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Communication: “Shipping News” Your Writing

Communication: “Shipping News” Your Writing

One very influential book in my collection of such books is Annie Proulx’s THE SHIPPING NEWS. It looks a little out of place next to Covey’s THE 8TH HABIT, Welch’s WINNING, etc. But there’s a great reason it’s there.

The book is about a man moving to Newfoundland and landing a job at a small newspaper. Quoyle’s not particularly bright, but this isn’t much of a hinderance. Newfoundland is an island off the upper east coast of Canada (and somewhere I’d love to live), and it’s sparse, but gorgeous.

Shipping News as a Verb

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What separates Proulx’s writing in this book from most books you’ll read is how sparse her sentences are. They’re short. Each one is tiny. They don’t even always fit with grammatical correctness. Something like this.

Are you getting it?

Now, what I’m saying is this: people get TONS of things to read in a day. My day-job email is clocking about 200 emails a day. My second life email is around 100. When I get a missive, I have to scan. I don’t have time to read every volume or tome that comes my way.

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Not to mention blog posts. I scan over 100 blogs a day, and that requires the same treatment.

Suggestions

  • Mix short sentences in with long.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Break up text with subtitles (like this post).
  • Give visual queues, even if it breaks grammatical form. (Look up at my “Are you getting it?” line).
  • Use small words where you can. (Don’t say “obfuscate” when “confuse” or “distort” will do.)
  • Put really important stuff up top.
  • Close with action.

Close With Action

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In emails, blog posts, and most correspondence, the writer assumes something that’s not entirely true or accurate. The writer assumes that the reader will diligently read all the way to the bottom of the post or email, and that everything will be absorbed as if there will be a test on it tomorrow. Not so.

One way to get repeatable “full reads” of your email/post is to ensure a call-to-action at the bottom. You can be explicit: “Action Items: Dave- write a review for the site” , or you can be a little more soft-shoe. “I really want your advice on this. Drop me a line when you have a moment.”

Get your readers into the habit of fininshing your emails/posts, and it pays off. But that’s a promise you have to act upon. You have to promise to make all your emails and posts WORTH reading, and with a payoff based on the content you provide. Only then will there be the proper relationship between you and your intended audience.

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Does this work for you? I’d like to know.

–Chris Brogan’s most recent call to action is to co-found PodCamp, a FREE unConference about audio and video podcasting being held in Boston on Sept 9-10 at Bunker Hill Community College (venue sponsored by Museum of Science, Boston. Come meet the producer of the Life Hack podcast at PodCamp.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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