Davidson is a certified professional trainer, business coach and management consultant.
Driven by passion, he is an engaging and versatile presenter with over 20 years of experience in the training industry. Over the course of his career, he has trained over 1,000 companies comprising start-ups, SMEs, MNCs, government agencies and others all over Southeast Asia.
Here is your change to ask him a Question or read some of the advice given to others.
Columns and Articles
How do I deal with burnout? Is it wise to take a sabbatical when your career is going great?
– Miss Congeniality
Dear Miss Congeniality,
I hear “burnout” and “career is going great” in one sentence. Burnout needs to be dealt with as soon as you notice the manifestations. Your “career is going great” is not worth the sacrifices that you have to make and the beating that your body has to take.
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It happens when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the constant demands at the workplace. As this stress continues, you will begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.
Burnout also reduces your productivity by draining your energy, leaving you feeling helpless and hopeless, and often times resentful. You may eventually feel like you have nothing more to offer. This negative effects of burnout will eventually spill over into every area of your life – your home, work, and social life and cause you long-term damage and illness to your body.
To deal with burnout, try some of the following:
(1) Changing your attitude towards your job:
Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy as this can help you regain a sense of purpose and control
(2) Find balance in your life:
If you dislike your job or your boss, look for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere in your life: in your family, friends, hobbies, or voluntary work. Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy.
(3) Make friends at work:
Having friends to chat and joke with at work can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job.
(4) Take time off:
If burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence, anything from a weekend to two weeks, depending on the severity, just to remove yourself from the situation. Use this time to recharge your batteries.
Hence I believe it is a wise choice to take a sabbatical so that you are prepared to face the demands of today’s workplace.
Remember that burnout is a form of exhaustion and it’s your body’s way of telling you to relax. Take a break, a short vacation. Do something that you like. Your body also craves the sleep that it deserves. The more burned out you feel, the more sleep you’re probably going to require.
Make it a habit to do some exercise in order for your body to feel better. I hope you feel better!
I currently have a full-time job with a comfortable salary.
I also have a side business where I get to put my hobby into good use.
I’ve been thinking about leaving my job to pursue my side business full-time as this is where my passion lies.
However, I rely solely on my current income to financially support my business.
Should I risk it all and leave my job to pursue my passion? Or should I try to find ways to juggle and manage both?
– Mr Indecisive
Dear Mr Indecisive,
The question you need to ask yourself first is: Do you like your current job?
If the answer is yes, then you probably shouldn’t quit your job as yet (especially since you are earning a comfortable salary and it is financially supporting your business) to pursue your passion full-time.
What you can do is try to build your business on the side while working full-time at your present job.
Once you have saved enough, you will know when the time is right to quit and pursue your passion full time.
By doing this, at least you will be financially prepared to take the plunge before you can make your passion profitable. So quit when you are ready.
Consider also the risks that you will be putting yourself into (and those that are dependable on you).
If you leave your job now and your business does not thrive, you will have everything to lose. What’s your contingency plan?
While one should always pursue their dreams, taking calculated risks is key. Work long enough and save enough to get you by for at least one year with employment.
So if your business does not succeed (for whatever reason), you will have something to fall back on.
If you think you can just quit your job and “wing it” and hope to see considerable results, you’re wrong.
Sometimes the temptation is there to “just do it” – but remember that to succeed you will need a plan to get there and it needs to be an extremely clear plan of action.
I understand that juggling between the two can also be very exasperating and may cause burnout. But that is the cost of pursuing your passion.
My suggestion is to juggle your current job and your business until which time you are prepared to make that switch. Good luck!
My leave was rejected by my boss at the very last minute. I’m so mad! How do I deal with this?
– Miss Overworked
Dear Miss Overworked,
There may be several reasons why your leave was not approved.
Firstly, did you provide sufficient notice period?
Always ensure that you give your manager a heads up so they have sufficient time to plan things ahead before your absence.
Another reason could be that you have insufficient leave balance.
If you are planning to take extra days off without sufficient balance annual leave, chances are your leave request may be rejected.
Other common reasons for rejection are:
(i) You are still a fairly new employee in the organisation.
(ii) The length of your leave – you applied for too many consecutive days.
(iii) The timing – for example, festive period or school holidays, where too many people are on leave at the same time
It is important to remember, however, that your employer can refuse your holiday request, for example, during busy periods.
Although your employer can refuse to give you holiday leave at a certain time, they cannot refuse to let you take your minimum leave entitlement for the year.
Your manager can also cancel your leave after approving it.
Often times it can be frustrating as prior arrangements have been made – and this leaves workers on their own trying to get refunds for airfare and accommodations.
These are some things that you can do prior to making any arrangements or applying for leave:
(i) Know your company leave policies (you can check with HR or read the company handbook).
(ii) Ask at the right time – for example, after you complete a project successfully
One thing to remember is this: At the end of the day, you are working with people.
Sometimes just by being more tactful towards your manager, might get your leave approved.
Hence, not only should the reason for your leave be solid, you need to also justify and convince your manager that everything has been taken care of in your absence and that your work will be done or covered.
Simply by understanding your company policies and people in general will help you deal with situations like this better in future.
Use Colored Brain (check out the video below) to understand how your boss or manager processes information and how you can understand them better. Good luck!
What are the 3 signs that I am working in a “toxic” workplace environment?
Is there anything I can do to make it more “bearable”?
– Yogi Bear
Dear Yogi Bear,
Stress is a very common component of any job. After all, there will be times when you will face various challenges such as meeting tight deadlines and overcoming work pressures.
It can also be considered as a “positive force” making our brain work faster, which in turn improves one’s creativity and can sometimes help us achieve “impossible” things.
However, there is a difference between having normal stress and working in a “toxic” workplace, the latter having not so pleasant consequences.
The following are 3 signs that will help you distinguish if you are indeed working in a “toxic” workplace. I’ve also included some tips on how to avoid being “trapped” and unhappy while at work.
1. Mental and physical sickness
There is a belief that all illnesses are caused by negative emotions and thoughts that put our bodies under emotional pressure and weaken our immune system.
Whether it’s true or not, ask yourself these questions:
(i) Are you excited about your work when you get up in the morning?
(ii) Are you looking forward to accomplishing your job tasks?
(iii ) Do you wish this workday was over already?
(iv) Do you wish you never had to do what you do every day?
If you and the people who work with answered ‘Yes’ to the last two questions, you might indeed be in a toxic workplace.
Stress makes our bodies respond in negative ways – sweating palms, fast heartbeat, tiredness, feeling of burnout, extreme weight loss or gain.
Another red flag that you are working in a toxic workplace would be if any of the following applies to you – prone to falling ill and frequently taking days off.
2. Conflicts and negative atmosphere
Do you or many of your colleagues get easily irritated? Are there many subjective disagreements, gossiping and office rumours? Do you hear negative conversations in the office and no one is ever smiling?
If yes, it means there is no friendships at your workplace, no trust and very poor communication.
In a “healthy” workplace, however, you hardly get frustrated with doing your job. In fact, chances are you know exactly what to do and how because you were given proper guidance and feedback.
Another sign that you are indeed in a “healthy” workplace is that you feel very much accomplished because you were given the necessary recognition. Another positive sign would be if you feel supported whenever the management takes a genuine interest in what you do and gets you involved with constructive discussions.
3. High turnover
If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a blaring sign of a “toxic” workplace.
As soon as people figure out that their jobs bring nothing but dysfunction, degradation and sickness, they start looking for alternatives.
Thus they are actively looking for other jobs and leave when they find a better one.
Now, how do we make it more “bearable”?
There are some strategies you can develop to “survive” in your current workplace and feel a little bit better for the time being.
(i) Find something you enjoy doing after work
This might help you think about your after-work activity even while you are doing your job. This will give you a sense of excitement and give you that nudge to help keep you moving forward.
Basically, you need to mix in some positive thoughts in your work routine. Oh! And be sure to relieve your stress after a long workday.
Perhaps you could discover a new hobby, sign up for a new language course or group training. It could be anything!
(ii) Create and develop friendships
Try to find people who think or feel the same way you do. Be sure to communicate with them more often. And do support and watch each other’s backs.
(iii) Prepare your exit plan
There is always a choice, and there is always an exit.
If you keep in mind that if things get really bad, you have other options, and knowing what to do, will make you feel much more secure and calm.
Search for other offers, don’t restrain yourself with what you used to do, think of what you want to do and what you can learn, it’s never too late.
how do I tell my boss ‘No’?
I am known as a ‘Yes Man’ in my office. In fact, I almost always say ‘Yes’ to new projects assigned by my higher ups.
However, the reality is that I am taking on more than I can chew. Help!
– Mr Brightside
Dear Mr Brightside,
it seems that either you are underestimating yourself, and your higher-ups are just trying to use your potential, or you are really burning out and your managers are using you because, as you said, you are known as a ‘Yes Man’.
In any case, we all need to know how and when to say ‘no’. Learning to say ‘no’ is not a sign of weakness, it’s about rationalising your time and effort, and having self-respect.
Once you understand the request and decide you want to say ‘no’, choose the kind of ‘no’ that best suits the person and situation.
Below are some general rules to follow:
1. Say ‘no’ firmly and calmly, without saying “I’m sorry” (which weakens your position).
2. Say ‘no’ followed by a straightforward explanation of what you are feeling or what you are willing to do (“I’m uncomfortable doing that.”)
3. Say ‘no’ and then give a choice or alternative (“I can’t help you now, but I will when I get this done, which could be in an hour.”)
4. Say ‘no’ and then clarify your reasons. This does not include long-winded statements filled with excuses, justifications and rationalisations. It’s enough that you do not want to say ‘yes’. Your clarification is given to provide the receiver with more information so they better understand your position.
5. Say ‘yes’, and then give your reasons for not doing it or your alternative solution. This approach is very interesting. You may want to use it in situations when you are willing to meet the request, but not at the time or in the way the other person wants it.
“Yes, I would be willing to work on this project, but I won’t have time until tomorrow afternoon, because I’m dealing with the current tasks you gave me earlier…”
“Yes, I could take part in this project, but I would need someone else to work on specific parts of it together.”
“Yes, I’d be willing to go along with your second alternative, but not the third one you suggested”.
To sum up, say your statement firmly, calmly, and as unemotionally as possible.
Be aware of your non-verbal behaviour, making sure you are coming across as neither passive nor aggressive. Use plenty of silence to your advantage: your silence will project the message that the other’s statements and manipulation are futile.
Be persistent: simply state your response one more time than the other person makes their request, question, or statement. If the other person makes six statements, you make seven. If the other person makes three statements, you make four.
Most often, the other person will feel ill at ease and stop after three or four statements. Other times, your response will move the other person to offer options you are willing to go along with.
Good luck with your bosses and thanks for reading,
how does one achieve work-life balance?
Is it important? Or is it just nonsense?
– Life Is A Box Of Chocolate
Dear Life is A box of Chocolate
Many people think that work-life balance doesn’t exist, or that it’s not important, but the truth is: any imbalance directly affects both mental and physical health.
Let’s have a closer look at what work-life balance is.
Work-life balance is the balance that a working individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life.
So, clearly, we all have two lives: our work life (including daily assignments, companies’ goals and our contribution to those, career growth, all work-related ups and downs) and our private life (time spent with family, friendships, love life, health, interests, hobbies, etc).
Very often in chasing their own career goals people sacrifice their private lives: they sleep less, have a poor diet, don’t exercise, forget to work on their personal relationships and so on.
While it is possible to have a live-only-to-work life, you are certain to suffer from ‘burn out’ one day.
Don’t forget that we all need breaks.
We all need to do something we love.
Otherwise, what’s the point of living? Is it earning money and working 24 hours a day? Or is it procrastinating while giving yourself ‘too much rest’? Neither of those.
We need balance in life. In this context, work-life balance.
There is a very good exercise I do with my students to help them realise if their lives are balanced. I call it the ‘168 hours’ exercise.
It’s not easy to evaluate your work-life balance based on one day only, but if you average it in a week, the results seem to be more objective.
So 168 hours is the exact time we have in a week – 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Try to sort all your activities into different groups, break them down and give each a timing.
Take for instance, under ‘morning routines’, you’d have: shower = 15 minutes, brushing your teeth = 3 minutes, grooming = 10 minutes, dressing up = 5 minutes, breakfast = 10 minutes, praying = 5 minutes.
And under ‘health’, you’d have: sleeping = 7 hours, exercising = 1 hour and so on.
You can have as many ‘groups’ as there are, depending on your lifestyle, but they must include every single activity you do – for example, travelling to work, spending time at the office, going out with friends, having dinner with family.
After you’ve done this for each of the 7 days, sum up all the time you spent on those different activities and, most likely, your number will be higher than 168.
Surprisingly, we often overestimate our time spent with families, or time spent on keeping ourselves healthy.
You might find out that, in fact, you didn’t spend those 7 hours a week at the gym, or you didn’t sleep that much.
This exercise will allow you to have a fresh look at your own lifestyle, and define if you really spend enough time on important things.
Balance is important, so as to enjoy your life.
I hope my advice will help!
I’m having trouble with time management. I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day (and perhaps longer weekends). Can you help me?
– Alice in Wonderland
Dear Alice in Wonderland
A while ago I also wished there were more than 24 hours a day, but since then I learned and applied essential strategies of time management to become more productive and to have more time for other things.
Of course, time spent cannot be unspent, so spending it wisely is important. Getting your priorities clear and listing them down considering their importance and urgency is the very first task to do, and the best way to start better time management.
Firstly, divide all your activities into four groups with given examples:
1. Urgent and Important (Deadline-driven projects)
2. Not Urgent but Important (Relationship Building, Progress)
3. Urgent but Not Important (Some meetings, Popular activities, Interruptions)
4. Neither Urgent nor Important (Trivia work, Time wasters)
Do it in a form of matrix, whilst listing all your daily and work activities in each quadrant.
This matrix is meant for prioritising your activities while keeping your goals in mind.
This can be easily transformed into a daily to-do list.
My advice here is to spend as much time as possible on Not Urgent but Important tasks (Quadrant II), because if you do this, you will eventually reduce the time you have to spend on Urgent and Important tasks (Quadrant I).
Next time you have any new task to do, whether it’s to let your friends take you out, or to pick up your phone, literally anything, ask yourself first: does this activity belong to Quadrant I, II, III or IV?
If you think it’s something from Quadrant IV, don’t waste your time on it, it’s not important at all!
If it’s from Quadrant I, you don’t really have a choice to ‘skip’ it, because that’s something urgent and needs to be done now.
If it’s from Quadrant III, it’s not important either, so try to avoid spending your time on it too.
What you should concentrate on are tasks from Quadrant II, as they are important and if done in time will not transform into headache-causing tasks from Quadrant I.
Although, time management does not stop on finding out your priorities, it’s important to pay attention to when you are doing what.
Find out the time when you are most productive and focussed, and let that time be when you do your most challenging tasks.
After scheduling your time right the next step is avoiding distractions, which are overabundant nowadays as a result of social media and smartphones. Those distractions are a killer for your productivity and energy. So put your phone away or switch to ‘airplane mode’, limit yourself to a specific time to check your social media, or consider scheduled site-blocking software.
Good time management moves beyond the management of activities and also involves the management of your workspace, so … start with your desk, remove anything not related to work, make better arrangements for yourself.
DO NOT multitask. There is a common misconception about multitasking, although psychological researches prove that our productivity and concentration drop a lot when we try to do many things at once.
START delegating: do not waste your time doing things that somebody else can do, especially if they can do them better than you.
And STOP procrastinating: break up tasks into smaller segments that require less time, and set clear deadlines to it.
Have you been putting some tasks away, like making that important call to your parents, or making that appointment with your dentist or, perhaps, clearing up your storage room?
If your answer is ‘yes’… dedicate the amount of time needed to do that task (say, 1 hour) and do it right now!
Yes, right now! Put your ‘distractions’ away and concentrate on this task. Get into the zone. Reward yourself after you have completed the task.
How do you feel now? Wasn’t it a great feeling having something accomplished? This is similar to striking out an item on your to-do list. Now do that with all the other tasks that you’ve been putting off.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about time management, you are welcome to watch a very informative video on my YouTube channel below:
There is also a whole chapter dedicated to this topic in my recent book, ‘8 Vital Skills to Succeed at the Workplace’, which will help you find more about the Time Management Management Matrix and how to build it.
I want you to know how much I love your new column! I would love your opinion on this. I have a really talkative colleague. We aren’t exactly close friends but we are required to work closely with each other. How can I politely tell her to keep it down? Or should I just ‘tolerate’ working with her?
– Mr Quiet
Dear Mr Quiet,
Thank you! If a situation arises at one workplace, more often than not, it is seen within other workplaces.
In this specific case, I have two pieces of advice to give, where it’s entirely up to you which one you implement.
Your choice should be dependent upon how long all this has been going on, and how patient you are.
Whether you are working in a creative environment, or undertaking a task that needs discipline, it’s hard to achieve great results fast if you are distracted by anything not work-related.
Like in your situation, when you are being distracted by your talkative colleague.
Firstly, I believe the person in question needs to know what you think about this kind of workflow, and they need to be aware how you feel about it.
By being quiet you are in fact being passive.
Simply, this means that you are allowing someone to ‘step’ on you.
If not addressed, this passive behaviour, along with stored anger will more than likely lead to you developing passive-aggressive tendencies.
This in turn will lead you to ‘step’ on someone else.
So, the way to deal with this issue is by being assertive. It has to be done: you should take action and approach your colleague with this problem directly.
Find somewhere that is middle-ground (where you and your colleague are both ‘protected’) and bring up your point.
Secondly, in order to understand WHY your colleague acts the way he/she does, you may need to first consider the type of Colored Brain they are, as well as addressing what their Emotional Drivers may be.
By doing this not only will you perhaps increase your own Circle of Tolerance, but it will enable you to understand exactly what it is that drives your colleague to act out like this.
For example, by discovering their Emotional Drivers, the insight revealed from that may tell you they are lacking in ‘Recognition’.
Therefore, by addressing the source, you are immediately able to find the instigator of the behaviour.
This not only grants you a better understanding of others, but also gives you the opportunity to be empathetic, approachable, and most importantly, liked.
After reading both pieces of advice, I would personally recommend you use the given knowledge, yet still be assertive.
Learn more about your colleague and then apply it in a friendly conversation somewhere either out of the workplace, or outside of work hours.
Let’s say at a coffee shop during your lunch break.
Have a sincere conversation with your colleague whilst asking direct questions and telling them what you think.
A neutral place and your calm tone won’t let your colleague see you as their enemy.
Besides, you are the one who invited them for a coffee and talk.
Perhaps top it off by paying for it ?
How do I deal with an older staff member who has been working longer than I have in the organisation?
My colleague thinks that she knows better than me. She is required to report to me on a weekly basis.
However, she has been undermining my authority in front of my other colleagues. I’m not sure what to do. Help!
– Junior Supervisor
Dear Junior Supervisor,
It is very common today to find employees from different generations working together and it is common to see a few challenges arise as a result.
However, this is definitely something very manageable once you understand what needs to be done.
An example of this is, as you mentioned, is an older employee (baby boomer of Gen X) reporting to a younger boss (Gen X or Y).
There are a few strategies you could try to make this relationship work once you understand how the different generations work and the expectations that they have.
There are eight fundamental Emotional Drivers and Motivators.
Each of these is based on a human psycho-emotional need developed through environmental factors such as family, culture and stage in life.
While each of these drivers is present in each individual, they do not have equal importance. They are also achieved in different ways by different individuals in different environments.
Every individual has a different order of importance for these eight drivers.
We are constantly filling these as emotional gratifications; sometimes in positive ways, sometimes in neutral ways, and sometimes even in negative ways.
But we are constantly filling them. These drivers can also be cultivated either positively or negatively by our environment, our culture, our parents, our teachers, and our peers.
By understanding your colleague’s primary emotional drivers, you will know their ultimate motivations.
When you ask them if they want more money, while they may say yes, it is not the money they want but what they believe money can buy, whether it be security, significance, or achievement, which will reveal foundational drivers that can help you identify how to fulfill and motivate yourself and others at deeper levels.
These are the eight Emotional Drivers that cause everyone to do what they do:
Belonging/Love – Connection from being with others, or connection with self.
Control/Security – Greater ability to maintain security in our lives.
Diversity – Having variety, excitement.
Recognition/Significance – Acknowledgments of our achievements, being noticed.
Achievement – The need to make progress and finish things i.e. completion.
Challenge/Growth – Learning and growing.
Excellence – Self-satisfaction and pride in the things we do.
Contribution – The need to contribute to others.
Also give the following a shot to have better relationships and understanding with your older colleagues:
1. Get to know them better
You cannot gain respect from your older employees by simply commanding it or expecting it. Instead, you should make it clear that you want to get to know them better, as individuals, recognising their individual strengths and work habits rather than labelling them by generation or other characteristics.
Discuss real and perceived differences in approach and perspective, and leverage on what they can bring to the table – one generation’s skill set is not necessarily more important than another generations.
Start by being respectful, curious and open-minded by finding out how they came to be in this job, what excites them and how they like to be managed – get to know them more intimately and show genuine interest.
Forging a personal connection with your subordinates will help you understand them better – what motivates them, how they learn and communicate, and what matters most to them – and that will help you become a more effective leader (refer to the eight Emotional Drivers).
Try to set up “knowledge-sharing sessions” where everyone can get to know each other and express their ideas, thoughts and opinions. This is helpful for teams with different generations that possess different skill sets, as it gives everyone an opportunity to highlight their perspective.
For example, a boomer could share why details are important to keep the team on track, while a millennial could talk through their creative processes to get the collective group thinking more out of the box.
By creating opportunities for teams to come together, swap knowledge and get on the same page, team members not only gain more mutual understanding and respect, they also recognise their manager appreciates what each individual brings to the table and wants to learn from them all.
No matter his or her age, every person learns differently. So at the end of the day, forget what you have heard or experienced and get to know your employees individually.
2. Make changes when necessary, but respect tradition
Many young people (like you) come into an organisation looking to make a change – which is good.
However, when managing someone older than you, it is important to understand how and why they are doing things a certain way before you change it.
While “that’s how we’ve always done it” should NEVER be used as an excuse, sometimes it’s always been done that way for reasons only an old-timer would know.
Older employees may sometimes perceive that you are “shaking things up for the sake of it“. Make it clear that changes are important to overall business goals and take the time to explain the rationale behind it.
While younger generations don’t shy away from being wrong and tend to have a “fail fast” mindset that allows them to make mistakes and quickly recover as necessary, older team members with an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” type mindset are not necessarily averse to change; it just means they need to first fully understand getting on board, and YOU can make that difference in making them understand.
3. Be supportive and collaborative
In a team dynamic where there is a significant age gap between manager and employee, sometimes it is natural that some competition arise.
The young leader may feel like they have to “outdo” their older employees to prove their competence, and this can cause insubordination and resentment from the latter.
So make it a point to be the employee’s biggest supporter by going out of your way to make sure the older staff member knows that you are on their side and that you are personally invested in their success.
Only when an employee genuinely believes you are a partner in their success will the “competitiveness” subside.
One way to encourage support and collaboration is to ask your employees for help, especially when it comes to learning a skill they possess.
Sometimes we feel like asking for help creates a weakness in the relationship between manager and their staff, (but) it can actually help to build loyalty and trust to show vulnerability. It can be something as simple as “Can you show me how you produced that chart? I would like to learn that.”
4. Communicate frequently and transparently
Managers should not underestimate the importance of communicating and giving feedback in the way each team member responds to best.
Millennials are used to getting regular feedback from managers (even if it is shouting from your desk), whereas boomers would usually prefer for their manager to stop by their desk to thank them or to give any feedback.
Flexible managers who communicate regularly with their team member will have more productive, happy and loyal teams and it is important that you encourage this practice of open, honest communication across your team.
If everyone is transparent and open about expectations, goals and decisions, age becomes a non-factor. When you are making the right calls as a manager, and everyone can see it, even those who are older than you can see the ‘why’ behind what you ask them to do and what you expect from them.
5. Do you really know more than older employees?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a manager (of any age) is to refuse to learn from your team.
In fact, your older employees are one of the best resources you can use to adapt to your new position. They have been with the company (not to mention in the industry) for several years – which means they are aware of what works and what doesn’t, they have seen almost every possible technical problem, and they know the company’s clientele better than most.
So learn from them.
Ask them if they have seen a particular problem before, and if so, how they solved it.
Ask for their opinion on new processes that you are thinking of implementing, or how they would suggest making the department more efficient.
Get their opinion by involving them.
Most of the time, they have great ideas that they are more than willing to share.
They want to be part of the decision-making process, and they are eager to spread their knowledge.
Their lengthy duration at the company is usually a sign that they are invested in it and want to see it succeed.
So while it may seem like your older employee is undermining your authority in front of other team members, sometimes it is simply because they are lacking something an Emotional Driver, and by utilising some of the strategies above, you can make that difference in becoming a more effective leader.
I hope this helps!
How do i deal with noisy Colleagues?
In today’s work environment, many businesses adopt an open office floor plan with cubicles. Not everyone has the luxury of their own room, and may have to put up with noisy colleagues who can sometimes be loud and/or annoying.
Examples of these can be: someone who speaks very loudly (especially when on the phone), colleagues talking or joking with each other (often loudly), or even making a lot of noise when snacking.
These are things that occur in almost every organisation. If these conversations among your colleagues are distracting you, it is okay to be forthright and let your co-workers know, so long as you do it politely.
The manner in which we deal with these situations (acting vs reacting) is often times the difference between solving the problem amicably versus worsening the situation. The latter can lead to conflicts and disharmony in the workplace and it decreases productivity.
However, here are some things you can do to make to improve this situation:
Ask your colleagues if they would mind taking their conversation elsewhere as (state your reasons). Explain to them that you have an important call to a client or a deadline to meet that requires your full concentration.
Proactively and assertively explain to them that they are noisy and that you need to concentrate. This might help them understand better.
As hard as it can be for some individuals to confront others, talking to your noisy colleagues might be the easiest and quickest way to diffuse the problem. Showing anger, gossiping and complaining is only going to make the matter worse.
Approach them in a calm, straightforward manner. Ask if they could take their snacks into the pantry or if they would mind using the conference room for their calls. Most colleagues will respond positively to gentle feedback.
Sometimes just ignoring the situation by wearing headphones can keep your sanity and drown out their noise at the same time. Since music also relaxes you, this will give you a quick fix and help you get back to work.
3. Talk to HR
If the situation persists, then speaking to your HR department to see if they can move your desk or introduce new policies for eating or chatting with colleagues. Explore your options with HR who, hopefully, will understand your concerns.
4. Circle of Tolerance
This is perhaps the hardest response to have especially when you are really annoyed. The less you ‘react’ to these situations, the bigger your circle of tolerance gets. When your circle of tolerance gets bigger, you will act “more intelligently”. And acting more intelligently means you will make better decisions, which leads to:
- More effectiveness
- Better relationships with others
- Less blaming / more achievements
- More personal / professional success
- Less stress
Thank you, hope this helps.
I hate Mondays. Is there anything I can do to trick myself into loving Mondays?
Monday blues – now who has not heard of this?
Every one of us has experienced it at one point or another in our careers.
I believe there are many reasons behind why people feel this way about Mondays.
First, it all depends on the state of mind that they are in (mind set). It is akin the Illusory Truth Effect, where we get the positive feeling when we hear information that we believe to be true because we have heard the information before.
When enough people talk about Monday blues, it will stick!
So the truth is Monday blues could very well be “any day” blues.
Second, Emotional Drivers – something we do that achieves or fulfils our primary Emotional Driver. If our primary Emotional Drivers are not fulfilled, going to work on any day is a challenge – probably it is just particularly tougher on a Monday, since it is right after a weekend.
So the question is – are you emotionally gratified when you have to wake up to go to work – particularly on a Monday morning?
There are eight fundamental Emotional drivers and motivators and each of these is based on a human psycho-emotional need developed through environmental factors such as family, culture and stage in life.
While each of these drivers is present in each individual, they do not have equal importance.
Every individual has a different order of importance for these eight drivers.
We are constantly filling these as emotional gratifications; sometimes in positive ways, sometimes in neutral ways, and sometimes in negative ways.
But we are constantly filling them. By understanding an individual’s primary emotional drivers, we know their ultimate motivations and reasons why they do what they do.
- Belonging/Love – Connection from being with others, or connection with self
- Control/Security – Ability to maintain security and control in our lives
- Diversity – Having variety and excitement
- Recognition/Significance – Acknowledgments of our achievements; being noticed
- Achievement – The need to make progress in our plans and finish things
- Challenge/Growth – The need to constantly learn and grow
- Excellence – Self-satisfaction and pride in all the things we do
- Responsibility & Contribution – The need to contribute to others
What are your top three drivers? This could determine the reason why one would find it difficult to love Mondays.
I often hear people complain that it’s Monday.
Monday is my favourite day of the week and I don’t need to trick myself into liking Mondays as it comes naturally to me because it fulfils my primary emotional driver i.e. achievement.
For me every day is an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life and that includes Mondays.
So when Monday comes, it presents an opportunity for me to meet new clients or students, and this fulfils my primary emotional driver; hence it is a motivator.
I love my work and that is why I love Mondays. Also, because it is my own business and I really look forward to moving things daily, I look forward to Mondays.
For people who hate Mondays for a valid reason, I know I am not in your situation but I have been there before.
Perhaps you do not enjoy your work, your colleagues or your bosses and you need to constantly deal with these issues and stressors daily, only to be reminded of it all over again when it is a Monday. I get it.
Here are some pointers on how you can actively try to solve/change/overcome some of these personal reasons you may have for hating Mondays:
#1. Create something of value or connect with someone of value
You will quickly begin to look forward to Mondays once you realise that there is something to look forward to at work – someone that you want to meet, or something that you want to achieve or complete.
It is all linked to your greater passion and emotional drivers. Make a list of three things you look forward to at work this week.
This might put you in a more positive mood.
It could be that there is an interesting case waiting for you, a meeting with a client you enjoy, or maybe the start of a new project.
There are just as many things to look forward to on Mondays as there are to dread.
#2. Learn a new thing
If Learning & Growth is your driver, then go ahead and do something different that fulfils this driver.
It could be reading a book, listening to a podcast or watching a YouTube video.
A lot can be learnt from these, which will help you look forward to go to work.
#3. Be curious and set up a challenge for yourself
Question yourself constantly.
Hate your morning traffic? Try a different route or commute or timing.
Tired of your job? Challenge yourself to apply for a new job.
This might help you realise that you are not doing something that you are passionate about.
Use Mondays as a day to challenge yourself for the whole week and soon you will look forward to it.
#4. Pick a date and set a goal
Pick one goal you would like to accomplish in the not-so-distant future.
Write it on a sticky note and, stick it somewhere visible and repeat it every day starting immediately.
This statement should motivate you daily, even when it’s not Monday.
#5. Go for a walk
When you feel the urge to complain about your Monday, go for a walk instead.
Walking is not only a healthy physical activity, it’s been proven to stimulate creative thinking, boost brain power and decrease stress and anxiety.
#6. Don’t do things you hate
As much as I love Mondays, I do enjoy using my weekends to relax and recharge.
I avoid as many obligations and appointments so I can enjoy my time with my family and friends.
Do not do things that you hate (for example, having relationships with negative people, having limiting mind-sets or putting up with a difficult environment).
There are some things that you cannot eliminate completely, like paying bills or doing your daily chores.
Find a way to automate them or pay someone else to do them.
When you start to accept the reality that there are things in your life you can eliminate or reduce, the freedom of discovering what makes you truly happy follows suit.
So work on a passion – something that you look forward to and things will change.
#7. Wake up the same time every day
The reason why so many people hate Mondays is because they have to wake up early!
Learning to wake up at the same time everyday helps you to overcome the Monday morning blues as you have programmed your body to think that it is just another day.
So if you usually get up at 6am for work during the week, set your alarm for 6am on the weekends.
Believe me, the body is an amazing thing; it will adjust after accordingly after a while and Mondays will begin to feel like any other day.
#8. Think about those you love
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do with your Monday is to show people it is worth it.
Think of those in your life who look up to you, who depend on you, who love you, and who strive to become someone he or she wants to emulate.
The best way to learn is to teach. Teach them how to live a life worth living.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale
I have a colleague who makes inappropriate jokes and comments while at work. My other colleagues often laugh at his jokes, but personally, I find it offensive. I am unsure how to deal with this without making me look like the “uncool” colleague. Help!
Everyone wants to have a workplace that runs smoothly and one that is free of any conflict. That would, of course, only exist in a PERFECT world.
Everyone, at one point or another, has been in that uncomfortable area where your colleague makes an offensive comment or joke. While it may not seem like a fireable offence, it is undoubtedly out of line, and sometimes you are not sure what to do about it.
These inappropriate jokes usually make fun of others of their gender, race, heritage, or for some other reason, and dealing with it does NOT make you “uncool” whatsoever. In fact, it is the right thing to do!
When someone tells an inappropriate joke, do not go on the offensive or become passive.
Remember that an inappropriate joke or comment at work is not just unfunny, it affects the morale of the entire office. It also affects productivity, because people spend a lot of time worrying around the regular joker.
These inappropriate jokes include slurs, monikers or name-calling, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, and often times sexual related.
When it is severe, it can create a work environment that most person would consider intimidating, hostile, or even abusive.
If the situation escalates to harassment, it is definitely worth bringing it to your company’s human resources department – and in fact, failing to do so could put your company at risk, since companies can be held liable for a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to people.
Even if your colleague’s comments or jokes do not meet the definition of harassment, they can still make other colleagues feel awkward or even unsafe.
The solution sometimes seems obvious i.e. to tell the offender to stop making the offending jokes.
But in reality, it can feel easier to let the joke go unaddressed than to start a confrontation, especially when the offender is a peer or even a superior. This is when you need to assertively speak up to them.
If you are not sure whether the joke or comment in question is worth addressing, or you feel like you need support, you might consider consulting human resources or a superior.
But first start with an informal one-on-one chat with your colleague before anything else, as they would be more receptive to what you are saying and this also prevents them from becoming defensive.
This also helps employees to speak up for themselves and for one another, which, over time, creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust in the workplace.
Let them see for themselves how their joke is not suitable for work by trying the following:
1. Stay calm.
Tell the person that the joke is not suitable for work.
2. Ask them to explain the joke or comment.
This may help them understand that it is not appropriate for a workplace, as sometimes they tell jokes / make insulting comments without realizing that it may be offensive to others.
3. Tell the person that you think the joke is inappropriate.
If they still do not understand after taking the time to explain the joke to you.
4. Refuse to laugh at the joke / comment.
Jokes that mock others can turn a workplace hostile and make those who are the centre of the joke feel uncomfortable. Stop entertaining such jokes by looking at the person telling the jokes and stating that you do not find it funny.
5. If this continues, report to HR or their manager.
The human resources department at your company should look into these complaints while keeping the names of those involved confidential.
Here is how to have a conversation that will help everyone at the office feel more at ease.
#1. Stay calm
Before you confront the offender, make sure that you are in a mental state where you can speak calmly.
One way to do this is to separate the facts of what happened from how you feel about what happened.
Doing this helps you suspend judgment about why your colleague did this or who they really are as a person.
You want to hold up a mirror for the person who made the joke / comment.
Do this in private and just let them know how it sounded to you.
#2. State the facts
To start the conversation, start by sharing the office culture.
Say something like, “Hey, Saiful, you know how we all want to be respectful here? This is important to us to have a team environment.”
Then straightforwardly repeat back what you heard.
By describing exactly the facts of the event, you do not leave room for any argument. They were there, and they know what they said.
Most people do not start with facts and end up saying something like “Hey Saiful, I’m going to talk to you about that sexist remark you made yesterday,” and people are immediately on the defensive because they do not see it that way.
#3. Explain the impact of their joke
Use “I feel” statements where possible.
Let them know how it sounded to you. “I felt like that joke might’ve offended so and so. “
Another way to say it is: “When you said that, I felt belittled or embarrassed.”
If the joke was a result of unconscious bias or ignorance, the joker truly might not have been aware that it was offensive and showing how their words affected other people might open their eyes.
#4. Ask a question
It can also help to ask them how they saw their own actions. “I like to ask open-ended questions like, ‘How did you see that situation?’.
By inviting the other person to share their intentions, the conversation feels less like an attack.
This also makes it easier for them to absorb what is being said.
#5. Change tactics
If you feel you cannot handle the situation on your own – or if this person is creating a toxic work environment – you should get the higher-ups involved.
Think about the best way to escalate the issue for your particular situation, and prepare yourself for the possibility that the escalation might not go as you expected – for instance, if your boss makes similar jokes or comments.
Think about in advance what your next steps might be if the escalation does not go well.
It could mean going to your boss’s boss, or it could mean looking for another job.
Often, though, when it comes to inappropriate jokes, a quick conversation should address the issue.
Are you guilty of these 7 sins in Business Writing?
As the world adopts the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also more commonly known as the digital revolution, our workplace has also become more globalized, thus allowing us to overcome the geographical challenge to work with people from different continents.
Today, most of us are required to write, more so than our parents 20 or 30 years ago, whether for social or business purposes.
This is why written communication has now become one of the most important communication tools in the workplace. Our writing skills may not be on par with renowned authors like J.K. Rowling, but simple business correspondence such as writing email shouldn’t be that difficult, right?
One of the biggest challenge most of us face in the workplace is not the inability to write, but the inability to write effectively.
Effective business writing is one of the most valuable skillsets any business organisation would appreciate and this could also help you in moving up the career ladder.
You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate it effectively, nobody will ever hear them.
Here are seven common mistakes that I have spotted in today’s business writing. I will share more in my upcoming training sessions.
Are you guilty of making these seven mistakes in your business communications?
#1. Revert: The word ‘revert’ is quite possibly one of the most common mistakes people make in their daily business communications. Revert simply means ‘to go back to its previous state’. It is NOT a synonym to ‘reply’ or ‘get back to me’ as used by many.
#2. So-called: This phrase is only to be used when you are skeptical about something, either in the case of an imposter or if you believe that a title is undeserved. Use it only when something appears to be but is not. Remember that so-called is not the same as called so. E.g. This so-called charity has robbed thousands of poor people.
#3. Extraordinary: The word “extraordinary” isn’t the opposite of “extra ordinary.” “An extra ordinary day” is just a very ordinary day — a “super ordinary” day. “An extraordinary day” is a special or unusual day that’s nothing like any other ordinary day. “Extraordinary” means very unusual or remarkable.
#4. Alright: The form “alright” is a one-word spelling of the phrase “all right”. Alright is commonly used in written dialogue and informal writing, but all right is the only acceptable form in business writing. Basically, it is not all right to use alright in standard English.
#5. Irregardless: There are numerous debates on whether irregardless is a word. Because of the complexities of this word, you are better off using regardless instead. Even at the time of typing this in MS Word, a red curvy line is shown in my document – indicating a spelling error.
#6. Uninterested vs Disinterested: An uninterested person is someone who is bored or unconcerned ; a disinterested person is someone who is impartial and unbiased. If you’re on trial, you would want a disinterested judge.
#7. With all due respect: Using this word suggests that you are about to say something less than respectful. If you feel like you need to preface something with “with all due respect,” you might want to reconsider saying it at all, especially in business writing.
How To Write Effectively?
You can write effectively simply by following the four C’s. The four Cs are clear, concise, complete, and correct. All four steps are essential if you want to ensure your email, letters, memos, reports, meeting minutes, proposals or newsletters are well-written:
#1. Be Clear – This ensures your reader understands your communication without any difficulty. This simply means you don’t use vague or unnecessary words that he or she must look up or where the meaning or context is unclear or dubious. You should also ensure that there is a logical flow to the communication.
#2. Be Concise – Conciseness is using as few words as possible to get the message across to the reader. In other words, keep your sentences short, simple and to the point.
#3. Be Complete – Completeness is ensuring the reader has all the information they need to understand the message, and to make an informed decision. If you leave something out, the reader might make an incorrect decision.
#4. Be Correct – Correctness is essential as you do not want to confuse or mislead your reader with information that is incorrect or outdated, or text that has grammatical or spelling errors. Reread your message before you send it, whether it is an e-mail message, letter, report, proposal, or any other document. Ensure that the information sent it correct as it can otherwise be costly to you and/or your organization.
How to further improve your writing?
#1. You must read. If the only writing you ever read is your own, you will have no standards to judge your writing against. Read like a spectator, if you must, but try to read like an apprentice.
#2. You must write. No matter how many rules you know, it takes practice to write well. Your tenth letter to a disgruntled client will be easier to write than the first one, and believe it or not, the tenth report will be easier to write too.
#3. You should want to write. Find personal reasons for wanting to write well and for wanting to communicate with others. Then, turn off the language cop that’s slowing you down and get writing.
#4. You need a feedback system to tell you how you’re doing. You need to know if your writing works. People don’t learn to write well from being corrected; they learn not to write. Look at feedback as an opportunity to find better solutions, not as an opportunity to correct errors.
I hope these tips were beneficial. In my next segment, I will discuss other common errors and styles of writing that is not acceptable in today’s writing. Till then and good luck with your writing!
Why Writing in plain English is better.
My last article – “Are You Guilty Of These 7 Sins In Business Writing” – which was published earlier this month received an overwhelming response and some of you requested for more writing tips.
So, I will also cover some do’s and don’ts when it comes to business writing. I hope these articles will help improve your business writing skills and help you to succeed in your workplace.
This week I will share with you the difference between formal vs informal writing, as I am asked this question very often.
Writing is one of the most important forms of communication. In a workplace setting, writing is to communicate. When we write effectively, people will understand what we have to say. We also prevent unnecessary confusion and misunderstanding. In short, effective writing is essential when:
- You want to share information
- You would want someone to make a decision
- You would want to convince someone / to act
Difference between formal writing and informal writing
Let me start by giving you an example of both these styles of writing:
Example 1: This is to inform you that your application has been rejected by our company as the documents required are incomplete. If you would like to resubmit your application, we would suggest for you to go over the checklist file and send us all the necessary documents required.
Example 2: You know that application I sent? Well, they rejected it. They thought it was dreadful and didn’t meet their “required standard”. But hey, I did the best I could. I think it was great. I’m not gonna redo it the way they said I should.
From the above, it is easy to see which example is formal and which is informal. So, what makes formal writing formal and informal writing informal? Clearly it is the style of writing as different situations call for different ways of putting words together.
The way we write an academic or scientific paper would greatly differ from the way we write to friends. The choice of words (vocabulary), tone, and style, change in different settings. This difference in the style of writing determines if it’s formal or informal writing.
During my workshops, I often tell my participants not to use informal writing in business and to reserve that style for their friends. Then again, I also tell them not to use “formal” writing. Confused? Allow me to explain. The formal writing that I’m referring to is when I see letters or emails with the following phrases:
- Please be informed that…
- With reference to above mentioned subject…
- With regards to the above matter…
- As per our tele-communication earlier today…
- The above matter refers…
- We refer to your email dated…
- Enclosed / Attached herewith please find…
- Kindly be advised..
- Please note that…
- … for your kind perusal
Does any of these phrase sound familiar? Are you guilty of using them sometimes? While using these phrases is not completely wrong, it does at times sound like we are using a template language that is outdated or as some may say, language that is “so yesterday”. I call this the “Queen’s English” – do remember that the actual meaning of Queen’s English may differ from what I am suggesting here. I am only using this phrase so you know I am referring to a style of English that was written / spoken a very long time ago.
My advice to overcome this “outdated” style is to write the way you would speak, minus the slang of course. The key is to write in a natural way, like you would when you speak to someone.
For example, would you verbally say “Attached herewith is the conference agenda for your kind perusal. Kindly inform me of your availability at your soonest.”? If your answer is ‘No’, then don’t write it.
Remember, make it conversational. This is what I would say instead: “The agenda is attached. Please let me know if you are free to join us”.
Back to the two examples above: formal writing can be, in this case, conversational writing. Try to avoid sounding too old-fashioned. To communicate effectively, it is crucial that we write with plain English, and not “Queen’s English”.
The point of words is to convey meaning effectively. If a perfectly average person has trouble understanding you, it means you’re not doing that. Nobody appreciates a poorly written document or email – it will get pushed to the bottom of the pile or in worse cases, ignored.
We are constantly flooded with things to read daily, both online and offline. If you want to write effectively, you must ensure that the readers can easily understand your message. Remember, they want to read and understand messages that are simple and clear, so they know exactly how to reply.
Quoting Professor Robert Eagleson, “Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. Writers of plain English let their audience concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language. They make sure that their audience understand the message easily”.
Next week, we will talk more about ‘Plain English and keeping things concise’.
Meanwhile, drop me a note or comment on this post to let me know what annoys you the most about other people’s writing and I will try to address them in the upcoming articles. If you have a question, “please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned” for advice. I’ll do my best to answer it.
I would like to thank all of you for your comments and feedback on the previous articles. Many of you said that the mini-series was beneficial. In this week’s edition, I want to share two tips on writing more effectively: how to ensure your writing is concise and concrete.
In my last article, we discussed about writing using “plain” English. We also reviewed formal writing and why we shouldn’t use “Queens English”. Today I want to give you more examples of how you can write in plain English by being more concise in your writing. It’s called tightening your writing.
Previously, I mentioned about “The point of words is to convey meaning effectively. If a perfectly average person has trouble understanding you, it means you’re not doing that”. Therefore, if you want your reader to understand you, your writing must be both simple and clear.
While grammar and punctuation are both important when you write, using concise and concrete words are also equally important.
To be concise is to be short, and to the point. You want to use the fewest words possible to convey your ideas clearly. Wordy writing weakens the impact of your message. It can cause confusion among your readers sometimes, who might have to read your composition repeatedly to understand your message.
Consider the following sentences. The words on the right, written with fewer words, has the same meaning as the “wordy sentences” on the left.
Tightening Your Writing
Concise / Tightened
At this point in time
In the near future
In the event that
With regards to
I am of the opinion that
I wish to take this opportunity
It is quite probable that
A large number of
At the present time
Most of the time
In the same way
During the time that
Not in a position
In view of the fact that
Due to the fact that
The next time you write, remember these three tips on how to write concisely:
#1. Use familiar words
Incorrect: The preponderance of businessmen we consulted envisage signs of recovery from the current siege of economic stagnation.
Correct: Most businessmen we consulted see the current slow economic situation improving.
#2. Eliminate unnecessary words (wordy phrases)
Incorrect: In the event of a fire, please do not use the elevator.
Correct: If there’s a fire, please do not use the elevator.
#3. Use clear and straightforward language
Incorrect: It is imperative that the consumer be unrestrained in determining his preferences.
Correct: It is important that the buyer be able to choose freely.
Clear messages contain words that are familiar and meaningful to the reader. Whenever possible, use short, common, simple words to say what you mean.
Concrete words are terms that identify things and events that can be measured. In business writing, you should help your readers understand better by using concrete words. These words help readers visualize and quantify what you write.
Stay away from using vague words like “better” or “faster”, if possible. How much better? How much faster? These words are too abstract and does not give the reader any indication on how much better or faster something really is. It is too abstract.
For example, “There is a 10% reduction in our budget” is clearer than, “There is a change in our budget,” or “My manager said we should contribute” vs. “My manager urged us to contribute.”
The more abstract or general your language is, the more unclear it will be. The more concrete and specific your language is, the more clear and powerful it will be. When readers can picture a specific scene, your writing becomes more powerful and engaging. Use concrete and specific terms and your writing will be clearer, more interesting, and better remembered.
Now, to see if you have benefitted from the mini-series, you will now be put through a mini test!
“This sounds like an amazing initiative during these indeterminate times considering the current global pandemic. People do have a preference to have access to information at their own suitability. I would like to share a few thoughts with you which I hope can help bring your projects to fruition. Please look into your diary and revert with your soonest availability to pencil in a discussion”.
Stand a chance to win a copy of my book – “8 Vital Skills to Succeed at the Workplace” – by re-writing the passage above so that it is concise and concrete.
E-mail your proposed answers to email@example.com
All lucky winners will be notified through e-mail.
Cliches: To use or not to use
In this week’s article, we want to explore what clichés are and whether we should use them in business writing. My training participants and readers alike, often ask me the difference between clichés, idioms and figures of speech like similes, metaphors, and hyperbole.
Let us begin with a short explanation of each:
Figures of speech
A figure of speech is a word, phrase or an expression that conveys an idea using figurative language i.e. language that has other meaning than its normal dictionary definition. Figures of speech make up a large part of the English language. Using figurative language makes the writer more creative and expressive. When you use figurative language, it creates visual imagery for your readers, and this makes your business writing more interesting and memorable.
However, a paragraph that is loaded with similes and metaphors can be complicated and difficult to understand. So, use figurative language sparingly. Remember that while using figures of speech adds colour to your writing, do not overuse it.
An idiom is a common phrase with a figurative meaning. The meaning is not obvious from a literal interpretation of the words. For example, “don’t be penny wise and pound foolish”, means to be extremely careful about small amounts of money but not careful enough when it comes to large amounts of money. It is also difficult to guess the meaning of this phrase if you have not already been introduced to these idioms previously.
Another example is the way we usually describe a heavy rainfall: “It’s raining cats and dogs”. What do dogs and cats have to do with rain? A native English speaker would know precisely what that phrase means, and it means nothing if translated literally into any other language. Can you imagine translating this idiom to Bahasa? (This is a rhetorical question).
Similes (pronounced sim-uh-lee)
A simile is an expression that uses the words “like” or “as” to make a direct comparison between two things A simile is very similar to a metaphor except that a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to show the comparison. “She is as innocent as an angel” is a simile.
Unlike idioms, similes, can be translated into other languages and make sense. Using similes help improve your writing by adding colour and powerful visualisations that simple sentences cannot provide. Most importantly, similes help your audience connect with your writing and deepens their understanding of your message.
If you notice, similes can often be found in song lyrics, as they let you convey deeper meaning with fewer words. For example: “My heart is like an open highway” from the song “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi or “Hit me like a ray of sun” from the song “Halo” by Beyoncé.
A metaphor is a word or phrase typically used to describe one thing but unexpectedly used to describe something different. Metaphors make language interesting and helps create an image in the readers mind. “She was drowning in paperwork” is a metaphor that makes a connection between having to deal with a lot of paperwork and drowning in water.
Words Matter: Why you Should Use Inclusive Language
In this week’s edition, I want to share how using inclusive language will help improve your writing.
Inclusive language avoids biases, slang, or expressions that discriminate against gender, language, culture, religion, race, ability, family structure, appearance, marital status, sexuality, origin, and socioeconomic status.
It is writing that is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced and stereotypical views of people or groups. It is language that does not intentionally or accidentally exclude people from being part of a group. With inclusive language, we aim for communication that includes all people, hence inclusive.
Writing in an impartial way also allows you to connect with your audience. It is a language that shows the writer (or speaker for that matter) is sensitive, respectful, and open-minded towards all people using terms (or language) that are encouraging, accurate, and unbiased.
Inclusive language, sometimes labelled as ‘political correctness’, is an attempt to address the inequality in written and spoken language. Instead of assuming your audience is all the same, inclusive language allows you embrace diversity and to avoid assumptions that could otherwise harm people and your relationship with them.
It is about opening our minds to the realities of life as we work, live, and play among men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Our writing needs to reflect this reality; hence we should ensure that our language is inclusive rather than restrictive; open rather than closed.
For example, do not make all nurses and administrative professionals “she,” nor all doctors and senior executives “he.” We can get very caught up in gender and slow down one’s reading when we write “he/she, s/he, he and/or she”.
Make a conscious effort to use language that is inclusive
One straightforward way to eliminate gender bias is to modify the sentence in the plural:
Exclusive: “Each employee should shut off his computer before leaving.”
Inclusive: “Employees should shut off their computers before leaving.”
Another possibility is to delete the personal pronoun:
Exclusive: “If an employee is late, notify his immediate supervisor.”
Inclusive: “If an employee is late, notify the immediate supervisor.”
Using inclusive language is a simple yet a powerful way to stop the spreading of what can otherwise be harmful misinformation. It also creates an environment in which everyone feels respected and safe.
Here are some common terms and their inclusive alternatives:
Humanity / Humankind
Man on the street
Sporting / Fair play
Man hours / Man days
Work hours / Workdays
Manning the help desk
Tending the help desk
May the best man win
May the best person win
Steward / Stewardess
Waiter / Waitress
Actor / Actress
Manager / Manageress
Inclusive language goes beyond just gender
Up to this point, we have only discussed gender as inclusive language. Note that gender inclusivity, is just one category of inclusive language. Inclusive language is more than that. The word that comes to mind is diversity.
Your writing must reflect that you have considered diversity, and that you make people feel included regardless of age, culture, race, religion, geographical location, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, marital status, and appearance.
Writers are urged to practice cultural sensitivity and respect when writing. Sometimes, what was intended to be humorous or playful may be offensive to others.
We encourage all writers to consider the possible reactions of their audience when writing. One way to do that is to include content that is inclusive and respectful. Unless you are prepared to justify your statements, even phrases like “Women are more polite than men”, or “Asians tend to score well on standardised tests”, can suggest that the writer is stereotyping.
Terminology is constantly evolving. It is the writer’s duty to keep abreast of new words, concepts, and trends, recent or otherwise. Build up a list of terms that include expressions to avoid and words to incorporate (or not) into your vocabulary.
Remember that even names of some cities and countries have changed over the years. For instance, Burma is now known as Myanmar, and Siam is known as Thailand. Somehow, we still find some writers using the old or outdated names.
Certain idioms (more on in my next article), industry jargon and acronyms may also hinder effective communication in some cases, especially if the reader has no specialised knowledge in an area. This is particularly important because by using it, it excludes certain people who may not understand these terminologies.
Start by changing the scripts for all communication for inclusivity – this includes email, all documents, social media, and marketing materials in your organisation. It takes practice and time to change the typical ways of writing.