Sticks, stones, and name-calling

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” It’s a familiar refrain we learn from our parents as children, meant to soothe the pain of being called nasty names by playmates. However, if you’re like most of us, you’ll remember that it wasn’t particularly effective either in helping us feel better or in stopping the name-calling. The …

Don’t clothe the skeleton!

“So, I’m going to tell them that I know this has been hard for them. I understand how the disagreements we’ve been having have triggered a lot of unpleasant memories of things that went badly wrong under past leadership. For instance, I know Sam really feels – ” “Wait! Stop!” I said. My client and I were planning an upcoming meeting …

Hearing – or understanding?

“I hear what you’re saying.” Whenever someone says that to me, I always want to reply, “Sure. I hear the birds chirping, a car driving past, and someone on the phone 20 feet away. So what?” People are hesitant to say, “I understand you.” Maybe they don’t understand. Maybe they fear they’ll be misunderstood as saying, “I agree with you,” when, in fact, …

Why “thank you” isn’t enough

“Thank you.” It’s the nice thing to say. It’s what our parents taught us. Even when it’s no more than a polite reflex, it’s still a real expression of gratitude or appreciation. And when you’re in a casual situation with someone you don’t know or with whom you don’t have an ongoing, meaningful relationship – such as the clerk at the grocery …

The peril of fabricated meaning

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of shared meaning for an organization’s success. This post is about shared meaning’s opposite, the flip side of the coin: fabricated meaning. Fabricated meaning is when someone takes a particular event or situation and, quite simply, creates a story around it. This is perilous is because it’s almost always a negative, destructive story that …

Watch your language!

The language you use every day, including your word choice, the sequence you put them in, and the tone you create, plays a more critical role in how you’re perceived than you may imagine. Your response to a question, a compliment, even a comment on the weather, affects what people think about you, your abilities, and your work in very subtle yet very …

Define your terms

John A. Toomey was my ancient history professor at Bard College. He assigned a paper every week. Most of his students thought that was a lot, but as a writer, I didn’t mind, and as someone who was learning to think, it was invaluable. One of the things he pounded into his students was this: Define your terms These days, we casually …

Is using jargon really all that bad?

Jargon is everywhere.  We all use it. In and of itself, jargon isn’t necessarily bad.  But it can go horribly wrong.  We’ve all seen websites that read as if they were assembled from a grab-bag of catch-phrases, clichés, and other jargon-y expressions.  And I’d be willing to bet that we’ve all experienced moments where we felt safer hiding behind jargon instead of putting our …

How to use symbols to create clarity and understanding

“Do you really believe in that sort of thing?”  my friend asked, looking at me with an odd expression. I’d just told her about a gift I’d bought for myself:  a tarot reading by someone who consistently gets rave reviews from people whose opinions I trust and value.  And I could tell she was trying not to offend me with her opinion of …

Sandwiches or salad? Goals matter!

At a party earlier this week, the hostess handed me a cutting board, knife, and a half-dozen tomatoes to be sliced.  “What,” I asked, “is the goal?” She laughed at me. “Sandwiches!” I asked for a good reason, no matter how funny it might have sounded.  If she’d said, “Salad!” I would have cut the tomatoes in different shapes than I …