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Tag: Communication (page 1 of 2)

There’s always a story between two dates


I’m sitting in the Intensive Care Unit of Children’s Hospital in Knoxville with my daughter as she sleeps, finally resting after three or four days of what must have felt like drowning for her. It turns out she has double pneumonia. Under the tender ministrations of the medical staff, she is getting better, and although Hannah has taught us that we never know the future, even two minutes from now, the prognosis is good, and we expect to take her home early next week.

As I look at the ceiling, though, I see graphic reminders that many parents who have waited agonizing hours in this room have not been so fortunate.

Instead of empty industrial ceiling tiles, patients see a colorful collage of artwork done mostly by children who have stayed here, whiling away the time and contributing to later patients by relieving visual monotony. It is a nice touch.

But a few of them come from parents leaving behind a memorial. You can easily spot these tiles; they’re the ones with two dates.

They strike me the same way 19th century cemeteries do. Have you ever strolled through an old graveyard and noticed how many tombstones commemorate a child? Some have only single dates for a child who died the same day he or she was born. Many have tiny statues of lambs on top. In some older cemeteries fully half the graves hold the remains of a child, with dates only a few years or a few months apart.

This is a room of hope, not a cemetery, but it is a room that has witnessed countless dramas and struggles, the stuff of movies and stories. Maybe these stories aren’t spectacular enough for the big screen, but for the real individuals involved they held all the impact that a Gone with the Wind or a Titanic did for those characters.

At this moment, two nurses are working on Hannah, and alarms are going off. I am writing because I can’t really do anything else. I can do little for my daughter right now beyond simply being present, and so I turn to writing, a tool that has always helped me make sense of the world.

I don’t know how much time I will have with Hannah. It may be a day; it may be that she will far outlive me. I hold out hope that gene editing may allow her to escape the chains that bind her in this life. (I’m not delusional. I realize it’s a long shot, but a slim chance is better than none.) But I do know that I don’t want to risk one day looking at a tile with two dates and regret that the space in between was so filled with trying to make a living that there was no room to just hold her hand.

I’ve tried to post at least twice a week, and I’ve kept that up regularly for 19 months, except for two periods when I took a week or two off. But I need to turn my attention to other things. I’m not leaving, but I’m setting the conscious intention of cutting back to posting only two to four times per month for at least awhile. Effective communication is my passion, but only because it connects us to each other, and I have some connecting of my own I need to do.

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You can lessen the grip of media-induced fear


I have heard many cry out in the last few days, “Media! Leave Newtown alone! You’re despicable!” The humane part of me agrees with this cry. But you have to understand something. That media frenzy that everyone decries? It’s all our fault. Continue reading

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Censorship just boosts message spread

Despite the title, I know that not all censorship boosts communication. Repression and violence coupled with censorship can prevent a message from getting out. Nevertheless, it strikes me that censorship attempts in a free (or at least semi-free) society usually backfire.

Thanks to Learning with ‘e’s for pointing this one out.

A Scottish local authority thought a 9-year-old’s blog was making them look bad, and tried to shut her down. The result: her blog has now registered nearly 4 million hits, which means that a ton more people know how bad the food in her school is than otherwise would have. Continue reading

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Book review: Say yes and benefit from this book

One of the major rules of improv comedy, of which Avish Parashar is an expert, is that whatever your colleagues throw at you, you should say yes to it and develop it. Saying no stops the action. It’s a little harder to see that “yes, but” is just a form of no, but in effect it is.

Say “Yes, And!”: 2 Little Words That Will Transform Your Career, Organization, and Life! lays out the contrast between “yes, but” and “yes, and,” and makes a quick case for the huge difference it makes in attitudinal and practical terms. It then proceeds to develop those insights in great depth and apply them to several areas of life.

An important idea for me out of this book is that we say “Yes, but” so much because it works, in the sense of getting some immediate result. We can miss the downside, though: it stops the scene, the action. It stops development. It stops progress. We say it because we’ve gotten some reinforcement from the immediate results, without ever seeing the long-term results that would have come from “yes, and.”

Plus, “yes, but” is safe. It doesn’t involve risk. On the other hand, “yes, and” is effective. Throughout the book, Avish shows how “yes, and” is more effective, especially in the long run, than “yes, but.”

Also throughout the book, Avish is careful to point out that he is advocating neither mindless agreement, nor becoming a pushover, nor even avoiding “yes, but” altogether. “Yes, and” is a mindset, not a rule. The idea isn’t to turn you into a clone of Jim Carrey in “Yes Man,” but simply to remember to be open. (And, I would add, it enables you to genuinely and warmly say no when you need to, without beating around the bush.)

Avish simply believes “and” is superior, and he suggests three considerations for saying “but.”

  1. Say “yes, but” later.
  2. Put the positive after the “but.” (Managers are told to start with something positive, mention whatever criticism they have, and then finish with something positive, often called the “criticism sandwich.” Research tends to show it doesn’t work very well. ( What does work, according to Clifford Nass, the Thomas M. Storke Professor at Stanford University, is starting with the negatives, followed by a long list of positives–sort of a criticism deep-dish pizza. Parashar’s principle here, fits that bit of advice.)
  3. Use “but” to come up with alternatives–really another way of saying “yes, and.”

In developing his thesis, Avish hits on a topic that is close to my heart: communication. He says good communication is at the heart of success (I would agree), and says, “‘Yes, And’ is the simple tool you can use to increase the quality of your communication and make it as effective as possible.”

I definitely recommend reading this book more than once. Its deceptively simple approach has many nuggets of practical wisdom that you can mine over several readings.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book. That doesn’t matter. I calls ’em like I sees ’em, and would say so if I didn’t like it.

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Guest post: Making Your Speech Stick

I have a new guest post up on Making Your Speech Stick. It examines the relationship between writing and speaking, and putting the two together for effective communication. Check it out, and the rest of Saul Farber’s informative blog.

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Creative Commons resources

I tell students about a couple of places that are good for finding visual aid material on the Web that will not get them into trouble regarding licensing. Sean Aune goes several better than “couple” in his article, 30+ Places To Find Creative Commons Media. You’ll find resources for sound (including music), photos and other graphics, and videos, all available under a Creative Commons license.

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Social networking not necessarily social

Elizabeth Bernstein shares observations with implications for modern communication in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “How Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships.” Do you see implications for your own use of online social media?

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SL gives voice to the repressed

I remember when FAX machines made possible protests by Chinese dissidents against the Chinese government. That has been a few years. Now, Second Life seems to be providing an outlet that not only facilitates protests of a similar sort, but also brings people together in ways even beyond the Internet. The Web site “Foreign Policy in Focus” has a thorough article about “The Iranian Opposition’s Second Life” that is thought-provoking in a number of ways. It seems not only to have been a means of free expression, but also of providing something like face-to-face meetings in a “place” where face-to-face meetings otherwise can be very, very dangerous.

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The myth of government source reliability

When we teach speech students about evaluating sources, we usually tell them that government figures are more reliable than others. We teach journalism students the same thing. Maybe the operative word here is “more” and “than others.”

The greater lesson, perhaps, is to be skeptical of anything that any source tells you until you see the original data and understand how it was gathered and what it means.

As FOXNews reports in The Myth of 90 Percent, a “fact” that has been floated around by a whole bunch of government officials and passed on uncritically by a number of media outlets is just flat wrong, i.e., the “fact” that 90% of the guns used in Mexican crime comes from the United States.

It’s not just a little wrong. It’s a lot wrong. A more accurate way to look at the facts is this: about 17% of recovered weapons used in a crime in Mexico could be traced to the U.S. Continue reading

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Words matter

This is reposted from Guiding Your Special Needs Child.

People who know me well know that sometimes when angry I use impolite language. I’ve been known to say things that the average person would find to be profane, even obscene. I’m not proud of it; it’s something I struggle with.

Nevertheless, there are words I cannot bring myself to utter, words that I hear other people use almost routinely. Many of these other people happen to be older, but it’s not required. Many of them would be horrified if a teenager nearby dropped the “f-bomb” (I can’t say that I approve, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a crude word), and yet have little or no problem uttering a word that definitely leaves certain members of the human race feeling degraded, disrespected, dehumanized.

The N-word, as it is called, has almost dropped out of usage, and I am glad. I know that some rappers use the word in a defiant manner, and even that usage makes me uncomfortable, but at least they are practicing the strategy of subjecting a denigrating term to the kind of use that can turn it on its head. (Did you know that “Christian” was considered a derogatory term by Greeks and Romans who first used it? The early followers of Christ adopted it, though, and turned it into a term of honor.) Most of the few people I hear using the word these days at least seem to have enough sense to act a bit ashamed of it. It is so distasteful to people that we have, as a society, even shied away from the legitimate word that it twists and dishonors: Negro. The latter word carries with it the potential for offense, and hardly survives in the English language except in the names of such great organizations as the United Negro College Fund–and even there, it is hard to find the actual word, since almost everywhere except in the “History” links, the Website simply calls the organization, UNCF.

Not so a similar term that I hear people of all ages using with impugnity, a word I can hardly bring myself to utter and that equally denigrates a huge population of humanity, at least in their experience and their family’s. Students in my college classes, and even members of my own family who I know love my daughter, use the word “retard” or “retarded” to describe ideas, institutions, television shows, and all manner of other things they consider to be imperfect or lacking, with no apparent concept as to how it might affect my daughter if she were present, and certainly affects me.

The slang version of the term happens to be spelled the same way as the legitimate version. The effect for others is that they do not experience the word as demeaning the way the N-word is; the effect for me is to make the legitimate version as jarring and insulting as the slang version, so when we receive a letter from one of the state agencies that provides services for my daughter, and I have to open a letter from the “Department of Mental Retardation,” I feel a bit slimed, even though I know quite well that the people who work there work hard to help us take care of her.

Not out of political correctness, but out of concern for others as compelling as that which has driven the N-word underground, and out of the abundance of other more appropriate words to describe either the actual condition or perceived inadequacy and imperfection, I would like to ask you to join in the effort to eradicate the R-word from common usage. To see more about this, please visit the page put up by the Special Olympics organization. As it says, “Change the conversation… stop using the r-word.”

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