May 2011

A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video that was heartwarming and poignant. The message is familiar – it’s not what you say, but how you say it. The company that produced the video specializes in writing copy for marketing strategies. Although this video is an advertisement for their work, I felt that point went beyond advertising – if I change my words, I can change my interactions.

In the video, the woman who re-wrote the sign not only stated the man’s challenge, she also took the time to acknowledge this man. So it’s not only how we state something, but also acknowledging another person’s presence.

I’m in a check-out line; the cashier performs a service for me. I can ignore the cashier, grunt “thank you,” or smile and say, “Thank you for your help.” Then the cashier smiles back and also smiles at the next person.

What about the waiter/waitress at a restaurant. Sure, they’re performing a service for which they are paid. Yes, their job requires them to take my order and bring me the food. What happens when they bring the order to me? Again, some options: I can ignore them, grunt some response, or look at them, smile, and say, “Thank you. This looks great!”

I know what you could be thinking. “These are strangers. It’s often easier to be kind to strangers than family members.” True. So this is area is an opportunity for growth. Here are a couple of my common situations:

  • We can say “goodbye” to a family member in the morning in a monotone. Or, we can smile and say “goodbye.” What a difference a smile will make in that person’s day.
  • We can be in a rush when a family member calls who needs to chat and say, “Can’t talk right now. Gotta go.” Or, we can be still be in a rush and respond (with a smile, even though they can’t see it), “I’m so glad you called. I would love to chat with you; however, I must leave for my appointment. May I call you at 8:00pm?” Same message; much more pleasant.

It’s not what you say, but how you say it. How do you say something pleasantly, or in a helpful manner? Please share some thoughts so we can all grow the write way!


A couple of years ago, many of us found ourselves in a challenging situation: we were suddenly without work. Some of us had worked at the same company for over ten years. Now what do we do? Many of us thought, “Well here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” (Ollie; Laurel and Hardy)

We all dutifully went to outplacement workshops, job seeker support groups, and networking meetings. The schedule was grueling. It was winter in Northeast Ohio – a bitter cold and snowy winter. And as the months dragged, I noticed that the conversations at the support groups and workshops mirrored the weather: grey, dreary, sad, and down-right depressing.

There must be more to life that “Find a Job” I thought. But what?

I brainstormed with others and came up with several options outlined in the article, “So you’ve been laid off? Here are some tips to help you thrive.” We found it helpful and enjoyable at the time. Gradually, most of us found employment. Some of us found new careers. Others found new locations and careers, and I forgot about the article…until last week.

While organizing my portfolio, I came across the hard copy version and re-read the tips article. Hmmm… I’m not unemployed yet I’d like to expand my activities beyond work. Maybe I can use some of these ideas!

So I’ll follow some of my own tips:

  • Find events related to career goals (maybe I’ll meet other writers and editors who have interesting hobbies).
  • Take a class that isn’t work-related – maybe an art or photography class.
  • Visit some of the local museums.
  • Attend inspiring and motivating lectures.
  • Enjoy a picnic supper in a local park.
  • Plan a day trip to a local historical site.

And, in general: meet people, learn a new skill, and have FUN!

It was a dark, dark night. The moon was up in the sky, but not visible. The clouds hid the stars. All the house lights and city lights were out – courtesy of the latest “black out.” The night was still, except for an occasional car, moving slowly, quietly down the street. Even the crickets were quiet. The heat was oppressive; the air was thick. I was alone in the house. All I could do was lie completely still in my bed. My head began to hurt from the heat and lack of air. “How will I get through this night?” Tossing in bed, I tried to get comfortable. All that turning was tiring, and I perspired greatly from the effort.

Suddenly, outside my bedroom window, I heard an ear-splitting, almost deafening, machine noise. My heart practically jumped through my chest. “Where’s the enemy? Who’s attacking? What do I do all by myself?” Without thinking, I bolted out of bed toward the window (I have no idea how I moved so fast). There, by the light of over-sized flashlights, I saw the source of this piercing noise – an alternative generator!

I have choices. I choose what words I use to describe those choices, my activities, and my feelings. For example, I can say, “I have to do the laundry.” That statement implies an imperative action without a choice; the connotation is drudgery. I feel constricted, and can hardly breathe. Or, I can say, “I’m choosing to do the laundry now.” No one is telling me what to do and when; I’ve selected the activity and the preferred time. Ahhh – now I’m breathing easily.

Choosing my words also impacts my choices of who is around me – who is on my bus [see Get off my bus]. Do I choose to have the naysayers on my bus? Well, if I do, that might mean there will be a lot of negative talk, gossip, depressing attitudes – in short, “bad vibes.” As my colleague, Robin Sacks, says – “Get off my bus!”

What if I choose to ride with “can-do” people? I envision a busload of upbeat folks, chatting amiably, and sometimes singing heartily. We encourage and empower each other by our word choices. Now this is the group I’m riding with.

Choosing my words impacts my attitude and the people with whom I travel. If you’re a “can-do” person, hop aboard my bus!

We can even choose WHAT our bus looks like!

New Haven is a small, typical New England city. There’s the requisite Green in the center of the city. The Green is a large grassy area with some old, stately elm trees, several tall maples, and a few giant evergreens. And of course, a couple of churches complete with pointed spires. There’s a small bandstand in one corner of The Green – ready for summer concerts. And in the spring, there are bright yellow daffodils and deep red tulips around the bandstand. Four main streets border The Green. On one street is the Romanesque city hall and court house. On another, the dark brown and grey parking structure that leads to the city’s first downtown mall. Several small boutique and jewelry stores line another street. And the fourth tree-lined street leads to my favorite place…my grandfather’s office!