Does punctuation really matter?

Tablet for writing


The fuss generated by Lynne Truss’s book, “Eats Shoots & Leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation,” really brought this topic into focus when it was first published. From the way everyone was talking when the book came out, you’d think punctuation was a whole new, previously unappreciated art form that could light up all our lives.

In the cold light of the business day, though, punctuation is not much more than a set of tools we use to fine tune our writing -– nothing more romantic than that.

You’ve probably noticed that it tends to split into two separate categories:

1. Punctuation that affects the meaning of what you write (so it’s worth getting right)

2. Punctuation that doesn’t really affect the meaning of what you write (but irritates some people if you get it wrong)

Beyond that, also there are variations in punctuation rules from one English language culture to the next. Most of those, I would say, fall into category #2.

So let’s take a look at the topic from the non-literary, business-only viewpoint. Please note these are my opinions only and I’m no English graduate – only a realist - so feel free to disagree!

Punctuation that affects the meaning of what you write (so it’s worth getting right)



This is probably the most misunderstood punctuation element of them all. Time and time again I see examples of the apostrophe incorrectly used and I think, “well, if I can get them right on the strength of mere high school / secondary school English, why can’t they?” Apostrophes are easy. Here’s how:

The apostrophe is used in 3 main ways:

1. To make a noun possessive - Suze’s, the children’s, everyone’s – and if it has an “s” at the end of the original noun, then the apostrophe goes after that – cheeses’ – helpers’ –  mothers’ – etc.

2. To show you’ve left something out and/or contracted two words - don’t, won’t, she’ll, he’d, etc.,

and most importantly, it’s as in the contraction of it is

3. To indicate plurals of some lowercase letters - but only a few, as in “mind your p’s and q’s.

The apostrophe is NOT used to accompany possessive pronouns or for noun plurals, including acronyms and well-known abbreviations.

So you DO NOT need an apostrophe in examples like his … yours … hers … its (aha, that’s why!) … etc.

Similarly you DO NOT need an apostrophe to make plurals out of things like … the 1970s … Ipods … PCs …  etc.



Here’s another really useful punctuation mark. Commas split thought processes after introductory 1) words, 2) phrases or 3) clauses, particularly where there would be a pause in natural speech.

1) However, I’m delighted to say that…

2) From the employee’s perspective, I can see we need to…

3) Looking at it from the employee’s perspective, I can see we need to…

Semi colon

This creates a more dramatic pause, usually to link two clauses if you don’t want to use a verbal link like “and” or “but.”

With verbal link:I want to go to the wine bar, but I have work to do here

Without verbal link:I want to go to the wine bar; I have work to do here, however

You can also use semi colons to create a list – for example…

In writing fiction we need to consider a number of issues including establishing the background; defining the main characters; developing the plot; introducing sub-plots; and sketching the roles of supporting characters.


Bullet points

In modern business writing – especially for online purposes – it’s usually better to use bullet points to form a list, because they’re easier to follow both verbally and visually. Generally you should use them for lists of three or more points, and probably for no more than about ten without some sort of break.



This creates an even more definitive pause. It’s most frequently used after a complete (short) statement so you can introduce one or more directly related ideas. If they come in list form you may want to use semi colons to separate the list entries that follow.

For example …

The following people were instrumental in helping us achieve our goals: John Doe, senior chemist; Mary Jones, technical manager; Joe Bloggs, technical advisor; Jane Smith, liaison officer.

Don’t forget, too, that colons form an essential part of timings (e.g. 05:00 hours, 6:00 p.m.)


Period/full stop

Need I say more? Well, yes. Be sure you use this punctuation mark often enough. Long sentences in contemporary business communications tend to wander and obscure meaning. Shorter sentences are punchier, better understood, and far more powerful.



Parentheses section off extra thoughts that, although not critical, are still relevant to a sentence, e.g. … I wondered if the old homestead (which had been built in the 19th century) would withstand this modern onslaught of renovation.



To an extent dashes perform the same function as parentheses … e.g. I wondered if the old homestead  -- which had been built in the 19th century -- would withstand this modern onslaught of renovation. They also can be used in the same way as a colon, e.g. I wondered if the old homestead would withstand this modern onslaught of renovation –- having been built in the 19th century, it might not have been strong enough.


Quotation marks/inverted commas

These marks show direct quotations. Whether other punctuation marks like commas, periods/full stops, colons and semi colons go inside or outside the quote marks depends on where you went to school!

Quote marks also indicate words you want to pull out to suggest irony or some other quirk.In an advertising or promotional context, some people feel that to put quote marks around a statement will make readers believe it has been said by some authoritative person and therefore deserves to be taken seriously.

Well, I know that can work when you’re advertising a fairly low-level product to a certain mass-market level. But believe me if you operate in the higher echelons of business-to-business communications, forget that one. If you want it to be believed, make sure you attribute it to its genuine originator.

Punctuation that doesn’t really affect the meaning of what you

write (but irritates some people if you get it wrong)


Hyphens are used to join two words into one compound word … e.g. well-known, eighty-three, semi-skilled. You also should hyphenate words with some prefixes and suffixes like ex-wife, mid-1970s, self-interested, chairman-elect.

Exclamation mark

People often tend to overuse the exclamation mark which weakens its impact. I’m guilty of this. Often I’ll compose an email to someone, then go back and edit out all but one or two of the “screamers.” Too many of these cheapen your writing, even if it is intended to be light-hearted.

Leader dots…

Another “guilty” from Suze … see? You can use these instead of parentheses or dashes, but they are frowned upon by some people. To be safe, it’s better to use them sparingly or not at all.


Underlining is a common way to emphasize text, but be very careful about using it in text that is intended to be used online. Here, an underlined word or words in an email or web text can represent a link. It’s best to use the bold facility for emphasis.


Another means of emphasizing text. Online, try to avoid using it unless your font is large, because italics are not easy to read from a screen. Traditionally they’re used to show the title of something like a play or newspaper, and also some foreign words e.g. haute cuisineschadenfreude.


This is often used to represent and, or, or and/or. Use it sparingly online as it can be visually confusing




 © Suzan St Maur Better results from your business writing
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For more of my business and marketing communication tips, take a look at my articles on the US website, Marketing Professionals .... go:
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Effective Listening: Listen Up: Remove the Barriers; Hear the Words…

The second in a four-part series on effective listening.
By Kellie Fowler

In the last issue of the Mind Tools newsletter, we discussed something that some might believe to be obvious: That listening well is one of life's great challenges.

We saw how important it is possess and project a true desire to hear the messages that other people are sending us, to listen carefully, and to take the time to clearly reiterate the message before walking away. And we saw the importance of active listening, rather than the combative or passive approaches to listening which lie behind much failed communication.

Sure, this may sound like hard work, but remember that listening, really listening with our whole being, is a skill and one of the most important compliments we can give another human being.

To do this, you should know that there are different levels of communication. Now, you should also know that the different types of interaction or the levels of communication might also contribute to the level of difficulty or misunderstanding, or impede the true hearing of any message.

Three different types or levels of communication are:

  1. Facts
  2. Thoughts/Beliefs
  3. Feelings/Emotions

As listeners, we tend to “tune-in” to the level we think is most important. However, we may have no idea what the speaker thinks is most important, and this can create misperceptions or crossed wires, which yield the most undesirable results.

Sure, the purpose of the conversation and even the relationship you have with the speaker will influence what levels are used for the interaction. Even so, these will still vary. To best understand this, consider the differences in these verbal communications:

  • You are lost and ask a gas station attendant for directions.
  • Your spouse or loved one is being affectionate and playful.
  • Your boss is reprimanding you for a costly mistake you made.
  • Your child falls down and is injured and comes running to you hurting and crying for your help.

Considering these, it is easier to see that if you do not hear and address the appropriate elements of the communication, the situation can quickly worsen: A factual response to your child’s pain would seem cold and uncaring. And a belief-oriented response to the gas station attendant would probably be seen as peculiar!

Thus, it is important to consider all that goes into the message you are hearing, as well as the words themselves.

While seemingly elementary, there are quick and easy steps you can take to ensure that you hear the words, factor in the situation and even consider the sender’s motivation and desirable outcome. These include:

  • First and foremost, stop talking! It is difficult to listen and speak at the same time.
  • Put the other person at ease. Give them space and time and "permission" to speak their piece. How we look at them, how we stand or sit, makes a huge difference: Relax, and let them relax as well.
  • Show the other person that you want to hear them. Look at them. Nod when you can agree, ask them to explain further if you don't understand. Listen to understand them and their words, rather than just for your turn.
  • Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to turn off the TV, close a door, stop returning emails or reading your mail. Give the speaker your full attention, and let them know they are getting your full attention.
  • Empathize with the other person. Especially if they are telling you something personal or painful, or something you intensely disagree with, take a moment to stand in their shoes, to look at the situation from their point of view.
  • Be patient. Some people take longer to find the right word, to make a point or clarify an issue. Give the speaker time to get it all out before you jump in with your reply.
  • Watch your own emotions. If what they are saying creates an emotional response in you, be extra careful to listen carefully, with attention to the intent and full meaning of their words. When we are angry, frightened or upset, we often miss critical parts of what is being said to us.
  • Be very slow to disagree, criticize or argue. Even if you disagree, let them have their point of view. If you respond in a way that makes the other person defensive, even if you "win" the argument, you may lose something far more valuable!
  • Ask lots of questions. Ask the speaker to clarify, to say more, give an example, or explain further. It will help them speak more precisely and it will help you hear and understand them more accurately.
  • STOP TALKING! This is both the first and the last point, because all other tools depend on it. Nature gave us two ears and only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

Becoming an effective listener is not a lengthy or particularly challenging process. Even poor listening habits can be easily changed and in the final two articles in this four-part series on listening, we provide proven tips and techniques that you can use to become a more effective listener. More in our next issue!

Reproduced from the Mind Tools Newsletter.  ã  To subscribe to the newsletter, send a blank email to:


Managers Who Listen Achieve Sustainable Results

We’ve all read those statistics that reveal the number of employees who leave their jobs due to management. A recent study of 7,200 employees found that 50% of them left a job because of their manager. These statistics have a negative effect on talent retention and just spikes attrition. But what if those statistics can be used to boost managerial performance instead? Managers who actively prioritize time to listen to their employees have the opportunity to boost business in a number of ways.

Employees Are Empowered to Feel Like A Valuable Part of the Team

Companies who have support from their employees have a better chance of reaching their goals. In the case of Xerox, the company even managed a dramatic turnaround thanks to the efforts of its CEO. This and other success stories all have a common thread - employees are part of the decision-making process.

  • Employees who buy into the plan will welcome change - one of the toughest situations businesses face is change management. There are a number of reasons employees feel ill at ease with change and these include: a lack of understanding, inability to see how it affects the bigger picture, and a shortage of skills or staff to manage current tasks. Those who are part of the journey from the ground up will respond better to change.

  • Employees are better able to motivate their peers - It’s easy to assume that motivation is only needed at a managerial level. Real motivation filters through to other staff members, who will have a positive effect on their colleagues. This promotes teamwork and better facilitation of projects.

  • Employees will feel like they’re part of something special - One of the biggest reasons employees hate their jobs is the feeling that they’re not valuable collaborators.

How To Knuckle Down and Listen to Employees

Managers often avoid listening to an employee because they assume it will involve a cup of coffee and they then proceed to tell their whole life’s tale. However, this is not the case. When employees speak, it’s important for managers to listen with the intention of understanding their situation.

Managers need to be aware that listening to someone is about giving them more than just a platform to speak. They also need to know that their input is valuable. This means that they can’t share the floor or compete with other people or devices. This is about fostering good relationships overall. Managers can take a queue from their personal relationships in this regard. If it doesn’t work at home it also won’t work at the office. These include:

  • Using an electronic device, replying to messages, scheduling appointments, etc. while an employee has the floor.

  • Don’t take it personally. The employee is merely conveying things that are important to them. If they’re being disrespectful or disruptive, rather call them aside and deal with them personally than in front of the group.

  • Use the opportunity to grow. Nothing spells leader more than the ability to take criticism without getting offended.

Fostering good - yet professional - relationships with staff will involve learning a bit more about them as people. Remember the things that are important to them in order to build a relationship of trust. After all, Sir Richard Branson once said “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”


From contributor, Jackie

10 Steps to Effective Communication

At the root of any successful leader is a strong ability to communicate. Sure, there have been leaders who have ascended into the highest positions and not had that skill, but they likely didn't last long. This point was illustrated recently as I listened to a NPR program about the failure of the big banks on Wall Street. When Congress grilled executives from these institutions about why they didn't catch the risky investments that were being made that ultimately failed, their answers were all the same and quite simple - we didn't know. It was their job to know and either nobody told them or they didn't catch it in the data they had access to. No flags were raised; nobody asked so nobody told. This is definitely a communication meltdown that had widespread negative consequences.

What is communication?

Communication in life is the pinnacle of every successful - and not so successful - relationship. According to Webster's dictionary, communication is defined as a process of transferring information from one entity to another. Communication processes are sign-mediated interactions between at least two agents, which share a repertoire of signs, and semiotic rules. Communication is commonly defined as "the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs". Although there is such a thing as one-way communication, communication can be perceived better as a two-way process in which there is an exchange and progression of thoughts, feelings or ideas (energy) towards a mutually accepted goal or direction (information).

Why is communication important?

Often times, we have a message which we want to communicate or we want the receiver of message to understand our message in the same sense as we convey it. Take for example a company's need to raise the cost of health insurance. Often times, this is conveyed through a written document to the employees at open enrollment time. The employee's reaction is usually anger towards the company for making them pay more money for health coverage. The miss here is that the company is not sharing as much information as they should to help the employee understand how the raising cost of health insurance coverage affects the company and their contribution too. A company should give the employee a total compensation statement at that time so all employees can see how much the company invests in him/her as individuals. Giving each employee a clear, individualized picture and then telling the employee the cost is raising would change the way the message is received. There may still be anger, but it will be focused on the right culprit of raising costs, which are the insurance and medical companies and not the employer. Effective communication helps in that the message is enable to achieve its goals and helps in receiving the desired response from the reader of the message. Effective communication helps organizations in keeping good relationships with their customers and employees; forwarding information effectively helps in avoiding any dispute that can arise because of a misunderstanding.

Related article:  Conflict: Constructive or Destructive?

The 4 Types of Communication.

I used to work with someone who I refer to as a "chit-chatter." He'd walk the halls every day knocking on doors and say, "do you have a minute?' An hour and a half later he'd still be sitting there rambling. I learned very quickly that my body language could help deter this activity without me having to be rude or disengaging. When Mr. Chatter would show up at my door and say, "do you have a minute?" He'd start to walk in the door before I would answer and I would throw my hand up in the "stop" mode. I would say, "actually, I'm in the middle of something right now, can I get you on my calendar for later today?" His answer was always, "Oh. No, I just came by to say hello." That one gesture changed the whole dynamic of the conversation. There are 4 types of communication that are present in our lives: verbal, non-verbal, written and visual.

Verbal Communication: Verbal communication includes sounds, words, language and speaking. Language is said to have originated from sounds and gestures. There are many languages spoken in the world. The bases of language formation are: gender, class, profession, geographical area, age group and other social elements. Speaking is an effective way of communicating and is again classified into two types viz. interpersonal communication and public speaking. Good verbal communication is an inseparable part of business communication. In a business, you come across people from various ages, cultures and races. Fluent verbal communication is essential to deal with people in business meetings. Also, in business communication self-confidence plays a vital role which when clubbed with fluent communication skills can lead to success. Public speaking is another verbal communication in which you have to address a group of people. Preparing for an effective speech before you start is important. In public speaking, the speech must be prepared according to the type of audience you are going to face. The content of your your speech should be authentic and you must have enough information on the topic you have chosen for public speaking. All the main points in your speech must be highlighted and these points should be delivered in the correct order. There are many public speaking techniques and these techniques must be practiced for an effective speech.

Non-Verbal Communication: Non-verbal communication involves physical ways of communication, like, tone of the voice, touch, smell and body motion. Creative and aesthetic non-verbal communication includes singing, music, dancing and sculpturing. Symbols and sign language are also included in non-verbal communication. Body language is a non-verbal way of communication. Body posture and physical contact convey a lot of information. Body posture matters a lot when you are communicating verbally to someone. Folded arms and crossed legs are some of the signals conveyed by a body posture. Physical contact, like, shaking hands, pushing, patting and touching expresses the feeling of intimacy. Facial expressions, gestures and eye contact are all different ways of communication. Reading facial expressions can help you know a person better.

Written Communication: Written communication is writing the words which you want to communicate. Good written communication is essential for business purposes. Written communication is practiced in many different languages. E-mails, reports, articles and memos are some of the ways of using written communication in business. The written communication can be edited and amended many times before it is communicated to the second party to whom the communication is intended. This is one of the main advantages of using writing as the major means of communication in business activity. Written communication is used not only in business but also for informal communication purposes. Mobile SMS is an example of informal written communication.

Visual communication: The last type of communication out of the four types of communication, is the visual communication. Visual communication is visual display of information, like, topography, photography, signs, symbols and designs. Television and video clips are the electronic form of visual communication.

What is Your Communication Style?

I come from a family where being direct is considered combative. To me, honesty is the best policy and the only way to be honest is to be direct. Of course that ends up causing conflict between myself, my mother and my siblings because they would rather agree with the person to their face then disagree behind the scenes. My style is direct and their style is harmonious (with a bit of passive aggressiveness in my opinion, but that's a blog for another time!) I have adjusted my style to reduce the conflict and I have learned to get my point across without ruffling anyone's feathers. Does it always work? No, but it has reduced my stress and those around me. It is critically important to know your style of communication and recognize the style of others so that you can learn to be flexible in your message without compromising it and drastically reduce the possibility of miscommunication. I found an interesting article that had some critically important information relative to communication style: The 21 most important words in the English language:

The two most important words:

Thank You

The three most important words:

All is forgiven

The four most important words:

What is your opinion

The Five most important words:

You did a good job

The six most important words:

I want to understand you better

The least important word:


Related Article:  Top-Ten Email Management Tips

The Power of Listening:

There is nothing that will derail effective communication quicker than one of the parties not really listening to the other. This recently happened to a client with the financial aid office of the University of Michigan, where his child attends school. Every single person that he have dealt with in that office since his child first attended there in 2009 had been short, curt and robotic in conveying the Federal guidelines for student aid. Clearly, there is a budget they adhere to and there is no going outside the box, which is a total disconnect for him as the recipient of financial aid when he attended the Western Michigan University years ago. HIs perception was that the financial aid office exists to help student find a way to fund their education when they don't have money out of pocket to cover the entire cost. The University of Michigan's Financial Aid Office employees make it clear through their words and non-verbal communication that their mission is to limit the amount of funds that go to each student to meet some secret budget goal. He tried on several occasions to explain this to the head of the department and each time she twisted it around and blamed him for misunderstanding the counselors, or not following their guidelines, or taking what was said out of context. Not once did she acknowledge that she heard what my client was saying or that she would try and help him find financial resources to help him cover the $26,000 annual cost of school. His child asked, "How can I find more money to go to school?" The counselor responded, "By getting married, having a baby, joining the military or your parents dying." He said, "None of those are a remote possibility, to which he responded, "Well maybe you should have chosen a school that was more affordable to you." His child worked hard to get accepted to U of M and he worked hard to save enough money for him to go there. The counselor was actually conveying the Federal guidelines of student aid to him, but it was the way he conveyed it that was totally inappropriate. When my client brought it to the attention of the department director, she was very defensive and blamed the entire issue on me in that he wasn't accepting that these were the guidelines. That wasn't the point, but rather there is a right way and a wrong way to say, no, which is exactly what they were telling his son in terms of getting more aid. The last exchange my client had with the department head, she said, "Please accept my apologies for any response you feel was inappropriate." My client didn't feel the responses were inappropriate, they were. He totally understands the Federal guidelines, and she repeatedly and robotically recited them to him over and over and over again, missing the point. Putting the blame back on my client and his son clearly showed she never listened what I was trying to say and my client wasn't heard. That's an unfortunate gap between a parent and a major function at a major institution.

Managing Conflict: To say my client had a conflict with the U of M financial aid office is an understatement. It was a major communication breakdown, one I'm sure he'll pay the price for at a later date - literally. However it is a normal part of life to have conflict at home, in the workplace, in any situation where two or more people are exchanging information. What is key is how we manage conflict and bring it to successful resolution. In the case of the financial aid office, my client has agreed to disagree, take what they will give and find another resource to cover the gap in tuition. The head of that office will never get what was said to her and he can live with that, it's her loss. There are many effective ways to defuse a tense situation and one thing that has been successful is to decide - what can you live with and what are you not willing to budge on? Knowing conflict happens and being armed with tools to manage through it and resolve it are keys to having the right mindset while it is happening. My client's situation was unfortunate but not personal and I guarantee he is not the first nor will he be the last to experience a brick wall when it comes to the U of M financial aid office. Removing the emotion and defusing the situation helped bring this to a reasonable conclusion.

How Your Attitude Affects Communication: Every attitude is a combination of feelings, beliefs and evaluations. Behavior refers to the reactions or actions of an object or organism and attitude predicts behavior. Persuasive communication changes attitudes, which then affects behavior, which then creates a more productive environment. Persuasive communication involves openly trying to convince another to change their behavior and only works when the source is credible and trustworthy. Addressing trust and credibility first among your coworkers and other critical relationships you have lays a strong foundation. Learning to clearly state your position, followed by supporting arguments and obtaining others' agreement are the keys to persuasion.

Giving and Receiving Feedback: Feedback is a type of communication that we give or get. Sometimes, feedback is called "criticism," but this seriously limits its meaning.

Feedback is a way to let people know how effective they are in what they are trying to accomplish, or how they affect you. It provides a way for people to learn how they affect the world around them, and it helps us to become more effective. If we know how other people see us, we can overcome problems in how we communicate and interact with them. Of course, there are two sides to it: giving feedback, and receiving it.

Getting Feedback: Some people experience feedback as pure criticism and don't want to hear it. Others see it as spiritually crushing; a confirmation of their worthlessness. Still others only want to hear praise, but nothing that might suggest imperfection. That's not the case for everyone, of course. Some people are willing to accept feedback and seek it out, even if it is sometimes disturbing, because they believe they can grow from it. It comes down to whether you believe feedback will harm you or benefit you.

This is not to say that we should always have to accept feedback or the manner in which it is sometimes given. We all have the right to refuse feedback, and we can expect feedback to be given in a respectful and supportive manner. But for every positive and open way of accepting feedback, there's an opposite; a negative and closed manner which pushes feedback away and keeps it at bay.

Negative/Closed Style

Defensive: defends personal actions, frequently objects to feedback given. Attacking: verbally attacks the feedback giver, and turns the table. Denies: refutes the accuracy or fairness of the feedback. Disrespectful: devalues the speaker, what the speaker is saying, or the speaker's right to give feedback. Closed: ignores the feedback, listening blankly without interest. Inactive listening: makes no attempt to "hear" or understand the meaning of the feedback. Rationalizing: finds explanations for the feedback that dissolve any personal responsibility. Patronizing: listens, but shows little interest. Superficial: listens and agrees, but gives the impression that the feedback will have little actual effect.

Positive/Open Style

Open: listens without frequent interruption or objections. Responsive: willing to hear what's being said without turning the table. Accepting: accepts the feedback, without denial. Respectful: recognizes the value of what is being said and the speaker's right to say it. Engaged: interacts appropriately with the speaker, asking for clarification when needed. Active listening: listens carefully and tries to understand the meaning of the feedback. Thoughtful: tries to understand the personal behavior that has led to the feedback. Interested: is genuinely interested in getting feedback. Sincere: genuinely wants to make personal changes if appropriate.

Related Article:  6 Ways to Motivate Others

Giving Feedback

The other end of feedback is giving it. Some people deliver feedback with relish; after all, it's easier to give advice than take it. Some use feedback as a weapon, or offer it as tit-for-tat. For others, feedback is a great way to be critical. How you deliver feedback is as important as how you accept it, because it can be experienced in a very negative way. To be effective you must be tuned in, sensitive, and honest when giving feedback. Just as there are positive and negative approaches to accepting feedback, so too are there ineffective and effective ways to give it.

Ineffective/Negative Delivery

Attacking: hard hitting and aggressive, focusing on the weaknesses of the other person. Indirect: feedback is vague and issues hinted at rather than addressed directly. Insensitive: little concern for the needs of the other person. Disrespectful: feedback is demeaning, bordering on insulting. Judgmental: feedback is evaluative, judging personality rather than behavior. General: aimed at broad issues which cannot be easily defined. Poor timing: given long after the prompting event, or at the worst possible time. Impulsive: given thoughtlessly, with little regard for the consequences. Selfish: feedback meets the giver's needs, rather than the needs of the other person.

Effective/Positive Delivery

Supportive: delivered in a non-threatening and encouraging manner. Direct: the focus of the feedback is clearly stated. Sensitive: delivered with sensitivity to the needs of the other person. Considerate: feedback is intended to not insult or demean. Descriptive: focuses on behavior that can be changed, rather than personality. Specific: feedback is focused on specific behaviors or events. Healthy timing: given as close to the prompting event as possible and at an opportune time. Thoughtful: well considered rather than impulsive. Helpful: feedback is intended to be of value to the other person.

The Importance of Feedback

Feedback is a must for people who want to have honest relationships. A powerful and important means for communication, giving feedback connects us, and our behavior, to the world around us.

Communication and the Digital Age: There are now multiple means of causing communication barriers between people; texting, Facebook-ing, Twittering, instant messaging, voice mail and email to name a few. Stephen Covey's Time Management program preaches for us to be the master of technology versus letting technology being our master. I recently attended a baseball game and when I looked around the stadium, I saw a sea of people looking at their cell phones. They were texting, taking pictures, uploading them to Facebook, talking - it was a new age of mass media blitz. I frequently get instant messages from clients and potential clients asking me in-depth life changing questions and expecting a simple answer in return. It's hard to be an effective communicator in the digital age unless we learn how to use these means in a persuasive and appropriate manner. A client of mine has an employee who constantly fires off scathing emails. My client gets constant complaints about the employee who is perceived as being combative and abrasive. I advised her to sit down with the employee, show her examples of the inappropriate emails, advise her to a 24-hour "cool down" period, then initially reviewing the emails with someone they can trust before hitting the send key. A month later the client reported that 9 out of 10 emails were scrapped before sending. The employee then learned the skill of not reacting via email to other communication that was angering her. It is especially important in this economic climate where we're doing much more with much less and tensions are high.

Ask yourself the following questions:

How would your professional and personal life change if you could successfully master these basic skills?

Can you afford not to make the investment to improve your communication?

You will be amazed at the startling turn your life will take once you learn how to communicate effectively and successfully. Did you know that the most important asset to a company or to a client is a person who communicates effectively, someone who has the ability to influence and persuade others? Are you communicating successfully and effectively to influence others or are you just talking?

i. 2007, Stoney deGeyter; Pole Position Marketing. ii. 2009, Phil Rich, Ed.D., MSW, DCSW; Self-Help Magazine.

About Terri Kern Company
Terri Kern Company, LLC ( [] ) provides professionals at any level around the globe with the training & development they need to successfully manage their career. From group training, to executive coaching, to one-on-one career development planning, clients that have used TKC for their career management needs have achieved their goals faster, struck a work/life balance, engage in meaningful work and are financially stable. They work with or independent of the professional's current employer.
Vision of Terri Kern Company:
Our vision serves as the framework for the mission and guides every aspect of our business by helping each professional client:
• Create foundation for success through visualizing who you want to be, self-awareness and the perception of others;
• Cultivate a development plan that will bridge the gap between now and later;
• Conquer new skills, behaviors and motivations;
• Succeed in your new world.

6 Ways to Motivate Others

If you’re leading a group of people towards success, you must learn how to motivate others. If you concentrate on understanding what motivates others and you meet the needs of these people, you’ll be on the right track for a positive and enlightening experience for all involved.



Once a person’s base needs are met, they usually move on to working on certain needs of self fulfilment. For example, if someone is hungry, they won’t be able to concentrate on a critical thinking task. In this case you’ll need to make sure that this person has had lunch before the task needs to be completed. But how can you motivate them to complete certain tasks once base needs have been fulfilled?

Try one or more of the following ways of motivating people:

1. Treat People Kindly. As a leader you need to treat the people helping you with the utmost respect and kindness. Hand out praise when it’s warranted. You might not know it, but it’s a big motivation booster when people are treated right. People enjoy knowing when they’re doing a good job and enjoy working with people that treat others with kindness.

2. Give People Responsibility. If there are certain tasks that you’re allowed to delegate to others, by all means choose someone to take responsibility for that task. When people are fully responsible, they’ll be more likely to find the motivation to complete the task. This is because, as a part of a group, they may not feel like their hard work matters, but when they’re responsible it certainly matters. They also know that they’re being held accountable for the success or failure of the project.

3. Be a Good Listener. No one likes to feel like they don’t matter. Just because you have final say doesn’t mean that you can’t get some help with important decision making. People enjoy feeling like they’re making a difference. Always keep an open ear and you’ll be motivating your team to come up with solutions and creative ideas.

4. Set Stretched Goals. Think long and hard about how your goal setting abilities can teach you how to motivate others. You don’t want to set goals that are too easy. Your team might reach them quickly but they won’t be pushed to become the best they can be. On the other end, you don’t want to set goals that are unattainable either. Your team will quickly lose motivation because they’ll never get the feeling of having met their goals. You want to find a goal that would push them to achieve just a little more than they have in the past and keep going from there.

5. Get to Know People. You may not want to be personal friends with your colleagues, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get to know them as people. Keep lines of communication open and get to know your team by paying attention to their wants, needs, strengths and weaknesses. People are smart and they’ll know when they have a leader that cares and a leader that doesn’t. They’ll certainly be more motivated to work hard for somebody that cares about them.

6. Keep Everyone in the Know. Nobody likes to be left in the dark. Make sure that you’re open about your thinking and decisions with the people you’re motivating. Sure, sometimes there will be things that you’re not supposed to share. You just need to make an effort to spread the word around when you can communicate important issues.

Remember that when you’re working on motivating others, it’s definitely important to strengthen their sense of belonging. You’re leading a little family and when everyone’s happy, they’re motivated to achieve big things.

This article was written for the Life Optimizer Blog by Mark Foo.  Mark Foo has brought together 48 personal development bloggers and writers to co-author The 77 Traits of Highly Successful People eBook that spells out all of the success secrets of the very successful people. This eBook is available to you FREE and you can grab your free copy now at



Language of Care Versus Language of Neglect

Through a slight lack of awareness, I made a chance at a good interaction less than it could have been.

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Are you kidding me? This is serious! Or, what psychologists have to say about writing e-mail


An old college friend and accomplished writer, John Scalzi, recently posted a list of writing tips for non-professionals, which I'd highly recommend for professionals and non-professionals alike. One of his most unusual suggestions is to "speak what you write" -- literally, to read your writing out loud before publishing, whether in a blog post or just an e-mail to friends. This, he argues, will not only help catch spelling and other errors (each of which Scalzi says decreases the writer's apparent IQ by 5 to 10 points), but also help you see whether you're conveying the meaning you intend.

So what does psychology research have to say about this notion? (No, not that typos decrease your IQ, but the larger idea that reading your words out loud will help you determine if your meaning is clear.)

A team led by Justin Kruger conducted a series of experiments on how we perceive each other's intentions in e-mail, and their findings do have some relevance to Scalzi's claims. One common problem in e-mails is deciding whether your correspondent is being serious or sarcastic. Taking Scalzi's example, most readers will realize that one of his observations was sarcastic: your IQ doesn't literally decrease when you make a spelling error. But what about the advice given by the aptly-named blogger Grumpy old Bookman, who in response to the much-hyped controversy over fabrications in James Frey's memoir, suggested that authors literally make everything up, taking no inspiration from the real world? Most commenters to that post clearly thought he was being serious, but I have little doubt that the post was intended to be sarcasm (I also think he anticipated that many readers wouldn't "get it" -- and that was part of the joke).

But do most writers actually accurately anticipate how readers will perceive the tone of their writing? Kruger's team tested sixty pairs of students at Cornell University, asking each person to choose 10 statements from a list of 20. Each person had a different list; on both lists, some of the statements were sarcastic, and some were serious. In separate rooms, one member of the pair typed each of the chosen statements into an e-mail message. The other member recorded the statements with a tape recorder. Each person guessed whether the message recipient would be able to identify the statements correctly as sarcastic or serious; then they listened or read their partners' messages and indicated whether they actually thought the message was sarcastic. Here are the results:

While both e-mailers and talkers thought most sentences would be read accurately, e-mail recipients couldn't judge whether sarcasm was intended -- their readers guessed their intentions at a rate no better than chance. By contrast, people speaking sarcastic messages were accurately able to guess when recipients would see the sarcasm. Message recipients were also asked to say how confident they were in their understanding of the message, and again, whether reading e-mails or listening to recordings, nearly everyone believed they had accurately judged the message's intent.

So talking appears to be a better way of conveying sarcasm than e-mail. But what about Scalzi's advice -- can saying what you write actually help you better understand how your written message will be taken?

In a new experiment, pairs of volunteers e-mailed each other as before, but before they guessed how their message would be taken, they recorded the statements on a tape recorder. Half of the group read the statements as intended, using a sarcastic voice for the sarcastic statements, and a serious voice for serious statements. The other half read them using the opposite intonation: a sarcastic voice for serious statements and a serious voice for sarcastic statements. Here are the results:

When people read the statements with the same intonation as they intended to convey, they were wildly inaccurate at guessing whether readers would judge the statements' intentions correctly -- in fact, readers again were barely better than chance. But when e-mailers tried reading the statements with the opposite intonation, their guesses as to how readers would perform exactly matched actual performance. So here is a case where speaking what you write does appear to help you understand whether readers will read your message the way you intend it to be read.

Kruger and his team argue that their study demonstrates that writers are generally overconfident about what their readers will understand. While confidence about our writing matches our confidence about speaking, in reality, we're less able to convey those intentions in writing. Amazingly, readers, too, believe they can effectively judge the writer's intent, so the potential for miscommunicating in e-mail is amplified. The research also appears to support Scalzi's claim that "speaking what you write" can improve writing, with a caveat: to better understand the potential for misreading, you should try to read your words using an intonation opposite what you intend.

As for the link between spelling errors and IQ, more research will be needed before a definitive answer can be reached (seriously!).

Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89(6), 925-936.

Posted by Dave Munger on Cognitive Daily


You may also be interested in:

Manage your e-mail so that it does not rule your workday

Top-Ten Email Management Tips

The U2 Method of High-Impact Writing

Three tips to improve your writing rhythm


[Public speaking tip] Gestures on a level


Are you a natural gesturer, or do you have to force yourself to gesture?

Or perhaps there is a third question I could ask, and that is ... have your modified your gestures to be more appropriate to your speaking?

I basically think that the more natural a speaker, the better.

And gestures are not absolutely necessary to communicate.

Sometimes I am annoyed at a television presenter or video presenter who makes the same gesture over and over, or who makes gestures at a level that seems inappropriate to the frame in which he is presenting. But then, I also think that those who evaluate or coach speakers can become too focussed on minor details that most people simply don't notice, unless they are judging a speech contest. If gestures are inappropriate it is usually a reflection of a deeper level of communication.

Nevertheless I have always been intrigued by something I read years and years ago, that basically

Gestures above shoulder level support messages about things that are spiritual or uplifting (a church minister will raise his hands in blessing).

Ordinary messages are supported by gestures at the middle level of your body.

Things that are despicable or degrading or debilitating are supported by gestures below the waist.

Do you agree?

And would you coach a speaker to create gestures based on this information?

[Image from Stallonezone]

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The Secrets To E-Mail Nirvana


You crank up your computer every morning, click to your e-mail and--whap!--a slew of messages demands attention.

E-mail can be a great tool, but many misuse it, turning what should be quick, easy communication into a laborious, time-consuming management chore.

"Many people use the inbox as a to-do list, calendar and filing system," says Mark Hurst president and founder of Creative Good, a consulting firm in New York. "File some messages and delete most of them, but without a doubt, don't let anything stay in your inbox permanently."

Hurst says effective e-mail management is built on filters, filing and ruthless use of the delete key.
He offers this distinction to better define the problem: The number of new messages received each day is "volume" while the number of e-mails sitting in the inbox is "message count." The second is the key measure of effective e-mail management.

"A user who gets 100 messages a day may not be overloaded at all if the message count is low," Hurst says. "Conversely, a user who gets ten e-mails a day may be overloaded."

If the number of messages stacked in the inbox becomes too large and difficult to manage, you're overloaded. The e-mail system then becomes a black hole rather than a productivity tool and your output will suffer.

"If overload is the problem, then removing the load is the solution," Hurst says in a special report, "Managing Incoming E-mail." "Here's how to manage incoming e-mail: Keep the inbox empty--clear out incoming e-mails before they pile up or you lose your ability to manage them effectively."

But there's just one catch and, unlike catch-22, it's not the least bit philosophical.

"It may be a simple solution, but it's not easy," Hurst says. "Achieving simplicity--or emptiness, in this case--takes time and continued improvement. It's difficult but better than drowning in e-mails and becoming less effective. Only an empty inbox will allow users to take full advantage of the benefits of e-mail."

The first step is deleting all spam. Never reply to spam because the spammer will know your e-mail address is active and sell it to others at a premium. The result: more spam.

Next, read all personal e-mail from friends or family and save selected messages as needed elsewhere on your computer or print out important notes. It might be a good idea to check your personal e-mail account at work and use it to chitchat and exchange goofball jokes with your lunatic friends while reserving your company account for (gasp) work-related items. Admit it: This would sharply reduce the volume of incoming mail on the company e-mail system.

Hurst says messages should be sorted by date with the oldest message at the top of the list. Each message should be opened and the appropriate action--filing or deletion-- should be taken quickly. This will prevent the accumulation of a 500-message stack in your inbox.
Hurst says newsletters should be read or scanned quickly, but never filed because then you'll have two cluttering up your inbox when the next arrives. FYIs, or non-actionable information such as an answer to a question or notification of an event, should be read quickly, filed if necessary and deleted as soon as possible.

Hurst urges use of the "two-minute rule" for to-dos. If the task outlined in the e-mail takes two minutes or less to complete, even if it means getting out of your chair, do it immediately and delete the message.
If you're way behind in managing your e-mail, Hurst recommends a ruthless cleaning out of the clutter in the inbox to allow users to manage e-mail effectively with just a few minutes work each day. It may take several whacks to get through all the old junk, but once it's cleaned out, it's done and future management of the inbox can be handled in just a few minutes each day.

E-mail arrives throughout the day so it's impossible to keep the inbox empty at all times. Hurst recommends dealing with e-mails as soon as possible after each arrives or setting aside a few minutes several times a day to complete the task.

"Users shouldn't let an inbox go more than one business day without emptying," he says.
Filters will screen out most of the junk. For starters, Hurst recommends setting up your filter to accept mail from everyone in your address book. Suspected spam, including any e-mail containing viruses or unknown attachments, gets sent to purgatory--a folder for suspected junk mail from unknown senders. Any e-mail with three or more consecutive exclamation points gets zapped. Set the filter to automatically delete any e-mail containing raunchy words you'd expect to find in sexually explicit spam.

Have the filter kill any e-mail with "adv" in the message line. Expand the list of subject lines to kill starting with obvious pitches such as "Free Long Distance," "Find background info about anyone," "Quit Smoking" and "Be your own boss." Compiling the list requires some thought because many spam subject lines appear in legitimate e-mail such as free, mortgage, university, diploma and life insurance.
Software will thin the thundering herd of spam seeking to graze and fatten your inbox, but it's not the final, or best, way to manage e-mail.

"'Delete' is one keystroke," Hurst says. "I don't know what's easier than that."

Article written by Scott Reeves© Inc.™