7 Signs that You’re Probably a Blamer

Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are two types of people when it comes to the issue of accountability.

The first is the accountable person. This is the person who is self aware and understands his or her role and responsibility in a problem situation. The accountable person is someone who learns and grows from every mistake and is less likely to make the same mistakes again.

The second is the blamer. This is the person who always has an excuse, explanation, or scapegoat upon which they can dump responsibility. This person is the one who is most frustrating for me because he or she never benefits from learning from mistakes and is destined to make the same ones over and over again.

For example:7K0A0752

  • an employer who repeatedly loses great employees
  • an employee who is repeatedly “let go”
  • a politician who runs for office repeatedly and never gets elected

What’s the common denominator here? (Or should I say “who?”)

In order to learn, grow, and move forward in life, it’s critical that we identify and take responsibility for our actions and even in-actions. The sooner we say

“I am responsible.”

“You’re right, I made a mistake.” 

“I’m partly to blame too, I should have …”
or ask
“What was my role in the situation?”
“What could I have done differently?”
“What can I do better next time?”

the more likely we are to identify the true source of the problem and begin taking steps to fix it.

The following “red flag” statements may indicate you’re attempting to avoid responsibility, deflect blame, or worst of all, reverse blame onto someone else.

When you feel the urge to say them, stop and think, “What’s my responsibility?” or “What part of this situation can I own?”

1. “You shouldn’t have asked me to do it in the first place.”

Then why did you accept the responsibility for the task? Perhaps you should have refused it.

2. “You didn’t give me given enough time.”

Then why didn’t you negotiate a different deadline BEFORE you missed the one you agreed to?

3. “You didn’t give me enough information.”

Then why didn’t you ask for more when you were given the task?

4. “Well, I suppose you never made a mistake.”

Whether someone else has made a mistake isn’t the issue. The issue is yours- address it.

5. “Oh yeah, well you’re__________.”

Whatever someone else may be, as in #4 above, it’s not relevant now. If you had a problem with that person prior to this conversation, you probably had ample opportunity to bring it up before this moment. Now is not the time.

6. “What about (fill in person’s name)? Why don’t you ever say something to him/her?”

Turning the conversation to another person, especially someone who is not part of the conversation, is just another deflecting technique like #4 and #5 above. If you have a beef with someone else, take it to him or her.

7. “You never liked me.” 
When all else fails, turning the conversation away from behavior to the other person’s feelings about you is a classic technique for redirecting the conversation. How the other person feels about you CAN be addressed if they’re relevant, but only after addressing the concern that person originally brought to your attention.

Can you think of any more blaming phrases? Let me know!

 

The #1 Way to Avoid Misunderstandings and Conflict: Perception Checking

IMG_3289Most of the conflict I have experienced in my life, both first and second hand, has not been the result of factual disagreement, but of differing perceptions.

Every day we interact with others, “notice” their behavior, and then proceed to draw conclusions about what it is, what it means, etc.

Our interpretations, and thus our final perceptions, lead us to act on what we believe to be true when in fact, we have no idea what the truth is.

For example, before leaving for work in the morning, you tell your teenager to take out the trash before walking to the bus stop. The teenager agrees. When you get home after a long day at work, you walk into the kitchen to the smell of last night’s fish dinner wafting from the still-full trash can. Aforementioned teenager is watching re-runs of “Sponge Bob Squarepants” while lying on the couch.

What do you do?

A. Take out the trash yourself, saying nothing (not likely)

B. Ask the teenager politely why he or she didn’t take out the trash? (not likely)

C. Go Ballistic! (yes, that’s it)

For most of us who are parents, the answer would be C. There’s no reason to verify our perceptions, right? We know exactly what happened. That irresponsible, lazy kid forgot to take out the trash because “Sponge Bob Squarepants” is much more important.

So, what’s the problem with that?

Well, although we might be correct some of the time when we run with our perceptions, there are many times when our perceptions are flat-out wrong.

The above scenario is a true one presented to me by a workshop participant who had learned the Perception Checking technique at a previous workshop of mine that she had attended. She told me that the “old her” would have selected “Option C,” but having been to my course, she thought she’d give a Perception Checking Statement a try.

Upon entering her kitchen, she paused, took a deep breath (despite the fish odor), and calmly said:

“Derek, the trash is still inside when you were supposed to take it out this morning. Did you forget, or did something prevent you from taking out the garbage? What happened?

To which Derek replied (and the mom later confirmed to be true):

“I was going to, but Mrs. Davis called because she had a flat tire. I went next door and changed it for her so she could go to work and by the time I was done, the bus was coming so I ran to the bus stop.”

A simple perception check turned what would have been a fight, into an opportunity for a mom to praise her son for doing the right thing.

Perception checking is equally applicable to work situations. Before you assume to know why Karen didn’t get you the report on time, or presume to know what “that look” means on the face of that employee you know has a bad attitude … check it out with a Perception Check. 

Steps to an Effective Perception Checking Statement

  1. Describe the person’s actions or behaviorin a factual, nonjudgmental manner.
  2. Offer two possible interpretations of the behavior—one can even be “negative” as long as the second gives the other person “benefit-of-the-doubt.”
  3. Ask the person to share their “truth”—before you respond or take further action.

 

Perception checking is a great tool for ensuring you don’t start a conflict unnecessarily and for clearing the air when there is a problem. Give it a try this week—your coworkers and loved ones will appreciate you taking the time to “check it out before you challenge.”

 

For more perception checking information or examples, as well as other critical communication techniques, check out my book, “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.”

 

7 Reasons Your Performance Appraisals Are a Waste of Time

Ah, performance appraisals. Some people hate them and the rest hate them too. As a result, many organizations are questioning the need for performance appraisals and others have stopped doing them altogether.

When done properly as part of an overall performance management program, appraisals are an opportunity to reward top performers, help redirect and develop those who need to improve, and overall have a positive impact on the productivity of the organization. However, performance appraisals done poorly have the exact opposite effect. Therefore, if you’re making any of the mistakes below, you should take steps quickly to change these negative performance appraisal activities.

1. You’ve turned “appraisal” into a dirty word. 

You sarcastically announce, “Guess what guys, it’s time for annual performance appraisals,” and your employees let out a collective groan. It’s obvious the word “appraisal” has been turned into a dirty one in your organization. Appraisals aren’t something that should be dreaded by you or your employees. They should be presented and conducted positively! When done right, they’re an opportunity to set goals, talk about accomplishments, and help remove obstacles that are keeping employees from moving forward. Change your attitude about appraisals and present them to your employees as the positive opportunity they should be.

7K0A02232. Your appraisal tool is not aligned with the employee’s actual duties.

It’s hard to evaluate someone’s work when you’re using a tool that doesn’t assess what they actually do on a daily basis at work. If your evaluation tools are outdated, it’s time to review and change them. Ensure the tool is aligned with your organizations mission and goals as well as the specific job responsibilities for each position in your organization.

3. You give all employees the same rating.

Nobody’s perfect, so you can’t give people an “exceeds” rating and you don’t want to be too negative, so you can’t use “does not meet”. Therefore, everyone ends up in the middle. So when it comes time to promote someone, how do you know who is the best person for the job? It’s important to evaluate employees accurately and fairly. If everyone truly just “meets” standards, then fine. However, you’re doing a disservice to top performers and those who aren’t meeting standards by not telling the truth. If you’re doing a good job of keeping concrete proof of performance throughout the year AND you’ve created standards for what constitutes “does not meet”, “meets”, and “exceeds”, then establishing the correct rating for each employee should be fairly obvious.

4. You have quotas for ratings.

Many organizations impose quotas on managers for the number of “exceeds” and “does not meet” ratings they can give on employee performance appraisals. Some of these quotas are in place because of the mistaken belief that employee performance in an organization falls in a normal distribution (bell curve), which recent research has proven to be inaccurate in about 94 percent of cases.  In other instances, quotas are in place for “exceeds” ratings because appraisal results are tied to compensation and organizations limit the number of people who can receive the highest raises. Therefore, a manager can only reward one or two top performers with the highest ratings. It’s time to get rid of the quotas and evaluate employees fairly.

7K0A01165. You’re uncomfortable “judging” others.

Many managers are uncomfortable being in the position of evaluating people. If you’re one of them, try changing your mindset. Don’t think of performance appraisals as judging others or criticizing them. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to praise employees’ accomplishments and to help them improve performance that is holding them back, causing them stress, or making their jobs more difficult.

6. You rely on memory for evaluation content.

Both you and your employees should be keeping records of performance throughout the year. If you rely on memory, you’ll likely fall prey to the recency effect, which is when you focus too heavily on the most recent events, good or bad, instead of looking at the entire past year as a whole. Relying on memory can also result in a halo or negative halo effect- where your personal feelings about the employee and the good or bad view of their performance clouds the appraisal and doesn’t allow you to get an accurate picture of real performance.

7. You only address performance once a year.

Does it make sense to go 365 days without letting an employee know there’s a problem with his or her performance? Of course not! An annual performance evaluation should be a part of an overall performance management process, not a stand-alone, once-a-year meeting. In my workshop “Coaching Your Employees: The 364 Days Before the Performance Appraisal”, I teach participants the importance of having alignment between the organization’s mission and vision, organizational and individual employee goals, setting clear expectations, and coaching and feedback throughout the year, as part of the performance management process. It’s important that managers have both formal and informal performance discussions throughout the year to address successes and concerns.

 

These are just some of the most common reasons performance appraisals aren’t working. What would you add to this list? Comment and let us know!

6 Discipline Mistakes of Cowardly Leaders

When you accept the title of leader, manager, supervisor, or any other title that puts you in charge of a group of people, you also accept the responsibility of providing feedback to those people. Great leaders accept this and take steps to learn to do it well. Cowardly leaders find all types of ways to avoid dealing with discipline issues with methods that allow them to fool themselves into thinking they’ve done their jobs.

Here are the top five ways cowardly leaders avoid providing true discipline.  

1. The “Overhead Lob” Approach

This method is used when a leader doesn’t want to, or doesn’t know how to confront the employee(s) who have the problem. Instead, he or she confronts the entire staff in a meeting with a generalized, “We all need to do a better job of X,” or “those of you who haven’t turned in X need to get it to me today,” hoping that the feedback will fall on the heads of the offenders. In fact, the offenders are probably not paying attention and those who are doing a good job are offended that they’re being “punished” for something they didn’t do. Additionally, all the non-offenders know EXACTLY who the leader should really be confronting and it exposes the leader’s weakness.

7K0A99142. The “Mass Email” Approach

This method is basically the same as the Overhead Lob, except this leader can’t even take the time (or is too afraid to) bring the issue up in person and instead, emails the entire staff about the issue. However, the result is the same- those who need the discipline miss it, those who don’t need it are offended, and the leader looks weak. Don’t do it!

3. The “You Deal with It” Approach

I want to say upfront that I’m all for employees addressing and attempting to resolve problems between themselves before asking a supervisor to jump in and play parent/principal/referee. However, once that attempt has been tried and failed, it’s a supervisor’s role to take action. It’s not okay to say, “Well, if you talked to him already about it, what am I supposed to do?” It’s also inappropriate for a supervisor to ask another employee to “mentor” the poor performing employee as a way to avoid dealing with the issue himself or herself. Once an employee has tried to address the issue with a peer, it’s the supervisor’s job to take the next steps.

4. The “Send Them to Training” Approach

As a speaker and trainer, this particular method offends me. There’s nothing like a room full of people who have been sent to training as punishment for something– talk about a fun and interactive class! The purpose of training is to help people learn new needed skills. It should not be used as a punishment. Leaders should address the performance issue themselves and not expect us trainers to “fix” their employees. If, after discussing the issue with the employee, training is warranted, then great, send them to us. However, PLEASE present training as an opportunity for the employee to improve or gain needed skills, not as punishment.

5. The “Work Around” Approach

In this approach, the leader basically tells the rest of the employees to just “work around” the poor performer. This can include asking other employees to do parts or all of the poor performer’s job and/or asking employees to ignore disruptive, unproductive, or inappropriate behavior. The bottom line is, your employees shouldn’t have to pick up the slack for poor performers or have to ignore or tolerate bad behavior.

6. The “Do Nothing and Hope it Goes Away” Approach

If you saw a mole on your arm had developed all the signs of skin cancer, would you just say to yourself, “I know this is probably cancer, but I’m just going to ignore it and hope it goes away?” Probably not. Most people know that the earlier cancer is detected and treated, the better. The same goes for poor performance. Dealing with it when you first notice it is going to be a lot easier and will have better long-term results, than waiting until it develops into a Stage 4 malignancy.

If you’ve recognized yourself in any of these examples- you’ve taken the first step to fixing the problem- acknowledging that there is one. Now, you have to make a choice.

Choice #1- You can go on fooling yourself that you’ve addressed the issue using these methods, check the box, and while you’re waiting for your discipline to kick in and start working, your employees are losing respect for you, productivity and morale will drop, and the problem will likely worsen.

Choice #2- Get brave, step up, and start really dealing with performance problems by going directly to the source of the problem and confronting the issue privately and directly with that person.

I hope you make the right choice.

5 Communication Myths Busted

From advice that says you should imagine your audience naked to make yourself more comfortable when giving a speech, to the “fact” that 93% of all communication is nonverbal, communication myths abound.

When I decided to do a blog post about communication myths, there were so many I had a difficult time honing in on just five. However, based on personal experience, and the fact that these issues have come up repeatedly in workshops and seminars over the years, I present you with the following five communication myths you likely believe. Even if you read them and say, “Of course this is a myth,” ask yourself, “but do I still do it?” I think you’ll be surprised by the answer.

Myth #5 – When people say, “uh huh” or “got it”, that means they understood me. 

Busted: Imagine you’re in your kitchen, stirring a fantastic pot of spaghetti sauce. The kitchen smells great, you have the water boiling for the pasta, and the phone rings. It’s your spouse, saying he or she is stopping at the store on the way home and wants to know if you need anything. You say, “bread,” and your spouse says, “got it,” and then shows up with this:

Communication Expert Amy Castro unclear communication example

You quickly realize communication has NOT occurred. What exactly does “got it” mean? Got what? The wrong bread, that’s what.

So who is at fault in this situation? Technically both parties. However, since you were the one initiating the conversation, you bear the responsibility for ensuring communication has truly occurred.

First, you should have been more specific. Having been married 27 years, I have learned to say,

“I need a fresh-baked loaf of Italian bread. You’ll find it at HEB, in the bakery section, second shelf, five loaves in. It’s in a brown-paper bag and says ‘Pane Italiano’ on it.”

Some people argue with me on this point, saying, “Well, if the other person didn’t understand, why didn’t he or she ask?” The answer is, for the same reason you weren’t specific in the first place- you had a mental picture of what you wanted when you said, “bread” so you thought you were being clear. Your listener hears the word “bread” and conjures up a mental picture of something as well, it just turned out to be a different picture.

Second, when your dinner (or a work project) is on the line, don’t let a conversation end with “uh huh.” When someone’s initial response is “uh huh,” “got it” or something similar, and the conversation ends at that, you can rest assured that you and the other person are NOT on the same page. Therefore, ask questions, ask the person to describe what he or she will do, do SOMETHING to ensure that the other party has a clear picture of what you want or need before assuming communication has occurred.

Myth #4 – When people say “yes”, that means they agree.

Busted: You ask your employee to take on a new task. You explain the steps in great detail and at the end of the conversation, you ask, “Do you understand what needs to be done?” There is a big difference between a “Yes, definitely,” said in an enthusiastic tone, and “Uh, yes, I guess so” or “If that’s what you want to do, then yes.”

Be sure to pay attention to HOW someone says yes. Is there hesitation? Does the person’s face look worried (i.e., telling you no nonverbally) while saying yes? Is there a “qualifier” before or after the yes? Any of these should signal to you that although the person SAID yes, what he or she meant is NO.

Myth #3 – If I tell others “my door is always open”, they’ll come to me with problems.

Busted: For years, managers and leaders have told their employees they have an open door policy. The problem is, no one wants to walk through the door.

Going to, or being called into the boss’ office is a big step for employees. It’s not just another office, it’s the boss’ territory. Not only does it conjure up the feelings one might have had going to the principal’s office in grade school, but people become very concerned with what their coworkers are thinking when they walk across the threshold and close the door. Additionally, many bosses SAY they have an open door policy, but they’re either never in the office, have the door closed, or look/act annoyed when an employee drops by.

It takes more than an open door policy to get people to come to you with problems. Be sure to take opportunities to go to them. Check in with others frequently to see how they’re doing. Take the time to really listen and you’ll likely be surprised what they share.

Myth #2 – When someone says, “I’m over it,” they’re over it.

Busted: I’m always amazed when people will tell me about a past slight, difficult situation, argument, etc., sharing their story with obvious anger or frustration in their voices, and then end the story by saying, “but I’m over it.”

So if they’re over it, why are they still talking about it?

If someone is still bringing up a past situation, they’re not over it, no matter how many times they say they are. The question is, what do you do about the fact that they’re not really over it?

It depends. If it’s not your place to get involved, you might just move on. If the issue involves you, you might say, “You say that you’re over it, but I think the fact that you brought it up means you want to discuss it further. Let’s talk about it.”

Myth #1 – Communication always makes things better.

Busted: Used correctly and in skilled hands, communication is an excellent tool and often makes situations better.

However, “more communication” in and of itself does not make things better, and in fact can make things worse. Here are some examples:

  • Writing a 200 word email when your message could have been communicated in 20 words.
  • Fighting with a family member about an issue, only to have the conversation disintegrate into name calling, insults, and other hurtful comments.
  • Pushing someone to give you a solution when he or she hasn’t had a chance to think about the problem.

Quality, not quantity of communication is what makes things better. Timing, readiness of the other party to communicate, and other factors also impact communication effectiveness. So when you want to “fix” something, don’t just throw more communication at the problem, create a plan for effectively communicating with others.

 

Why Laziness is the REAL Mother of Invention

tp empty rollWhile having lunch with my friend Beverly the other day, she was lamenting various employee challenges- from lack of personal responsibility to downright laziness.

Case in point, the simple act of changing the toilet paper roll in the restroom. She just couldn’t understand how someone could be so lazy that they couldn’t take the 10 seconds to replace the toilet paper roll properly and instead, stack the new roll on top of the TP holder.

tp empty roll 1

 

 

Or, even worse, tell themselves they hadn’t actually used the LAST of the TP on the roll.

 

 

This age-old act of laziness apparently doesn’t just make Beverly’s blood boil. There are countless articles on the internet ranting about such laziness. In fact, there’s a video on YouTube made by a dad for his teenagers called, “Toilet Roll Changing: Teenage Instructional Video #1,” that has more than 4 million views!

I realize that changing the TP is an extreme example of laziness and it’s hard to come up with an argument that justifies it.

However, if you look at the issue of “laziness” another way, many of our greatest innovations have been been borne from laziness. It is laziness, not necessity, that is the real mother of invention.

The car, microwave, remote control, escalator, calculator, and countless other inventions all came about because we were too “lazy” to walk, cook, get up and change the channel, climb the stairs, and add 1+1 on our own. This type of “laziness” is not about a lack of caring, it’s about finding an easier, better, more efficient way of doing things. In fact, the very definition of efficiency, “Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.” implies that laziness is a requirement!

This type of “laziness” was one of the reasons I started my own business 20 years ago. My daughter was just a few months old when I was offered a job that paid well, but would have required me to work 60 hours per week. I just didn’t want to work those long hours when I had a new baby at home. My “laziness” forced me to get creative and to seek a way to make the same income working fewer hours. I decided to start my own business speaking and facilitating workshops on communication. I started small, speaking at breakfast meetings and luncheons, and as my daughter grew older and went to school, I was able to offer my clients longer workshops and built a thriving business.

So, the next time you’re feeling too “lazy” to do something, take the time to find out why and then get creative in identifying alternatives to get the task done.When you see your employees (or children) being “lazy”, instead of getting frustrated, look for solutions, or even better, ask them to identify solutions or alternatives. You’ll likely find that laziness leads to increased productivity and better, more creative ways of doing things.

That’s what Beverly did. Problem solved.

new tp holder

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Challenging Question You’ll Ever Ask

Any parent can tell you one of the most annoying questions kids ask is, “Why?”

Why is the sky blue?

Why is the grass green?

Why do I have to take a bath?

Although it may sometimes feel like kids ask these questions merely to annoy us, kids ask them because they’re trying to understand their world.

The question, “Why?” has come up over and over again this week in a variety of places in my life.

My friend and colleague Michelle and I have committed to a weekly study session to help each other plan the direction of our businesses. When we met this week, it seemed the question, “Why?” or some variation came up repeatedly.

Why are we (do we want to be) speakers and trainers?

Why do we think there’s a need for our services?

Why would someone buy our products?

These questions are often challenging to answer, but essential to our future success. Why? Because they will help us define our motivation for moving forward and rationale to stress to our customers for selecting our services and products.

I’ve known many people who were unhappy in their careers because they never asked themselves why they were working in their field, why they were so miserable, and why they didn’t make a change. I’ve seen many businesses in my community come and go because they obviously didn’t ask themselves these questions either. In fact, at one point it became a game in our family to take bets on how many days it would be before a new and poorly-thought-out business closed its doors.

For example, at one time, a small, expensive pet boutique opened in my town. I gave it 90 days before it closed. I won the bet. It’s not that the concept of a pet boutique is a bad one. However, the person who owned the shop probably didn’t ask himself or herself why someone would buy their products in a community where people appear well off, but many live above their means AND one that also boasts at least four, national chain pet supply stores within 15 miles. 

In teaching a public speaking class the other day, we were discussing the importance of answering the question, “Why?” during our upcoming “How To” speeches. The purpose of the exercise is to give students the opportunity to teach the class how to do anything from making enchiladas to building a computer. I told the class that they can’t just tell people how things are done, but must also tell them why. Why? Because people are more willing and accepting of doing what we tell them when they understand the rationale behind our instruction or requests. I also advocated the age-old advice of asking, “Why?” five time to get to the real reason.

For example, a student gives a speech to introduce himself to the class. The student states that video games are a big part of his life.

Why are they so important? Because I like to play video games.

Why do you like to play video games? Because I play with my best friend.

Why do you play with him? Because he and I have been friends since we were five years old.

Why have you been friends so long? Because I can always count on him.

Why do you count on him? Because he’s stood by me through many bad times, including when my dad died.

Ah. . . now we get to the real reason playing video games are such a big part of his life. They give him the opportunity to spend time with someone he trusts and relies upon and someone who helped him through one of the most difficult times of his life.

Amazing what you can learn by just asking, “Why?”

Finally, asking ourselves, “Why?” when our work or personal relationships are unsuccessful can be important in identifying our role in the situation. When relationships don’t work out, the easiest thing to do is to blame the other person, or some external factor over which we have no control. However, when situations repeat and patterns emerge, we need to look to ourselves for answers, even if it involves  some uncomfortable soul searching and the answers we find might point uncomfortably toward ourselves.

Why am I able to attract talented people to my organization, but lose them shortly thereafter? 

Why does every interaction with my business partner turn into an argument?

Why can’t I trust my employees?

Why can’t I maintain anything but the most superficial of friendships?

Although asking, “Why?” can be annoying, challenging,  and can sometimes lead us to answers we don’t want to hear (or admit to ourselves), being smart and brave enough to ask the question will provide critical insights into ourselves and others.

The Ripple Effect of Helping Others

The other day I was facilitating a workshop for a group of attorneys on the subject of employee motivation.

We’d just finished discussing the importance of showing appreciation and giving praise, when we had a short break. During the break I mentioned my difficulty finding an artist to create a one-frame comic for the chapter about showing appreciation in my book, Practical Communication. I must have explained in pretty good detail the drawing I envisioned and the frustration, having worked with three different artists, of getting back drawings that were just not what I was looking for.

Thanks for the kidney cover graphic_borderI didn’t think much more about the conversation until I came home that evening and checked my email. In it was a note from one of the attorneys who attended the workshop. He thanked me for the training and expressed its value to him. He also shared his surprise that I couldn’t find anyone to draw my “vision” of the comic for my book– so he decided to give it a try.

Attached to the email I found a drawing that was just what I had been looking for. I was so appreciative and surprised that anyone, let alone someone who probably had better things to do with his time (and had so many letters after his name, none of which indicated “artist”), had taken the time to draw this picture for me.

The picture now proudly graces the cover of my eBooklet, “Thanks for the Kidney: A Guide for Providing Meaningful Appreciation”, with credit of course to the artist, Joe Lawson.

The fact that someone took the time to help me with a challenge I was facing, when I hadn’t even asked for help, was truly moving and inspiring.

I consider myself a fairly helpful person. I am a sounding-board for friends, communication mentor and coach, and I volunteer for several organizations. However, there are times when helping others can be inconvenient and time consuming, and it feels easier to ignore a request, make an excuse, or pretend not to see the obvious need for help. However, since this incident, I’ve found myself reminded of what a gift helping others can be to them and to the giver. I’ve focused on letting go of excuses, faced inconveniences, responded to more requests, and have been more alert to the possibility that others might need my help– even if they don’t ask.

This week, whether you’re asked or not, seek opportunities to help others when you can. You never know when a simple act of helping someone will cause a long-lasting, positive ripple effect in the world. You might not feel it right away, but as the ripples spread outward and impact others, they’re likely to bounce back to you in surprising and wonderful ways.

Is the Art of the Handwritten Letter Really Dead?

As January is a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future, I decided to go back through every blog post I’ve written since I began the Practical Communication Blog on May 31, 2011.

In reviewing where my blog began and thinking about where it’s going, I came across this particular post written in September 2012 and found it worth running again. About a week or so after it first ran, I received a “rich” feeling, thick envelope in the mail from my friend Patty. I was surprised, and remember thinking, “Is one of her children graduating already or getting married?”

I eagerly opened the envelope to see what important event prompted the posting of such beautiful stationary, only to find that it wasn’t an announcement of a family event, but a lovely, heart-felt, hand-written note. I won’t reveal her private correspondence, but to summarize, it said that she’d read my blog and wanted to send the letter to let me know how much she appreciated our friendship over the years.

I’ll never forget how I felt reading that letter and I will keep it forever. 

To understand what prompted her to send it, read on. If you weren’t a follower back then, enjoy. If you were, I hope it reminds you of the importance of such communication. 

 

Last summer, when my daughter was writing thank you notes for the high school graduation gifts she received, I was shocked to see that she was printing the notes.

When I asked why she wasn’t writing in cursive, she said she’d never really learned how. She was the victim of a time in our education system when apparently learning how to do something more than print or sign your name was determined to be unnecessary.

When I asked her what she was going to do someday if she had to write a letter to someone, she replied, “No one writes anymore. I’ll send a text or email.” I was dismayed and a little sad, but didn’t think much of it at the time.

I recently began thinking about this exchange when I was cleaning out my closet and came across a shoebox I’ve had for almost 25 years. In it, are notes, cards, and other handwritten items from when my husband and I were first married. After I got over how gushy we were, I wondered, “Will people do this anymore?” “Will they have a box of treasured cards, letters, sticky notes, and even messages on the back of receipts?”

What about that note with a little treat, placed lovingly in a child’s lunchbox that makes his or her day?

Or the handwritten note from a vendor, thanking you for your new business. Will the one-liner at the end of an invoice that reads, “Thank you for your business,” be the best we’ll get when we trust our business to someone else?

I can’t imagine printing out hard copies of emails with similar content.

The digital age has brought unimaginable speed and convenience to our communication. No more waiting days for letters to come across country or weeks for a letter from another continent. Our texts and emails arrive in seconds. And although I’m guilty of sending them myself and appreciate receiving an email note of love, friendship, appreciation, celebration, or condolance– it’s too easy.

A text that reads “10X”, thanks, for those of you over 40 and “142”, I love you, is nice, but does it compare to something you can hold in your hands?

For those of you who remember receiving something other than bills and junk mail in the mailbox, do you remember the thrill of waiting on the mail carrier to bring that cherished letter? Or the surprise while sitting at your desk and opening a handwritten note from a grateful client or vendor?

Imagine the smell of paper and ink, the feel of quality paper in your hands, the thrill of seeing the postmark and imagining the route the letter took to get to you. What about the exotic stamps you saved from far-away places?

The next time you plan to send an email, consider the impact of that electronic communication versus taking the time to actually put pen to paper and share your thoughts. When you’re just about to start typing that text, consider its the permanence and historical significance compared to a piece of paper saved in a box for 25 or 250 years?

As for my daughter, I think it’s time I remind her of “the mailbox.”

doll house

When she was 2-years-old, she received a dollhouse that had a little working mailbox attached to the right front porch rail. My husband started putting little notes in the mailbox, so that she would find them in the morning. They were just short notes written on 1 x 2 inch scraps of notebook paper,

“Have a good day today!”, or

“Good luck on your test!”

When she outgrew the dollhouse, we removed its front and mounted it on the wall so they could still use the mailbox. When even that became too childish, she replaced the mailbox with a magnetic board, where her father continued to place notes every morning until she graduated from high school.

To this day, she still has EVERY little note he ever left her- 16 years worth. I have the evidence stored in our fire safe where she insisted I put them when she went off to college.

I wonder if text messages would have meant as much?

20 Words and Phrases to Add to Your Vocabulary

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Many people underestimate the power of words to create their reality and to impact the reality of others.

Think about it. Remember the last time you said, “This is going to be the worst day ever!” Were you right? Did you create a self-fulfilling prophecy? The odds are, you were and you did.

In previous blog posts, I’ve shared five words to eliminate from your vocabulary, whimpy words that take away your personal power, and filler words to eliminate from your communication.

This week, I’d like to share 20 words and phrases to add to your vocabulary this year that will not only give you power in your everyday interactions, but will help create a positive impact on all your relationships.

1. No

2. I can

3. I will

4. I know (instead of I think, I believe, etc.)

5. Please

6. Thank you for. . .

7. You’re welcome

8. I disagree (instead of you’re wrong)

9. I’ll find out (instead of I don’t know)

10. You’re right

11.I’m sorry

12. How can I make this right?

13. I can help by _____ (provide specific things you’re willing to do and possibly to establish boundaries)

14. It’s my responsibility

15. What can I do for you?

16. Because (I need you to do this because…provide rationale to help build understanding and buy in)

17. My strengths are. . . (instead of sharing your flaws and weaknesses as many of us do)

18. Today, I accomplished. . .

19. Tomorrow, my number one goal is. . .

20. I will succeed because. . .

 

What other words or phrases would you add to this list?