555 <pause> 5555 <pause> 1111.” So does the person taking my information on the other end. My Social Security number is the same way. 555 <pause> 55 <pause> 5111. Phone numbers, account numbers, dollars and cents, even the countdown to dropping a bomb has natural pauses that people expect.

One of my pet peeves is when people refuse to acknowledge the pause or add them in the wrong place, particularly if I’m on the receiving end of that information and I am trying to type it into the computer. No matter how hard I try to prepare for it, if the pause is missing or in the wrong place, I find myself backtracking to make it right. It is annoying and inconsiderate not to provide those verbal clues that everyone is trained to hear.

I’ve also noticed that the average person can only retain about seven digits at one time. That is the length of a phone number sans area code. If I have to provide an area code as well, I might as well make sure the receiver is ready to write it down or be ready to repeat it several times. Is it cruel of me to speak faster when someone tells me he is for sure he will remember all ten digits in lieu of writing it down? What about giving him the number and then asking more questions rather than letting him go spew the digits into their phones?

Digits and dashes. We’ve been trained to live by the numbers so well that we can often identify the purpose of a set of numbers simply by the number of digits and the placement of the dashes. Mess that up and we are as clueless as cavemen on a spaceship.

 

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