Don't let corporate-speak get in the way of your communication

I’ve been working with some government clients this week and when I sat down to write an email, the strangest thing happened!

I suddenly began writing in “government-speak” - using bureaucratic words and jargon that I wouldn’t normally put in an email.

It reminded me how easy it is to fall into bad writing habits.

You might work in a large organisation where formal, in-house language dominates everyone’s written communication - or perhaps you’ve come from a similar background and find it hard to shake that writing style.

If you want your emails and other written communication to cut through - so your reader clearly gets your message - it’s best to ditch the formality and write in plain language.

Pick a shorter word if it has the same meaning as a longer one.

The English language has many shades of meaning - often there are lots of words that mean the same thing. Some of these will be long and formal, others will be short and to the point.

Whenever you can, choose a shorter one. This isn’t about “dumbing down” your writing; it’s making your meaning clear and ensuring your reader doesn’t have to work hard to get your message. That has to be a good thing; do you know anyone who want to spend extra time deciphering complex emails? I didn’t think so!

Write it how you’d say it.

When you’re writing an email, imagine your recipient sitting in front of you. How would you convey the information if you were talking to them? Use that as the basis of your email, rather than lapsing into corporate-speak.

Be more personal.

For report writing, you might be able to justify a more detached style - but if it’s a direct email to a person or people, use personal language including “you”, “I”, and “we”.

While we’re on that, make sure you have the balance right. Use too many “I”s and you’ll come across as focused only on your own needs. Lead with your reader’s need and use “you”-focused language as much as possible.

Writing in plain language is a habit and discipline, and without continual reminders it’s easy to fall back into old practices.

How will you use plain language in the next email you write?


Why staring at your screen is costing your career and business, big time

It was a Saturday morning when it hit me.

I stopped to buy petrol and got back in my car - then realised I’d gone through the whole process of walking into the service station to pay, tapping my credit card and walking out, without even acknowledging there was a person standing behind the counter.

I was shocked at my own behaviour. It made me consider how many other times I might have sailed straight past someone working at a supermarket or hotel reception without looking at them.

Making good eye contact whenever we interact sounds so obvious it’s easy to forget. Researchers tell us that to make a solid connection with someone, we need to lock eyes with them for seven to ten seconds.


I don’t have scientific data on this, but I’m beginning to think eye contact is a dying thing in our society. Would you agree? We’ve become so focused on our phones and other devices that it’s now socially acceptable to walk down the street with your head buried in a screen, expecting people to get out of the way so you don’t crash into them.

We chuckle to ourselves when we see couples in restaurants sitting across from each other, heads bowed to their individual phones - but there’s a good chance we do exactly the same with our friends.

We perform financial transactions by interacting with yet more screens, excluding any human element from the experience.

In our highly connected world, we’ve become even more disconnected.

Failing to make healthy eye contact when you communicate means you’re missing opportunities to build real connections. You might also come across as hesitant, evasive or downright untrustworthy. 

Those connections are what drive our relationships - which in turn can make all the difference to our career prospects, business growth and personal wellbeing.

I’ve set myself a challenge to deliberately make strong (as opposed to creepy) eye contact with anyone in a service role - and everyone else, for that matter - and I’ve seen very specific results.

Without intending to I’ve received upgrades, free Wi-Fi and other unexpected bonuses. At the very least, I’ve bathed in the most amazingly warm smiles and greetings in return. And the great thing is, none of this has cost me a cent or taken up any extra time.

If looking people in the eye is becoming old fashioned, I urge you to join me in making it a recycled trend. Look into someone’s pupils today and smile at them as you communicate.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the difference it makes for you.

Is your communication suffering because you let a story get in the way of the facts?

A friend of mine - a successful medical professional and business coach - was shocked a few weeks ago, when a client suddenly cancelled all her scheduled coaching sessions for the rest of the year.

As the emailed cancellations popped through one by one, my friend went into a tailspin. What could have happened to make this long-standing client suddenly decide to axe every remaining appointment?

Perplexed, she tried to contact the client with no response. You can probably imagine the thoughts racing through her mind. Have I done something to upset this client? What did we talk about in our last session? Why won’t she respond to me? It reached the stage where my friend was losing sleep over these questions.

Finally, she heard back from the client. The true situation was very different from the one my friend was imagining.

The client had a computer glitch which had automatically cancelled the appointments - without her even realising it. She was oblivious to all the cancellation messages, and to my friend’s mental torment. There was no problem in the coaching arrangement and the appointments were quickly reinstated.

My friend was able to laugh afterwards, but I imagine at the time it wasn’t very funny.

It reminded me of the trap many of us fall into with our communication. Something happens and we tell ourselves a story about it, which leads us to have strong feelings about the situation. That, in turn, has an effect on our physiology which leads to us speaking and acting in a certain way.

In many cases, if we took the time to stop and rewind back to the fact that started it all, we’d discover our interpretation was far from accurate, - and the issue could be quickly resolved.

Remembering to stop and check the facts before reacting is an invaluable tool in your business and personal relationships, and it’s a habit well worth cultivating.

People who are exceptional communicators know better than to react quickly and emotionally to a situation. Instead, they calmly re-asses and make sure their interpretation reflects what really happened.

Don’t let your communication go off track - or even out of control - because you’re telling yourself an inaccurate story about the facts.


Why making it about them is the key to outstanding communication

Have you been to the September 11 Memorial in New York? It’s a powerful and moving experience and you can’t fail to be struck by the enormous blue art installation that sits at the museum's core.

Trying to remember the colour of the sky on that September morning is made up of nearly 3000 individual pieces of artwork, each a different shade of blue. Every piece represents a life lost on September 11 and in associated tragedies.

Looking at the mass of blue, your eyes trick you into assuming some of the panels are the same shade. In fact, artist Spencer Finch went to scientific lengths to ensure each one has its own specific tint.

It's impossible not to feel the poignancy of the message. Each piece of blue symbolises a precious individual, with characteristics specific to them. It reminded me how easy it is to mistakenly assume everyone around us thinks, feels, communicates and acts the same way we do.

When you're working to a deadline, snowed under with emails or rushing to a meeting, it’s important to remember not everyone receives and processes information in exactly the same way. Exceptional communicators recognise every piece of communication - whether it’s a simple text or a complex report - is being consumed by someone who’s a different shade to them.

There are plenty of profiling models, like DISC and HBDI, that help to sharpen awareness about people's different styles. The September 11 artwork is a simple reminder that, while we share many things in common, every person is unique. Outstanding communication is about people; making your message about them - right where they are - and not about you. 

As social commentator Hugh Mackay put it; “It is the message people take away, not the message we send, that determines our success as a communicator."

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The message on a piece of paper that can change your world

We hear a lot about the power of gratitude and appreciation in the personal development space, but it's less common to find it raised in a business environment.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to share some insights about communication with a team in a small business, as part of their weekly staff meeting.

As the meeting kicked off, I saw a large jar being passed around the room and each person removing two or three small pieces of paper. It turns out this was an appreciation jar.

During the week, team members write short thank-you messages or acknowledge their colleagues for any type of achievement, however small. Every team meeting starts with a random distribution and reading of the jar's contents.

It was a lovely experience to watch this unfold. One by one, staff thanked each other for little actions from cleaning up the kitchen to being able to laugh under pressure - or they congratulated someone for reaching a milestone or finishing a difficult piece of work. There were also messages of gratitude about their clients.

This process only took a few minutes, and the impact on the tone of the meeting was profound. 

It's easy to over-complicate things in our incredibly busy digital world. This experience was a great reminder that simple ideas applied well can have big results. Perhaps you could introduce a similar process to your team meetings or business - or maybe you're already doing this well.  

Even if you’re a solo operator, imagine how powerful it would be to write messages of gratitude to yourself and the people around you who help keep your business going.

Outstanding communication is always built on the strength of relationships. Reinforcing your relationships through sincere expressions of gratitude and appreciation can drive deep and positive change.

If you’re in an organisation struggling to communicate effectively with the outside world, start by building up relationships within your business walls, and between the individuals that make up your team.

What’s the first piece of gratitude you’ll write on your piece of paper? Start with one and you might be surprised where it leads.


Want to be an exceptional communicator? It's all about the facts.

Imagine; you're in a meeting or having a conversation, and things go off the rails. Someone  has an emotional reaction to an issue that’s raised - maybe they get angry and fly off the handle, or their feelings overwhelm them and they clam up. Been there?

That can be destructive in a business environment, causing long-term damage to professional relationships. The result can be mistrust, resentment and the loss of good people.

Part of being an exceptional communicator involves taking charge of how you respond in emotionally heightened situations.

We're wired for self-preservation; it’s not unusual for people to react based on the emotional response they're having to a situation, because they're instinctively trying to keep themselves safe. But often those emotions are not based on the pure facts of the matter; instead, they're a product of someone's interpretation of those facts.

To move quickly through those tricky situations and still get great results, outstanding communicators base their responses on the facts and only the facts.

Some authors refer to this as the path to action; rather than doing or saying something based on emotional response as a result of interpretation, it involves deliberately going back to the facts at hand. 


I’ve also heard this referred to as a ladder - with the facts at the base, your interpretation of the facts further up the ladder's rungs, your emotional response higher still on the ladder and your actions - what you choose to say and do in response - way up the top. If you’ve ever done any work, health and safety training, you’ll know the safest place on a ladder is lower down!

So, in a situation where emotions are running high, take a moment and remind yourself to climb down the ladder where the facts are. Try to avoid responding based on your emotional triggers or the story you're telling yourself about what's happened. Revisit the facts and if you’re not clear about them, be professionally curious and ask questions. By doing that, you'll be helping to avoid misunderstandings that risk sending organisations into a state of dysfunction. 

When it comes to great communication, often only the facts will do. By being the person who takes the emotional charge out of negative discussions, you’ll stand out and  build a reputation for your expertise.

Get better results by looking at communication in a different way

You’re a communicator. Communicating is what you do every moment, with every fibre of your being.

If you manage a team or run a business, every person in that group is also communicating in every moment.

Communication happens inside people, between people, and with the outside world - and it can be easy to get hung up on how those different types of communication fit together.

Many organisations create a distinction between internal and external communication, as if some magic wall separates the two. And if you’re like me, you might have spent countless hours exploring your inner communication - the thoughts in your own head that impact your business and personal life.

 I find it helpful to consider that communication happens in three realms.

The Personal Realm

Put simply, this is the communication you have with yourself, and this is where it all starts. Your thoughts and beliefs are the engine room of every other interaction in your life.

Often this school of thought is put, slightly disparagingly, under the "personal development" heading. Some might consider your inner dialogue has little to do with business and professional communication. On the other hand, I believe it's critical.

The communication you have with yourself is the most telling factor for how you communicate with everyone else. This is where your confidence (or lack of it) lies. It determines your level of self-belief. It impacts your tone of voice, how you carry yourself, the firmness of your handshake and the authenticity of your eye contact.

You might already subscribe to the concept your thoughts are all-powerful and create your reality - or perhaps you’ve never recognised the direct link between what goes on inside you and how you relate to the outside world. If you want to be a better communicator, start here.

The personal communication realm is the place of self-reflection, where you can become quiet and tune in to your intuition. If this sounds a bit too woo-woo for your comfort, I’d like you to entertain the notion - even for a day - that the communication within you has a profound impact on how you interact with others on a personal and professional level.

This is also significant for anyone managing a team or organisation. Any time you need buy-in, it starts one mind at a time.

And, the personal communication realm is where you get clarity on your own vision. That's not the same as the vision of your business or organisational (although it needs to fit snugly with it or you might be working in the wrong place). Being clear on what gets you out of bed in the morning (your why as Simon Sinek puts it) powers up your actions every day.

A dysfunctional personal communication realm means lack of clarity, flailing confidence, poor interactions and relationships - and lost opportunities.

The Tribal Realm

Many organisations refer to this realm as internal communication. I prefer to see it as communicating with those who have the greatest potential to impact or be impacted by your actions or those of your organisation.

In a business sense. this is likely to mean your staff, suppliers and other key stakeholders. For a solo entrepreneur it’s the key circle of people around your business that matter most. For all of us, it also means family and close friends.

In the tribal realm of communication, we can take shortcuts in our language because the people in our tribe generally understand who we are and what we do. We can make some assumptions about previous knowledge, we're able to get away with some jargon, and our style is generally more familiar.

Our tribal realm is where we get to harness the power of our own reputation ambassadors. The people closest to you and your organisation have high credibility when talking about you to others. In this age of digital message saturation, you can talk all you like about how wonderful your organisation is - but everyone’s heard it all before and everybody else is saying the same thing about what they do. What cuts through more is the quiet endorsement of those with a genuine knowledge of what you do - especially those who are highly relatable to your audience.

The downside is, the interactions of your tribe also directly reflect on you. If they’re saying and doing things that aren’t so positive, that will come back to hurt you. Your tribal communication needs to be constant, transparent and early.

Monitoring the communication in your tribal realm provides invaluable intelligence about your broader reputation. And while your reputation is out of your control, you can at least take steps - through authentic words and actions that match - to build reputation capital. 

The Global Realm

This realm represents your communication with the rest of the world; what scholars describe as the public sphere. Of course, these days we are each a 24/7 broadcasting channel and it's easy to get fixated on the opportunities that presents. I’m called in to work with many organisations that focus solely on what they’re saying in this public realm, but neglect the communication happening within their own walls, between and within their people.

Outstanding communicators - and those few businesses that communicate at the top of their game - understand the link between the three realms. What they say to the world at large is directly aligned with the messages inside their organisation and with those who matter most to their results. Their people are deeply committed to their values, and this is reflected in the personal realm of those individuals. 

Today, we have glorious opportunities to communicate with anyone, with relative ease. We’ve also never been at more risk of having our shortcomings exposed to a global audience. The global realm is rich in both potential and danger, and it's imperative to approach it with a clear strategy. Otherwise your days will be filled with time-consuming, reactive behaviour, often referred to as firefighting.

Are you putting enough focus on all three realms - or do you spend most of your time in one or two at the expense of another?

As technology continues to march forward, career opportunities will disappear as new ones arise. Communicators of excellence will continue to have an advantage. Build your expertise across all three realms and your communication will be unstoppable.

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The two tools you need in every conversation, right now

We’ve all had them - those tricky conversations or business meetings where things didn’t go to plan.

Maybe someone got hot under the collar; perhaps there were harsh words exchanged and feelings trampled. 

Whenever people bring different opinions to the table, tension will be on the rise. Poorly addressed, that can boil out of control and get a less-than-ideal result. 

The outstanding communicators of this world - who can negotiate their way through those situations and bring things to a positive conclusion without killing relationships in the process  - have a significant edge.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a magic wand - or maybe a remote control - that gave you the power to bring others around to your way of thinking! Of course, along the way you'd lose the richness of differing opinions that help create great decisions. The discussion might be easier, but you'd lose out in the result.

It occurs to me that, rather than an instrument to control others in a discussion, two other types of gadgets would help.

The magnifying glass

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One of my mentors, the incredible Allan Parker, has taught me the value and power of professional curiosity.

Just when things are at their hottest - with hackles rising and tempers boiling - it can be very helpful to pick up an imaginary magnifying glass and, Sherlock Holmes-style, look at the situation though a curious lens. Say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting!” and consider what might be going on for that person, or the others in the room, to prompt a hostile reaction.

Shifting into a space of curiosity achieves several purposes. It takes you out of your own perspective, which is where you’re at most risk of being overtaken by your emotions. It changes your energy so you're fully present and attentive to the needs of the other person or people.

It can move you from making only  “I” statements - which won’t get you far if everyone else in the room is doing the same thing - to asking open ended questions. These can help get the discussion back on track and away from a shout-fest.

Being curious also helps you view others with empathy, rather than criticism. If they're reacting more strongly than usual, maybe something else has happened - not connected with you - to put them under stress.

The shift from “me, me, me” to empathy and curiosity can profoundly affect a conversation or debate. The key is, remember to do it at the time when it matters most.

The mirror

It would be nice to leave the interaction there; focusing on what's going on for the other person. But that's only half the process.

Another handy imaginary implement is your mirror. This involves the sometimes confronting task of reflecting on your thoughts and behaviour, and what you might have brought to the situation to make emotions rise. 

Many of us spend a significant amount of time thinking about events from our past. Some of these memories go back to our childhood. Others are more recent, such as what happened yesterday, last week or a year ago. The person involved in our current interaction might have been involved - or perhaps it was someone completely different who reminds us of the one now in the conversation. 

Each time you enter a meeting, pick up the phone or converse with someone face to face, chances are you're wheeling a whole trolley-load of baggage into the encounter, based on a past experience. There's a huge temptation to rely on that baggage as your emotional guide during the conversation. Then you can use what unfolds as evidence of what you already believe; "There he goes again, losing his temper" or "She's taking that sarcastic tone. just like she did in the last meeting"... you get the idea. 

But that baggage doesn't have to take over a situation and railroad your emotional response. Make the simple choice to leave your baggage at the door and start the encounter with a clean slate.

That one mental act can shift your attitude and the energy you bring, delivering a profound effect on the outcome. Instead however, many of us take a largely passive role in human interactions. We receive our cues from the other person and let our instant reactions guide what happens next. That's a dangerous recipe.


Holding up the mirror involves taking a closer look at what you're really bringing to the situation. Are you seeing it with a positive mindset? Do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve (always being flexible because things can change)? Are you taking the time to build rapport with the other person? Are you mindful of simple things like smiling, making good eye contact and reducing distractions so you can be present and truly listen? 

If the interaction isn't going well, what contribution are you making? A quick change of approach can make all the difference, for example;

  • Perhaps someone (maybe you) is reacting negatively based on their own interpretation of the situation, rather than considering specific facts. Shift that by honing in on the core facts of the issue, not the emotion. 
  • Is a lot of "I" focused language being used? Change it up by asking a "you"-focused question or introduce collaborative language like "we" and "all of us".
  • Resist the temptation to use absolute words (e.g. "always", "forever", "never") and use more tentative, probing language like "how about if we try this.." or "what would it look like if we..." Remember, words have weight - choose yours carefully. 

Curiosity and self-reflection are powerful processes to help get better results from your conversations, meetings, and presentations. Even before the first word comes out of your mouth, do the inner work. The conversations you have with others are important; those you have with yourself are absolutely critical. 

The new rules of crisis communication and why they apply to you

Crisis communication is a fascinating subject – and there’s no shortage of current material to put under the microscope. Cricket Australia, banks, KFC, data breaches – you could spend weeks pulling this stuff apart.

This week at Mumbrella360 – Australia’s biggest media and marketing conference – I had the opportunity to share a stage with some of the country’s leading minds on communicating when it really hits the fan.

The audience was made up of communicators and business leaders from all sectors. Regardless of where they were from, there were universal head nods about the key elements that now govern how any business or organisation must respond when a crisis cripples normal operations. Here are the points that stood out for me:

Respond quickly and slowly

When a catastrophic incident or action hurls you into the headlines for all the wrong reasons, you can’t spend a day deliberating about what to say. Waaay back in the day, we used to talk about the Golden 24 Hours – how to carefully craft your response and release it for maximum impact. Then it was the Golden Hour.

In today’s Twitter Time, an hour is a luxury. Every person out there is a 24-hour live broadcast channel – or as US communication expert Barie Carmichael puts it, “today’s web-enabled auditors of corporate behaviour can create a global movement when their expectations are not met.”

The swiftness of your initial responses sets the tone for your engagement in the entire crisis response. You won’t have all the details, and you can bet others in your business will be urging you to wait, but delaying can be disastrous. Someone else will fill that communication vacuum and they’ll probably know less about the situation tha you. It’s important to at least:

  • Say what’s happened (to the best of your knowledge at the time)
  • Express empathy in acknowledging those impacted
  • Say what’s happening right now
  • Say what’s likely to happen next

While this isn’t exactly a crisis (more an incident that could have had serious consequences), here’s an example of a media report and a swift response by Transport for NSW:


While all this rapid responding is playing out, you must also be formulating more considered communication based on deeper research into the crisis. This is the meat on your communication skeleton; the next layering of messages for the network of stakeholders (those who are directly impacted by or who can impact your business) who will need more detail, communicated through channels directly to them.

Communication happens in tandem with the operational response

Someone in the audience at Mumbrella360 commented that the hashtag #PRfail, which inevitably appears after a major public mishap, should be changed to #leadershipfail – a great reminder that people often confuse the communication response with the actual response to the crisis. Just because a disaster erupts on social or traditional media doesn’t mean the communications department is responsible for solving the problem. 

The organisation as a whole needs to own the crisis and take responsibility for addressing it and recovering from it. Communication will, no doubt, be a huge part of that – but it’s not the only response. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when a crisis could be made to disappear through spin.

An effective crisis response starts from the inside. Identify the root of the problem and fix it fast – all the while, keeping the world updated on what you’re doing.

KFC’s Great Chicken Crisis in the UK – when it ran out of chook- has been applauded as a great example of how to respond to a business-crippling disaster. Yes, the communication response was awesome – but that wouldn’t have amounted to much if the company didn’t also quickly address the problem and get chicken to its stores quickly – even using some innovative warehousing methods to do it.


Crisis communication planning has changed

In the past, when we had a relatively limited number of communication channels, it was somewhat easier to predict and plan for the types of crises that might erupt. Today, the variables are endless.

One client embroiled in a recent crisis admitted they “threw their crisis communication plan out the window” because the nature of the issue was something they’d never encountered before and couldn’t have predicted.

A rigid crisis communication plan is no longer effective. In its place, have rock-solid, agreed principles for how you will respond, for example;

  • Your business commits to communicating honestly and authentically at all times
  • You’ll issue your first response within 15 minutes followed by rolling updates
  • You will use plain, understandable language
  • You will act in the interests of those impacted by the crisis
  • You know up-front who your key spokespeople will be, and they are trained and ready

As we discussed at the conference, it’s also critical that your basic processes are in place; your media contacts are up to date, you can find key operational people quickly, and you’ve got easy access to all your social media platforms. These sound obvious, but not everyone takes the time to address them. 

The crisis communication landscape has changed drastically, but some of the principles go back centuries. No business is immune to a crisis. Be ready and stay ready; and if/when it happens to you, use authenticity as your guide in responding


How looking below the surface of social media will make you a better communicator

Are you finding it tough sharing your message in a very crowded world? Whether you run a small business, represent an organisation or want to increase your personal profile, it can be a frustrating process because everyone else is trying to do the same thing in the same space.

Over the last week I had the privilege of convening two events for communication professionals. Listening to the speakers who joined me on stage, I was reminded of some important principles  as we all struggle to get traction in a busy digital environment.

1.     Spread the word on social, but don’t neglect your own assets

David Pembroke from contentgroup made the point that it's dangerous to put all your eggs in the social media basket.

Actually, his analogy was less about eggs and more about building a house. As he put it, “you wouldn’t build a house on rented land”.

It's a reminder to develop content and spread your message through channels you own and control - like your website. Then, you're free to take advantage of the incredible range of social media tools out there, and point people back to your mother-ship. It's your source of truth - a place where you can reinforce your key messages and correct misinformation.

2.     Be at the top of the content creation chain

Editorial expert Stuart Howie reminded us of the power of thinking like a journalist (even an old journo like me needed this reminder).

Each of us is now a publisher; if we can operate with a "newsroom mindset", where we’re originating valuable content and spreading it through multiple channels, we’re going to have a proactive advantage.

If you’re a subject matter expert - or your organisation has expertise on a particular topic - don’t wait to be asked for your opinion. Take the initiative and be the content creator, then find ways to make your valuable message known. This isn’t empty spin or marketing hustle. You're creating genuine high-value material that will benefit others.

3.     If you seek the truth, strive to be truthful

Truth and trust specialist Elly Johnson gave everyone a wake-up call by pointing out that each of us tells numerous lies every day, whether we realise it or not. Most of these little porkies aren’t dangerous or destructive ("Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible..."), but a better habit is to monitor and weed out white lies.

If you want others to see you as credible - and if you want to reduce the number of lies people tell you - it starts with honest self-reflection and a commitment to being more truthful.

It’s a sad reality that lies and scandals dominate much online communication. A study released this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that false information on Twitter travels six times faster than the truth, and reaches far more people! We can play our own small part in trying to combat that, by being 100% committed to truth. 

The world of communication has changed radically even in the last few years - and it's light years from what it looked like a decade ago. While it can be fun and challenging trying to keep up with technology, it’s the principles lying beneath that provide the real insights into human behaviour. Those who take the time to understand those principles will have an edge in this competitive  environment.