Don’t think of a purple giraffe (and what else not to say)

giraffe-skin-background-purpleA company I admire allowed an employee to blog, “You probably don’t want to come to our conference, but here’s why I think you should.” Really? I don’t want to come to your conference? Now that you mention it–I guess I don’t!

Are you telling people what you don’t want them to think, or don’t want them do? And then are you surprised when they (your customers and clients, your children, the general public) think and do the opposite of what you wanted?

When we tell a child, “Don’t touch!” what does the child do? And at lightning speed?

Toddlers hear our command as “Touch!” The “Don’t” does not register. Grammatically, that is the imperative. And our tone makes it an urgent command. To negate what we commanded–do NOT do what we forcefully said–is linguistically sophisticated, over their tiny heads.

Even mature brains take longer to process a negative, thinking, “This–no, NOT this.” And even if ignored, negative words retain subliminal impact: “You probably don’t want to come to our conference.” “These are not the droids you are looking for.”

If we want people to understand us, possibly even do our bidding, then tell them what we want them to do, not what we don’t want.

Say your cat or your antique vase are endangered by tiny hands. Guide the tiny hand as you say and demonstrate, “Touch it gently. Gently.” You might want to supervise and remind, “Gently,” or remove the object of interest, but the child’s joy and cooperation will amaze you.

Sometimes we need to warn. If it is a hot stove, we can say, “Hot! Owie!”

ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) used to warn, “Don’t drive drunk!” That message includes “Drive Drunk!” That is like telling a toddler, “Don’t touch that stove!” I wanted to scream, “No! Tell them what TO do–like Designate a Driver!”

Not long ago, ADOT switched to “Drive hammered, get nailed,” which prompted at least one attorney to post billboards: “Got nailed? Call us!”

And finally this week, ADOT got it right. The signs now read, “Designate a Driver. Avoid a DUI.” YES! Give that reviser a raise! I expect the revision to prove more effective than checkpoints alone.

It’s easy to write, “Don’t think of a purple giraffe,” and forget what happens in the reader’s brain. What’s your favorite Purple Giraffe?

5 Love Lessons to Use In Your Business Videos

Happy Valentine’s! Enjoy this fun advice from Lynn Ruby of Ruby Marketing, from Greater Phoenix SCORE.

5 Love Lessons to Use In Your Business Videos.

The Worst Birthday Card Ever

I’m excited to be turning 50 soon, and my friends are celebrating early–even Aetna. They sent a card: “Happy Birthday!” it says, with fourteen lighted candles. It says “aetna” in a font twice the size of the greeting, which somewhat braced me for the message to come.

Aetna birthday card 50 front 09 2012

The interior begins, “Wishing you a very happy birthday” and continues “and offering an important screening reminder.” Naturally. No surprise there. They do insure me, at a high deductible followed by extremely high coverage in case I ever get severely maimed, or I fail to kill a cluster of my own rogue cells. Can’t you just hear the cancer scare coming?

It’s all one sentence, with a poetic line break, allowing a nanosecond to pretend that, together, we celebrate my life and health.

Aetna birthday card 50 interior 09 2012

The type gets tinier, on a card with more white space than type, like a legal notice, a disclaimer, a space to admit that the cure is worse than the disease, the prognosis is poor, and results may vary.

Breast cancer, I assume, since we women are daily hexed that we should worry about that until we take our inevitable turn.

Imagine my surprise when they chose to focus on colorectal cancer. I laughed. Of all body parts that could possibly be endangered by cancer, this is the guest of honor–and the only one–chosen for my half-life celebration?

It gets worse: four bullet points on why this matters, three more on the types of tests I should be requesting. I spare you the grisly details. You can probably read them on the image above.

Obviously, Aetna didn’t hire me to help them word this, but they should have.

First, I’d wipe Aetna off the cover. Clearly, we all remember who you are, having paid you often enough. Go for the sneak attack. Let us think it’s a real card from an actual friend, then sign it: “Aetna.” Or better yet, sign it in real ink by a live person representing Aetna. (Signature machines count.) I would give bonus points for offering this live person’s direct phone number.

Second, knock it off with the medical hexing. Promote health, not cancer.

Personalizing it would be nice. You managed to put my name on the envelope.

And Keep It Simple, Sweetie. Here’s a draft for you. “Gwyn, we wish you the best of health, and look forward to partnering with you each year to protect it.”

If you can’t leave well enough alone, you might say, to minimal offense, something like, “We are proud to cover many (most? all?) of your annual screenings at no cost to you. Please call me if you have any questions about your coverage or screening recommendations.”

The ad on the back is fine. You could even add a chart of recommended screenings by age. (Our medical records do include gender, so it would not be hard to personalize that as well.) Be sure you cover at least forty more years in the range; suggest that you believe we’re relatively young and want us to outlive life insurance as well.

Better yet, offer the top ten ways to promote health after age 50–eat more plants, exercise, meditate–things that do not involve lab techs and radiologists–the attitudes and activities that could make your bottom line and our bottom ends equally healthy.

Have you received a corporate birthday card you actually enjoyed?

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com
Images: Scans of Aetna’s Age 50 birthday card. Used for critique. Please don’t plagiarize their work and ruin your own customer service reputation.

How to Succeed in American Business

Teaching in a multicultural environment often includes overtly explaining American business culture and helping students practice that language. For starters, there’s the direct eye contact, the body language, the smiling, the small talk, the willingness to let people know you’re accomplishing something–while not crossing the line into boasting.

In “Looking at the Bamboo Ceiling,” NPR’s Melissa Block and Michele Norris interviewed Wesley Yang, author of “Paper Tigers: What Happens to All Of The Asian-American Overachievers When the Test-taking Ends?” and Jane Hyun, author of Breaking The Bamboo Ceiling. Both write about “Asian-American students’ over-representation in almost every index of achievement in education . . .  and under-representation in corporate leadership.” They describe the adjustments they have made to be as successful in business as they were in the classroom. They’ve learned to share achievements, and to connect socially through the nonverbal cues.

Hyun tells the story of working on spreadsheets while a colleague seemed to waste a few minutes every day, chatting with the boss. Hyun’s background had taught her to put her nose down, work hard, all alone at her desk; no one taught her that building relationships would also matter.

Yang explains that in many places in the world, if you went around smiling all the time, “you’d be perceived not as a friendly person, but as a crazy one.” He finds it handy to use his “Asian poker face” at times, and jokes that he hasn’t learned to smile, but notes that “the United States has a different expectation, and if you don’t meet that expectation, there will in many cases be a barrier to trust and acceptance . . . your whole life on the basis of something that seems so trivial and . . . can be changed.”

Just as Americans need to learn new communication styles when they work internationally, many of our own students require bicultural fluency to be successful. I tell students from backgrounds where direct eye contact is considered rude that staring at someone’s nose looks exactly like eye contact without being quite as uncomfortable for them. And I encourage them to retain the gifts of their own cultures, and to continue to use their cultural nonverbal traditions at home, while learning to speak “American business” at work and school. These additional cultural ideas make all the difference in American career and social success:

  • The American business sense of time requires punctuality and a full day of work all day every day.
  • You’re required to communicate. If you can’t come in, or you’re going to be late, you call your boss and make a new agreement. You don’t wander off early without letting people know what’s happening. (You also take the loss on your timecard if you’re hourly, or let people know how you’ll make up the work if you’re on salary.)
  • When you make a mistake, you apologize and learn out how to correct it or improve next time. Neither ignoring a mistake nor treating a correction as an attack on your honor will help you work things out.
  • Smoking won’t entitle you to extra breaks and won’t be socially acceptable in most workplaces. According to a 2009 Center for Disease Control report, high school dropouts smoked at a rate of over 28%, while those with graduate degrees were down to 5.6%. Yes, that would probably be the toughest adjustment you could make, but you wouldn’t be the first person to quit, and every organ in your 60-year-old body would thank you.

All of these learned behaviors are challenging, but possible. If someone offered you an extra $10,000 a year, or $100K, would you do it? That’s the invitation. You are officially invited to the ball. Feel free to dress up, put on your American business manners, and shine.

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

A Newsletter Worth Reading

One e-mail newsletter I actually read is BK Communiqué from Berrett-Koehler Publishers. They publish engaging nonfiction, and their newsletters not only promote their own releases, they usually include interesting publishing industry news as well. Now they’ve sweetened the deal, offering free e-book downloads for 48 hours each. Today it’s Brian Tracy’s classic Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastination and Get More Done in Less Time. If that sounds fun to you, here’s where you sign up!

Berrett-Koehler Masthead
Berrett-Koehler newsletter

 

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Image: screenshot of BK’s newsletter

Friday Flick: Real Beauty

Even if you’ve seen this classic commercial, it’s a great reminder that what we see in certain environments bears no resemblance to reality.

It’s also a reminder that some revisions go too far.

Dove Evolution of Beauty commercial

Dove Evolution of Beauty commercial

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Time Out

My computer has requested a break. It did break.

Bad news: my three years of Apple Care have recently expired, and it’s a defective logic board. “Sounds expensive,” I say.

“Very,” says Zane the Genius. Good news: it’s covered by the supplier NVIDIA because it’s under a recall.

Bad news: Apple and NVIDIA have known this was a bad batch. I even got one of the last of this model. Neither company thought I had a need to know.

Good news for them: they didn’t have to replace all of them, and only if and when our computers suddenly died. The expense to NVIDIA and trouble to Apple got spread out over several years. Very clever.

Bad news for them: I prefer to schedule recall replacements at my convenience, not without warning, so I’m griping about it online!

Good news for them: Zane was actually happy to have his suspicions confirmed by all the testing so he could help me. I suspect he’d find a way to make buying a new computer sound like a happy outcome. Great customer service skills.

Good news:  They had the logic board in stock.

Bad news: If I want the the lower case replaced (just for the defective latch) that part shipment adds a few days.

Good news: They discontinued that latching mechanism on newer models.

Good news: My computer is not dead. I get it back soon.

Good news: I have my data backed up–I think.

Good news: I’ll do more of those handwritten drafts I recently reminded you about.

Good news: I get to laugh about the irony of that.

Good news: The symbolism of having a defective logic board is not lost on me. (Does the one in my head need a replacement, a repair, or only a reinstall?)

Good news: My problems are minor.

Good news: I’ve been one diligent blogger and I’ve earned a few days off. See you around sometime.

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All rights reserved.