by Joan Burge (used with permission)
Did you know that changing just a few of the everyday words you use while conducting business can actually enhance people’s positive impressions of you? Here are three highly effective tips you can start using today.
- “Do” or “can” instead of “try.” When you’re a pro at what you do, you understand the importance of managing expectations among the people you support and work with in the office. That’s why so many of us use the word “try” (as in, “I will try to have that report finished Tuesday”) to buffer our schedules and communicate parameters on tasks and projects. Problem: “Try” has a somewhat wimpy connotation, as if you’re unsure – even when you aren’t, of course! Solution: Replace with variations of the words “do” or “can” instead – and focus on what is definite: “I’ll do a preliminary outline by Tuesday for review,” or “I will complete a preliminary outline Tuesday.”
- “Believe” instead of “think” or “feel.” If you’re a careful listener, you’ll often hear people say something like, “I think/feel the best course of action is….” Communication experts agree that replacing “think/feel” with “believe” expresses even more assertiveness and self-confidence to management, colleagues and clients: “I believe you’re right.” Bonus fact: To communicate even more directly and succinctly, practice dropping the use of “I believe” and stick with the statement itself: “You’re right.”
- “And” instead of “but.” Here’s one of my favorites! See if you can tell the difference between these two statements: “I know you’ve missed the deadline, but…” vs. “I know you’ve missed the deadline, and….” The first sets up a negative “but,” which precedes bad news – and since people know this, they tend to get defensive or tune out whatever follows, regardless of its legitimacy. Conversely, the second statement acknowledges the bad news, yet skillfully avoids the sense that a shoe is about to fall. Result? The “and” says, “We can work on a solution, which is more important than the blame right now” – and people are far more likely to listen, meaning communication improves.
Successful professionals focus on what I call the Can you think of additional ways to change commonly used words or phrases so co-workers and clients respond even better? I encourage you to delve deep and test new ways to communicate verbally and in writing!
Known as the pioneer of the administrative training industry, Joan Burge is an accomplished author, professional speaker, consultant, and corporate trainer. She is the founder, CEO, and visionary of Office Dynamics International, an organization that provides high-performance executive and administrative assistant training and coaching.
How could you change commonly used phrases to increase the responses you get? Share your ideas here.
By Julie Perrine (used with permission)
Daylight Saving Time began in the U.S. recently. That means for the next eight months, our time zone abbreviations also need to change if we want our meeting invites to be accurate.
What am I talking about? Let me explain.
We are currently operating in Standard Time. In the United States, that means the time zone abbreviations for our meetings have been EST (Eastern Standard Time), CST (Central Standard Time), MST (Mountain Standard Time), and PST (Pacific Standard Time).
When Daylight Saving Time begins, the correct time zone abbreviations will be EDT (Eastern Daylight Time), CDT (Central Daylight Time), MDT (Mountain Daylight Time), and PDT (Pacific Daylight Time). The S changes to D to indicate the change from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time.
Why does this matter? Because not all parts of the world – or even the U.S. – switch to Daylight Saving Time. Hawaii and most of Arizona do not switch. And there are many countries around the globe that do not use Daylight Saving Time either. Even those places that do observe Daylight Saving Time don’t all switch at the same time. This makes time zone abbreviations crucial, especially when you have participants from multiple time zones.
Here are two examples of how this applies:
Example 1: EST is never the same as EDT.
Last summer, while Daylight Saving Time was in effect in the U.S., I was supposed to present an online training event for an international client at 6 p.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). I live in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States. If you plug 6 p.m. GMT into any time zone converter app, it will tell you that is 2 p.m. EDT (Eastern Daylight Time). However, the event organizers had advertised the event for 1 p.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time).
I was on time for the event at 2 p.m. EDT. However, most of the people from my region of the world who normally joined that online training event were not there because they assumed it was happening at 1 p.m. EDT – even though the abbreviation said EST. The event organizers could have avoided a lot of confusion and increased their event attendance significantly if they had published their event with the correct time zone abbreviation.
Here’s another application of this concept for meetings: One of my team members is in Mountain Standard Time. She stays in that time zone all year around because she’s in a part of Arizona that doesn’t switch at all. So if I send a meeting invite for the team call at 1 p.m. MDT (Mountain Daylight Time) and she is actually in Mountain Standard Time, then it occurs at 12 p.m. MST (Mountain Standard Time) because she doesn’t “spring forward” for Daylight Saving Time.
Example 2: Always publish meeting times with the time zone abbreviation for where the meeting is occurring.
Last fall, I was scheduled to present a webinar for an international association. We were still on Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. The country for the association hosting this webinar had already moved back to Standard Time.
I was nervous about being on the webinar at the right time, so I checked it frequently. With this event, I learned how important it is to publish the time of the event for the time zone in which the event is occurring, with the correct time zone abbreviation. That way when anyone plugs it into a time zone converter, they will know what time to join the event in their own time zone. This is especially important when dealing with companies on the other side of the International Date Line because the meeting may actually occur on the next day.
A few key takeaways here:
- Learn the time zone abbreviations and how to use them for the time zones you work with the most. If you aren’t sure, look them up!
- Always set the meeting time on your calendar invites for the time the meeting is scheduled to take place in the originating location, and let the calendar convert it to the respective time zone of each recipient. Then if the organizers update the time, your attendees get the updates, which is also important.
- Include the time of the meeting, with the time zone abbreviation in the originating location, in the subject line of your meeting invite so all invitees and their assistants can see it and do the manual conversion, if needed. It helps tremendously. If you update the meeting time, though, you need to remember to update it on both the invite and in the subject line.
The bottom line is to never assume which abbreviation is accurate if you don’t know for sure. Check it. Download the time zone convertor apps or save the links to your computer so you can check and get it right – every single time!
Julie Perrine is an administrative expert, author, and all-around procedures pro. She is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing innovative products, training, and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. She is the author of Author of The Innovative Admin, The Organized Admin, and Become a Procedures Pro.
by Barbara McNichol
“Be Impeccable with Your Word”—one of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
In business, being impeccable with your “word” sent through email counts for a lot. After all, you want more than replies; you want results.
To give you a greater chance of receiving what you need from each email, apply these five tips for composing messages impeccably.
- Write an effective subject line that concisely describes what the email is about. Include specifics telling recipients what to do (e.g., Attend meeting 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feedback on report by 4 p.m. Friday, etc.).
- Make the first statement of your email compelling—a call back, a question, a startling statistic (skipping chats about the weather). With a strong opening, you have a greater chance the whole message will get read.
- In the body of the message, address recipients by name. Point out which issues pertain to them and what questions you want them to answer.
Because people scan content and don’t often read word for word, use bullet points to make scanning easy and keep your text concise.
- Format your emails for ease of reading: short sentences, short paragraphs, spaces between paragraphs.If your message looks tedious to read on screen, it will get put aside.
In the spirit of being impeccable with your words, try these tips and reap the results you desire.
Which tips do you find most helpful? What tips would you add? Share your experience here.
Check out all these phrases that add word clutter. Question their use every time. Do you need them in your writing?
What phrases would you add to this list? Share them here.
by Kathleen Watson
According to merriam-webster.com, scientists in the mid-19th century needed a word to describe the most favorable point, degree or amount; the best condition for the growth and reproduction of an organism. They took “optimus” from Latin to create the noun optimum.
It filled the scientific need, and optimum eventually gained use beyond the scientific community to broadly imply the best or most desirable.
A few decades later, optimum was being used as an adjective as well as a noun. That’s when optimal was coined to serve as an adjective, but the distinction is either not understood or not accepted by everyone.
A popular resource for writers, Garner’s Modern American Usage, prefers “optimum” as the noun and “optimal” the adjective.
Noun Examples: optimum
These examples show how optimum is used as a noun (the best condition or amount):
Professor Albertson was pleased that the soil conditions of the test garden finally reached their optimum.
The pass interception yielded the optimum the coach could have hoped for.
Your thorough preparation resulted in the optimum your job search could have achieved.
Adjective examples: optimal
These examples show how optimal is used as an adjective (the most desirable, most favorable, most effective). Note that optimal is followed by the element it modifies:
Once students achieved optimal soil conditions for the test garden, the plants thrived.
The quarterback’s injury contributed to an optimal opportunity for a pass interception.
Because of your thorough preparation, your achieved optimal results from your job search.
I align with those who recognize and appreciate the distinction between optimum and optimal. Consider these pairs of words that follow the same noun / adjective pattern as do optimum and optimal:
bacterium / bacterial
cerebrum / cerebral
cranium / cranial
minimum / minimal
If optimum and optimal mean the same thing — if they are interchangeable — why do both words exist? Choosing one word over another because of its precise meaning or nuance separates the thorough writer, editor, or publication from the rest.
Kathleen calls herself the Ruthless Editor. She has created Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help people write and speak with authority and confidence. Kathleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In your opinion, are these two words interchangeable?
by Barbara McNichol
Do you habitually start a sentence with the phrase “start to” or “begin to”? In a 5,000-word document I recently edited, those phrases appeared 14 times, while only five were deemed necessary to the meaning. That’s a lot of extra words!
To be more direct in your writing, skip the “start/begin” part and employ the phrase Nike made famous: Just do it!
These examples show how you can write a stronger statement by going straight to the action verb rather than “beginning” to go for it.
Example 1: Slowly begin to approach your teammate with your idea.
Better: Slowly approach your teammate with your idea.
Example 2: Start to make an agenda for the meeting.
Better: Make an agenda for the meeting.
Whenever you write “start to” or “begin to,” question it. Ask: Is “start” or “begin” essential to the meaning of the sentence? Chances are you can glide straight to the action verb without it!
Similarly, watch out for “decide to” in your writing. Which verb carries more weight in this example sentence, “decide” or “launch”?
Example: The president decided to launch the company’s implementation strategy next month.
Better: The president will launch the company’s implementation strategy next month.
Do you see how “decide” doesn’t add meaning while “launch” is vital to the message? When you catch yourself writing “decide,” ask: Is it needed?
Your goal is clearer, stronger writing so your readers clearly understand what you mean. Pay attention to these phrases and streamline them. It will make a big difference.
What similar verb phrases belong in this category? List them here. I will discuss them in future posts.
Barbara McNichol has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. You’ll improve your writing through excellent weekly resources in your inbox including Word Trippers of the Week. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
by Chris Stern (reprinted from SSA newsletter)
Mark Twain was considered one of the greatest American writers of his time. He was often asked about the craft of writing and gave quite a bit of advice about putting words on paper. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. Interestingly, this was quoted by Rudyard Kipling in From Sea to Sea (1899) with the attribution to Mark Twain.
- You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God’s adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by. This was in a letter to his son Orion Clemens in March 1878.
- Use good grammar. Not exactly a bold insight, but one that he wrote regarding “Fennimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” in 1895. He wrote “18 Rules of Writing” in this article, the advice on good grammar was #14 . Here are a few more from this source:
- A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
- The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
- The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
- The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
- Eschew surplusage. (aka Whack Wordiness)
- The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.
By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
- Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream. (Barbara’s favorite)
Which of these are your favorites, either from a “funny” or a “serious” point of view?