Tag Archives: Words

Writing as a Means to an End

Defining something clearly for yourself helps you to own it – now you finally know why you had to write your vocabulary words in a sentence every week back in elementary school.  When you own something, then you can repurpose it in whatever manner suits your current needs.  A kitchen towel is meant to dry dishes (for the few of us who still do dishes by hand) or your hands but it can be used as a hot pad to set down a dish, an oven mitt in a pinch, a cover for bread when it is still new and pretty, or for a child it can be a superhero cape.


The ability to write clearly and convey your message in a manner suitable for your intended readers is a versatile tool.  And a skill which can be developed, as long as you see the validity of writing’s importance in your work life.


We seem to have somehow convinced ourselves that writing is a talent that we either have or do not have – and there are certainly those for whom writing is a wonderful talent, writing is a skill and therefore learnable by anyone with an interest.


Job Search Writing

You can hire someone to write your resume and cover letter for you in the hope that these professionally written documents will give you an edge.  But in the spirit of teaching a man to fish over giving him a fish, you will do yourself a greater favor if you tackle this task for yourself and show that you have written communication skills which are sought after in many businesses.


While your goal is a new job, it is very important to pay close attention each step in the process – difficulties at any step can end your path to the goal of that particular position.  Sometimes job seekers focus too much on that prize and miss the pitfalls in the many steps between themselves and that job.  Refocusing on the steps and tools in between will help to ensure success.


Fair or not, the personnel responsible for filling the position are looking for reasons to eliminate a candidate.  While you have the job description from the ad, there are many components which are unspoken and possibly not clearly defined on their part.  Telling yourself you will reach the goal of the job when there are these nebulous components between you and this goal makes this achievement more difficult.  Focusing your attention on doing your best with each known component gives you more power to be ultimately successful.


RESUME:  Your resume is a document that is meant to show your past achievements and career progression.  Similar to any financial prospectus that you may have read, it has a disclaimer that all HR and hiring personnel see – past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance.

  • Your resume is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

Your resume has just a few seconds to catch their attention and get you in the yes or maybe piles, so less information – which is tailored to the needs that they expressed in the ad – is more.  If they have to sift through what is to them extraneous information that alone is a reason to put you in the no pile.


COVER LETTER:  Your cover letter is a document that is meant to start the discussion for how you can marry your past performance to the future needs of this particular company.

  • Your cover letter is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

This document is your first opportunity to underline your strengths and to downplay any requirements which could disqualify you.  As an example, I do not have a degree so I highlight points that show that I am a life-long learner.


THANK YOU LETTER:  Your thank you letter is a document that will be the last impression the interviewer has of you while they consider who to call back for the next round or who is the successful candidate.  You want a strong showing.

  • Your thank you letter might not get you the job, but poorly executed, it could be the last straw to eliminate you from the running.  Properly executed it leaves a strong last impression.

Express your sincere appreciation for their time and consideration.  If something came up in the interview that you can expand on, do it here.


It seems as if we are all looking for definitive rules for these documents, as if by following the rules to the letter will be a magic talisman to achieve our goal.  It turns out that it just isn’t that simple, but like Dorothy we have had the solution with us all along.  We learn our power when we are ready.


[A little self-promotion: I am setting myself up as a Business Writing Coach for individuals & companies – http://bareedwriting.com/]


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Access to Information

Imagine if we didn’t have ready access to all of the information that we needed to perform our jobs and live our lives fully.  Ok, I’m a day late for the actual 80th anniversary of the Nazi book burning, but it is still an important topic for those of us who get paid based on our ability to process knowledge.  Book Burning in History

info access

We may be slowly switching over to books read on screens of various sorts (not me, no I like holding an actual book), but we do still have to fight those who wish to limit overall access to information.  We think that this will not affect the work aspects of our lives, but is this just because we live in an open society with relatively easy access to so much varied information?


Think about all of the information that you have at your fingertips to do your job every day.  Depending on your job, it took a great deal of time and effort to amass all of this knowledge so that you could perform your daily tasks.  And if you work on a computer, think about all the coding etc. that had to go into creating that modern marvel sitting on your desk.  Where would we all be if someone, somewhere along the line had decided to limit the development of the gadgets that ease our ability to work?


Agree with the words inside the pages of banned books or not – that is your right in a free and open society – but thank those who stood up for the rights of those who wrote the books.  They represent us all in one way or another as we toil away at our jobs.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Reinvention Implies Original Invention

If you are one of those people who created a life plan in childhood and have been able to stick to it, then this post doesn’t apply to you.  (Or maybe not, you might want to keep reading.)


I follow Dave Kerpen on LinkedIn, he is one of LI’s ‘influencers’, and he made a comment in a post a few weeks ago that has bubbled back up to my mental surface.  His comment was about reinventing yourself professionally.  I believe that the context was within changing careers.


Inventing something means to create a finite object or complete idea.  The first radio was invented, manufactured, marketed, sold – and has been taken over by all sorts of new inventions.  And so on for all the myriad items that have been invented since the wheel.   These follow up items are reinventions of the radio, rather new inventions that improve upon it or use its invention as a starting point to create something completely different.


If you carry over this idea to a person, then how do you really define when the person is completely ‘invented’?  At the outset of adulthood?  First professional job?  Creation of a family?  Standing on our own two feet financially?


I could keep going, but you get the picture.  Our life is a trajectory with many pauses and course changes but only one point of completion.  I am, then, still in the process of inventing me.  A career change isn’t a reinvention, just a new part of the invention that is me.


What do you think?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Tolerance to Exasperation and Back Again

I deserve the benefit of the doubt when I did that thing, the one that made you puff up your cheeks and expel the air loudly within my earshot.  You see, I was dealing with a difficult issue, so I deserved special consideration.  I know that you rolled your eyes and said something nasty about me to your seatmate too, don’t think that I don’t.  I deserve tolerance, I don’t know why you can’t see that.


Now, when you are dealing with a difficult issue, I am well within my rights to be exasperated with you because you always need special consideration and that is just getting old, you know.


Did you see yourself in these last two paragraphs, even just a little hint?  I hope so, it is called being human.  We know the details of our own circumstances and therefore can list why we deserve tolerance and the benefit of the doubt when something comes up.  But we are well within our rights to act put out when someone else comes along and wants special treatment because it is making our life more difficult.


Do you remember George Carlin’s bit about driving – how we all believe that we, ourselves, are an excellent driver but that the majority of others on the road are quite incapable?  Statistically we simply can’t all be above average.  (Because that would raise the average, you see.)


Then you add in that tricky confirmation bias – where you only see/hear/notice the parts of the situation that reinforce your own belief about your deserved need for tolerance or your righteous exasperation.  Whew, it is sometimes a wonder that we humans ever managed to get beyond living alone in caves and working all by our lonesome in some corner of the world.


Despite the fact that I use my writerly powers of observation to watch the tolerance/exasperation pendulum swing in plenty of interactions that I am not actively participating in on a daily basis, I am still subject to the same tendencies when I’m in the thick of a situation.  If I see myself barreling into the land of exasperation I will do my best to divert, stop short or turn around.  If I don’t see until through hindsight, I will devise some type of atonement in hopes of paying it backward in some cosmic way.


My main tool, when I am on my game, is to seek for clues of inclusion with the person or persons with whom I am sharing a space regardless of the amount of time that we may share that space.  By inclusion, I mean what we have in common, how we are sharing this human experience in a way that we could each recognize and nod knowingly.  If I see something of myself in you, then I am more willing to fall on the tolerant side of the spectrum.


Mr. Fred Rogers, that original paragon of niceness and inclusion, reminded us that we should think about what the other person might have been through that day or week or recently before passing judgment.  And it is quite true that as real as our own problems are to us, everyone else’s are just as real to them.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Being an Introvert with Extroverted Tendencies

BAR_logo_color_1I have vacillated for the last few years in the consideration whether I am an extrovert with strong introverted tendencies, or the opposite. I am not by nature a joiner, but I do love to collaborate and share.  I just took one of those psychological tests that define some of your broader characteristics so that I can participate in a seminar later this week.  This test, based on the answers provided on that day, decided for me that I fall on the introvert end of the spectrum.  I think that many who know me will find the results a hoot because the test actually did peg me pretty well.  (You can take the test at http://www.humanmetrics.com/, it’s the Jung typology test.)

Folks who know me will also not be at all surprised that I got sidetracked in taking the test by the wording that was used in many of the questions – an absolute here, a vague reference there.  Since it is a psychology test, I have to assume that the test creators were deliberate in their word choices.  I would really like to ask why, for example on this question:

  • Strict observance of the established rules is likely to prevent a good outcome

This is an essay question to me, not a yes/no proposition – therefore a terrible challenge to decide upon an answer.

Or this question:

  • You prefer to act immediately rather than speculate about various options

This is also an essay question, and incomplete at that – how can I say yes or no without details or the opportunity to explain why each response would be valid based on the circumstances?  I certainly hope that in an emergency there is someone on the team who can parse through various options, lop off inappropriate ones and act while taking initial actions that don’t require thought.

It turns out that the people behind the test drove me mad intentionally to determine that I build specialized knowledge systems – that I like to track down the answer to the question, ‘does it work?’.  Darn Skippy, figuring out a system and getting it to work better is entertainment.  There are 16 combinations of 4 letter results possible in this test and the writers don’t tell us the reasoning and criteria behind each of the letters which make up these combinations.  Being an INTJ – I really need to know.

I can’t wait to find out how we will use the results in the meeting this week.  I found myself already weighing the pros and cons of applying these types of personality tests in the work place.  In the right hands, with deep understanding of creating combinations for optimal dialog and interaction, this would be a boon to any organization.  And then there are the rest, where the possibility of misuse is varied and high.  (There I go, studying systems to create sense again.)

It is this interest in process – systems and people working together in harmony – that informs my business writing.  And that helps me to see that it really takes all kinds to create a strong team.


You may also like some of my other posts:


Introversion Revisited – How Could I Resist?

When We are all Attempting to Differentiate Ourselves, Why don’t We like to be Different?

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Superlatives Sound, Well Just Super

Excellence, Best in Class, World Class, phantasmagorical – wait phantasmagorical?  And bippity, boppity boo to you too.  Superlatives were invented so that we could have a means to express sheer utter overwhelming wonderful feelings like new love or hard won success.  Our heart pounding, breathy JOY that we absolutely must share with the whole world right now or burst.  But then they became a marketing tool and teenage girls everywhere just loved every blasted cute little thing.


Tell us what you really think about the use of superlatives, Beth.  Super-duper, I will.


I cherish every moment of unadulterated joy that I have ever felt and fervently hope both that I will experience many more and that each reader of this blog has a long list of their own immensely joyful moments.  (Superlatives cover that deep, dark end of the emotional spectrum too – but let’s keep this discussion on the high end today.)


But just like antibiotic resistant bacteria, we are running out of meaningful words to describe our true emotional peaks because we emptied out many of the existing words with overuse and misuse.  The meaning of excellence has begun to ring hollow when too many claim it without backing it up with real actions.  And as for Best in Class and World Class – what do these phrases really mean?


Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was a fabulous (superlative) song as Julie Andrews presented it in Mary Poppins, but if we attempt to feel that way all of the time, we become numb to the pleasure.  We twirled and whirled around the living room to that song until we were dizzy and giggly, but please don’t mar these special memories by telling me your new product is even better than supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


Call attention to your idea, your product, your system by telling me real, solid words that define the usefulness.  Work harder to evoke a sustainable, achievable, reasonable explanation of what it can do for me.  Don’t co-opt these beautiful superlatives.


Sometimes I think ideas are just in the air, I started this blog post, had to set it aside for a call and happened across this interesting article – Never as Bad as it Looks and Never as Good Either.  It doesn’t talk about superlatives, but I think the writer’s point enhances mine.  Why is this moment a peak or a valley?


But, Beth, haven’t you advocated fake it until you make it in past posts?  Yes, I have so I’ll further define it.  What is the best high point of your life?  If it was superlative then you can use the memory of that moment for a fake it until you make it moment where you need to be more positive than you currently feel.  If you are not a superlative person – say your high point is particularly pleasant – then that is the memory to use to fake it until you make it.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



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My Mind Simply Refuses

I do hope that I find that I am not alone in this one.  Do you have information that you just cannot, no matter how hard, how often, how many methods you try absolutely cannot seem to remember the next time that you need it?  (Right now my mind is finding it quite amusing not to give up the specific word, to use as an example, which I always confuse with another word.  The one which made me think of writing this post just a little bit ago.  Hilarious.)


photo credit-news.sciencemag.org

photo credit-news.sciencemag.org

Now if this were a math issue, I could commiserate with my mind’s disinterest.  I can’t tell you the number of times I sat in a math class, thought I understood the lesson, only to find out that apparently I missed something – or that something hadn’t bothered to stick around and make it into long term memory.  I get the logic of math, but some element of it eludes me and math and I are comfortable with this current agreement.


Microsoft Word and I regularly fight over sentence structures, I don’t recall all the detailed grammar rules terribly well, but if the sentence sounds the way that I intended I am ok with my mind not bothering to dust off all the grammar rules that I learned once upon a time.  Noun?  Check.  Verb?  Check.  Sounds ok when spoken?  Check.


Sometimes I get just a wisp that I retained the needed thing once and it was stored somewhere around up there – yes, there’s the spot.  But the needed thing has perhaps been moved to make way for some other reference, or grouped with something similar.  I can bemoan that it is missing, or I can figure out how to look it up again.


My example word is refusing to even give any hints.


In instances like this when the knowledge is a word I am particularly consternated.  A WORD.  I’ve always loved words, why would one trip me up?  I know that I’m trying to hard – I can’t Google myself out of this one.  I’m thankful to Google for most of the other times when my mind just says nope, didn’t keep that one around.


Ah, ha – one of the words I always confuse is restive.  Not the word that started this whole thing, but a little closer.  Whew.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Buzzspeak, Hmmm

Show of hands who likes buzz words?  Anybody?  Count me in the group that is willing to make fun of them – it’s in my wheelhouse like a two legged stool that’s in the wrong seat on the bus.  But… (Stick with me, please)


Buzz words do have a place just like trite phrases became trite because they can hold a grain of truth and were subsequently overused.  First a joke that I read in Reader’s Digest:

A group of lions is called a pride, a group of crows is called a murder and we call a group of buzz words a PowerPoint presentation!


Ok, I thought it was hilarious – maybe because it brought to mind a certain person who would have difficulty speaking if not for Buzzspeak.


So for instance, marketing yourself is a hot topic and yadda, yadda personal branding – ears close down and brain starts to think about what to do for lunch.  No, really – in today’s social media saturated world of 15 minutes of fame and 140 characters allowed in the Twitterverse, this one makes some sense.  If I don’t know what I’m about, then how can anyone else?


And if we are rearranging the bus like musical chairs, then I want to have a say in which seat is the right one for me, by making sure my personal brand fits the company’s image like a glove.  Just so we’re crystal on this, a wheelhouse is the pilothouse of a boat or ship where the navigator is located.  (The navigator gets to tell everyone where to go, great gig if you can swing it.)


At the end of the day you want to be the first one to break through the clutter and bring your personal brand to the table to be empowered and get more face time with the powers that be so that you can reach your milestones moving forward.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Snoozefest – Spelling & Grammar

I woke up in my favorite way this morning – in slow stages – therefore able to listen to the random thoughts as they meandered.  The idea that I should at some point touch on grammar and spelling was followed by this blog title.  Low and behold, when I started going through my blog reader I came across this post from a blog that I follow: Reflections: Is Grammar Worth Teaching?


So, grammar is a topic for the moment, at least in my sphere.  And perhaps should be a topic for the broader community since it is important to us all in the context of effective communication.  Spelling is part of this as well.


I am the voracious reader that Mindful Stew is talking about in his post – I have an innate understanding of spelling and grammar because of my joy of reading.  I have also benefited from my middle class background, being surrounded by proper examples on a daily basis.  But I am no grammarian, per se – I’m only interested in proper grammar and spelling as tools to help me convey my message and understand the message that others are putting forth.  Poor spelling and word usage detract from the intended message, as does strict adherence to all the intricate grammatical rules.  (Yes, Microsoft Word, I do want this to be a sentence fragment, it is underscoring my intent by adhering to my flow and tone.)

sentence diagram

If we look at a communication as a product, then the intent of the message is the most important aspect, but the product must be delivered intact to be useful for the user.  So spelling and grammar are an important part of the packaging for the product and ensure that the product is delivered as intended.


When my older son was little we had many conversations that essentially amounted to his questioning why he should call things by the name commonly used – he wanted to make up his own name.  I would ask him if he thought it was important for other people to understand what he meant and sometimes it was not a priority for him.  As he grew he came to understand the value of mutual understanding for the sake of good communication, but he never let go of his interest in understanding things in his own way.


If you want people to understand that something has already happened, you need to consistently use the past tense form of your verbs or your reader will lose track of what you are writing and get snarled in when.  The same is true for present and future tenses.  This also holds true for all the words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have very different meanings – they’re, their, there.


Write your piece first for the flow, creating your fully formed idea.  But then if you want clear comprehension on the part of your reader, make sure that you polish up your use of your tools like spelling and grammar.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Adult Onset Situational ADD

If this disorder ever gains medical recognition, remember that you saw it here first.  For the record, I actually named it about 3 years ago in the midst of a major project at work that was very complex.  I’ve even mentioned it in a doctor’s appointment and he seemed to think that I was talking about an actual medically determined disorder.


Anyway, adult onset situational ADD (attention deficit disorder) is my term for the extreme difficulties we can experience when we are constantly distracted from being able to really get into the meat of something.  The phones trill at us, the emails ping in one after another, people come by with questions or needs, meetings are scheduled one after another – the list goes on.  And this is just the work version; there is an identical one at home for many people.


Most people have tasks that should be considered uninterruptable for the purpose of completing them fully and correctly the first time.  This could be something like putting together a spreadsheet of data from various sources and then adding formulas to help to analyze the information included.  The task requires contemplation and comprehension as well as the formulation of a theory or overall strategy.  In other words, it requires some deep thought, best done in mental space free from noise and distraction.  The polar opposite of multi-tasking.


Multi-tasking has become so universally revered that we have forgotten the benefit and importance of immersion in one task.  There is a time and a place for everything, multi-tasking has its moments when we are doing simple, repetitive tasks, and focus on single tasking has its place as well for complex, detailed tasks.


I recently caved to the suggestion that I join the Twitterverse.  Talk about visual adult onset situational ADD – there it is in living color.  Life now presented in 140 characters or less, no space for nuance or detail.  We’ve been getting our news in sound bite snippets for years as less and less of the populous reads the newspaper.  We added in smart phones so that now no one ever has to be alone with their own thoughts, or actually interact with the people around them, even if they are friends at the same table.


I’ve started to see articles (yes, I read the paper, and gasp – do not have a smart phone) that are questioning what we are doing to our brains with all these short bursts of stimuli.  I’ve named the answer – adult onset situational ADD.  Ask your boss if you can put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and ignore email to complete those uninterruptable tasks.  Find a quiet spot and read something in depth.  Go for a walk with a friend and leave the smart phones behind.  Spend some time on a regular basis single tasking on something more complex and get away from adult onset situational ADD.


But come and find me on Twitter.  I already have 2 followers, though I’m not sure why.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



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