Catch Phrase: A Lesson for Writers

My nieces introduced me to Catch Phrase this weekend. It's a timed game where you have to describe a word or phrase without using any part of it. So, not only do you have to know what the thing is; you've got to find a way to communicate it to your team in a way that they will understand. It's frustrating when your team doesn't get what you're describing.

It's the same with basic business communications. To pass on a idea to your readers, you need to:

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Use words that are understandable to your audience.
  • Look for common experiences.
  • Present the material in an organized fashion.
  • And proofread to make sure that your message is clear.

Best wishes with your writing. It's often harder to write in a plain, clear fashion. It often takes several revisions and some editing.

The Hamster Wheel

This week, guest blogger, Cortney Cain is writing about her work and writing experiences for Crazy for Words. Cortney is a recovering writer/editor who now teaches English for speakers of other languages. She and her husband, along with their tween and teen daughters, moved to the Shenandoah Valley recently after living near the coast for years.

A look at my Pinterest page is, admittedly, disappointing by most people’s standards. I’ve followed some pretty prolific posters, though, and *their* prowess might give you the impression that I’m upbeat and in touch. I’ve been neither of these for some time, but my family’s recent move from one corner of Virginia to the other has made me realize that it is not an area’s employment and entertainment offerings (or lack thereof) that are to blame for my current state of mind. It’s me.

I’ve cycled through boredom, self-doubt/depression, and then bootstrap-pull-uppance like a clumsy hamster for a while now. I picture myself as a little furry thing that runs really hard for a bit, trips comically and rides the momentum for a number of loop-de-loos, titters in annoyance as she stumbles off into the shavings, and then shakes the shavings off after she realizes how ridiculous it all is, only to look over and discover this shiny silver thing that could be a nice diversion.

Yep, that’d be me.

That cycle is something I noticed only recently when I found myself complaining about my job. (I should note that I’m between paid jobs at the moment.) It’s not that stay-at-home parenting is unfulfilling or tedious, though let’s admit it—we love that back-to-school commercial with “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” playing in the background because WE CAN RELATE. It’s the feeling that other women have this work/home thing worked out, and I’m the only one struggling with split personality disorder.

I had a job offer recently in something that I love: writing and editing. I went so far as to accept it and even get fingerprinted and background checked. If they’d asked, I would’ve peed in a cup. But then I got a call from the most persuasive HR person I’ve ever encountered anywhere—much less for a school system, which is notoriously “take it or leave it” in my experience—and voila! Yes, I found myself saying, I know teaching is the better fit for me right now because I owe it to my kids to be on their schedules. I called the writing/editing job offerer back and apologized for the late news, but I’d been given an offer I couldn’t refuse. How could I refuse being home with the kids on their breaks?

So now I’m in that resentment stage, where I’m dusting my shavings off, but I can already feel the allure of the silver wheel. Maybe, even with only a few weeks until new teacher orientation, there’s another job in writing and editing that will save me from the classroom. (If you have to ask why you need saving from the classroom, that’s a whole other series of blog entries. I don’t even really have horror stories, either, but all you have to do is turn on the TV to get some good ones.)

But then even if I could pull that off, there’d be the guilt. Sure, I’d feel guilty leaving a school to scramble to fill a job they’re already having difficulty filling. (I don’t flatter myself into thinking my resume is that impressive. My specialty is just in demand, and supply is low.) I’m talking about the Mom guilt. Ah, I remember the Mom guilt so well from my last writing job seven years ago, especially during the inevitable lulls. What are my kids up to right now? I should be home with them.

Doing what, though? Watching Spongebob’s latest exploits is my 10-year-old’s favorite pastime, and reading fan fiction about some androgynous lead singer of a band long disbanded is my teenager’s favorite. So now there’s another source of guilt: why am I not using this time to teach the girls about the world? Oh yeah. That usually takes money. Ironically, that’s a resource that, like Superman and Clark Kent, can’t be in the same room with another commodity: time. But isn’t Pinterest just chock-full of thrifty mom-as-inspiration and educator ideas? I hop on that wheel with all the gusto of a never-before-tripped rodent.

Alas, I am a hamster at heart. One of those pre-makeover ones from the cube-shaped car commercials. No, wait, I’d be one of their moms. The one covered in shavings.


The Generational Workforce

I recently completed an online course on "Managing Millennials." I am a member of Gen X. I was always one of the youngest in all of my work groups, but now, we're beginning to hire more of the Gen Y cohort. The work styles and expectations are different among the groups. And sometimes, there is friction.

I've seen a variety of names, and the years for each group vary slightly. Here are the generations that are sharing the workforce:

  • 1927 - 1945 - The Silent Generation, The Traditionalists
  • 1946-1964 - The Baby Boomers
  • 1965-1983 - Gen X
  • 1984-2002 - Gen Y, the Millennials
  • 2003- Present - Gen Z, Gen C (for Click), the Digital Generation

This is the first time in history when there have been so many different groups in the workplace at the same time. Gen Y outnumbers Gen X almost three to one.

Gen X was the most "unwanted" group. There was a rise during their early years in the use of birth control, abortion, day care, and women who chose not to have children. This is the generation with more working mothers and latch-key kids. All of this combined to make members of this cohort more self-reliant.

Gen Y, on the other hand, was the "most wanted" generation ever. They were born during the time of test tube babies, adoption, and surrogate mothers. Older parents were having children, and adoptions were on the rise. This generation has always been over-scheduled and busy with activities. Their parents have always been involved in every aspect of their life. They like constant feedback.

The next group that's coming along is Gen Z or Gen C (for click). This is the digital generation.

It was interesting to see the characteristics of each group and the history/cultural events that defined them. The work styles do vary among the groups.

This will give you a sense of the differences in Gen X and Gen Y.

The generations all come with their preferences and styles, and sometimes, it's a challenge to get all of the members to work together effectively.

How to be an Internal Consultant

I recently took a class on internal consulting. The information is good for leadership as well. Many thanks to Bob Huebner. 

Here's what I learned:

1. You need to know your role. Are you the expert, a pair of hands, or a partner?

2. The critical skills you need are listening, questioning, and advising.

3. The communications triangle is an equilateral one. All three sides are valued the same. You need to ask questions, check in frequently, and share information. Keep the balance.

4. If you want detailed information, ask open-ended questions (e.g. how and why).

5. Three quarters of the people you work with have a different style than you. You need to remember that not everyone thinks and communications just like you do.

6. You also need problem-solving, decision-making, and conflict resolution skills.

7. In conflict resolution, you need to address issues immediately. Don't wait until they fester and build resentment and anxiety.

8. Build strong relationships.

9. Communicate throughout your project.

10. The instructor also suggested "brain writing" instead of "brainstorming" as an idea-generating technique. It helps introverts and extraverts work better together.