Tag Archives: Communication

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…

4 Indispensable Principles for Good Leadership

PEOPLE TALK ABOUT having “principles”, but few seem to be guided by their principles consistently, because it’s just too easy to make exceptions.  The thing is, if you don’t follow your principles in every case, they’re not principles.

Understood and accepted as non-violable, your principles become your “rock” – a steadfast guide to action even when circumstances are difficult, conflicting, or hard to discern.  Good leaders, and good people, understand this; they know that sticking to the right principles is indispensable to success, and therefore also to happiness.

Here’s four principles that all good leaders, (and good people, for that matter,) stick to.

#1 My Judgement Rules
Good leaders (and good people) know that they are always fully accountable for what they do, so they never relinquish judgement to others.  Sure, they listen, take advice, learn from others, and consult.  What they don’t do, however, is take another’s word, opinion, dictate, or judgement as given.  Never.  To put it another way:  “The buck stops here, so you better @#$%-well know the real buck inside and out”.

Example:  Steve Jobs in any number or situations springs to mind.

#2 Good Relationships Depend on Justice
Good leaders (and good people) understand that only relationships based on justice will thrive.  To deal with people justly means to always and only give (and accept) what is deserved.  To withhold praise and reward from those who add value is just as bad as bestowing the same on those who do not, or on those who, even worse, destroy value.

The latter is called “spoiling”, and as Rand once pointed out, there’s no quicker and surer way to destroy a human soul than to give it more than it deserves.  Conversely, withhold  reward from those who’ve rightly earned it, and they’ll not be around for long.  They’ll go where their talent is recognized and valued, and righty so.

Example:  The “brain drain” from any number of politically stifling (and unjust) nations to the freer countries in “The West”.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s dispel a couple of widely held (and very unjust) bromides (anti-principles, if you will):  “Unconditional Love” and “Universal Forgiveness“.

Good leaders (and good people) understand that those who demand “unconditional love” are asking you to commit fraud.  Love is simply one end of the scale that measures how you value something or someone (hate → dislike → ambivalence → like → love).  Your emotional response to anything or anyone needs to be just, that is, needs to be in keeping with how much you value (or disvalue) the thing or person.  To give love “unconditionally”, is to disregard justice.  Do so at your own peril.

Forgiveness has it’s place, of course, but also needs to be just.  The guilty must earn forgiveness.  How?  Three things:  They must show sincere contrition (simply saying “sorry” is not enough), they need to make good on the damage they did, and they should make a binding commitment to doing better from now on.  Forgiving someone, “just because”, is unfair on, and bad for, both of you.

Now, back to organizational leadership…

Organizations, by definition, rely on relationships, so its critical that justice is the principle that drives the relationships.  So many organizations founder because dysfunctional (unjust) relationships tie them in knots.  Jealousy, envy, favoritism, obsequiousness, sociopathy, and a host of other organization ills thrive because justice is absent.  Incompetents with connections wield power, talent languishes or leaves, obsequious sycophants who look good in a suit keep the corner offices warm, and fraudsters with acting skills line their pockets.  Absent justice, relationships are based on all manner of pretense.  In that kind of culture, all sorts of crap can grow.

Example:  Too many to mention.  How about Enron?  Bear Stearns?  Penn State?

#3 Learning Never Stops and Comes From Anywhere and Everywhere
With this principle firmly understood and integrated, you’re open to expanding your horizons every day, every hour, every minute.Learning is Joy

Yet, how many managers, bosses, parents, or acquaintances do you know who seem to think that they know everything already?  Ugh, the dreaded “know it all”….deal with that kind as little as you can, they’re a vexation to your soul!

Example?  I bet you have a dozen such people in your life.  Name one.

#4 Be Passionate
Whatever you do, give it 100% of your attention and effort.  If you can’t, or worse, won’t, don’t do it.

Passion does not mean “loving” what you do.  It means “valuing” what you do.  Hopefully, most of the time it is about love and enjoyment, but don’t forget that some things that are not fun still need 100% or your focus and your best effort; because they’re worth it.  George Washington no doubt hated that winter at Valley Forge, but his passion for the fledgling America held strong, guiding him through times and circumstances that would have driven a non-principled, dispassionate man to give up.

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Principles are not for “now and then”.  And they are not just for titled-leaders.  It is not a coincidence that the fundamental principles that make for good organizational leaders also make for good human beings.  That’s why Method Leadership is based on them, and why they’re on our masthead.

Think.  Engage.  Learn.  Value.

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Michael Paul Jährling

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.

Introspect to know your self.

How are your People Skills?

HAVE you ever worked for an @#$%hole?  You know, the kind of boss who’s grumpy, unfair, inconsiderate, and rude.  We pretty much all have.  You can imagine that the first 360 degree review such a person gets gives them quite a shock.

“What do you mean? I’m tough but fair, and I know how to get people moving”, might be their response, ignoring, evading, or rationalizing the fact that they are not well-liked, demotivate the people around them, and stymie productivity and innovation in the organization.

This is one kind of person who lacks “people skills”.  They have very little understanding of their own personality, and an inability to engage well with others.

Another type of person is timid.  They lack confidence in themselves and are shy with people.  They too find it difficult to engage with others.  There are other types too, but you get the idea.  Some people just don’t really know themselves well, or worse, don;t really like themselves, and have difficulty relating to and engaging with other people, more than on a superficial level.

People Skills, broadly speaking, encompass a vast number of abilities.  They are what allow us to relate to and engage with others.  They are vital to us all, and given the seemingly constant stream of misunderstandings, dysfunctional teams, conflicts, arguments, fights, and wars, are sorely lacking in many people, and far too many titled leaders.

Ultimately “people skills”, boil down to two fundamentals:  self-awareness, and the ability to communicate well.

Who is I?

By self-awareness, I mean having a deep understanding of what’s going on in your head; knowing who you are, what you stand for, and how you operate.  The truly self-aware person knows his or her own character, for the most part because they shaped it intentionally.  They understand their own emotions.  They know what they are doing, and why.   They have purpose.  They manage their own behavior and understand the impact of what the say and do on others.  They make mistakes, yes, all the time.  But they realize their mistakes, learn from them, make amends if required, and move on.

Communication – That’s The Key

When I was a (not so young) junior employee with my first big corporation, I had a great supervisor: a straight-talking, dedicated guy who always had a smile on his face.  He was fond of saying, in a puffed up voice of mock seriousness, “Communication, that’s the key”.  And he was right.

The lack of true communication, meaning the honest, confident, non-defensive, and complete, exchange of ideas, is the invisible barrier between people and the single most effective destroyer of organizational functionality, on any scale.

All the other things that make up the catalog of people skills – empathy, conflict-resolution, negotiation, delegation, motivating others, team-building, and a host more – rely on self-awareness and an ability to communicate really well, as their foundation.

If you don’t know yourself well, it can be difficult to relate to others.

If you can’t communicate well, it can be difficult to engage with others.

Whether you want to be a better leader or a better person, honing your ability to relate to and engage other people is vital.

So here’s some questions for you:

Do you introspect regularly?

Do you know what’s driving your emotions?

Are you free of bad habits and behaviors you sometimes regret?

Do you seek honest feedback from those you respect?

Are you a great listener?

Do others listen eagerly to you?

If you answered no to some of these questions, maybe its time to work on your self, and to hone your ability to engage.  Feel free to take a look around here, you might find some posts that help.  Check the “categories” in the side-bar at right.  There’s plenty more to come.  Maybe you’d like to subscribe – then you won’t miss something that might prove useful.

PS:  Future posts will include insights and tips on how you can shape your own character, a cardinal skill of good leadership.