3 better ways to wrap up your writing

This post has been updated and moved to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2012/04/how-to-wrap-up-your-writing/

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Top 10: 9. The war on bad grammar

For the sake of world peace and all that’s good about the holiday season, let’s focus on the common mistakes that impair our ability to communicate and declare a truce on bickering over the fine points of grammar.

So I’m repeating my three-part series aimed at the biggest, ugliest targets, doing my best to avoid flash backs of catatonic English teachers.

The liveliest comments were on my IABC and Melcrum Linkedin groups, where fellow communicators get quite feisty about language.

9. The war on bad grammar: possessives, contractions and words that sound similar

And here are the links for the companion posts on me, myself and I as well as that, which and who and snd more pronoun insanity.

Laugh more at work: 3 tips

We all know that laughter reduces stress, increases energy, motivates and makes people feel better about themselves and others. Yet many offices, or cubicle farms, are serious spaces, with people worrying that a joke could offend, inspire ridicule or make them look unworthy of promotion.

Yes, humor can bring risks. But, handled the right way, the risks are outweighed by the rewards of happier people.

After too many years of serious corporate writing, I’ve tried to be funny in some of my blog posts. As some of my readers might agree, often I’m a comedian only in my own mind. In case you didn’t catch on, this is an example of self-deprecating humor. No belly laughs, but maybe you smiled.

From much of the tedious communication that crosses my desk, I know that many others need help to rediscover their inner comedian.

I asked for advice from one of the funniest people I know, Kathleen McAulay, therapeutic clown, stand-up comedian and workplace humor consultant.

That last title is not a joke. She’s worked with many organizations that recognize the benefits of laughter.

Kathleen offered three tips for revving up humour: be yourself, tell stories and interact.

1. Be yourself
Kathleen urges would-be office comics to think about the kind of humor that works for them. “Some people just can not tell a joke, but they’re quick with the one-liners. Other people may want to illustrate their point with a funny story about what their kid did the other day.” Observational humour, satire, exaggeration, fantasy or silliness may also work.

To make my humor work for me, I might leverage the fact that I’m a speed talker. When I get going too fast, I will often pause briefly, telling people I need to breathe and let them catch up.

The point is to cultivate your personal brand of humor. As Jerry Seinfeld said: “The whole object of comedy is to be yourself and the closer you get to that, the funnier you will be.”

2. Tell stories
Pick the physical details that will help your audience visualize your story. Share feelings they can identify with. Although the stories should be based on the truth, feel free to exaggerate wildly.

For example, I’ve written about my frustration with my 82-year-old mother who insists on smoking outside of her nursing home in raging blizzards. I point out that she permits me to wheel in her snow-crusted body before hypothermia strikes.

Or, when talking about saving money during the recession, Kathleen urges people to wear knee pads and a helmet when shopping at Value Village on half-price day.

3. Interact
With live humor, you must interact with the audience. Kathleen advises people want to inject more humor into their presentations or meetings to take courses in improv comedy. “It’s the best way to learn how to read your audience and learn how to communicate through body language, tone and rhythm.”

For written humor, Kathleen recommends writing in a conversational tone, as if you were performing, building in phrases and styles that suggest body language, pauses and other live elements.

Now you’re probably rolling your eyes and making that “tsk” sound between your teeth, while muttering “How can I convey body language and interact?” Hint: I just did.

Kathleen encourages people to test out their comedy, especially if they’re in doubt, with someone who will be brutally honest.

Stay away from the sarcasm and humor that could take a nasty turn. Kathleen promotes humor that builds up, not tears down.

Why do we need more laughter at work?
Laughter reduces stress by making people breathe deeply and shift their focus. As Mark Twain wrote: “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit take their place.”

We spend more time with the people at work than we do with our families so there are plenty of reasons to laugh more. Here are a few.
• The bottom line will be served by decreasing stress and increasing motivation, energy and creativity.
• Customer service will be lifted up to a level of personal expression that warms customers, suppliers and prospects. Bosses, project leaders, customer service reps and sales people will connect with their teams and customers.
• People are far more likely to remember what you’ve said. “It’s like a highlighter,” Kathleen says.
• Humor makes us less likely to want to shoot one another.

Merger communication: bang, smoking, still hot

One of the signs the economy is recovering is the increase in merger activity. What’s most important to the success of two organizations coming together is a communication plan that encourages good employees to stay and productivity to maintain.

From my experience advising and writing on several mergers, I know that these are scary, emotional times. Employees worry they may lose their job, hate their new boss, be forced to acquire new skills, give up their favorite perks or become lost in a stormy sea.

Because the emotional intensity changes as the merger progresses, I develop plans for three distinct phases:
1. the big bang, when you need to introduce people and provide some clarity and reassurance
2. smoking, when you let people know when to expect decisions and the context in which they will be made, for example whether job security will be determined by the value the individual adds or seniority
3. still hot-when you foster a sense of belonging, while recognizing the ongoing sensitivities

The big bang
When a merger is announced, uncertainty and a lack of trust will create a vacuum that will be filled by rumor and fear. Start filling the vacuum by introducing people and companies.

In the early days, executives are the critical spokespeople because they represent the new or changing organization. Managers are the link from leaders to employees.

During the first week or two, executives should visit as many locations and meet as many people as they can. Although distance may force them to meet some people virtually, they should look to video conferencing and other interactive, personal technologies and stay away from faceless memos and emails.

They should talk about why they bought the company, the values they share and reveal some of their strategy and philosophy. Employees will feel better if they are given a general idea of where the organization is headed.

To ensure leaders are consistent and clear, they should deliver the same key messages and use the same supporting slides and material. They need to take pains to avoid acronyms, corporate jargon or terms new employees might not understand. The language should be concise, simple and calm.

Managers should reinforce these messages with their teams. They should also find out about questions or concerns.

Smoking
As the integration continues, managers will play a larger role, explaining issues and decisions to their employees. Standard communication vehicles from newsletters to intranets will also ramp up.

Also growing in importance will be feedback from managers, surveys, focus groups, Facebook and other social media, dedicated voice mail boxes and a variety of other sources.

Because uncertainty abounds, employees need some reassurance, such as knowing the timing of decisions on issues that affect them. Employees should be informed of these kinds of changes by their manager, individually or in small groups depending on the sensitivity, before the announcement is made to the rest of the company and well ahead of media announcements.

Still hot
Once the new reality starts to take shape, employees need to understand and engage.

Although much of the fear of the unknown will have passed, they will still be adjusting to new brands, technologies, people and ways of doing things.

That’s why it’s important to foster a sense of belonging to the new or larger organization through coffee mugs, jackets and other trinket bearing corporate logos. It’s also time for sports leagues, charity fundraising, parties and other celebrations.

To adapt to new systems and processes, they’ll need communication that explains how the change will affect them personally. Posted interviews with employees who are already using the technology or new ways are a good way to provide information and credibility.

At this stage, many employees will not only be more comfortable with the new status quo but will also see how some of their colleagues have created opportunities from the changes. Profile these employees on the intranet, newsletters and other forums and encourage managers to talk about them in meetings.

How well employees will cope with the changes will vary with the individual and culture of the organization. But companies that are merging should assume that most employees will feel fear and other emotions and plan communication strategies that aim directly at their hearts.

Talk your way to employee engagement

In researching employee engagement for a client this week, I came to the conclusion that engagement starts in the heart. Although improvements can be measured, strategies and tactics to encourage people to identify strongly with their work have to be as individual and varied as the people in the organization. And they have to penetrate deep into the soul.

I read a lot of literature from consulting firms selling tools for measuring employee engagement. But my big insight was that people do their best, not because of the financial rewards, but because their job is who they are.

Of course, employee engagement communication has to be driven by actions to fix problems and create a culture of engagement, where people feel valued and comfortable in speaking out. Toby Ward of Prescient Digital Media has written some good posts on this.

We hear a lot about how social media tools promote engagement by offering channels for feedback, input and user content.

But what about a client where computer-based engagement communication strategies are of limited use? In my case, the client is a hospital where most employees are too busy taking care of patients to spend much time on a computer. Like most healthcare organizations in Ontario, they have not yet embraced mobile media.

They talk. In person. One-on-one or in small groups.

The obvious solution is to strengthen supervisor/manager communication. In study after study, this has proven to be the most popular and credible channel with employees. What’s more, it solves the problem of communicating with employees who work different shifts.

Although I love the way computers have created such a wealth of communication tools, we all need to be reminded that people talking to other people is the basic, and most effective, communication.

Sure, far-flung organizations have to rely on virtual communication. But even the most tech-savvy companies are trying to personalize their online communication through videos, web cams and other means.

People who work in hospitals, construction crews, farms and many other places rely on two-way communication with their supervisors and managers. So should anyone who wants to touch hearts and souls.

It’s ironic that there’s so much emphasis on measuring levels of employee engagement and the results on organizational performance. Yes, there’s lots to measure. But the true measure of engagement can be seen only in real life. The nurse listening with compassion to the patient’s complaints… the electrical worker caring enough to make sure the job is done safely… the call centre employee who actually talks to a customer instead of reading a script.

Social media gurus talk a lot about conversations, though the conversations on Facebook and Twitter tend to be pretty superficial. So let’s not forget that the best conversations take place in person, between people who already know and like each other.

How sticky is that?