Saturday, December 31, 2016

And Just Like That! 2017 Has Arrived.

Am I the only one who thinks that 2016 flew by in an unprecedented blur? I have no doubt that the year was fast in some areas and excruciatingly slow in others. Regardless, we each had our year to make a difference, and I hope you are happy with how yours went.

I will practice what I preach and make today’s blog post brief and clear. I hope that the upcoming year is a great one for you, and I hope that it offers you opportunities to do what you want or need to do, to experience joy and happiness, and to live life to the fullest.

Once again, I am requesting ideas for upcoming blog posts. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until January 31, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

Have a great January, send me your questions for the contest, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference. Happy New Year!

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder
© 2011-2016. All Rights Reserved for all Blog posts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Communication And Its Aftermath

The American public fulfilled one of its major obligations earlier this month; that was, of course, voting in the presidential election. This obligation was, in effect, an act of communication. As you’ve probably seen, everyone who has an opinion on the election and why things turned out the way they did has likely given that opinion.

Historians will look at this simple act of voting—played out person by person across the country—as probably one of the biggest statements ever made by the American public to its national political leaders. Another observation from the election is that when one doesn’t communicate, which was done by those people who did not vote, there will be implications. These post-election observations are useful to us in our day-to-day lives; more on that later.

Of those who voted in this month’s divisive election, about half of us voted for one major candidate and half voted for the other; but all registered voters had the opportunity to vote. So what is interesting is that many people belonging to crucial categories who were expected to vote either did not vote at all, or they voted for the candidate they were least expected to support.

My point in all of this is not to gloat or despair, and it’s certainly not to spend any more of my mental energy thinking about politics. Today, the primary observation I want to make is that communication is probably the most important thing we do in all aspects of our lives. If we do it well, we increase the likelihood of a good outcome; do it badly, then look out.

As I mentioned last month, the candidates over-communicated to us, and they clearly staked out their positions on policy and many trivial matters—and look what happened. They wore us out, but they also engaged the nation in debate, polarized friends against friends, and solidified their support across the nation. As a result, the candidates successfully communicated their messages, and I would suggest that the winning candidate was more successful in communicating what he wanted America to hear.

I write this blog while hovering around that sometimes-vague intersection of communication and grammar. Sometimes I find a connection for us to see, and sometimes I don’t.

In the election, there was a connection that needs to be mentioned. For ourselves, we know that if we communicate well while following simple truths in grammar, other people will understand us and our messages. Each of the candidates (in general) communicated clearly and explicitly about themselves and their proposed policies, they propagated incredible opinions (some true and some untrue) about their opponent, and they convinced millions of voters to believe in them and what they were all about. In the end, one candidate succeeded while the other one did not. One candidate’s messages got through to a broader spectrum of recipients while the other’s messages came up short. Yet still, the process of communication worked.

Were the two candidates perfect in everything they did? Oh no. They each had many personal and political missteps that will take historians years to examine. What was interesting is that although the candidates made mistakes in what they were doing, they did not stop what they were doing. They got up the next day, addressed their mistakes (sometimes—not always), and kept on going.

It is that attitude and willpower that we must have as we go through our lives. A get-back-on-the-horse mentality is crucial in the context of communication, grammar, and all else that we do. A mistake does not define us unless we let it do so, so please find some solace each day in the truism that none of us is perfect. And if we make a communication faux pas, it’s not the end of the world. It is simply an opportunity to make a correction to ensure a better outcome. Then we learn and get better.

I feel for you in this post-election confusion and amazement, and I hope that you will accept what you can and keep moving forward with your own lives within the context of our new national leadership.

Have a great December, send me your questions, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.
Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Monday, October 31, 2016

Constant Communication

The past two years have been a period of overcommunication in the political world, and I believe most of us are weary of the presidential election in the United States. I must briefly address what many of us have gone through over recent months. And months. And months.

Most situations at work or home require a healthy amount of communication—not too much, not too little However, we have endured an abnormal environment during the current presidential election season in which we have been repeatedly subjected to the candidates’ policy positions, attacks on others, and unprecedented allegations of personal and workplace misconduct. For the most part, the citizens have been given an opportunity to express what is on their minds and channel their energies to their candidate of choice. Nevertheless, we have had overabundance of rhetoric and less-than-ideal communication.

Then there is the question of whether all of this communication has been successful or effective. We could spend all day talking about that.

Here we are—one week before our national election. I suppose we will continue to hear a significant amount of verbosity from the two major candidates, those who support them, and the media. I am as exhausted from all of this as many of you probably are, but I ask you to hang in there and make a good decision when you vote for your national, statewide, and local candidates.

In this election, too much is at stake at the international, national, and local levels. We must do our best to thoughtfully vote for those people we think will solve the inevitable challenges that will arise over the next two to four years.

Please remember to fulfill one of your highest communication obligations during the upcoming week: Send your message by voting.

I hope November goes well for you, contact me if you have any questions, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, September 30, 2016

If You Need to Know Something, Ask Why.

Why? This is one of the most effective questions anyone can ask. I know that many of you who are good at problem solving or communicating often ask questions containing this simple word. Do these questions look familiar?

• Why are things done this way?
• Why do we have the same problems over and over again?
• Why are these horrible (or nice) things happening?
• Why won’t he or she change?

Even when your question is initially answered, many of you will follow up with another Why-question and possibly a few more; this technique is outstanding because Why-questions allow you to dig deeply into your issue of the moment. The use of Why-questions is especially effective for communication, management, leadership of others, self-management, and personal relationships.

This article is about a key but simple point: If you ask Why-questions the right number of times, you’ll get a reliable and realistic overall answer; the more you ask, the better the answer.

Why-questions are also useful in clarifying troubling issues related to grammar and communication. When readers email me a question, they usually begin by using the Why-word. Indeed, so many of you have asked me Why-questions that I believe I need to demonstrate how I use the Why-question method to arrive at my own answers.

If I communicate a recent example to you, you’ll see how I use Why-questions and how you can easily apply them to most situations you encounter at home or on the job. In turn, you’ll be more likely to succeed at what you’re doing; that’s a promise.

The idea is to get to the root of a problem, challenge, or situation by asking a few Why-questions. Gradually, you’ll get more detailed information and answers, and you’ll arrive at a point where your curiosity and concerns are satisfied. I encourage you to try this method today after reading the rest of this post.

The following is a situation that I recently encountered; it's about editing and writing, which are areas that most of us frequently encounter.

A reader asked me a question about the use of a certain grammatical term in business communication; he also wondered as to why one way was preferred over another.

After the question was asked of me, my first internal response was “that’s just the way it is.” Then I thought: But why?

Because we have style guides that tell us what is correct when using language.

But why is that?

At some point many decades ago, business communicators, journalists, publishers, and language experts saw a need to have some structure and method by which all of this language and grammar stuff could be organized and codified so that everyone would understand; as a result, style guides were invented. The experts’ top goals included maintaining consistency in the use of language while allowing for variations in different environments, such as in publishing, journalism, universities, and everyday life. Examples of style guides (and there are many) include The Chicago Manual of Style; the AP Stylebook, and countless in-house corporate communication and language guides.

But why do these people have the authority and right to do this?

That is their job, they are experts in language and linguistics, and they follow words and language like some of us follow sports and television programs. The experts rely on past and current usage of language and communication to make conclusions, which in turn become the accepted authority and practice.

But why do we have to accept these forced-upon-us conclusions?

You don’t have to rely completely on these eminent authorities; use your judgment where needed. If you don’t routinely use their guidance, though, you'll be out of the norm, you’re going to make errors in your writings or speeches, and it’s not going to be pretty. That is, you’ll be a language renegade.

See how I used Why-questions to get to the core answers of a simple question? Notice the number of details that I discovered just by continuing to ask why, and I got better results as I persisted in my questioning. All the details may or may not have been useful to me, but I found them helpful. The questioning process wasn’t a fancy or complex way of getting some answers, but it worked.

This article has been less about communication or grammar, but instead more about a methodology of asking questions so that you can resolve your particular situation or problem efficiently and effectively.

Many times in life, we try to find solutions by using complicated or formal multi-step methods; resist that temptation when possible and use the simple approach.

I hope you have a great month in October, thank you for your time today, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Looking for Questions to Answer—Part Two

I appreciate the overwhelming response to my June 29, 2016 post where I sought questions from you on topics you wanted me to cover over the upcoming months. Those questions will be addressed in my future posts. For those who submitted questions on or before the July 31 deadline, you were entered into a random drawing, and the winner was selected to receive complimentary copy editing assistance from me. The winner was chosen, and I completed a thorough editing of her business website.

Several of you submitted ideas to me after July 31. I was unable to enter you into the original contest, but I have figured out a reader-friendly solution to this. I am repeating the contest with the same rules and guidelines, which I will post below. The only change will be the dates, and for anyone who makes a topic or idea submission to me for my blog during August 1 through September 30, 2016, you will be entered into a new drawing for a complimentary copy edit from me. So for those of you who submitted questions to me after July 31, you are already entered.

The guidelines that I posted on June 29 will still apply with only a change in the end date:

Here is my proposal and incentive to you. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until September 30, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

Thanks for your time today, send me those ideas, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference. Have a great September.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Sunday, July 31, 2016

What To Do When You're Wrong

Perfection. It seems that many of us believe some things can be done perfectly—always and without exception. There is no doubt that in some occupations or pursuits, perfection is the clear standard and objective set by the leaders; these areas might include healthcare, air transportation, and emergency services.

Most of us, it seems, would be happy with getting things right most of the time and then declaring it a win. Probably all musical performers, teachers, sales professionals, and managers, for example, realize that it would be nice for everything to work out perfectly; since that’s impossible, their expectations and goals are less than (but not far from) 100% perfection.

It is generally accepted by most people, though, that perfection in everything we do is impossible. I agree, and I want to see how this principle affects us when we make mistakes in our daily communication with others. When communicating, most of us err several times a day without fail; it happens, and there is no way to consistently achieve 100% error-free days—though I guess it’s possible if you don’t communicate in any way with anyone.

Barring this exception, please realize you and I are going to make mistakes in all areas of our lives, and the realistic goals are to strive to do the best we can, learn from our mistakes, and get better at what we do.

In today’s post, I will look at some practical solutions that you can use after realizing you made a communication mistake. That is, what do you do when you say something that is dumb or wrong, or write something that is in error? I offer three tips.

1. Increase your chances of getting things right the first time. It makes sense to aim before you fire. In other words, prepare well and think as you write something that is to be emailed or sent to others; and practice and think before you speak.

• Instructional courses are available that teach the minutiae of writing, speaking, interpersonal communication, and all things related. In addition to a course or seminar, consider other low- or no-cost alternatives such as independent self-study and learning, targeted readings, and local clubs that exist solely to improve your writing or speaking skills.

• Before speaking, rehearse what you’re going to say—even if you do so only in your thoughts.

• Take a moment and think before you write or say something. The following paragraph is taken from my January 31, 2016 blog post, which addressed the importance of being clear in communication:

"Think about what you want to communicate and break the message down into its key points. These ideas, without any doubt in your mind, are what you want others to know from you. Make it simple by thinking about what you want to write or say before you communicate it. A clear communication has the following characteristics: understandable, intelligible, obvious, unambiguous, coherent, and straightforward."

2. If it’s wrong, fix it. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, correct it.

• Acknowledge your error immediately: electronically, by phone, or in person depending on the situation. Apologize if appropriate. Since everyone makes mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. 

• Fix the incorrect message by sending the correct information, correcting the original-but-wrong message, or restating what you originally said with different words that are more accurate.

3. Learn from your mistake. A truth believed by many is that humans must learn from their mistakes in order to get better. This principle is applicable as we make communication errors.

Take a moment and reflect on what you did, why you did it that way, and what lessons you learned in the process. Do this every time you make a communication mistake.

This contemplation will help you the next time you are in a similar situation, and you will make fewer mistakes. Soon, you will almost be perfect.

Thanks for checking in with me today, I appreciate it, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 

© 2011-2016. All Rights Reserved for all Blog posts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Looking for Questions to Answer

Here we are at the year’s halfway point, and I hope most things are going your way. Even if you’re having challenges or difficulties, it’s true what others say: Things will get better and work themselves out.

One thing that I am proud of is this blog. Through it, I’ve been able to express some ideas that have been on my mind about grammar and communication, and I’ve been able to communicate with many of my readers. I have also decided on some topics to write about for the rest of the year and beyond. Despite that, I seek your help. And in a nod to my October 18, 2015 post below, I am looking for some questions.

I want to shake things up a little by getting your ideas and suggestions. That is, what would you like me to write about for the rest of the year? In the areas of grammar or communication, what’s been on your mind?

The reason I want your thoughts is simple. You are my readers, and you are the only reason I write this blog. I thought it would be useful to all of us, therefore, to seek out those questions to which you want answers.

Here is my proposal and incentive to you. If you have a question or topic suggestion that’s related to my blog, email it to me at I will schedule it for a future post and give you my thoughts and opinions. For everyone who submits a question or topic idea until July 31, I will enter your name into a random drawing. I will offer one lucky person complimentary copy editing of a document, website, or online professional profile, such as one on The recipient’s name will be kept confidential along with those who submit questions or suggestions. No one will be placed on an email list.

If you have a friend or colleague who may have a question or idea, please forward to them my blog’s website,, and give them an opportunity to send me their comments.

There it is. I seek what’s on your mind, and in return, I will thank you by commenting on your question or topic as well as offering one person a copy edit from me.

Thanks for your time today, I look forward to hearing from you and your friends, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day

One of the themes in my blog is the importance of looking out for the details whenever we communicate. That is, be aware of the nitty gritty details as well as the huge obvious ones that present themselves every day of our lives. If you check out my previous posts, you might think that I am obsessed with all things related to grammar and communication.

I respectfully decline that characterization; instead, I tend to think of myself as extremely interested in these areas, and as a result, I am focused, particular, meticulous, and exacting when dealing with grammar and communication. At the same time, I derive a huge amount of satisfaction from passing along information that could be useful to others. As I have said a few times in nuanced ways, I don’t know everything about grammar and communication, but I know enough to bring some useful ideas and successful tactics to you and others.

Today, I will make some key and relevant observations, and I hope that you will stay with me to the end. I will use Memorial Day as an example to reinforce some ideas and principles I have made in previous posts about grammar and communication.

Everyone loves holidays because you get to do neat things, such as going to the beach, taking a short trip, relaxing from work, or visiting relatives. During the upcoming Monday, those of us in the United States will celebrate Memorial Day. Take a moment and think about Memorial Day, and without using Google, ask yourself what is the purpose or meaning of Memorial Day?

Here are some possibilities:

- To honor those individuals who have served in peacetime or in war

- To honor those who have served our nation overseas in a civilian or military capacity     

- To honor any of our relatives who have died

Like the meaning of words as they change over the years, there are several interpretations of Memorial Day depending upon whom you ask. And like the changes in grammar and communication practices, different interpretations are ok and to be expected. There is no need to judge and no need to malign others who have a different opinion.

I need to point out some details and facts. First, if you read about Memorial Day, you’ll see that its origin dates back many decades, and the holiday has a vibrant history. Second, according to, Memorial Day “honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.” Several other government and commercial websites offer a similar definition without distinguishing between wartime and peacetime service. Third, the holiday has unofficially evolved into one where in many towns and cities across America, all veterans—living or dead; wartime service or not—are honored.

How about that for adaptation? We have an official government-sanctioned federal holiday that honors those who died while they were serving in the military. As a veteran, the meaning of the holiday is clear to me. Yet still, there is ample evidence showing that while most Americans stay true to the original purpose and meaning of the holiday, other Americans supplement the original intent by honoring all veterans, alive or not.

This occurs even though we have a venerated holiday in November dedicated to all men and women who have served in the military: Veterans Day. In fact, there are many purists (veterans and others) who will gently correct a person who mistakenly confuses the two holidays. Most veterans will probably just be grateful that people are putting some thought into the situation by recognizing that veterans and those still serving have done or are doing some selfless, dangerous, and courageous work.

After spending some time thinking of and writing about one of the most sacred holidays in our country, I have some conclusions and suggestions.

• Like grammar, the definition and meaning of anything can change over time.

• If the meaning of something—like a word, phrase, or holiday—changes over time, accept it as natural and inevitable and don’t distress too much over it. These things happen, so try to adjust. But if you can’t adjust, that’s ok too.

• Details matter. If you have read my blog in the past, you already know many of my thoughts about the details and particulars of grammar and communication; I try to alert you to the key points and meanings that matter. With regard to today’s thoughts about the meaning of Memorial Day, those details matter as well—but in a much more exalted and special way.

Thank you for your time today as we enter into the Memorial Day weekend. I send special thanks and appreciation to the men and women who have died serving our country while in the military.

Please bookmark my blog, and contact me with your comments or ideas.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, April 29, 2016

Want Better Emails? Try these 20 Tips.

The use of emails as a method of communication was scheduled to be one of my upcoming posts, but Business Insider beat me to the story. I'm actually glad they did because I doubt I could have written a more interesting article than “16 Unprofessional Email Habits That Make Everyone Hate You.” How about that for a title?

Business Insider, in its April 22, 2016 article (the link is below), states that the following are 16 practices to avoid at all costs:

• Sending urgent emails that aren’t urgent
• Being too casual—Being too stiff—Replying to all
• CC’ing without approval—BCC’ing—Using a vague subject line
• Sending too many personal emails—Being snippy—Being curt
• A ridiculous email address—Numerous typos—Sending emails at 3 a.m.
• Annoying punctuation—Unprofessional fonts—Going too long

Whew! Once I came up for air, this article got me thinking about some other improvements that would be helpful in communicating our thoughts via email, which is a ubiquitous mode of communication that is going to be with us for a while. In addition to the above List of 16, I offer you a supplemental list of 4 email practices that will ensure your emails are looking great.

1. Decide if you need to send an email. Most of us would probably admit we get or send way too much email. There is one easy solution to this challenge: send fewer emails. That is, would it work as well or better to pick up the phone and call the intended recipient? If you’re in the same work area, how about getting up and walking over to their desk and striking up a conversation? By personally delivering your message by phone or in person, you’ll get the opportunity to discuss the issue and work out any details or challenges instead of launching a multi-day back-and-forth chain of emails that will leave you and others exhausted and frustrated.

Of course, if several people need to be involved in the discussion, personal delivery by phone or in person might not work; you may have to send a multi-recipient email or discuss the topic at a meeting. The day after you read this blog post of mine, phone someone or walk over to them in lieu of an email, and see how that works for you.

2. Get to the point. One sure way to have your readers disregard your email is by not getting to the point quickly enough. It may seem to you that sending a nice, entertaining, and quirky email would be the right thing to do—but that’s usually not the case. I will give you two tips that many experts on presentations or speeches give to their attendees; the same principles apply to writing an email or using other forms of communication.

Open with purpose and detail. Your email should have at least three sections: opening; main body & supporting facts; and conclusion. In the case of emails, the opening is sometimes not there at all, not there in sufficient detail, or vague. Your job is to ensure your opening is clear, precise, and obvious; it should tell your reader what to expect in the email.

Use the BLUF technique. BLUF (an acronym for Bottom Line Up Front) is especially helpful by using a couple of follow-on sentences right after you tell your readers why you're sending them the email. After giving the purpose of your email, tell the readers about your conclusions or recommendations; that is, give them the bottom line. This guides the readers and allows them to see clearly what your email is all about and what other things to expect in the email’s main body, such as facts or arguments.

Some emails, of course, will not contain a lot of facts and arguments, though the BLUF technique can still be used successfully and succinctly at the beginning of your email. Keep your opening short and precise, and briefly tell the readers what you're going to say in the rest of your email. If you’re in the middle of a brief back-and-forth email or possibly a quick one-liner email, the BLUF technique probably will not be needed.

3. Include sufficient information. Sufficient information for emails includes all the knowledge, facts, or data that is necessary for your readers to completely understand your email and its message. It is up to you to determine what is sufficient, though I can make three points about this area.

First, it may be helpful to you to briefly outline a complicated email before you write it. That is, jot down some key points that you believe should be included in the email and use these points as you compose the email.

Second, think about your message from the perspective of your readers and consider what they need to know to understand your email; include this information in your email.

Third, review what you have written and take a fresh look at the email’s contents. Is the message logical and orderly? Would it make sense to your recipients when they receive it? Does the message convey what you want to say?

4. Review before sending. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, it's important to check for typos, punctuation errors, and content accuracy in all communication that we create. However, you’ve got to bump it up a notch when using emails. Check carefully the substance of your emails because emails are designed to be a short and quick means of conveying information; with this advantage of almost instantaneous delivery, you have a disadvantage of a potential increase in the number of errors. Ask yourself:

• Do the emails tell the narrative you want to tell in a logical progression?

• Do the emails make sense?

• Are you certain the readers of your emails will understand completely and easily what you're trying to communicate?

• Are you using the right tone and formality?

• Can you trim the emails and eliminate unnecessary sentences?

To answer these questions, you must re-read all emails at least once. When emails are unusually important or going out to a large audience, you need to re-read them more than once. If possible, print your important emails and review them on paper, and you’ll get a different visual perspective of what you wrote and see some areas that need improvement.

If you’re up for more reading on the subject of emails, here’s the link to the Business Insider article:

As always, thank you for your time today, and I hope that the tips I passed along are useful. Please bookmark my blog, and if you have any thoughts or questions, please contact me or leave a comment. See you next month.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Listening is Important

There are countless articles on personal development and workplace subjects such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. It’s a good habit to read what you can, especially if you see something interesting and pertinent to you. This week, I read several articles on communication, and one theme that I saw among many of the articles was the subject of listening and why listening is vital to everyone.

We probably all think we listen well and need no help. However, several studies and observations I read about this week say otherwise. That is, thought leaders and experts say that things could go much better in our personal and professional lives if we listened more, listened better, and showed to others that we were listening to them.

Sounds simple, yes? In practice, listening well is a challenge to most people because we have flaws in the communication process. In addition, we have to listen and perceive through different channels of communication, such as over the phone, in-person, by email, and through other written products.

These communication flaws that pop up can take several forms, such as an improperly constructed message that we want to send to others, a breakdown in the communication channel, and an inability of the receiver to receive the message. Later on in another blog post, I will look at these areas in more detail.

For today, I want to focus on something that occurs in the third category (the inability of the receiver to receive the message), and in doing so, I offer some ideas on how we, as receivers, can listen better. These tips apply to everyone. Whether you're a team member, leader, or sole contributor, listening well to others is crucial to your ability to get things done, thrive on and off the job, and successfully communicate with others.

4 Tips to Better Listening

1. Tune in. When someone is communicating with you in any way, they are trying to get your attention. Unless their timing is not good and you need to put off the interaction, stop what you’re doing and tune in to what they’re saying. This means not reading other material while you’re talking on the phone with them, not looking around at other things while talking in-person with them, not interrupting them, and minimizing or eliminating multitasking with other work. Maintain good eye (or ear) contact and be present in the moment.

Not only is tuning in a good practice in general, it also increases your efficiency by allowing you to focus intently on others’ issues, and it helps you make a better contribution or decision.

2. Put the Phone Away. Yes, that’s right; put it down when you’re communicating with someone. This is especially important when talking in-person or on the phone with someone. Why? It’s because the person with whom you are communicating will sense that you are doing something else (fiddling with your cell phone) that is distracting you from the conversation with them.

This is annoying to others, and you risk the possibility of completely disrupting your conversations with people. Think about it—have you ever tried talking to someone who was frequently checking their cell phone?

3. Do a Brain Dump. The idea here is to release from your mind those items about which you are thinking or worrying, such as projects, challenges to overcome, and routine day-to-day tasks. If you’re working on something, let it go for a while. If you do this, you will free up some mental space and allow yourself the capacity to focus on the person with whom you are communicating.

There are several ways to do a brain dump, though it only requires you to write your thoughts onto a piece of paper or your electronic device. Before you start a lengthy conversation, meeting, or phone chat with someone, extract those ideas and tasks that are swirling around in your mind and list them on the paper or device. Write a few words or short phrases describing each item, and when you finish conversing with the person, you’ll be able to quickly resume where you were prior to the conversation. This is an efficient way to handle communication, and it's practical and easy to implement at work or at home.

4. Be Patient and Involved. When interacting with others, it’s always a good idea to slow down, digest what they’re saying, and actively participate in the discussion as needed by giving your opinion or asking thoughtful questions.

Others may operate at a slower or faster pace than you, so you’ll have to adjust your style of communicating to fit the situation. If someone is painstakingly and slowly trying to explain something to you, relax and try to understand them at their pace; avoid letting your mind wander. Conversely, if someone is talking too fast for you to handle, either keep up with them (while doing your best to engage and understand them) or ask them to slow down so that you can better understand them.

Thank you for listening to me today, I appreciate your time, and I hope that my ideas will be useful to you at work and at home. Please bookmark my blog, and I’ll see you again in April.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

Friday, February 26, 2016

How to Pronounce February

I know; some of you are expecting me to demonstrate my knowledge and proficiency in pronouncing one of the great months of the year: February. Not so. If you’ll bear with me, I promise you this is no showing of superiority. If you’ve read my previous posts, this blog is all about two things: my observations related to grammar and communication, and you. Yes, it’s all about you. I want to point out some things that you may already know, and then I want to give you some takeaways that will be useful for the remaining months of the year. Everything is related to February.

February is known as a month for U.S. presidents, for those in love, and as a tribute month for many worthwhile causes and historical remembrances. So without doubt, we utter the word “February” throughout the month. However, because today is near the end of the month, fear not. As we move forward into the remaining months of the year, we will mention and refer to February often in many ways. What I’d like to do is give you some current information that will be useful, practical, and thought provoking.

I’ve lived in several cities in the United States and two countries abroad. I’ve heard countless people pronounce February. It’s a difficult word to pronounce using the preferred and traditional dictionary suggestion (#1 below), and so I’ve concluded there are four ways that most people pronounce it:

1. Feb-roo-were-e

2. Feb-u-were-e

3. Feb-u-air-e

4. A combination of the first three

After reading the current stances of the major dictionaries and grammarians, I discovered a useful observation. The first pronunciation is the oldest and still the most correct way of pronouncing February; the second way is also an acceptable way of saying it; and it’s best to avoid the third and fourth ways. But since the traditional pronunciation of the word (and similar words such as “surprise” and “particular” where the “r” is often not pronounced) is difficult, we adapt.

Let’s be realistic and admit that #2 is easier to pronounce than #1. If so, why not do it? Well, you can—and that is why I am sitting here writing this blog post on a subject that may seem meaningless. There is no reason for anyone to avoid pronouncing February if he or she is unable to correctly do it; the evolution of language permits us to do otherwise and feel good about it. If #1 is too cumbersome, use #2.

Words change over time, both in their meaning and in their pronunciation. February, for example, is a classic word (and there are many) that contains two identical or closely related sounds. Look at the pronunciation of #1 above and see how easy it is to get tripped up on the “roo” as you pronounce February. When this occurs, dissimilation occurs and one of the sounds either gets changed or dropped by its users. That is why #2 is a favorite among most people.

This week, for example, I asked five people to name the first three months of the year. Disregarding the occasional unique pronunciations of January, all five people pronounced February very similar to #2 and #3. No one chose to tackle #1. I wonder why. It’s because #1 hard to pronounce.

Well there it is. The story could stop here, but it doesn’t. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention to you the application of today’s rant on February; it’s not all about February.

First, realize that the sounds of words change, and if you’re in doubt whether your version is correct or at least acceptable, look it up in the dictionary. This might be helpful before you talk to a group, conduct a meeting, or give a speech.

Second, be tolerant of others as they pronounce words differently than you. It could be, for example, that in another’s person’s culture or background, this is the way they say the word and communicate to others. So let it go and have a cup of coffee. Note that since words change over time, you could very well be witnessing the evolution of the word’s pronunciation. Now that is pretty neat.

Finally, be open-minded and accept the fact that the study of grammar usage is a difficult, precise, and yet imprecise field of work; and there are some easy answers coupled with the difficult. There are people who spend all their working hours thinking about these things. My advice is to be aware of the issue as I have outlined in my blog post today, and use your good judgment and instincts if presented with a grammar or communication challenge.

Thank you for spending your valuable time on today’s post; I appreciate that. I will see you again in March, and I ask you to bookmark my blog for easier reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA         @randallponder

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three Grammar Resolutions for 2016

Happy New Year to everyone on this last day of January, and I hope 2016 has gotten off to a great start for you. Some of us may have made our perennial resolutions earlier this month, and I want to check in with you and congratulate you on that and ask that you work hard to keep your focus on them. If any of you have gotten the least bit discouraged about your progress in attaining your personal or professional goals, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not worth it, and in fact it could be counterproductive. Instead, celebrate that you probably have made some progress and are possibly in the stage where you are building momentum. Most people, it is noted, give up on their first-of-the-year resolutions too easily and too soon; I encourage you to keep chipping away as we enter into February. Do your best and wake up every day with the idea that you’re going to make some progress, and do just that.

I want to help out by offering you three relevant and useful ideas related to grammar and communication that will help you achieve your resolutions and goals. Many of you who know me or who have emailed me with topic suggestions or blog feedback know that I believe that good grammar and communication intersects most things that we do in life. If we are to do better in whatever professional or personal pursuit that lies in front of us, we’ve got to communicate properly.

During this month, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I could tell you that could propel you forward in 2016. As a result, I’ve set aside the hundreds of useful grammar ideas and rules, and I offer you three top grammar goals that I believe could make a huge impact on you this year. If you focus on just these three things and do no more in the area of grammar, I promise you that you will feel better about yourself, others will appreciate and recognize your efforts, and you will see great things come your way. Is better grammar the easy answer to a great 2016? No. Instead, better grammar will be a key factor in helping you do whatever it is you want to do.

I ask you to keep these three points in the back of your mind each and every day as you communicate. Whether you’re writing or speaking, they will help. Here we go: clear, concise, and correct.

1. Clear. Think about what you want to communicate and break the message down into its key points. These ideas, without any doubt in your mind, are what you want others to know from you. Make it simple by thinking about what you want to write or say before you communicate it. A clear communication has the following characteristics: understandable, intelligible, obvious, unambiguous, coherent, and straightforward.

2. Concise. Shorter is usually better when communicating. The longer you prolong whatever it is you’re trying to write or say, eyes start to gloss over, the audience to whom you’re delivering your valuable information will lose attention, and your message could be ignored. Since these outcomes need to be avoided at all costs, think about the following:

- Don’t send long emails. Limit it to a small number of sentences or paragraphs; make it just long enough so you say what you have to say clearly and concisely. In life today, some things can only be communicated by email, especially if you don’t want to have an in-person meeting or if there are many people who need to hear directly from you. Regardless, please be considerate and think about your audience by keeping your emails as short as possible.

- The same principles apply to other written forms of communication. If you need to send a letter or memo, nothing is carved in the grammar stone that says they must be verbose. Are there exceptions? Yes. Sometimes you have to go into excruciating details when communicating with others, and doing so adds length. Even so, my point is always be as concise as possible, and don’t shy away from editing and revising your work.

- When talking to others on the phone or in person, don’t tarry but do get to the point. Your time is important, and so is theirs. Get through phase one of the conversation, which is where you have the pleasantries and small talk, and move along to phase two, which is where you want to effectively communicate. Then wrap it up—in a nice and friendly way, of course.

3. Correct. Being correct involves two things: 1) writing or speaking in proper and accepted ways, and 2) ensuring that what you are communicating is accurate, right, and true.

Proper and Accepted Ways:

What are some ways to learn how to write and speak properly? This is an easy question to answer, though it involves committed work on anyone’s part to get it all right. The easy answer is to get targeted training to develop your speaking and writing skills. There are hundreds of training resources, and I’m sure you can easily evaluate them. Look for seminars, in-house training, local colleges, free courses on the web, and non-free courses on the web.

Another suggestion to improve your writing and speaking is to just do it; that is, learn by practicing and doing. This is what most people do, and it is by far, in my opinion, the best alternative because most people learn well by doing, and they learn best by doing things well. So, if you believe you need improvement in speaking or writing, just step out there and speak to others and write. Find a buddy to give you some feedback on how you’re doing, and observe others around you who speak and write well—and model their behavior.

If someone is speaking well, what is it that they’re doing that makes them sound so fantastic? If someone is speaking poorly, take note of what challenges they are having and make it a point to avoid these pitfalls yourself. The same principles are involved in writing. Most people who write well, read the writings of others and learn from those experiences. If you read well-written reports, documents, news stories, and magazines, you will have excellent ways to pick up the nuances involved in writing. Ask your buddies for their evaluations of your conversational and speaking abilities, and ask them to critique your writing style. These are easy and superb ways of getting the precise and immediate feedback that will be useful to you.

Accurate, Right, and True:

I will make two important points and distinctions as my last thoughts for today.

First, without exception, any communication that you offer to others needs to be free from grammatical errors. I just suggested how to improve your writing and speaking skills. This helps, and as a reminder, it is crucial that you proofread your written communications before you send them. Instead of repeating myself, I refer you to my blog post below from November 8, 2015, entitled “Easy Fixes for Daily Writing.” There, you will find great information on what I am conveying to you.

Finally, it is vital that the content of your communication is accurate, right, and true. Here, I am not talking about grammar or punctuation, but instead am referring to what you’re saying. Is the substance and content of your communication factual, truthful, exact, verifiable, reliable, and certain? If not, you’ll not only have a communication issue at hand, prepare yourself for a question of your credibility. The last thing you want to say, for example, is that something happened, when it did not; a number is correct, when it is not; that Mr. X did this, when he did not do it or might not have done it; or that a problem was caused by Y, when it’s possible other things might have caused or contributed to the problem. The only exceptions that I can think of are if you’re giving your opinion or if you're speculating. If so, be sure and clearly state that you are guessing or speculating or that it’s your reasoned and well-thought-out opiniongiven the facts and information as you see them. You get my point; everything you write or say should be accurate, right, and true. The way to make this happen is to re-read what you’re communicating, verify everything, and have your buddies give their honest critiques of what you’re writing.

Thank you for your time today, and I appreciate you reading my post. I hope that I have shared some helpful information with you. As always, thank you for your emails and topic suggestions, and please bookmark my blog. I will catch up with you in February.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder 
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