Six Words and Phrases That Should Be Used Sparingly

notepad-117597_1280Have you ever noticed the knee-jerk reactions people have when you use certain phrases or words?

It’s not that those words are offensive in and of themselves. But their meanings tend to conjure up connections in the brain that triggers an emotional response.

While we can’t completely avoid using these terms all the time, we can be mindful of how and when we use them, and the impact they can have. In some cases, those words can mean something different than what we intended.

I’ve compiled a list of “cautionary” words that can wreak havoc on meaningful conversations. There are more words, I’m sure, but this brief list should get you started thinking about the way we convey meaning in our everyday conversation with our word choices.

Compromise. 
At first glance, “compromise” seems like an innocent word. After all, people use it all the time in the act of negotiating. The problem stems from the implication that we must give up something in a compromise in order to get something else, which is counterproductive. Do compromises ever give you everything you want in the arrangement? Usually it means all parties involved are not getting something they want. Compromise doesn’t give you the results you ultimately seek, which is a win-win situation.

What if we switched out compromise in favor of collaboration? If we collaborate on a work arrangement, a deal, or a new song, a sense of equal partnership is implied. Even saying the word aloud – collaboration – has a different feel to it. It feels more inclusive than compromise. With collaboration, everybody wins.

Think how much more productive our members of Congress would be if they chose to collaborate on legislation rather than compromise?

Freelance. 
Some years ago, a young writer I met at a conference explained that she stopped referring to herself as a freelancer. “Whenever I told a client that I was a freelance writer, they tended to hear only the first half of the word and assumed my services were free.”

The woman made a good point. If you are starting out on your own and you identify yourself as a freelancer, are you unwittingly setting up an expectation among potential clients that your services are cheaper than other independent contractors?

A better option is “independent” or no descriptive term at all. Do you really need to identify yourself as an independent anything? In most cases, just saying, “I’m a business writer” or “I’m a photojournalist and graphic designer” are sufficient enough on their own to explain what you do without adding a “freelance” description.

Hate. 
I will write this once and never again: I hate the word “hate.” It’s such a strong, angry word that incites aggressive responses in people. I prefer the word “dislike,” which I suppose reflects my kinder, gentler approach to life.

I refuse to say or write that I hate another person, only that I dislike their opinions, dislike their attitude, or dislike the way they dress. Other comparable but less suggestive words: detest, loathe, abhor. Yes, they are as strong as hate, but they’re not nearly as hateful.

Diet. 
Another word that appears innocent enough at first glance, but can suggest negative meaning to some people because it makes them feel self-conscious, especially about their appearance. Diet, much like the word compromise, implies a loss of something or giving up something to get what you want. In this case, diet implies giving up certain types of foods that you enjoy in order to lose pounds. In fact, the word diet has almost become synonymous with “sacrifice.” Diet also implies a short-term solution to an eating problem.

The alternative phrases that I prefer are “eating habits” or “meal plan.” Rather than say, “I need to go on a diet,” which sounds negative and not enticing, instead say, “I plan to change my eating habits,” which is more positive and forward thinking.

No. 
Ever notice a person’s facial expression or physical reaction after you said no to their request? They sometimes look like they’ve been punched in the gut. No is one of those words that has an explosive effect, like a gun going off in the middle of the quiet evening.

While many times, saying no is necessary, there are ways to say no with less force and impact. For example, if your child asks for a snack before dinner, don’t just say no; instead, say “Yes, but after you’ve finished your dinner.” Or, to answer a worker’s request to leave work early, you can respond, “Yes, but please turn in your monthly reports before you leave.

I’m sorry. 
This has become one of the most overused phrases in business writing. Have you ever caught yourself writing to a client, “I’m sorry for getting back to your request so late.” It might sound sincere, but it also comes across as lacking confidence

In this instance, it might be better to use “thank you” to introduce the note. “Thank you for notifying me of your problem. Let me look into it and see how we can fix it for you.” This response sounds more positive and engaging without putting yourself down in the process.

Don’t get me wrong. Apologies are necessary if you are truly sorry about something that happened. But to continually use “I’m sorry” in business communications gives the impression that you lack confidence in yourself.

Whether used in personal discussions or in business communications, be aware of the words and phrases you use. Some can create negative feelings where none was intended.

What We Can Learn about Client Service from Nursing Professionals

first-aid-kitWhile recovering in the hospital after surgery recently, I had the chance to quietly observe the nurses and medical staff as they performed their jobs each day. Of particular interest to me was the way they interacted with me and the other patients on the floor. Their bedside manner spoke volumes about their integrity and professionalism.

These nurses earned my respect and admiration because, no matter how complex or dreadful the task – from cleaning bedpans to taking blood pressure readings – they always remained cheerful and courteous. They never let the pressure of the moment or the messiness of the task get them down. More important, they never allowed any personal judgments, prejudices or emotions they might have had to interfere with their interactions with patients.

Observing them in action made me think about how we interact with clients and colleagues. What kind of bedside manner do we show to our clients as we go about our business day?

I believe there is a lot we can learn by observing nursing professionals in action. What practices can we adopt in our own businesses to make sure our clients – our patients – are comfortable? What kind of “bedside manner” can we develop that reflects positively on us personally and professionally while giving our client-patients what they need? If we adopted the same cheerful disposition of most nurses, how would that impact our relationships with clients?

1. Be cheerful and courteous.

No matter what kind of day we are having, or what we may be experiencing in our personal lives, we can’t let those emotions interfere with our interactions with clients. Set aside whatever prejudices and personal dramas you have. Always be positive, and always put the client first. This is what they mean by “service with a smile.”

2. Offer assistance at every opportunity.

Check on your client-patients often. While in the hospital, a nurse or assistant checked on me every couple of hours, even if it was to ask, “How are you feeling? Do you need anything, any pain medication? Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.”

Schedule time to call on your clients, even if it’s just to say hello. Ask them how they are doing. Remind them that you are there to help them with whatever projects they have. Even if the call does not produce any immediate results, the fact that you called tells your client that they are important to you. And they will remember that the next time they need someone with your expertise.

3. Be patient with clients.

Hospital patients who have gone through surgery need time to rest and recover. They don’t move or respond quickly. They may feel groggy and achy. Give them time to heal. Allow them to move at their own pace. Your clients too may require extra care and patience when making a big decision that could impact their business. Give them the information and resources they need, but be gentle and patiently guide them to the decision that’s best for them.

4. Be thorough and efficient.

It’s natural for clients to ask questions, just as patients ask lots of questions of their medical team. This is an opportunity to really show your knowledgeable and compassionate side. Provide the information clients request, share different options for business solutions, and be clear with your instructions. Offer to repeat the information if clients don’t understand something. Doing your job thoroughly and efficiently shows that you respect your client’s time and demonstrates your professionalism.

Clients are our patients, and our “bedside manner” is our customer service. If we performed our responsibilities as cheerfully, competently and compassionately as nurses do, consider how much better our relationships would be with our clients, and how much better that would be for our business.

How You Converse By Phone Speaks Volumes about Your Business

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Have you ever stopped to consider how you sound on voicemail messages or on telephone calls? What does our vocal manner suggest about you and about how you conduct business with others?

A case in point: I received a voicemail message earlier today from a nurse at my doctor’s office. I had expected her call, but I was busy at the time, so I let it go to voicemail. When I heard the message some time later, several things about the way the nurse left the message made me think about my opening questions. Her manner of speaking was rushed and somewhat disjointed, making it hard to follow her train of thought. As a representative of the doctor’s office, she came across as inefficient and disorganized, though I’m sure that was not her intent, nor her regular practice. It’s just the impression she made.

As much as we strive to be polite and professional when communicating by phone, sometimes that doesn’t always happen the way we imagine it does. Seriously, how often have any of us listened to our phone conversation? Not often, if at all. The only way we would know that we did not communicate well would be if we got feedback from our listener.

But back to my nurse. After listening to her message several times, I made several observations about how she spoke that we all can learn from. Here’s what we can do to project a professional image through our phone messages and conversations.

1. Keep a steady pace. The first issue I had with the nurse was the pace of her speech. The nurse spoke rapidly, her words tumbling out of her mouth almost as quickly as her brain could process them. It made me wonder how many cups of expresso she had consumed this morning. She came across as rushed and overly busy. In fact, I had to listen to her message several times to make sure I got all the details right. If you suspect you speak too quickly, slow down your speech. It may seem slow to your own ears, but it may be the right pace for your listeners. You want to make your listener understands your message completely so there is no communication issues later on.

2. Keep the message brief and to the point. In the nearly one-minute message, the nurse provided a fairly detailed list of instructions to make follow up appointments. For something so detailed and important as medical tests and doctor appointments, I think it might have been better if the nurse simply asked that I call her back so she could go over the instructions with me personally rather than leave them on my voicemail. For example, she could have said, “I have completed and processed all your doctor’s orders. Please call me at your earliest convenience so I can go over all the instructions for your follow up tests.”

3. Stay focused on the conversation. Give your listener your full attention. When I called her back to ask a few questions, I could tell she was multi-tasking, frantically looking up information on the computer and print out a document from the printer while talking with me. Granted, this happens often in the business world. But as the computer program slowed and the printer stalled, she grumbled on the phone about how slow everything was taking. “I can’t believe how slow the printer is today. It’s like working in a black hole.”

It’s okay to make small talk. It’s also okay to apologize for any delays in getting information to the listener. But don’t dwell on how slow the new computer equipment is operating. No one really cares about that, and in fact, that kind of conversation can make you, or the nurse in this case, come across as disorganized and ill-prepared to deal with problems.

4. Complete any supplemental paperwork before conversing on the phone. The nurse’s original message conveyed a sense of urgency to make appointments for a follow up test. The only problem was, when I called to make that test appointment, the doctor’s order had not been faxed over and it was not in the system yet. Moral of the story: make sure all accompanying paperwork is complete before finalizing plans with the patient. Another glitch in the process that came across as disorganized.

This is just one example of how a simple phone conversation or voicemail message can convey different meaning than what we intend. Perhaps this nurse is new to this doctor’s office and is still trying to keep up with the work load, or perhaps she’s just having an off day. While she may intend to come across as efficient and productive, her messages were anything bu.

As you go about your own day-to-day business, think about how you come across in your telephone communications, especially if you conduct business for yourself or on behalf of someone else. Even a simple voicemail message or phone conversation can cause confusion for clients, patients or vendors. Slow down, keep your message brief and to the point, and make sure your listener understands everything you are trying to tell them.

Tips for Leaving a Job on Positive Terms

exit-sign

My father used to say, “Always be kind to the people you meet climbing the ladder of success because you never know when you might meet them on the way down.” That is definitely true when leaving a job, even more so if you did not have the best experience working there. When you are miserable at the job, are eager to leave and don’t have the best relationship with your bosses, it’s tempting to walk away with little or no advance notice and with little thought or care as to how this rush out the door might affect you and your career down the road.

But that approach may not be wise, say career experts. If your personal integrity is important to you, you want to walk away from your job without burning bridges, if for any reason that it makes you look good.

If you are like most workers, you’ve changed jobs multiple times in your adult life. According to the Bureau of Labors Statistics, workers spend an average of 4.6 years in a given job. That’s an awful lot of job changes over the life of a single worker.

Granted, some of those situations may be forced departures – downsizing and firings – but for the most part, you’ll most likely leave a job for positive reasons, such as a better opportunity at another business, going back to school or starting your own business. And when you do choose to leave, you want to be sure you do so on the best possible terms. After all, you never know when you may need their assistance in some way, such as references or future employment.

Here are a few tips for leaving a job on the best possible terms. While some of these suggestions may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how much some workers overlook them.

1. Give at least two weeks’ notice. For most administrative professionals, two weeks’ notice is sufficient time to help you and your boss figure out the best way to transition out of the job and tie up loose ends. For those higher up in the organization, you may need to offer to stay longer, perhaps a month, to close out your term there. Giving less than two weeks is considered unprofessional. To show you are a true team player until the end, give the appropriate notice.

2. Talk to your boss first. Once you know you plan to leave your job, talk privately with your manager, explain your reasons for leaving, and start planning the transition out of the organization. Until you speak with your manager, avoid gossiping with co-workers, clients or vendors about your plans.

3. Be transparent about your reasons for leaving, but don’t badmouth the employer either, especially if you had a bad experience working there. According to the Harvard Business Review, don’t tell one person one reason for leaving, and tell another person a different story. Remember, once you’ve updated your social media with your new employment information, people will find out soon enough what you will be doing.

4. Don’t trash the business in the exit interview. Use the meeting to reiterate your reason for leaving, and express your gratitude for what you learned while working there. Any negative feedback you give about your bosses and co-workers reflects poorly on you, not on them. And any suggestions you might give about improving their workplace are likely to fall on deaf ears.

5. Don’t leave unfinished business. Complete all the tasks and projects that you are responsible for, or work with your boss to determine alternative arrangements, such as transferring the project to another co-worker. If necessary and if it will help your bosses, make a list of all your responsibilities, the reports and projects you do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This step might be especially helpful in a small organization that has fewer resources to help them determine if outside support might be needed.

Another option is to offer to train a co-worker to do your tasks until they hire a replacement, or to return to train the replacement. While the employer may not take you up on the offer, making the suggestion leaves a positive impression and shows you are a team player until the end.

6. Be sure to contact all your vendors and clients that you worked with to say good-bye. Tell them why you are leaving, express gratitude for working with them, but don’t recruit them to your new business, which could be a conflict of interest.

7. Ask for references. If you had a solid working relationship with your manager, do ask for a reference in case you ever need one or your new situation does not work out. Ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn as a professional contact or if they will provide a testimonial of your skills. Most managers are usually open to maintaining some kind of connection with former employees. If you don’t ask at this point, when good will is at its peak, you might forget later.

Taking care of business before you leave a job helps build good will for the long term. And like my father told me many years ago, you never know when you might need a former manager’s help at some point in the future. You don’t want to burn your bridges along the way.

 

Nine Easy Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary

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Whether you are a budding writer or a working professional in a non-communications role, your ability to communicate depends on an expansive vocabulary. As children and young adults, we learn new words at a fairly high rate. By the time kids reach age six, they know close to 13,000 words, according to Scholastic.com. Most native English-speaking adults have mastered 20,000 to 35,000 words, according to TestYourVocab.com. Sadly, vocabulary growth tends to slow down for most adults by the time they reach mid life.

When it comes to reading and writing, learning new words and broadening our scope of language and understanding can only serve to make our story telling skills even better. With each new word we learn, it’s only natural that we want to implement it right way into our everyday conversation, to display our newfound knowledge.

Whether you want to become a better writer or just want to impress your friends with your growing lexicon of language, here are a few easy tricks to expand your vocabulary.

1. Read, read, read. This is obvious. The more you read, the more you will absorb the writer’s meaning through language. And the more diverse your reading materials – from historical fiction novels and celebrity memoirs to newspapers and medical journals – the more expansive your vocabulary will become.

2. Play games and puzzles. Crosswords and other word puzzles are not only fun, but they help build your understanding of words. A site like TestYourVocab.com offers several self-tests and exercises to help you determine how expansive your vocabulary is.

3. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus at your side when you read. This is a no-brainer. These valuable tomes are your best friends whenever you read or write.

4. Read the dictionary. Yes, you read that right. Read the dictionary front to back as if you were reading a novel. A grade-school classmate of mine did that in seventh grade. While other kids in the class were throwing spit balls, my classmate sat quietly at his desk studying the dictionary. It did not surprise me to learn several years later that he earned a perfect high score on his ACT test.

Take a page or two a day and study each word on the page. Note how many of them are unfamiliar to you. Little by little, your vocabulary will grow.

5. Take a class on a topic unfamiliar to you. If you don’t have the time or patience to read a text book, taking a class might be the next best thing to help you build your vocabulary. For example, when I took a personal training certification class a few years ago, I was exposed to terms and phrases related to exercise physiology, nutrition and physical fitness, not part of my everyday language, but it did give me some additional exposure to words I never would have learned otherwise. If medical science isn’t your forte, try other topics, such as gardening, carpentry or cooking.

6. Keep a vocabulary log. Each time you come across a word that is unfamiliar to you, write it down in a journal. In the space next to it, look up the word in a dictionary and write down the definition. The practice of writing it down will help commit the information to your memory.

I just started doing this with the book I’m currently reading, where I have easily written down up to three or four new words per page. Now I wish I had started doing this practice a long time ago. I can only imagine how much more comprehensive my vocabulary would be now.

7. Talk to people. Have conversations. Every now and then, take your nose out of a book, laptop or iPhone and look around you. The next time you visit a coffee shop, strike up a conversation with people in line or sitting at a table by themselves. Listen to the way they speak. What words do they use?

8. Visit sites like Vocabulary.com, a free online learning platform that helps students, teachers and communicators build their vocabulary. The site offers online games and exercises as well as tools to help you build vocabulary lists. There are other online platforms and apps available for the same purpose. No matter which you decide to choose, they are designed to help you build your vocabulary in fun, interesting ways.

9. Start writing, and keep writing. The more you write, the better you become at writing and the more words you will learn to use along the way.

When you engage in any one, two or three of these techniques on a regular basis, you’ll see your vocabulary grow exponentially in a short matter of time.