I do quite a bit of freelance writing, as does a good friend of mine. One of our regular lunch conversations begins, “You know, that piece went really well, but in end the client….”
Generally, the client reached out, complained about a paradigm shift, circled back with his subject matter expert, and wanted us to repeat the key takeaways.
Often that's fine. As a writer, I want my work to be clear and concise. As a businessperson, I have to respect the fact that sometimes, that's not what the client wants.
Every field has its own jargon, of course, but some terms are awful enough to transcend mere industry. Here are a few that deserve to be banned.
The poor wo/man’s substitute for “in agreement with.” People who are aligned with each other have the same relationship as planets that get into alignment – everything looks pretty, but in reality, they’ll never get within spitting distance of each other’s actual positions.
I remember when Katarina Witt won her two gold medals, but just barely. I didn’t really appreciate what was different about her skating, aside from the jumps. I could certainly see why men liked to watch her, but that wasn’t what the Olympics were supposed to be about. Was it?
So I was a bit skeptical upon learning that I would get to hear Witt speak at the We Own It Summit in Philadelphia in May, and then would have the opportunity to sit with her for a private interview later. I shouldn’t have been. It soon became clear that no matter what Witt chose to do, she would have been successful –- but it happened to be skating, and it landed her on a international stage and granted her worldwide celebrity.
It was great fun to speak with her and hear her talk about her competitive nature and her perspective on feminism: “I always grew up thinking women, we make more money; men, they do the cooking. So it’s equal.”
Here are some highlights from both conversations.
On how she became a skater:
At the arena, at the kindergarten, I somehow fell in love with skating. I was begging my parents that they would bring me there and introduce me to the coach. My very first coach went to my mom, and he says, “Just bring her. I cannot promise you a world champion, but just bring her back.”
Luckily I had the best coach in the world working there. She started to work with me when I was nine. I realized she was the best coach in the world and I was ready to take that challenge.
It’s the time of year when notables share their wisdom with college graduates, in the form of commencement addresses. Unfortunately, most of these speeches are sort of boring and trite: Do what you love. Dream big. Work hard. Never give up.
Every once in a while, though, a speech stands out. We called out some of the notable ones in "Wit, Wisdom, Wisecracks and Sunscreen." Among them: the pitch Apple CEO Steve Jobs made in 2005 to Stanford University students on living every day as though it was their last; J.K. Rowling’s 2008 address at Harvard University on facing your fears to survive and thrive; and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s 1941 call to arms before World War II, which gave life to the famous line, “Never give in.”
Thanks to Admiral William H. McRaven, we’ve now got another one to add to the list.
McRaven, who has been a Navy SEAL for 36 years, addressed graduates at the University of Texas at Austin last week. In a little less than 20 minutes, he offered up some of the pithiest advice graduates -- or the rest of us -- are likely to get any time soon. As of this writing, the YouTube video of his address has been viewed nearly a million times.
His big theme was that it’s easier than you think to change the lives of people around you. Even small decisions can have big consequences. Noting that a soldier’s decision to take a left instead of a right down a Baghdad road saved the lives of a 10-person squad, McRaven talked about how that decision spared the families of those soliders from great pain – and also affected future generations.
How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.
If you’ve read that sentence before, you’re a better geek than I.
So-called Pi Day, celebrated on March 14, is almost upon us. That sentence is the best-known example of a form of writing called, appropriately, Pi-lish, which is designed to help you remember the digits of the number pi. If you count the letters of each word in that sentence, you’ll have recited pi out to 12 decimal places.
Pi, of course, is the so-called circle constant, represented by the Greek letter of the same name. It’s defined as the circumference of any circle divided by its diameter, or roughly 3.14159.
Pi appears repeatedly throughout geometry, but also, says Ron Hipschman, a scientist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, “anytime you have cycles, frequencies, or anything that’s rotating. It’s in tons of different places.”
Pi has been calculated to 10 trillion digits, and counting.
In 1988, the Exploratorium’s Larry Shaw, a physicist, thought pi deserved a holiday of its own. So on March 14 (3/14) he put out some pie for the staff. The next year, some museum visitors noticed the pie and asked what was going on. And that’s how Pi Day was born.
Communications consultant Geoffrey Tumlin said he was motivated to write Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life after coming to a simple and sobering realization: In the last 15 years, as technology has changed how we talk to each other and made it easier than ever to communicate, people’s communication skills have actually deterioriated.
“We’re getting better and better at easy communication — at communications checkers — but we’re increasingly getting worse at communications chess, the more sophisticated or harder communication skills, like bargaining, offering emotional support, and delivering bad news,” Tumlin says. “The more we type, text and talk to each other, the more people are realizing that we’re understanding each other less.”
Being able to communicate more easily and frequently -- thanks to email, texting and social media -- also increases the chances that we’ll make mistakes that could jeopardize our personal and business relationships. That may explain why it’s not unusual anymore for a politician, a celebrity, a business leader or some other public figure to make headlines for saying something stupid.
“I can’t build a relationship in a sentence. It can take days, months and years. But I can destroy it in a sentence,” Tumlin cautions.
So what to do?
We can all start by talking a little less, he says. The key to being a successful communicator has to do with verbal restraint, which will help keep you out of trouble. If something does go wrong, the next tack is conversational containment -- thinking about what you want say carefully and limiting the back-and-forth dialogue to stop trouble from escalating. “If you want to know the hallmark between a decent communicator and a great communicator -- it’s the ability to not say what’s on your mind,” Tumlin says. “What we’re trying to do in any interaction that goes wrong is prevent fatal damage to the relationship."