In which Beyoncé is quoted: 25 lessons from 25 years in communication

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“Beyonce” by Ronald Woan on Flickr.

New Year’s resolutions are usually about new things we’re going to start doing, or old things we’re going to stop doing. But what about applying our old knowledge more often? That seems to be more sustainable–and, ultimately, better.

With that in mind, here are 25 things I already know about communication that I’m going to try to remember in 2017. If you want to follow along, please do. Either way, I’ll start. But only continue reading if you are adequately prepared for this jelly.

  1. Please and thank you aren’t always necessary, but they rarely hurt.
  2. Few people are genuinely evil. Conflict is often the result of different communication styles and preferences.
  3. When it comes to writing, less is more–especially if you’re trying to persuade someone or get them to take action. If it’s written, and it’s long, it better be good. Really good.
  4. Conversational writing is almost always better than overly formal writing. It should always be grammatically correct–there is absolutely no downside to it being grammatically correct–but contractions and other writing that “sounds” like speech is easier on the reader’s ears. And better. Put down the thesaurus and write like you would speak.
  5. If you want to be a better writer, read more. Make sure you read good stuff, though.
  6. If you’re proofreading your own writing, read it aloud. Not only will you understand the rhythm of what you’ve written, but using your voice forces you to focus on the task at hand. A lot of us believe we’re proofreading when we’re really just looking at paper and daydreaming about baseball.
  7. It’s very difficult to adequately proofread your own stuff, though, so if you know someone who’s a good proofreader and who will give you constructive criticism, hold on to him/her with both hands.
  8. In any case, will you please spell check and proofread your shit, for the love of God? Thank you.
  9. Also, the convenience of using a phone to send emails still comes with the obligation to proofread your shit and use punctuation.
  10. Call them what you want–swears, curses, expletives–they absolutely have a place in language. They’re more powerful, though, if you use them sparingly. (I’ve never been that I’ve never been disciplined enough for that shit, though.)
  11. As much as it pains me to say this as a former English major, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
  12. And video is worth exponentially more–as long as it’s done well. Light and sound, people. Light and sound.
  13. When setting an appointment, include not just the date, time, and location, but the day of the week, too. This gets screwed up a lot because numbers are easy to confuse. Checks and balances.
  14. If your boss says “come see me,” bring paper and a pen. You might not need it, but you usually will.
  15. While email and text are the most efficient way to communicate and often the only good alternative, face-to-face communication is usually better than video conference; a video conference is usually better than the phone; and the phone is usually better than email.
  16. Phone conferences, though, are almost always useless and nearly everyone turns out at least for part of them. Except Steve Morrison. That guy’s bulletproof.
  17. If you want to lose an argument, use words like “always” and “never” without qualifiers. (See what I did there?)
  18. Everyone, even the best presenter, is at least a little afraid of public speaking at least some of the time. That’s a good thing. It means you care. As Beyoncé once said, “I get nervous when I don’t get nervous.” It’s all in how you use your energy.
  19. It’s 2017. You don’t need to tell people how to record a voicemail message. Give the caller your name to confirm that they’ve reached the right person, but there’s no need to say “leave a message after the beep.” And don’t even get me started on “your call is important to us.”
  20. Listening is the rarest communication skill of all, but it’s about more than sitting there being quiet. You have to speak up every now and then to demonstrate that you are, in fact, paying attention. You don’t get points for being a wallflower. You’re not listening to defer to everyone else; you’re listening so that what you say will be informed by the collective intelligence of everyone else in the room.
  21. Social media is both one of the best and worst things in our communication environment. But while it’s created some pretty awful things, it’s a net good by about this much.
  22. Still, the Internet and mobile devices are freaking awesome. I’m glad I’m a child of the seventies so I can appreciate just how lucky we are to have this stuff.
  23. People who argue over the Internet are like fans at a hockey game yelling at players on the ice. They’re only brave as long as there’s a pane of glass between them and the person they’re screaming at. If you take away that pane of glass, the conversation would change considerably. If you really want to change minds or you really believe what you mean, you’d better be willing to say it face to face, up close and personal. If you aren’t, your convictions might not be as strong as you think.
  24. For businesses, social media is nothing more than an amplifier. It doesn’t change reality; it merely amplifies reality. If you have a great product or service, social media amplifies the degree to which people talk about it being great; if it’s not so great, though, guess what gets amplified?
  25. But can we all put our phones down for at least part of the day, please? I’ll start.
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