Category Archives: Communication

Make Work Suck Less with Better Email

"Did you get that email?"

“Did you get that email?”

Since I am in the communication bidness, people often ask me for advice on email writing.  Many of us spend a great deal of time slinging email.  Usually these requests for advice are born from accusation, “Do you teach stuff about writing because (insert name) sends really long emails and they suck [the person and the email].”

Well (insert name), here you are.  Email advice from a not-very-good writer.

Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This comically concise book is a timeless work worth reading annually to improve writing and speaking.

Rule 17:  Omit needless words (The Elements of Style).

Rule 12:  Choose a suitable design and hold it (The Elements of Style).

Once upon a time I had a tyrannical, disconnected dictator supervisor who demanded that I (and the others) used this specific format for email.  Now, free from his oppression, I still use it and am imparting the wisdom on you in the spirit of Rule 12.

Addressee:  Enter the addressee’s name here genius – this isn’t Twitter, it’s work.  This line should correspond with the ‘To’ line, don’t write to someone in the ‘CC’ line.  CC stands for ‘courtesy copy.”  And while we’re on it, ‘CC’ is not a verb it’s an acronym.  People can’t be “cced” they’re copied.

Action Requested:   Clearly convey what you’d like to happen.  Some examples are, “For Decision” “For Awareness” “For Action.”  Don’t know?  Then don’t write the email.

Summary/EXSUM:  Only impart what is needed to achieve the action listed above.  Write clearly in active voice and always use Rule 17.

Way Ahead:  Explain to your reader what will happen next so that they have context in terms of time and project work flow.

Expanded:  Include other detail only if necessary for additional context, always adhere to Rule 17.

Sound robotic?  It can be and that’s ok; it’s email.  We get hundreds of emails a day, using the above technique will prevent 2 emails from becoming 5.  In using this technique, may also help you. You may realize you don’t know why you’re writing or that you might lack the information the addressee needs to take a requested action.

Now go to your work place and share the ideas in this post- wield the angry stick of formalization.  Beat your leaders, coworkers and subordinates into submission so that you may, someday, enjoy fewer and clearer emails.

Personal note:  I used to carry a gun every day at work and now I’m giving advice on email.


Steve, Sam and the Hard Mattress

Give me a mattress, make it a double

Give me a mattress, make it a double

My good friend, Steve, was on a mission.  His wife told him to get a mattress for his teenage kid.

“Don’t forget the mattress, don’t forget the mattress,” Steve repeated to himself as he left for work that day.

Steve remembered.  He made it to the store for an early lunch, the only customer there.

“I need a double mattress please,” he demanded, satisfied that he remembered the size.

The salesman berated Steve with questions: What ‘softness’? pillow top? what springs do you like? have you seen this?  How much do you want to spend?

“I just need a mattress….double.” Steve was deflated.

The salesman almost refused his request…”We don’t sell that here,” he said with his eyes.

“Just give me the list of mattresses and I will pick,” Steve blurted out with his last bit of life before he walked out.

Steve got the list, picked one and checked out.

He is Simple Steve.  The guy who salespeople don’t need to ‘sell.’ They just have to lead him to water for him to drink, he walked in thirsty and just wants to consume the product and be done.

His cousin, Sophisticated Sam, is a different dude.  He has done some research, knows some detail and wants the salesperson to talk the finer points.  Sam walks into mattress stores with time, money and a willingness to learn.

If the salesperson complicates Steve’s life, he will get pissed and leave.  If salesperson goes simple on Sam, Sam will be left unsatisfied and go where he will be taken care of.

Sam and Steve are easy to identify, a few pleasantries will get you there.

I am Steve, hear me roar.


Good Stories Have Endings – Do it for the fish

This fish demands a conclusion to your pitch

This fish demands a conclusion to your pitch

True story, there I was walking down the street and out of nowhere a Green Peace girl jumped out in front of me.  She was nice enough, not very clean but had a cool headband.

I enjoy listening to ‘sales’ pitches if the pitcher has some skills.

She was energetic, passionate about her cause (the eradication of unsustainable fishing). She met me with eye contact and immediately started on the problem (the why). She attempted to appeal to my humanity by talking about friendly Dolphins and Sea Turtles. You might remember, I like Dolphins.

Unfortunately, she got caught up in the moment. She went on about how Dolphins are treated in India (unrelated), how the nets are made (unnecessary), how long these boats spend fishing (unnecessary) and what happens to the turtles when they get caught (good detail if tied to a conclusion). She started strong but ended up all over the map.

She had no pay-off or conclusion, there was no ‘ask.’ The conversation fizzled out and after an awkward minute, I asked, “so what do you want me to do?”

“Join” she said.

“Oh sorry, I liked your story but I just don’t see the connection…and I can’t join terrorist organizations because of my job.” I left and went to Starbucks.

Always end your pitch, brief or delivery with a tangible ending. The payoff, “I told you all this because I want you to do that.” If you do it right, the pay off is apparent and the audience is lining up to help solve the problem.

Join me in the fight against unsustainable conversations.

Maker’s Folly


I try not to comment on trendy topics but this really got my attention.

Maker’s Mark bourbon can’t meet customer demand this year.  What a great deal for the PR guy.  He can do anything with this.  This situation calls for his creative skills to protect the brand and potentially gain some good press about it.

Add water?  Ummm, that’s not exactly what I was thinking.

What a terrible move.  Instead of enjoying customer demand and the press that was generated by the lack of  inventory, Maker’s Mark decided the best course of action was to add water and charge customers the same price for watered down bourbon.

Knob Creek sent T-Shirts to customers during their drought.  Maker’s Mark added water.

Weak.  Probably (I hope) a case of the boss not listening to his PR guy.  Fail.

Read More:



Just Stop Talking


Remember the other day’s post about listening? You can listen while you talk too, in fact, I recommend it.

Watch the audience or the person you’re talking to. Listen to their body language and comment.

It should be clear if they are getting it or not. If it’s not clear, ask.

If there not getting it, start again, reframe your point and see if they catch on.

If they still don’t get it or just don’t care about what you’re saying, stop. Please, just stop.

Your prudence now will pay dividends later. People will see you and say, “See that guy? He doesn’t have diarrhea mouth.”

They might not say that but they might be more receptive to listening to you later.



You think I’m listening because I care?


The truth is I do care.  But, I’m also listening for selfish reasons.

I’m looking for a bridge that I need to use to get you to where I need you to be.

While at work, much of the time I have an agenda.  I need to get things done, I need a resource, support or a decision.  My talking points are always in my back pocket.

When I’m listening to you I’m getting to know you more.  I appreciate you and your deal, whatever that is.  At some point during your talking you will present an opportunity for me.  An opportunity to bridge to my agenda.

I will use what you are talking about to insert some of my talking points.  You will see that I was listening (because I referenced what you just said) and feel heard.  You’ll be happy.  You might even listen to me.

I care about what you are saying.  I also care about what I need to say.

Thanks for listening.

The Toothpaste Presentation


I just need some toothpaste.  There are so many choices.  The toothpaste aisle is a dark fluoride forest and I don’t have a map (or fresh breath).

Whitening, Tarter Control, All in One, Mouthwash Combo.  ProHealth?  I thought they were all pro-health?

Worse yet, there are a different set of choices than last time I had to buy toothpaste.  Apparently, 9 of 10 dentists recommend them all.

Why can’t I just find fucking toothpaste?  The kind that cleans your teeth.

You can do the same thing at work, when you’re talking.  If you don’t plan ahead you can give your audience a confusing menu of ideas clouding their understanding of the point you’re trying to make.

Ask yourself:  What’s your brief about?  Why is what your talking about an issue and/or  what do you want from your audience?  What will be solved by getting what you want?

Don’t give your audience too many choices, give them what they need to make the decision and leave.  They have other shit to do like choose toothpaste.

An important message from the government

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As heavy rains may saturate the grounds in your area, you should be concerned about floods. They can be very dangerous and damaging. National and local governments learned a hard lesson during the Katrina disasters and so every locality is a bit more careful when warning their citizens about the possible onset of high waters.

Here are a couple of things that are listed in the National Weather Service Warning you may want to consider:


Check! I won’t drive.


Will do! I’ll keep my phone with me. Good.

Most Importantly: DON’T DROWN.

Huh? Oh shit, ok. This changes my plans a bit; hmmm, don’t drown. Alright, I guess.

Yes, our government has seen it fit to warn citizens not to drown during floods.

For our readers, “Don’t get hit by a bus.”

There, I did my part.

Dolphins: Winning Friends and Influencing People

Awww, look at those two. It’s all part of a huge PR scheme by the dolphins. Genius.
Courtesy of Matthew Meier Photo

Dolphins are expert PR people.  Here are a few reasons why:

1.  Cooperate and win:  Going back to ancient times, Dolphins used to assist fishermen by herding fish in the fisherman’s direction then being rewarded with fish.  Genius; catch your fish but be sure to give me a cut.

2.  Winning Friends and Influencing People:  Dolphins are playful and seem to smile a lot, this is straight out of Dale Carnegie’s famous book.  Humans (the top of the food chain) love dolphins and protect them beyond what is done for many other sea species.  When was the last time you had “Unsafe Dolphin” tuna?

3.  Our allies in combat:  Like many countries, dolphins have chosen to side with the US in conflict.  They work for us as spies and messengers; I wrote about it here.  Whose side do you think we’ll be on in the next sea life war?

4.  Isolate the black sheep:  Did you know that the Killer Whale is actually a dolphin?  Yup, genius branding move by the dolphin elite.  It was especially useful when the trainer was killed at Sea World in 2010 by a “killer whale.”

So, while we watch and cry about Dolphin Tale, the heart touching movie about the tailless dolphin, the rest of the dolphin population swims through the ocean in super pods, protected by humans, and brutally slaughters other fish families by the thousands.  Genius.

The Japanese on the other hand are not fooled by big dolphin smiles or playful wave play.  They are not impressed by the dolphin public relations scheme.  For reasons of which we are not entirely sure, they slaughter tens of thousands of dolphins each year in somewhat of a ritual beginning in early September.   Read more about it here, pictures are graphic.

Read more about our mammal brothers:

Kim’s many faces…

Our friend and ally (no) Axis of Evil headliner (yes) Kim Jong-un, the new North Korean Leader has 6 new titles (these are real):

  • Marshal of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • First chairman of the National Defense Commission
  • First secretary of the Workers’ Party
  • Chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission
  • Member of the Presidium of the party’s Political Bureau
  • Supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army

Interestingly, I had a lot of these same titles in high school.

Kim’s friends call him ‘Karma Chameleon’ and some of his family calls him ‘Jeff’; he’s also been known to answer to ‘Sam Walton.’

Original article on Jeff’s names:

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