Jargon doesn’t make you sound smart

Wordy messages wont convince your audience. Clear speaking and writing will.

Wordy messages won't convince your audience. Clear speaking and writing will.

I’ve ranted on this blog before about the perils of bad writing. Now I have research to back it up.

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive gives an example of jargon overload:

We’re leveraging our assets and establishing strategiec alliances to create a robust knowlege center-one with a customer-ruled business structure using market-leading technologies to maximize our human systems.

According to the book, that means “we’re consultants.”

What happens when you use language like this? Yes summarizes research by Daniel Oppenheimer which shows that “the message is deemed less convincing and the author is perceived as less intelligent.”

The lesson is clear: you will be more convincing if you communicate clearly. Use simple sentences and words your audience can understand.

In the hospital

Okay, this is a bit of a deviaiton from my regular blog format, but it seemed the best way to only have to write up the full background of what’s happening and not have to keep re-typing it.

Main point: I’m in the hospital, and probably will be until around December 7. I had a brain hemmhorage in which, the doctors believe, a vein leaked. The good news is that things like this in the veins rarely happen again, and I’ve seen no sign of damage due to this. My extended hospital stay is so the doctors can continue to monitor me to be sure it is indeed a vein issue and not an aneurysm.

How this happened: Yesterday, November 29, While out for a run, I experienced an excruciating headache. The pain spread to my neck, and I initially thought the headache was cused by a muscule strain in my neck.

I walked home and tried to rest it off. When I started vomiting, Nancy took me to the Urgent Care facility near our house.

The urgent care facility evaluated me and called for an ambulance to St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital. They did a CT scan on me and saw the blood in my brain. St. Joe’s does not have a neurology department, to they transferred me to the University of Michigan Medical Center.

At the UM medical center they gave me another CT scan. They aslo gave me an angiogram, in which they thread a catheter into my body at the femoral artery (by my groin) and up thourgh my body and nect. From there they can inject dies that show up on X-rays to see if the bleeding was from a vein–which would be good (but not as good as this never happening) or an artery (which would be very bad, and in which case they would have to have surgery to repari the artery).

The result of the angiogram showed no sign of an aneurysm (thank God), so they believe the probelm to be one of vein bleeding.

Vein bleeding heals itself, and is very unlikely to re-rupture. The damage, if any, will be minimal, and I have not noticed any decrease in function from this ordeal.

The doctors are keeping me in the hospital for about a week so they can continue to monitor me–they want to be sure that it isn’t an aneurysm. They have another angiogram planned for about 7 days from now, and I”m hooked up to all the proges and monitory.

The pain from the bleeding is still very intense. That is, it is whne the pain relievers wear off.

Nancy, of course, had been pretty scared during all this. She’s done well and has been grateful for the support of her friends and family.
1. I ill be out of the office for at least a week. Any meetings I had scheduled will need to go on without me or be re-scheduled.

2. I will be in limited cell phone and email contact. My cell phone number is 734-663-1870, email is With a week laid up, I am willing to stay involved when the balance between pain and pain medication allows me to, but I cannot commit to anything.

3. I’m feeling as good as could be expected (back to that balance between pain and pain medication), and I have books, podcasts, and my computer to entertain me. That said, you are welcome to stop by if you like. Right now I’m in the Neurology ICU, they plan to move me to a regular room in a few days. Please don’t feel obligated! For many of you, I will be asking enough of you to re-shuffle the pieces while I’m away.

4. I’m also giving thanks. Between the fire last week and the hemorrhaging this week we’ve experienced two things that were really scary, very inconvenient, but overall quite minor. I give thanks for the person who called in the fire and the fire department–If the fire had gone 10 more minutes more the whole place could have gone up. I’m thankful for everyone in the ICPJ community who wished us well after the fire and who helped step forward to get things done. I’m thankful for the medical professionals who have been caring for me, and the friends who have been there with Nancy as she has sat and worried. I’m also very happy for whoever invented the pain medicine I’m on right now.

In peace,

If you can delegate, you must

Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith has a great sidebar titled “If you can delegate, you must” in which they say:

If you can delegate a task to someone else (or to a machine, for that matter) in order to save either time or costs, it is your duty to do so.

Their argument is about productivity and work quality, but for a community organizer there is another element to this. When you delegate to volunteers, you strengthen your organization by increasing buy-in and improving the connections the volunteers have to your group.

This relates to Saul Alinsky’s Iron Rule of Organizing, “Never do for others what they can do for themselves.”

For me, this is a case of something that’s easier to blog about than to do. Whether it’s tweaking our database, developing a flier, or creating a website for a coalition, I have a tendency to do things myself.

So my challenge to myself and my challenge to you is to share the load, delegate what you can, and strengthen you organization by doing so. It’s smart, it will help your work, and it’s good organizing.

Why you need to have that conversation you fear

One of the best things I learned in my fellowship with the Center for Progressive Leadership was the value of having difficult conversations.

That lesson was reaffirmed in a recent post by Peter Bregman titled How to Talk About What You Most Dread. He writes:

Here’s a general rule: the more you fear a conversation, the more you probably need to have it. Think of fear as an indicator of a problem that needs to be addressed. [emphasis added]

Bregman then goes on to give some top-notch suggestions for how to have those conversations.

Having the courage to have  difficult conversations will transform your leadership. I’ve seen it.

Since the CPL training, there have been countless times in which I’ve remembered that lesson, summoned up my courage, and spoken to somebody to deal with inappropriate behavior, clear up misunderstandings, or to apologize for my own mistakes.

In every case, they apparently ‘easy’ thing to do would be to just ignore the issue. What I’ve found is that the value of speaking up and listening is much greater than the discomfort of avoiding a conflict.

Read Bregman’s article. Think about the conversation you most dread. Try dealing with it directly. It will work wonders.

Are we too “feel good”?

Want to get better? Learn from, dont avoid, your mistakes.

Want to get better? Learn from, don't avoid, your mistakes.

It seems to me that the often progressives are very affirming.

Maybe instead we should focus more on our mistakes

I’ve known people to avoid language of “what went wrong” to choose instead of “what should we have done differently.”

Often we avoid talking about “mistakes” because we worry that that will create a hurtful, negative vibe.

(Of course, we can also end up with the circular firing squad where we attack potential allies because they don’t have the correct position on class, race, economics, or strategy, but that’s another post).

In Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Cialdini describes a study on two different training program for firefighters. One study focused on how others had made good decisions in the past; the other one focused on other firefighters’ past errors.

Focusing on past errors was much more effective in training the firefighters to make good decisions.

This tells me that we need to create environments where it is OK to honestly asses and learn from mistakes, our own and those of others, not evade them to make sure nobody’s feelings get hurt.

If we don’t do that, well, that would be a mistake.

What’s true for you may not be true for everyone

I’ve been reading Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Cialdini (I’ve blogged before about his previous book, Influence), and he gives a great story that warns us not to assume that what works for us will work for everyone.

He gives the example of efforts to try to get hotel guests to help save the environment by re-using their towels.

How would you promote that kind of program?

Well, if you’re like me, you would be motivated by environmental arguments, so you would be inclined to write a sign along the lines of, “You can help save water by re-using your towel.”

But here’s the rub–there will be a lot of hotel guests who don’t care about that message.

So Cialdini and his co-authors decided to test an alternate message that tells guests that “a majority of guests choose to re-use their towels at least once in their stay.”

There are two lessons here:

1. “Social proof” is a powerful way to influence people;

2. Don’t assume that the messages that work for you will work for everyone.

Marnie Webb on the art of the follow through

In tennis, the initial contact with the ball isnt enough for a good serve, you need to follow through. Same thing in organizing, its not the initial contact, you need to follow through.

In tennis, the initial contact with the ball isn't enough for a good serve, you need to follow through. Same thing in organizing, it's not the initial contact, you need to follow through.

I am a big proponent of following up with people. I believe it is the little bit of extra effort that often separates success from failure.

That’s why I was delighted to read Marnie Webb’s post on the Case Foundation’s blog on the art of the follow through.

Why follow up? As Marnie writes, “we also want to make sure that the people who do sign up have ways to increase their engagement. And that’s about the art of the follow through.”

She offers five easy ways to follow through:

  1. Write them a note. For no reason at all.
  2. Show up at their party.
  3. Give your supporters something special.
  4. Give them something else to do.
  5. Ask for feedback and change because of it.

These are just the highlights. Read Marnie’s post for some great tips and comments on them.

Don’t Write Crappy Content

I’ve often wished for a short guide to help my interns break all the bad habits that academic writing instills in them.

Jocelyn Harmon’s in Fundraising Success Magazine, “Don’t Write Crappy Content,” is a pretty good start.

Her main points are:

  1. Write to one person
  2. Use active vs. passive voice
  3. Make an outline
  4. Speaking of stories … tell one!
  5. Edit, edit and edit some more
  6. Add images
  7. Bonus: Use metaphors

Consider giving it a read, unless you’re one of my interns, in which case I will be insisting you read it before writing for me.

The power of “thank you”

Its hard to put your foot in your mouth when the words thank you are coming out of your mouth.

It's hard to put your foot in your mouth when the words "thank you" are coming out of your mouth.

Of the 20 destructive habits Marshall Goldsmith identifies in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, five have share a common solution.

Say “thank you.”

Sometimes this is obvious, as with habits #10 and #17, “Failing to give proper recognition” and “failing to express gratitude.” In that case, saying “thank you” is a no brainer.

Goldsmith also recommends saying “thank you” as a remedy for less obvious problems, such as habit #18, “punishing the messenger.”

What does saying thank you have to do with not punishing the messanger?

Think of it this way, it’s hard for you to put your foot in your mouth when the words “thank you” are coming out.

In this case, the “thank you” is less about expressing gratitude and more about stopping you from expressing harmful emotions. “Thank you” is a way not to take out your anger on the messenger.

That’s also why saying “thank you” is part of the prescription for habit  #3, “passing judgment,” and habit #6, “telling the world how smart we are.”

For habit 6, he explains how “thank you” works, “Stopping this behavior is not hard–a three-step drill in which you (a) pause before opening your mouth to ask yourself, ‘Is anything I say worth it?’ (b) conclude that it isn’t, and (c) say, ‘Thank you.'”

For this to work, though, you have to just say thank you. If you say, “thank you, but…” and then launch into a self-serving lecture about how you could improve on the idea (thereby showing how smart you are), you’ve defeated the purpose.

I picked up on this not because I think it’s an easy fix (I don’t think it is), but because it ties into one of my destructive habits. I often get defensive and bristle when given negative feedback or when I feel at my limit and I’m asked to do more or criticized for not having done more.

Goldsmith’s suggested response of “thank you” would be a big improvement over my defensiveness.

Are you saying “thank you” enough? Are there things you shouldn’t be saying where you’d be better off just saying “thank you”?

A word about attachments

Just a little rant here.

If you’re sending me an agenda, a report, minutes from a meeting, or anything else that is just text, PLEASE include it in the text of the email.

My computer is slow. Don’t make me open another program just to read what you’re sending.

That goes double if you’re sending something to my volunteers. Not all of them have Word. Not all of them have high-speed connections. Don’t put barriers between them and your content.