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Welcome to The JoyPowered Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m Susan White, a national HR consultant. With me is my co-host, JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered” and “The JoyPowered Family.” JoDee and I recently released our newest book, “The JoyPowered Team,” with five other authors. Today, JoDee, our topic is business communications. How do we really ensure what we say, what we email, what we tweet or any instant message, or communicate really in any way reflects the way we want to be perceived in our professional worlds?
Yeah, I know, it’s tough. I find myself sometimes I, I, I’m a number one Maximizer, you know, and I like to be quick, and I like to be efficient, and sometimes that means I use no capital letters. And I don’t always spell out the whole word. And I feel like I can do that with people I know, because they know I have this need for efficiency, but I do worry, too. Does that – are they thinking I’m unprofessional as well?
I, you know, as part of my practice, I do executive coaching. And I have to say that probably the number one reason a company hires an executive coach to come in and work with the talent – and obviously, they’re always a talent, because the company is trying to invest in making them even better. At the core, whatever the issue is we’re trying to fix, it has something to do with communication.
You know, it may be that it’s someone who just doesn’t speak up. They’re brilliant, but they, they aren’t speaking up in meetings and being heard. It may be that they’re not figuring out the right words to use with their colleagues so that their colleagues feel they’re collaborative, you know, people are perceiving them different because of how they’re communicating or not communicating.
Right. You know, I coached a guy a long time ago, a sort of informal coaching. But it was a guy in our firm who everyone thought of as, like, a genius. I mean, he was just the technical expert on so many matters. And he was very, very, very quiet and he rarely spoke up, no matter whether it was the technical issue or, or not. And I asked him once, I said, Jeff, why don’t you – why don’t you speak up more or share your opinion, because people really want to know what you’re thinking. And he said, well, I feel like what I’m thinking was already said by someone else. And I said, but do you realize the power that you have, that people so respect your opinion, that even just to chime in or say I agree can be really powerful? And he was like, that had never crossed his mind before.
Wow, that could have been a game changer in his career, right? Yeah. Hope it was. Yeah, that’s great. I also think about written communications, as you said, like if you’re trying to be quick, so maybe you don’t spell out the whole word or do whatever, I think that especially when we don’t know someone very well, and they take those shortcuts, it can be off putting.
So I do think it’s worth for all of our listeners, no matter what you do in the world of business, that today we get a chance to really think through how do we present ourselves professionally through business communication.
Another one that really bothers me personally, I – you can call me old school or being naive, but is curse words. And I feel like in today’s environment, I hear more and more speakers, I listen to podcasts, and just having conversations with people, that I think go way overboard on using curse words, and not, not thinking about their audience, which sometimes it’s just me, and that – how offensive that might be to other people. I just – that really bothers me.
So listeners, if you’ve been waiting for us to curse –
It’s not coming!
So JoDee, today our guest is Linda Comerford. Linda has been training busy working professionals for the past 30 years, specializing in writing, grammar, speaking, customer service, and interpersonal communication skills, including her new certification in emotional intelligence. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Valparaiso University with a major in English and minors in secondary education, journalism, speech, and theater, and literacy, followed by a Masters of Science degree in education from Indiana University. Add a great sense of humor to Linda’s savvy business sense, and you’ll understand why her clients describe her as an edu-tainer with her workshops that work.
Welcome, Linda. Susan and I have both been lucky enough to be in your classes, although we won’t tell what year that we –
Okay! Keep that a secret
A secret for all three of us, how about that? Let’s just say we’ve known each other for a long, long time.
And I believe you helped us be better at what we do. So thank you.
You’re welcome. My pleasure.
I tell you what, I do channel Linda when I am writing an email or anything like a paper, I’m channeling, now what’s the right grammar here? Is this a semi colon? So Linda, you have never left me.
And that was just yesterday I taught you all that.
Linda, what led you to make your career in helping people be better communicators?
Well, if you check out surveys that are published about what are the most important skills that people need in the business world, communication is always either at the top or very near the top of the list. I also saw those needs within my personal and professional sphere, just interacting with people in the business world. Rarely did an engineer say, gee, I need more help with my engineering skills, or IT folks say I need more technical skills. Accountants didn’t say I need more accounting courses. People just kept saying, it’s communication skills, I really struggle trying to communicate better, and Linda, while you’re helping me, could you also help everybody else around me? Because I think I’m pretty good at writing and speaking but oh man, when I get an email from my manager, I have no idea what he or she is talking about. So I saw those kind of skills out there, and I call them pain points. And I thought with my background that Susan just, just read, I thought, you know, I have aspirins to help alleviate those pain points. And that’s when I got into the field of communication skills.
Love it. Love it.
That’s great. Why do you think those communication skills are consistently coming up at the top of the organizations’ most requested skills for their employees?
Very simply, to me, they’re the lifeblood of any organization. I don’t care what the organization does. The blood flows through – it all revolves around good communication skills. One of the exercises I always do in my workshops, my writing workshops, is I have people raise their hand. Think back to middle school, high school, college, and say what was your favorite subject? Science, math, and they raise their hands. Then I say to them at the end of that, whether you were good at math, social studies, science, gym, music, art, recess, lunch – some people really excel in lunch.
I was good at lunch!
Yeah, you were – got an A plus? I’ll never know that just meeting you. But how well you did in your English classes? I can tell anytime you speak with me, or anytime you write to me; therefore, I think English is the most important skill, especially now with ESL, English as a Second Language situations going on. That’s becoming even more apparent for writing and speaking. But we all agree here that, that communication skills are important. But Susan and JoDee, I’m sure you both see lots and lots of resumes, where people have all these kinds of lists for wonderful skills. And when those people get hired, yes, they do indeed help companies provide impressive products and services. But think of the communication challenges for teams bringing those items into the marketplace, and then trying to interact with their customers about those products and services. Ironically, when you look at the resumes you receive, you see all these great technical skills that everybody lists, and at the top right, it’s always, I’m great at communication. Yes. Then you look at the resume and there’s a typo or a grammar error on the resume going, no, you’re not!
So, so that, to me, is is part of why companies are crying out for people with communication skills.
But Linda, you just mentioned it yourself. We all had some form of communication skills training in middle school, high school, and college. Why do we – Why do we lack it still? Why don’t – why do so many people struggle with it?
You just – you just said we’ve all had some kind of, well, we won’t get into our ages here. But maybe when when we went to school, that was part of it. But I’m telling you, the sad reality is more and more high schools and colleges are not teaching those skills anymore. They’re just eliminating them. When I do a workshop, another raising hand, I’m big on polling questions, let’s get – let’s get the audience involved during the class, and I’ll say how many of you can think back to middle school, high school, or college where you feel like you had a Miss Bone Breaker, the English teacher you loved to hate? When you were in school, we all had a Miss Bone Breaker. But that was –
Mrs. Jahn, eighth grade.
You have Mrs. Jahn. Do you have one?
In case they’re listening, I’m not going to call them out.
Oh, you used a nice, general last name there, like Mrs. Smith.
It was J-A-H-N.
You have to call her out!
Yeah, I mean, I loved her in hindsight, but she was hard.
Yeah, exactly. But most I – when I ask do you have – feel like you have a good foundation in writing and grammar, maybe one or two hands go up. That’s it. The rest say, nope. Because what are English classes teaching now? High school English is literature. You read short stories and poetry. They don’t get into writing. They don’t get into grammar. Those kind of things are really left behind. Maybe in middle school, we get it. But beyond that – and an even sadder story is a person in my class came up and said, this is so interesting that you’re teaching interpersonal communication skills, she said, because when I went to a very prestigious university – I will not call it out – she was an accounting major. One of the required courses was a two credit course in listening and interpersonal communication skills. She loved that class. She had just barely finished it. Next semester, new curriculum came out, they eliminated that. Why? They had to add yet one more accounting course to their already 50 cred – required credit courses. And she said, Linda, when I went out to the business world, she got hired by a Big Four accounting firm. She said, I really didn’t use much of what they taught me about their processes of accounting, because the Big Four firm had their own process, but she said listening skills, interpersonal skills, I use that every day, and they eliminated it. Didn’t think it was important. So that’s why there’s a need for more of that from folks like us.
Yeah, very interesting.
So Linda, you’ve taught me a new term that I’d love for you to share with our listeners. It’s communi-caring. How – what is communi-caring, and how can programs like emotional intelligence help make that happen in the workspace and at home?
Yeah, it does. It does connect both professionally and personally. I just happened to look up the definition of the word communication one time. I had a little bit of time on my hands. And I got a really good dictionary.
What year was that, that you had time?
About the time I probably met you two! Yeah, I just happened – I just happened to flip through a really good dictionary. I looked up the word communication. And you know what it meant? This was over a century ago. Not that I had time a century ago. But the definition written – I’m old but not that old! Just the definition, written a century ago, defined communication as interacting with others – yeah, duh, I got that – with kindness and caring. And I said, really? 100 years ago, that’s what it meant to communicate. And I think that’s really gone by the wayside as we get into the 20 – 21st century, so that’s when I decided to create my communication classes. So I revolve it around performance appraisals, how can I give you your feedback? How can you receive your feedback with kindness and caring leadership? How can we have communi-caring leaders? I ask would you want to work for you? And a lot of times leaders go, not always. And then we turn it around to the colleagues as well. How can you be the best colleague so managing you is a pleasure? It all fits together. And everybody’s happier in the workplace then, and at home, it spills over to that as well.
Yeah, yeah. And tell us more about the emotional intelligence.
That’s new for me. Yeah, I’ve only been doing that for about a year, but it’s been life changing for me. And those of you out there may know some emotional intelligence programs that revolve around four different skills. I found one called emotional intelligence EQi-2.0 that revolves around fifteen emotional skills. And a lot of people get very uptight when I tell them I’m teaching emotional intelligence. They say to me, I’m fine emotionally. I’m good. I’m good.
Go back to grammar!
Wonderful. pick your poison, right? Yeah, exactly. And I – these 15 skills are at work at you all the time, they’re either consciously – you’re consciously aware of them, or they’re operating at the subconscious, even unconscious level. And we see them, even though you’re not necessarily aware of them, 15 skills like, first of all, you want to know yourself. Self understanding, self perception is first. Your self regard, your self actualization, those kind of skills. Then it gets into communication, how do you communicate with others? This program, even – it’s the only one I’ve ever seen in emotional intelligence that does this, covers skills on decision making and problem solving. And how does that relate? Well think about it. When you’re making decisions or solving problems, your emotions are at work, helping you make those decisions, or hindering you in the process. And then the last skill that we get to is, is stress tolerance, managing your stress, and when I do a workshop on that I kid with, with folks and I say, well, this is the last skill, you know, in the process, and we don’t have a whole lot of time, so we’ll skip that right? None of you have any stress in your life? And they’re all like, no can we start with stress and end with stress management? So it encompasses 15 emotions that you use every day. It is just fascinating. It’s changed my life personally. And you can ask my husband, even, even at home and professionally as well. So those are the benefits of emotional intelligence, at least this particular version of it.
One of my thoughts on communication skills that I don’t know if I’m stretching to connect with emotional intelligence, so you can tell me if there’s that connection or not. But I think people are afraid of their communication skills, like you use the example of giving a performance review. I think people fear I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to say it. Or I’m not a very good writer, so I’m not going to email, or they, they have a fear of their own abilities and skills surrounding communication. Is that is that fear connected to our emotional intelligence or is that a whole nother ballgame?
It’s all, JoDee, various students, it’s all – it’s amazing how interconnected those are. In terms of writing skills, it’s funny, when we get round to holiday season people tell me they’re intimidated sending me a Christmas card. And they’ll just sign their card “JoDee,” “Susan,” Ah, she can’t criticize me for that. People are totally intimidated and it goes back to school. Think about the compositions you wrote, what color did your teacher tend to grade your papers with?
Red ink, nothing purple like JoyPowered, no, red ink, and that’s very intimidating to people. So when I taught at Indiana University, I taught writing skills there. I had to grade with green, because green is a positive color. I couldn’t use red, because students equate red with blood. So yes, there’s a – Miss Bone Breaker kind of really scared us back then with, with our writing. I can’t write. I can’t speak.
You know, I will say, someone recently told me that teachers are now encouraged to grade papers in purple, because that was a more positive color.
And Linda was way ahead of that trend.
IU kind of forced me into that green ink, but I’d use purple now.
I like it.
I love it, and I had never heard – I’ve never heard of it – using anything but red.
They used red because it stood out, but they didn’t realize the psychological connection. So yes, people are afraid they can’t write because they were told by their teachers they couldn’t. They can’t do grammar. I mean, more people say don’t even try and teach me grammar, it’ll never happen. And I say, give me a chance. Let’s try. You can learn anything. And at the end, there are tears and hugs. They can’t believe they can learn this. Presentation skills is the worst.
Yeah, let’s talk about that. They say that’s the number one fear, more than even dying!
And snakes and spiders.
Yes. Yes, exactly. There’s a joke – I think Seinfeld makes a joke about when people die, you’d rather be lying in the box than up there delivering the eulogy.
So afraid of having to –
Right now. I still want to do the eulogy.
Yeah. Yeah, but you’re a great public speaker. So it’s – again, it’s been beaten into us that we can’t, or when you get up there and the adrenaline takes over. Adrenaline can only go so far, it will subside. So there are lots of tips that I can give. When I do my presentation skills classes, we focus more on the delivery skills. Yes, plan out what you’re going to say, but use the power of your body to burn up that adrenaline, don’t just stand there at the podium planted like a tree. That’s just going to make you more and more tense. Instead, move around, use gestures that paint pictures, when you get into how you use your body and your voice to really put the power into a presentation, it takes away the fear of, oh gosh, there’s an audience, when I’m – what am I going to tell them now? What’s going to be meaningful to them? So lots of things that – lots of aspects of communication, I hadn’t really thought about it and in terms of all these areas we’re talking about? Yes, do revolve around fear.
Well gosh, okay, those are great speaking tips, too, thank you. I know our listeners’ll enjoy those. So, Linda, what are your five areas of specialization?
Okay, started out just writing and then that led – I’m not a risk taker, just so you know. So I’m working on that with my emotional intelligence. I was always just going to teach grammar for my – writing for my whole life. And then a client said, can you do grammar? Okay, yes, I can do grammar too. So I started teaching people how not to dangle their participles and things like that. Then a client came to me and said, Linda, you teach written grammar. Can you also teach oral grammar? And I said, no, no, absolutely not. I’m going to turn into Miss Bone Breaker, strap a red pen to my pointer finger. Susan, speak. Susan speaks and I go, ha ha! Caught you in an error! JoDee, speak. Ha ha! Yeah, and I said people will come in with their lips super glued shut and I will be doing a monologue on oral grammar and people will be asleep. And they said, well, can you at least think about it? You know, I could do that. Well, came up with a class where I use other people’s oral grammar errors in that class, but then –
I bet that was an easy – I bet that wasn’t difficult to find.
No, I thought it would be, but I had pages and pages of notes very quickly just listening, because they do not teach oral grammar in schools. I have done yeah, studies on that. Yeah. You may have learned the written but not the oral. So then it got into oral grammar, and five parts of speech mess you up with oral grammar. You misuse your verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and pronouns. What are the worst errors? Verb errors, like – I will – I work a lot with call centers. And 800 number people will say, well, we “seen” in your account, or we “done” this, or we “was thinking” that, then the image when you speak, it’s all image. So, I’m calling you, you’re dealing with my insurance or my finances. And I say, I “seen” from your last bank statement, it doesn’t work. Now, those are some of the more blatant oral grammar errors. There are more subtle ones. But that course quickly evolved into pronunciation as well. I never realized 10 years ago I started this, that I I’m from New York, and I’ve been saying walkin’, talkin’, eatin’, drinkin’, I never put an -ing on the end of the verb, because, because it’s harder to say walking, talking, eating, drinking. I thought just southerners drawled and said walkin’, talkin’, eatin’, drinkin’, and I’m still working not to stay workin’ when I do my classes. And think of the word T-O, what do we say?
Good. That was beautiful, though you did what I call lip aerobics. Your mouth moved to say “to.” Most people say I’m talking “ta” ya. Oh yeah, like a ventriloquist. “Ta.” “Ya.” Your mouth doesn’t have to move. “To,” “You,” take some lip aerobics to move your mouth accordingly. And then there’s the word “gonna.” Gonna do that. Gonna. I’m a ventriloquist. Gonna, gonna, gonna, gonna, gonna. Going to. So we talk about grammar and pronunciation for a more professional image both within your organization, but definitely when you’re talking to your customers and clients. Yeah, so that’s been nothing but fun. Nothing but fun. Nuttin’ but fun!
I love this area of specialization for you because I have to imagine that there’s a need for it and not – I don’t know anybody else that’s specialized in it.
I don’t either!
It’s a niche.
It’s a niche.
Yeah, but so important.
Well more and more every day, with schools giving less and less attention, that then moved into presentation skills, and then the communication classes, all at client requests, culminating in emotional intelligence last year. So it was a big avalanche cascade of just client requests. And I’d be sitting across from the client, and the client would say, can you do a class on this? And I’d say, sure. And then I would drive home going, oh, no! I said yes again, and I have no idea how to do that. And –
What happened to that person who wanted to avoid risk?
That’s right. That’s right. Thanks to my clients, I’ve been taking more and more of them, it’s paid off. I love being able to help people with the skills that are so important, professionally, personally.
Well, you’ve shared a few already, but some – do you have some other practical tips from any of your five areas of specialization that our listeners might just incorporate into their everyday lives, or work?
I just might have a few to to share with you, for sure. So, in terms of writing, number one thing to keep in mind when you write is your audience, and your purpose. Whom are you writing to and what’s the reason behind the communication? And a lot of times when you think about why you’re writing, if you can’t come up with a reason why, guess what, save us all a lot of time and effort, don’t even write the doggone thing in the first place. So many times we think we have a purpose in our heads that we never convey to our readers. The writing has to pass the “so what, who cares” test, because people are so busy. And I don’t know about your computers, but if you look at my laptop, the word delete is pretty much worn off the delete key, because I have deleted so many unnecessary communications that I received. So think about who’s your audience, what’s your purpose, if you’re just writing to one person, it’s fairly easy. When you’re writing to a larger audience, a group audience, it’s a little bit tougher to come up with that. But you need to think again, would I want to be reading what I’m sending out to other people? Your goal as a writer, the burden on you is to create what I call one and done emails, letters, etc. It takes me a while to write it. So you, my clients, who are so busy, can read through the email that I’ve written, perhaps I’m asking you questions and I word them with bullet points and questions so you can just write your responses right into what I have sent you. And then it’s quick for you, takes some time for me. So it’s just that communi-caring, I guess, I haven’t really thought about it like that, but I care enough about you as my readers to write to you quickly. With grammar, the written grammar, the one rule I really wanted to get across to everybody, the most controversial thing I teach, is do you put a comma before “and” in a series of three or more? Now I don’t know if, Susan, JoDee, if you remember what I taught all those years ago?
I want to say you said no.
Ooh, I was gonna say yes.
Oh, dear. I got the F. I got the F! I think I need to go back to school.
And that has changed through the years. I have taught do put the comma, don’t put the comma.
Oh, I was in the class where –
You were in the don’t, and I was in the do!
There you go.
Now the rule, and I’m glad you took a risk and answered that, because I have taught it, like I said, always the “and” takes the place of the comma. I’ve taught a lot of different ways, but around the year 2000, Y2K stuff was going on. All of a sudden the grammarians pulled together and said there’s only one way to punctuate a sentence like, “I have to go to the store to buy pencils, papers, and books.” Do I put the comma before the “and”? Yes. Let’s just do it consistently. Now beyond consistency, you can avoid – avoid lawsuits. So Susan, you’ve been lucky if you haven’t had any lawsuits without that comma before the end. Let me just share with you a quick example of that. It was actually an article I read in the Indianapolis Star. A grandfather, rich grandfather died and left his inheritance to his three grandsons, I’m making up the names here, Tom, Dick, and Harry. Tom was the older brother, Dick and Harry were his younger twin brothers. The grandfather’s will read the inheritance went to Tom, comma, Dick and Harry. Even though he left oral instructions, a third, a third, a third, yeah, Tom saw Tom, comma, Dick and Harry, saw that one split with the comma and said uh-uh, I get half, you two get a fourth and a fourth. Well, yeah, the brothers didn’t agree. It went to a court of law. And a judge said, because there’s only one comma, Tom got a half, Dick and Harry got a fourth and a fourth.
Oh, my goodness!
Well, the good news here is I only have two kids. There’s no comma needed.
I have three though, so I’m gonna check my will and make sure –
People say that in class, I better check my will. So that’s just one example of lawsuits on a personal level, but it happens in the business world all the time. So just get in the habit of putting a comma before the “and”.
Well, I have learned something today. Thank you very much.
You are very welcome!
I have a question around that too, though, when you said in the early 2000s that grammarians pulled together. So who are these people called grammarians?
Oh, you know, if we lived in France, it would be easy because the France – French people actually have part of their government that aligns with using the French language correctly, with grammar, punctuation words added to the vocabulary, etc. We in America do not have grammar police, even though I’ve been accused of being that once or twice in my life. What happens is people at university – the university level are doing research on it. Publishers, authors, people are constantly testing how rules work to either make the writing smoother and easier to read or rules that get in the way. There are so many myths out there, ladies, that have gone by the wayside. How many times have you heard what you think is a rule, never write a one sentence paragraph? Did you ever receive that advice? Yeah, that was fine in high school when you were writing the five paragraph theme with a topic sentence and then X number of sentences in support. I met one woman in a workshop who said they had to use, like, if they were freshmen in high school, ninth grade, they had to use nine supporting sentences per paragraph. Sophomore year, 10 sentences. Ridiculous! So, so these people grew up thinking I always have to have nine sentences. This is why you get emails that look like the Great American Novel.
I hope they’re not the ones sending me cover letters.
Probably they’re writing the terms and conditions at banks, rules and regulations when you open a new account or whatever, became lawyers or whatever. And it’s just so – how many of you learned – how many times have you heard never start a sentence with because?
Never, never, never was a rule, you can see the people’s shoulders dropping in their relief, especially in banks and insurance companies, when so many things are based on cause effect. Why can’t – why did you learn that? One woman looked all pathetic in a class and she said “my English teacher lied to me?” No, no, no, she didn’t lie. And it probably wasn’t an English teacher. Back in sixth grade, think about your science and social studies classes, where you would read a chapter, at the end of the chapter would be what? To answer?
And you’d have to answer those questions how? You’d have to write out your answers, full sentences. Yes. So a friend of mine who taught social studies got so tired of trying to force them to write complete sentences. She finally forbid any of her students to start any answer with the word “because,” because they were writing a fragment. “Why did Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492?” “Because he wanted to discover America.” Not a complete sentence. So her students had to write, “Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492 because he wanted to discover America.” Now he could have said – their students could have written, “Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492” – or “Because Christopher Columbus wanted to discover America, he set sail from Spain in 1492.” In other words, that was a complete sentence starting with “because,” but she wasn’t an English teacher. So it’s just easier to say never ever start any sentence with because, and I meet all these adults who twist themselves into pretzels trying to do that. And I say you can, and they’re like, [gasp]. So there are a lot of myths.
Yeah, that’s fascinating.
Very much so.
Wow! We’re learning all kinds of new things.
Well, luckily, I’m glad I have a captive audience.
Linda, what has been the greatest surprise in all your years of doing this type of communication work?
The greatest surprise to me was as a communication expert, which to me this, this just seems to come naturally, I’m constantly surprised at how much people struggle – but JoDee, your question about fear really helped bring that home for me – struggle to speak, to write, and to communicate interpersonally with other people, and a lot of that goes into those myths that I just told you about. They’re writing paralyzed by what they remember or disremember back when they were in 6th grade, 10th grade, in college, from professors or teachers who tried to be helpful, and unfortunately put forth a message that said, you can’t succeed at this. So that makes it – makes it really tough. So I’m always surprised. One of the biggest surprises to me is when I share something in class that I think, Linda, how can you even take up class time to say something that has to be so obvious to everybody? And if I have 16 people in class, I expect to see 16 heads nodding like, yeah, Linda, of course. Why did you tell us that? And people look amazed and say, really? I never knew that! Well, even you, who – I consider both of you to be communication experts as well. I’ve told you some things that to me are just part of my everyday world that both of you said, really, I didn’t know that. So I love the surprise. And I love being able to make their lives easier going forward. Yeah, they have to communicate by dispelling the myths,
Something that I commonly see. And maybe it’s because I do see even people use this in resumes, which I think is totally unacceptable. But in cover letters or just, you know, any kind of communication. I feel like as a rule, I learned in sixth grade, but was re-emphasized in your training much later, and that is having having a paragraph that like five sentences start with “I.”
I, I, I, I! Yes. It’s all about me. It’s all about – right. Yes.
To me, that is a very basic thing that I was taught, that I frequently see people do that.
Why? Because you know the most about you. And they do that in cover letters. And a really good rule of Cadillac writing is never start two consecutive sentences with the same word. Never start two consecutive paragraphs with the same word. And if you’re going to be repetitive about any word, please have it not be “I.” And people say, but it’s about me, it’s my resume. It’s my cover letter. No, it’s about the people receiving your resume and cover letter. So you want to instead, if you’re going to be repetitive, JoDee, with any word make it be the word “you” instead. I can do this, I can do that, I can do the other thing. No, you will benefit from my skills in this, that, or the other thing. You and your organization will be able to use my skills in this, that, or the other thing to help you develop new products your customers and clients will relate to. The “you” language out there. Now think about the five paragraph theme you wrote in high school or in college. The compositions you wrote. What’s one word you were not allowed to use in those? You could not use the word “you,” because this was professional, formal business academic writing. So you couldn’t use any – you gotta use “one” should be aware of this, that, or the other thing. I couldn’t say “you.” So there’s another myth, I go into the business world, I can’t ever say “you.” So I rely on “I” instead or you do something even worse. You may need to edit this out. But I tell people in classes not to do what I call “We-we-ing” on their readers. Oh, we do this. And we do that. Same thing as “I.” “I” and “we” are distancing between you and your readers, unless it’s an inclusive “we.” Like, right now, we’re all doing this podcast. That’s fine. We’re inclusive. But when I come across, as me trying to apply for a job with your organization, and I use “I” or I use “we” in the business world, when I’m writing to my customers and clients, usually they’re not interested, and they’ll turn to someone who shows more concern about them. It goes back to communicating. I never realized how much communicating affected all these subjects.
Educational to me as well.
I love it. Linda, I know you have a large client list. What types of companies or organizations, big and small, or what kind – what kind of people do you serve?
Well as – as we started this conversation with, it’s all about communication and how people are struggling to work with those skills. So I’ve been blessed with a wide variety of different types of clients. For example, I do a lot with government agencies, federal, state, and local. One of my joys is traveling to DC and work out there. I deal with a lot of banks. My first client was a bank. And that’s actually where I met Susan.
Those very few years ago.
You made me everything I am.
Oh, wonderful, including that you know how to use the comma before “and.”
And saved my inheritance, right?
And saved your inheritance! I work a lot with banks and insurance companies, because Indianapolis just has so many of them. I work with engineering and manufacturing organizations, call centers utilities, not for profits, pretty much, because as I said, organizations need communication skills as their lifeblood to keep them alive and successful, I can go pretty much anywhere and, and work with a wide variety of audiences, which I’ve done the last 30 years. Pure pleasure for me.
Well, and I met you from a CPA firm. Different one, too.
Yes, exactly. I do a lot of work with accountants. It’s funny with accountants and engineers, they tend to be the most ones who would align with the rules.
And they love it when I say it’s not a rule. Yeah, it’s a myth. Go forward from there. So yeah.
So Linda, I’d love to know what do companies do wrong in this space. I mean, I think they probably realize they need communication skills, they, they engage you. What are some mistakes that JoDee and I and our listeners can avoid making that you’ve seen companies make when they’re trying to really skill build communication skills?
Well, number one, they, they think that – some companies think that these are what they call soft skills. And they are more interested in, interested in teaching people how to use Excel or Microsoft Word and more of the technical skills. And so what one of my clients actually calls these types of skills, success skills, which I think is a better way of looking at them than just soft skills. One of the other stumbling blocks that I’ve encountered when people see companies offering a workshop in writing skills or grammar skills, it’s like here we go again, Miss Bone Breaker, five star yawner. I don’t want to take that particular class, because I just I’m just going to – I’m just going to think about what it was like with Miss Bone Breaker, the English teacher, I loved to hate when I was in school. So I work – I have worked very hard during my 30 years to make the training fun, which is why I call myself an edu-tainer, an educational entertainer, and those join together. One of the – one of the best compliments I can receive is, let’s say I’m doing a three hour workshop. And I’ll say, okay, we have five more minutes to go, and people look at their watches and go, what? I thought I was only here a few minutes, the class is over? So they – I think you know, as well as I do, there’s there’s good training, and then there’s average training, and then there’s oh, holy cow, don’t ever offer that again at your organization because it’s going to reflect badly on you as human resources, or as the people who are behind it. So I think finding trainers who have a blend of both the knowledge, they have to be subject matter experts, but they also have to have trainers who involve and engage the audience, because you know as well as I do, it’s word of mouth. You want people to go to one of your classes, come back, say you got to take that grammar class, it was amazing. And people say really, grammar was amazing? Yeah, it really was. So I think they don’t offer the right subjects. And when they do, maybe they don’t really shop to find the right people to present that, and I’m really struggling saying all this, because I don’t want to come across as egotistical. That’s that’s not my point. I just worked very hard to ask myself that same question, like I said with leaders, would you want to work for you? And make yourself a leader you’d want to work for. I think to myself, would I want to sit through a class with me? And I will tell you in college, I was going to be a speech and theater major. I was all set to do that. I loved that. Until my freshman year, I had to take classes in set design. I had to draw leaves on a tree for like 40 hours a week or something. And I am not an artist. It was awful. And then there was a class on makeup and, and I’m like, when do I get up on stage? And they’re like, Oh, that’s your junior year. And I thought, this isn’t working. So I had one English class my freshman year, led by this amazing professor. And I remember the back two rows of our class were filled with engineers who had to take this literature course, it was required for graduation. They were in the class, arms folded across their chest, feet up on the chairs ahead of them, looking down, we’re going to hate this, we will suffer through it. This guy was so skillful he had all of us in the class, including those engineers look at one four line poem about an eagle and his claws. And we spent 45 minutes discussing the symbolism of the eagle, the claws, what did it mean in our lives, etc. He was a master teacher, he was gifted. And that’s when I thought, wow, I want to do that, too. So that’s when I switched into education, and that was – into being an English major. And that was the last interesting English class I had in four years of college. My Shakespeare class consisted of a professor coming in, put his notes on the podium, stood there, opened a notebook and read to us about Shakespeare. And when the class was over, he closed his notebook and walked out. So one day just for fun, we decided that we would walk out and see if he noticed, so one by one during that class, we all got up and walked out, and there were only five of us left. He never even looked up. He just closed his notes and walked out. That is not teaching to me. That’s torture.
But I bet – I bet he enjoyed it. Getting to read Shakespeare? Yeah.
Oh, he had his notes that he created probably 30 years ago, and he was a full professor, PhD and, and Dr. such and such. I wasn’t going to teach like that if – I thought if that’s what teaching is all about, I’m out. So I wanted to be the opposite of them.
So, so Linda, what should companies do to ensure what you’ve taught them is sustainable? Like, yes, there’s some type of a follow up, but how do you know that they really have it still, even still, those skills they need?
I’m really glad you asked that question because that, that’s something that, that makes a big difference. What I try and do whenever I can, we know it starts at the top. I try and involve the leaders who are first of all, committed, and buy into the subjects they brought me in to teach and then have it be part of, for example, the performance review process.
Yeah. Now, the emotional intelligence class that I teach is really interesting because the benefit of it is, it’s 15 different skills. The challenge is trying to, to keep track of all those 15 different skills, so I had one manager who brought me in, she was managing a customer service team. And she had beautiful hair. But I’m surprised she had any left, because she was forever pulling on it. Because these people would run in, she said, I felt like their mother going, JoDee’s doing this, and Susan’s doing that, and Emily’s doing the other thing, and she’s like, and then they just dump their problems and run out. And she’d be trying to manage all these personalities. She said, they were great with the customers but really awful with each other. So after taking the emotional intelligence class, she made everybody who came in, number one, you could never just bring a problem to her. You had to at least propose a solution. And you had to match the solution you came up with, with one or two of the emotional intelligence skills that you learned in the class. So people were living it, right? And then it made her life so much easier in the process. So bringing in the managers can help. We’ve had follow up things where you wait three months, six months, and you send out questionnaires to people, how are you using this, whatever. The danger with that, you know how surveys go, people don’t always respond to them, right? They’re just so busy. But I think if you make it a team effort, the managers are familiar, everybody in class is familiar with the concepts. I’ve also created accountability partners. So when you go through class together, so we’ve been through a grammar class together, JoDee, then I’ll edit your stuff going forward and you can edit my stuff. So you have that safety net set of eyes. Very dangerous to ever just write something and type it and hit send and out the door it goes. I hear people saying that well, I always proofread you know, policies and procedures and proposals, important stuff, but I don’t proofread just an email going out. Well, emails can have mistakes with consequences. Quick story about that. A woman had assigned a team to deal with their customer service issues, customers weren’t happy. So this team got together, they pulled together a survey, sent it out to all their customers, compiled the results of the surveys, sent it up to their manager, and thought great, this this, this – project’s over! The supervisor sent out an email to all of them, “our customers are not satisfied with our customer service.” Great. Back to the drawing board. So they were meeting, trying again to solve this problem, re-solve the problem. Thankfully, one day they happened to meet where there was a window into the room where they were meeting, and the supervisor looked in and said, what are you doing? And they said, we’re working on customer service. And she said, no, that problem was resolved, you know, weeks ago, why are you doing that? And they said, you sent us an email about it. You said our customers are not satisfied with our customer service. She said, no, that’s not what I meant to say. She meant to say “our customers are now satisfied.” And a spell checker was like happy, happy, happy, we’re fine with not and now. So that’s how you can waste so much time and money. So have accountability partners, you could have glanced over my email and said Linda, did you really mean to say that? It’s quick. That way, you’re reinforcing the rules with each other because you’re talking about them. So just trying to keep everybody in the loop as much as possible going forward.
One other thing, I think you dispelled this briefly earlier in our conversation.
Another myth, but I have to tell you that I have said this before, okay, and believed it. So I want you to prove to me that it is wrong, that I have said before that if people can’t spell or don’t have good grammar now, and by now, I would classify that as, say, they’re 23 years old, they’re never going to be good at it. But – and I would say that –
Can you hear my head rattling as I’m shaking it
I can, I can! But I think, I think part of that might be that I hear – I just hear people say, well, I’m not a good speller. And so they give up on trying to spell, or the same with grammar. I just was never good at that. And so they give up. What – tell me your thoughts on that.
Okay, here’s your myth. You’re lumping spelling and grammar, and grammar does go along with punctuation. You’re lumping grammar and punctuation into the same category. They’re different. Yes. When you proofread, you want to proofread at the end for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. So you lump them together that way, but they’re different. I have said, I used to say kiddingly, I believe you’re either born a good speller or you’re not. Ha ha ha. Then I started looking into research, and it is true. People have either good spelling skills or not. Spelling, I mean, the amount of hours you spend in elementary school learning how to memorize 20 words and then write them for a quiz and you get 100 on the quiz, and the next day, if the teachers write a paragraph using some of those spelling words, you can’t spell them, goes in one head and out the other. Spelling’s different. My husband, an engineer, brilliant, my daughter, a CPA, brilliant, so smart, and that’s another myth, people, if you can’t spell, you know, that you’re kind of dumb? Spelling and Intelligence have nothing to do with each other. Some of the smartest people in the world cannot spell. There’s just something in the brain, some people have just a little bit of dyslexia, whatever.
I have to tell you, I’m a little bit disappointed on that one. I was the Martin County spelling bee champion in seventh and eighth grade, so I thought, I mean, I thought that made me brilliant.
Your brain is wired to help you spell, and you’re brilliant. But it’s just – I will give you credit for that. But if you can’t spell out there, don’t think you’re not brilliant.
I just wanted to clarify that they could go alongside each other.
Oh, they can, but they don’t have to. So yes, for those people who can’t spell, you really – the ones who can’t and are still brilliant. You’re never going to learn how to spell, I don’t care if you’re 23 or whatever.
So part of my myth was true.
Correct. Get a good dictionary, get someone to check your spelling for you. Your spell checker is right most of the time, but I just talked about the not and the now, you still have to do proofreading. The problem with spelling is we learn sometimes to read and spell phonetically. Okay, wonderful. The English language, though, only 70% of our words can be spelled phonetically. Cat. Oh, that’s easy. I can spell that, cat, C-A-T. Yay! Well, now let’s spell enough. E-N-U-F. Yay! No, E-N-O-U-G-H. Enog? I mean, there are just 30% of our words that just can’t be spelled phonetically. And that’s why it’s so frustrating. For me spelling is natural, except I can’t do my -ables and -ibles. A-B-L-E and I-B-L-E, at the end of a word, it’s always, I’m never sure if it’s an -able or an -ible, I look it up. Spell checkers help with that. So you can’t learn how to spell, and if you were blessed to be a good speller because you’re also brilliant. So you put those two skills together, JoDee, it’s, that’s good. Grammar, on the other hand, can definitely be taught, because I work with people – all of my grammar quizzes – all my grammar classes include either a quiz or a test. My written, my oral, I actually in the good old days when I could get people together for two full days of training, or four half days, we took a 100 question pre-test followed by a 100 Question post-test. And we’re looking for improvement. So I have objectively verifiable data that people can learn grammar and punctuation, writing, and speaking. Always with the pre-quiz. And I tell groups don’t struggle to get a high score on this. You want to score low on your pre-quiz, because then when I take the post-test, wow, your genius emerges. So you definitely can be taught that. And it was Miss Bone Breakers through the years have done a lot, or Mr. Bone Breakers, to make people think they can’t learn grammar and punctuation. You can learn it and you can have fun doing it in the process. So half of your myth was correct.
All right. Good.
So Linda, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
I think your questions have been so excellent that we’ve we pretty much covered it all. But if if you get any feedback from anybody as a result of the podcast with questions, please send them my way. I’d love to be able to respond. Ladies, this has been pure pleasure. You’re both excellent communicators.
Oh, my goodness.
Come back again.
Oh, I’d love it. Thank you.
Thank you. Linda is a collaborator and partner of Purple Ink, so you can reach her via our website at www.purpleinkllc.com, that’s Purple Ink with a “k,” LLC dot com, or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan, our listener question today is from Kristy in Massachusetts. We received an anonymous complaint from an outside email address that is not traceable to any employee we have on staff. In the email, the person says he or she is one of our staff members who is too afraid to come forward, but believes we should know that one of our executive vice presidents is in a romantic relationship with one of his direct reports, and both are married, which makes this person very uncomfortable. I run HR for my company and report to the CFO. I shared the email with her. And she said, because it is anonymous it may be fake and could be someone just trying to cause trouble for the VP, so we should ignore it. I’m not sure I feel comfortable letting it lay. What do you think?
Oh, man, this one is similar to many that I have come across over my years in HR. I would have to say I have a love hate relationship with anonymous complaints.
I love them in that I don’t have somebody I need to pull in, talk to, and keep updated. I hate it because the fact is, I have no one I can pull in, sit down, talk to you, and get more details. But because this is an executive vice president the allegations were made about, it’s about a direct report, I think that we have to recognize sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Yeah, and I would probably tell the CFO I feel obligated to do some investigating. Now what that would entail, you know, I would have to take it on a case by case basis. But maybe it’s my – just doing a little of, um, some clandestine time looking into it. Have there been any other complaints about this EVP? Who does report to this person? Is there anything unusual happening? Is there somebody in the – on the team that’s getting really high performance ratings, and I look at the production and it doesn’t match? Is there anything weird going on? Right? What about you, JoDee? What might you do?
Yeah, I, you know, I have a good friend who is in a position to get lots of correspondence, whether it’s email or phone calls or notes. And he always says that immediately discards anything that’s anonymous, that people feel like they can’t share their name, then he’s not going to respond to it. But I agree with you, I – and my style, you know, I’m pretty direct, and I’d be inclined just to go to the person and ask him about it.
I would probably get there, but I would first do my own intel. Reason being is that I think, if the person – if the accused does happen to be guilty, the first reaction is uh-uh, not me, are you kidding, Susan? So I think it’s important if there’s someone out there may have perception I want to come with what do I – what else am I perceiving
Right. I like that. That’s a better approach. Very good.
So good luck. We’d love to hear how it goes. Alright, so in the news, JoDee, a Wall Street Journal article by Francesca Gino on May 14, 2019, was entitled “When Things Go Right, Figure Out Why.” This article amplified the importance of debriefing successful business initiatives, projects, and other major work accomplishments, so that you capture your learnings and hopefully are able to replicate success. Francesco Gino is a Harvard Business School professor and author of “Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life.” Gino says companies are more likely to do these postmortems after something fails, but not after we pulled off something really well. Her advice for us on how to analyze the success includes six steps.
Yeah. Step number one is asking, where did the success come from? I love this whole article, or the synopsis of this, Susan, because I personally have just started journaling. And even though I’ve been encouraged to do that for a long time, but one of the questions that I’ve been asking just myself personally, is why did it work or why – and of course, why didn’t it work? But I think we we are in tune to many times asking why didn’t it work, but not where did the success come from? Or what happened to make this go well?
I think that’s right. I often think about when something goes well, I was lucky.
If something didn’t, what did I do wrong?
Yeah, and I’m more likely to do that post mortem. So I love this too. Yeah. Okay, so her number two suggestion is make the post mortem process mandatory. Because if you leave it to chance and an organization, you know, you’re happy to get a win and you move on, but make it part of your DNA, following up any type of a success.
Yeah, I think if we set that expectation from the very beginning, that it’s, it’s more likely to happen. Number three, acknowledge that your brilliant – your brilliance may not be the reason for your success. Gosh. That’s a new one. I wouldn’t have thought of that. But you know, questions like what other factors were present that we may want to replicate? And hey, maybe sometimes there was some luck involved, Susan.
You’re right, sure – surely. So number four, change up the format. If you’re going to keep doing these postmortems, and everyone knows it’s part of what you do, it can get kind of dry. People are like, all right, fine. We’ll sit down and talk about what worked. Maybe you can make them a little more interesting. Sometimes maybe pull everyone together and say, what are the five things that we did this time that we have to do again? And then maybe another time after our success, what are the top five things we’re never going to do again that we did in this successful enterprise? So trying to get it – to change it up enough so people feel engaged and interested.
Yeah, I love that. Number five, collect the data and apply it with discipline using your metrics, your benchmarks, before and after and ongoing. I think that’s important as well.
And then the sixth and final one, which I like, is elicit outside perspectives. And the purpose of this is everybody who worked on the team may be too close to it to really look objectively about what we did well, and what we want to replicate. So pull somebody in, share the results and say, hey, we’re going to do this postmortem and we’d love you to listen because you might hear something that we don’t realize.
Right, love it, and that could be a customer or someone in a different department or just an observer of the situation.
That’s very smart.
Alright, well, thank you so much.
Thanks and have a JoyPowered day.
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