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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Written Word

 
  Great writing isn't just for the profound thinker or creative author.  Great writing has as much to do with competence in writing and being able to express what you want to say in the written word as it does in how you verbalize your thoughts.  It doesn't require that you have an expansive vocabulary or that you have to be prolific in how many ways you can tell the same story.  Oftentimes, it's just knowing how to make subject and verb agree, using appropriate grammar, and spelling correctly.  People who may not know you well will assume your level of intelligence by how you write if that's all they have to go on.  If you write like a fourth-grader, people will assume you're only as smart as a fourth grader.  To be taken seriously, you must present yourself as one who is knowledgeable.  Making simple mistakes like choosing the wrong version of a word (e.g. "your" instead of "you're" or "their" instead of "they're" or the often misused "lose" instead of "loose") can give the appearance of one who didn't pay attention in English class.  Not to mention wrong word choices can also cause confusion if they change the meaning of the sentence.
     If you're not a strong writer, there are at least three things you can do to improve your skills:
  1. Read more.  The more you read, the more you get to see words in the right context.  The more you hear the "voice" of a skilled writer, the more you develop your own voice.  You can expand your vocabulary by reading content that will challenge what you think you already know.  When I come across an unfamiliar word or one that I've seen but don't really know the meaning, I take the time to look it up.  Then I try to find ways to incorporate that word into my daily conversations so I can get used to it.  Make a dictionary and a thesaurus your best friends.  Therefore, challenge yourself to write better by reading more.
  2. Write more and proofread your work.  The two should always go hand-in-hand.  Anytime you write, and I mean anytime, you should always proofread what you've written before you send it out.  I proof everything from formal letters to emails and even my text messages to make sure they are accurate.  It is so easy to write something these days and zip it off to someone without re-reading it.  Electronic communications has made us lazy.  It's fast, but it's far from accurate.  So easily you can misspell a word due to auto-correct that may totally miss what you actually meant to convey.  That's why it is imperative to take a quick look at what you wrote before you hit "send".  I found at least ten errors in the first draft of this blog entry.  I don't care how insignificant you feel the message is or how familiar you are with the person you're sending it to.  It's all about accuracy.  Don't make people work too hard to try to figure out what you are trying to say.  I will often stop reading messages when there are too many misspelled words.  Bottom line: the more you write the better you become.  As with anything you want to improve in, you must practice, practice, practice.
  3. Take a class.  Find a quick class that will allow you to brush up on your writing skills.  In fact, my company offers a quick one-day session to adults who want to "Say It Better Through the Written Word".  Get the personal feedback you need.  Add value to your communications skills by being able to write well and present yourself as competent and professional.  It's one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to Speak With Authority

     Strong leaders have a commanding presence because of the way they carry themselves.  They exude confidence in the way they walk, talk, stand, and look.  Everything about them says, "I got this."  They make the people around them feel like they can trust their knowledge and their decisions.  Strong leaders are authoritative and earn the respect of the people who report to them.  They've managed to accomplish this by showing themselves to be reliable and wise.  If you've ever had the opportunity to experience this kind of leader in action especially in a crisis, you may remember yourself feeling a little relieved and a bit more relaxed when they took charge.  It was something about the way they spoke that let you know everything was going to be all right.  What did they do?  Let's explore their speech specifically.
     1)  The leader who speaks with authority tends to state facts with accuracy and honesty.  They don't do any double-speak to give the appearance that they know what they're talking about or that they are trying to hide anything.  You can be sure that what they say is true, and you can feel free to repeat it with the same confidence.  They are direct but not rude.  They are self-assured.
     2)  The leader who speaks with authority usually has something of significance to say when he has the attention of his team.  Idle chatter is not a major part of his conversation.  When he speaks, people want to listen because what he has to say shows off his wisdom, his knowledge, and his faith in his own statements.  It's clear to everyone listening that he knows what he's talking about.  He has established himself as a credible source of information.
     3)  The leader who speaks with authority is decisive.  He makes a choice even when the choice is difficult.  He is courageous in that he will do what is unpopular for the greater good rather than to protect his reputation or his own self-interest.  Thus, the very act of ignoring popularity to do what's right in turn gains him popularity.
     It takes time to learn this skill; to build the trust in others that establishes a leader's authority.  If you want to speak with authority, then try these three things for yourself:  Be credible, be significant, and be decisive.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pardon the Interruption


     Ever been in a conversation with someone, and they started talking while you were right in the middle of what you were saying?  It was as if you weren't speaking at all.  Or how about when you're speaking to someone and another person walks up and interjects as if they had been invited into your conversation.  We've all been there.  And some of us are guilty of doing the same to others.  For whatever reason, we feel like it's okay to butt-in where we have not been invited.  We don't recognize the rudeness of our interruption, and we take for granted that the person we're speaking to is okay with it.  Well listen up.  It's not okay.
     Like so much in life today, we are impatient in our conversations.  It's almost as if we can't control ourselves.  If a thought is on our minds, we have to immediately express it.  Usually without a lot of forethought which gets a lot of people in trouble.  If we stopped for a moment and actually considered what was going on in the interaction we were experiencing, it would cause us to take time and listen.  When we're listening correctly, we're quiet.  Thinking is best done quietly.  If you think out loud, it still requires you being the only one talking.  To have two people talking at the same time means no one is listening.  That's why arguments are fruitless.  Both people are shouting to get their points across, but no one's really listening to either point being forced on the other person.
     In most social and work environments, to hijack a conversation is a nuisance.  Therefore, make a special effort to check yourself before you invade another person's thought process.  When you interrupt, you break their stream of thinking.  They lose the momentum of what they were trying to say.  You've essentially acted as if what you have to say is more important. 
     If the conversation is between you and another individual and you interrupt, the issue is the same.  You are being arrogant and rude.  Wait your turn.  You'll get it in.  Unless the other person is the one being rude by conducting a monologue and not letting you get a word in edgewise, you should listen quietly to what they're saying and await your opportunity to speak.  You'll find that you can contribute better to the conversation because you've heard the whole story as opposed to speaking too quickly and going in the wrong direction.  I must confess I'm bad about interrupting on the phone.  I can't always hear when the other person wants to speak so I may go on too long.  But I'm cognizant of it, and I make an effort to listen harder and speak a little less.  And that's all any of us has to do--think about our behavior when we're engaging other people.  When you can admit that sometimes you're sloppy with it, then you can make the effort to clean up your mess.
     If you've stopped what you were doing to read this, then please, pardon the interruption.