The Power of Words

Don’t tell me that Antoinette Tuff was “unarmed” when she methodically talked gunman Michael Brandon Hill into surrendering without injury or further incident. She was armed alright – with words.

Listen to her on the 911 call. She’s calm and talking constantly on behalf of this troubled young man. This is a long call … over 20 minutes, but that’s the point. The most important this that she does is the very thing that saved everyone from getting hurt. She slows down a process that feels very out of control. She is advocating for the gunman — to get him out of this situation without getting hurt.

Mr. Hill, who is obviously a person in great distress, can hear this stranger arguing for his value as a human being. She is speaking at times forcefully, but also CLEARLY that these things must happen to help him calm down. No helicopters. Tell the officers to back off.

Then she points out to this young man that he has not hurt her, as though she is reminding him that he’s already made a good and humane decision to not shoot her and that he can make more good decisions … and that she will help him do it.

She says “we” a lot … We’re going to get you out of here safe. We’re going to get you through this, and most movingly … “We all go through something in life.”

Toward the end of the call when it’s almost time for the police to come in, she makes a point of telling him she loves him — this stranger who might have killed her — and that she’s PROUD of him for making these good and right decisions.

Who doesn’t need encouragement like this?  Simply using the power of speech to a person in trouble — whether an agitated customer or employee or a family member — and offering the reminder and reassurance that everyone has troubles, we’re all human beings and we all need to be heard and valued.

I don’t just want to applaud Ms. Tuff, I want work for her.


“Just be Yourself” on Social Media?

Oh, dear. What terrifying advice. Think about that and throw in some of the stuff you say before your coffee. See what I mean?  You don’t have to take my word for it, but I’ll share this with you — I’ve been married for 35 years. I still close the bathroom door. Some people don’t, in the interest of some kind of “full disclosure” or “being themselves.” Sharing is good. Too much or sharing the wrong things is not so good. Read more about bad social media advice.

In looking for your best business communications strategy, don’t settle for “being yourself.” Instead, I would go with the simplicity of being true to yourself. Make sure you stand behind what your saying. This almost always means keeping your hands off the keyboard if you’re angry. We often speak in anger and then apologize. A little time usually tempers what we say and should mitigate what we tweet.

So if you’re peeved. Count to 500. Really.

Getting “Buy-In” From Your Team

You hear a lot about “buy-in”, but what does it really mean and why do you need it? Seriously, why? You’re the boss, right? What you say, goes, right?

This is the difference between being a boss, which means you have the authority to make a decision, and being a leader, which means you have the support to execute that decision well.

That difference is where you find that real value in bringing along your team so that everyone understands and agrees to strategic goals, has a clear mechanism for reporting problems up the chain and enjoys tangible benefits of success.

The most important area of management that requires buy-in is that of managing change. When you’re trying to cultivate a new, better culture in your work process, change that’s good can only come with agreement (“buy-in”). There are many approaches to effecting change but in this one, you must approach with patience and respect. Allow a lot of processing time to absorb ideas about new direction. Change is commonly resisted, but when management listens carefully and responds thoughtfully, it can take unexpected leaps that make progress irreversible.


I ran across an old column and was struck by how current it still is. Even though it’s not Christmas, the message is still right on (for me).

All I want for Christmas is . . .
published Wednesday, December 17, 2003

There’s just over a week remaining till the big day so I’m working on my Christmas wish list. My wishes are all about how people communicate … or don’t. Here’s my latest draft.

Peace on Earth, good will toward people.
Aside from the grammatical correction that many would consider to be political correctness, I really mean this most sincerely. More than that, I mean it on exchanges large and small.
When did people stop saying “excuse me” when they walk between you and the books you’re scoping out on the shelf? Why doesn’t holding a door for someone mean an automatic smile with a twinkling eye?

The return of “You’re welcome.” 
My husband noted recently that the nicety of saying “you’re welcome” is slipping away from us and being replaced with “no problem.” Nearly always as we ask for extra napkins or more iced tea, as the wait person arrives with it, we express our gratitude and are assured that it’s “no problem.”
It just seems like a sort of “non-assurance” doesn’t it? I’m sure its origin is the somehow more genteel sounding “it’s no trouble at all,” but this has a sort of staccato feeling to it that erases the initial gesture of stopping to say thanks. I write e-mails to my son now and then thanking him for some work-related thing he’s done. Sometimes I get an e-mail back that says simply, “NP.”

Leave a message.
At the very least leave a message one time, even though you hate answering machines. Give me a chance anyway. It drives me nutty when someone calls and just as I’m diving over the dining room table and falling off the last of the chairs on the other side, the answering machine picks up and the caller hangs up. This is met with a colorful display of vocabulary that would impress both a sailor and a peacock, followed by more of same when the numbskull calls later, insisting that he’s been trying to reach me, then scolds me for never being home.

Listen to the answering machine’s announcement before making a fool of yourself and have enough humility to consider that you may have dialed the wrong number.
My business line, for example, says something like “You’ve reached the phone and fax line for [my company]. You can send a fax at any time or leave a message and we’ll call you back.” Now I’ll admit that I did not employ my most sexy vixen voice in recording this message, but it’s pretty clearly a woman’s voice and the name of my company is stated just as it is in the yellow pages.
The other day, I got two calls while I was on another line. The first one made it through my machine’s message, then the caller hung up. The second call (from the same number) produced this message: “Hello, Frank, this is Bill. Call me on my cell at [number] and let me know when I can come in today to install that intercom system for you.”
I hope the guy got his new, improved communication system installed OK. Nobody showed up here.
The other night, a woman called my cell phone once and hung up. Then she called again and my son answered, identifying himself and politely informing her that she had the wrong number. Then she called back and left a message on my voice mail, telling Rodney that he should call her back for that information she had for him. This, after waiting to hear my voice-mail message: “You’ve reached the Sprint voice mailbox for Jean Bolduc … .” I think I need voice lessons.
Don’t answer the phone when you’re really not available — especially when you have caller ID.
How many times have you had someone answer the phone sounding harried and nearly annoyed that you’ve called, cutting you off with “I really can’t talk now. … I’ll have to call you back.” Then why did you answer? You know it’s me, you probably know why I’m calling. Are you just trying to prove to me that you’re so busy you can’t even take a break to go to the bathroom?
As a columnist, I get a special breed of “thank you” e-mails. The best ones are those that start out with “I love your column, though I often disagree with you.” I’m sincere when I say that I appreciate those critical e-mails the most, because they help me improve as a writer and they show me that people really care about the topic if they’ve chosen to invest their time in trying to straighten me out.
I always write back to thank them for taking the time to write. Sometimes this starts a longer dialogue wherein we each understand the other’s perspective better and sometimes they’re too busy to continue on the topic. This usually leaves me where I began as they acknowledge my thanks with “No problem.”