Category Archives: Communication

Why & How to Communicate Better

So you think you can write a professional letter?

The art of letter writing is not forgotten, at least not by Nicolas Di Tempora over at Copywriting in Action.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the emails you receive at work were written like this?  Clear, to the point, effective.

Give the people you communicate with a break – see below to learn how to write compelling, concise, objective letters and emails.

And go see Nicolas’ website if you’d like more information and courses on writing effectively.


How To Speak So That People Want To Listen

Successful communication is an essential leadership and life skill.  Engaging well with others depends on it.

Here’s Julian Treasure with a 10-minute TedX talk on “How to speak so that people want to listen” that’s very worthwhile, with one caveat about his take on “judging” (more on that in a bit).

In summary:

If you want people to listen and take notice when you speak, you may want to audit yourself and be sure you’re not committing one or more of these “seven deadly sins” of speaking.

1.  Gossiping – speaking ill of someone who is not present.  Nobody really likes a gossip.

2.  Constantly pronouncing judgment – Julian states it simply as “Judging”, with which I cannot agree. (This is the caveat. More below.)

3.  Being negative – nobody listens to a pessimist (except maybe another pessimist);

4.  Complaining – which Julian aptly refers to as “Viral Misery”;

5.  Making excuses – not taking responsibility for one’s actions, always blaming someone else.  (MJ: No surer way exists to stymie your progress in an organization);

6.  Embroidering – aka, exaggeration, aka, lying;

7.  Being Dogmatic – You know this guy.  The one who always knows everything about everything, treating his opinions as facts and boring you with them constantly.  Blah, blah, blah.

Now, a little more on #2, Judging.

You need to judge everything and everyone, to the best of your ability, with all available evidence, constantly.

How do you deal with people unless you judge them first?  Is the new boss rational?  Is this salesman being honest?  Are my friends giving me straight feedback or telling “white” lies to make me feel better?  Judging, in this context, means doing your best to always know the truth.  Not only is there nothing wrong with making judgements, doing so is your duty to yourself.

What I hope Julian really means, and what I would advocate, is that one should not constantly pronounce or pass judgement.  First of all, not everyone needs to know everything you’re thinking all the time.  It’s called, “keeping your own council”.  Secondly, judging people and situations is, especially in the beginning, a fluid process.  You need to take care not to judge conclusively too quickly.  Often a first impression or “thin slice” will give you an accurate picture, but not always.  Snap judgements can be terribly wrong.  (Read more on this in Seth Godin’s excellent book, Blink.)

So when should you pronounce judgement?  When you’re sure, and when to not express your judgement would be an act of injustice.  Otherwise, “always be judging”, but keep it to yourself or share only with close confidants.

Now, here’s Julian Treasure:

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A little related reading (all 5 minutes or less):

How to tell if you’re being lied to and why you must never stop judging.

Judge and Be Judged

The Truth About Truth

The 2nd Rule of Communication





Speak With Authority

Something light, but important.

How we speak determines how well we communicate, and reflects how well we think – because language, and our command of it, is the tool of thought.

Here’s poet Taylor Mali on… like, you know…

How to tell if you’re being lied to, and why you must never stop judging.

If only all liars had a nose like this.

If only all liars had a nose like this.

A few days ago I tweeted a #WorthyReading article:

Rory Vaden: “Three ways you can tell if you’re being lied to

There’s one paragraph I want to highlight, and amplify:

Sometimes we guilt ourselves into taking others’ word for something, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, but the key is never to completely pass control of our thinking to someone else, or to stop thinking for ourselves. When we stop thinking about our thinking, our thinking starts to think on its own — or worse, someone else does the thinking for us. While we can blame others, it is often our own lack of thinking that makes us susceptible to lies.  [emphasis mine]

First, a couple corrections:

“…the key is never to pass [ANY] control of our thinking to someone else.”


“When we stop thinking, our thinking starts to think on its own – or worse, someone else does the thinking for us”.  Not quite.  Stop thinking, that is, cease to focus the mind, and our whim and emotion takes over.  Feelings can lead us correctly, but can also be mistaken.  See here for more on this.

Now the amplification, and why I like the article in general and the paragraph in particular:

We, all of us, must constantly be making judgements.

Check everything, especially what people say (write, print, broadcast, post, tweet, SMS), against the facts that you can verify with your own senses and the application of logic.

People don’t need to lie, but the sad fact is that most do.  Still worse is the fact that the people who have been fooled by lies, repeat them, and repeat them, and repeat them.  So many lies get repeated so often they become accepted as fact.

The funny thing is, the bigger the lie (and there are some whoppers in plain view of us all), the less they seem to get questioned; to be judged false, as they patently are.  I’m still not sure why that is.  You?

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Here’s a couple more good pieces on lying liars, and how to spot them:

Become a Human Lie Detector” by @cranstonholden at TodaysManager

The Science of Sniffing Out Liars” by Susan Kruglinski at Discover Magazine


How to write better and inspire action

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION is the fundamental of #PeopleSkills.  Engaging well with others, whether as a leader or just as a human, is vital.  And thinking, speaking, and writing are inextricably linked by language; work to improve one, and you improve all.

Writing good copy is by no means a skill only needed by those who make their living with pen or keyboard.  Written communication that impels readers to action is not simply the stuff of advertising.  In the corporate world, writing well may be the difference between success and failure.  How much is riding on that one-page pitch, the report to the board, your next job application?  All of those, and far more besides, depend for success on good writing – clear, well-structured, and compelling copy.

I recently attended a 2-day “Masterclass” in copywriting, given by Nicolas di Tempora, in Melbourne.  I’m a regular reader of, and have gained much from, sites like Copyblogger and Blog Tyrant, but the structure and process taught by Nicolas was by far the best lesson I’ve had in writing for my website in particular, and for writing concise, entertaining, and persuasive prose in general.  And it was fun, exciting even.  Nicolas had the group (ten strangers of disparate backgrounds, fields, and motivations), engaged and working together within minutes.

Nicolas now has classes available online, and a great book, Copywriting In Action.  If you’re a blogger, write for a living, if written communication is part of your job, or if you simply want to communicate well (and we all should!), I highly recommend Nicolas’ work.

Happy writing.

Performance Reviews are Bunk

MY to-be-blogged-about list includes this entry:

360degree Reviews, Employee Performance Appraisals, Formal Disciplinary Action.  All bunk.

These are methods for school children.  No, on second thought, school children also deserve the respect of being communicated with as adults.

Ultimately, as our culture matures, these things will go.

I’ll get to writing that up more fully one day, but in the meantime, I find I’m not alone in my opinion.

Samual A. Culbert, writing in The Wall Street Journal back in 2008, titled his disdain this way:

Get Rid of the Performance Review!

It destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line. And that’s just for starters.

He lists seven good reasons to support his argument:

1. Two people, two mindsets. Reviewer and reviewer have completely different concerns coming in to the review.

2. Performance doesn’t determine pay.  Budgets and politics usually do.

3. Objectivity is subjective.  More correctly, objectivity is impossible to achieve across multiple departments, reviewers, and employees.

4. One size does not fit all.  No standardized  “Performance Checklist” can take into account individual and unique strengths and weaknesses.

5. Personal development is impeded.  Employees are loath to turn to their boss for development assistance, especially if it means disclosing and discussing weaknesses.

6. Disruption to teamwork.  Personal evaluation take the onus away from team performance, the “we”, and shifts it to the “you”  the employee alone.  That does not reflect the way good teams operate.

7. Immorality of justifying corporate improvement.  Performance reviews promote “just-in-case and cover-your-behind activities that reduce the amount of time that could be put to productive use”, rather than adding value to the organization.

Mr. Culbert elucidates at length on each, and goes on to present an alternative; what he calls, “two-side, reciprocally accountable, performance previews“, for which he also has a dedicated website.

His full article is here, and it’s well worth the read.

I’d like to add two somewhat more fundamental reasons why formal Performance Reviews don’t add value.

1. Performance management should be ongoing process, not an annual event.

If a team member is good, that is, performing well and adding value, that needs to be recognized, encouraged, and built on, on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

If an employee is under-performing, why would you wait until the annual performance review to to do something about it?

2.  Formal Performance Reviews are belittling.

People are empowered like never before.  Outside their work environment they have a voice, can take the lead, can innovate and collaborate.  If the workplace remains an “old-school” environment, where employees are “standardized” and treated like children, or worse, sheep, the comparison is all the more stark.  The workplace becomes disliked, a place we go “to make money”, to survive.  That engenders Monday to Friday thinking.  That is the Rat Race.

If your company makes commoditized widgets, maybe it works for you.  Soon though, not many people will be required for that kind of work.  Then employers who want to attract and retain thinking followers and future leaders will need to treat their people like adult humans.  The annual appraisal just doesn’t reflect or embody a mature approach.

Your thoughts?

The 2nd Rule of Communication

OTHER than the ability to think, with which it is inextricably linked, there is no more important skill for a leader* than the ability to communicate well.

The 1st rule of effective communication is to listen well.  Hopefully you’ve already heard that.

So what’s the 2nd rule?

Clarity, clarity, clarity.

Let me use a few clichés to try and gain some clarity:

Get to the point;

Don’t beat around the bush;

Cut to the chase;

Say what you mean;

Don’t cloud the issue;

Don’t mince words,

Don’t pussyfoot around;

Don’t beg the question, blow hot & cold, cover-up, dodge, double-talk, fence, flip-flop, hem & haw, jive, parry, shuffle, sidestep, sit on the fence, or tell white lies.

Tell it like it is.  Be clear.  Be concise.

How many times has a conflict at work, at home, in your social circle ended up being nothing more than a misunderstanding?  Many times, right?

How many times have you seen a delegated task messed up because of misunderstood instructions?

How many times have you sat in a meeting wishing the waffle would finally end?

How many speeches have left you wondering what the heck was said, despite droning on and on?

Words are precious, don’t waste them.  Words represent concepts and concepts are how we know and how we inform.  Few things are more precious than knowledge and information.

And here’s the thing; you can only speak as well as you can think.  Think clearly and, other things equal, you’ll speak clearly.  If your thoughts are muddled, or not really your own, what you say and how you say it will reflect that.

So, for better communication, learn to think well, practice, and make time regularly to just think.  That’s the foundation.

Then, when you engage with others:  Listen first.  Then think.  Speak last, and say the most with the least.


Clarity cuts through chaos.


If you’d like to work on your thinking skills, see here.

PS:  Did a little light go on in your head, highlighting the fact that reading a lot – reading well – is a great way to improve your thinking skills?  It’s because reading improves your language skills, and you need language to think.  The better your command of your language, the greater your thinking potential will be.

*What’s good for “a leader” is good for us all.  Ultimately, good leaders are just really good at doing what all of us need to do:  Thinking, engaging others, learning, and valuing. The only difference between you and a CEO is scope and scale.