Twitter Gives It To Us Straight (Sort of)

Delivering bad new is always a tricky proposition.

In October 2015, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, announced layoffs of over 300 people.  He says that he’s going to  “give it to us straight,” but it sure seems to me that he uses a classic indirect approach.

Please read carefully.  Though Jack Dorsey is in a position of power and therefore can “get away” with a bluntness that many of us can’t, there is much that we can learn from this message, I think.  But then, is he really being blunt?

I would love to know what you think – how would you feel about Jack Dorsey if you received this message?  About Twitter?  What techniques used in this letter would you emulate?  Or avoid?

Read more:

The Best Lists

Here’s a list of ways to make your lists great (again). (sorry).

The best lists:

  • Are shorter lists.  Most people can only remember 5-9 items easily.  If you have 10 or more items in your list, break them into categories or topics.
  • Are parallel in grammatical structure.  Fancy-sounding term, but it simply means that each item is phrased the same way.  If your items are verb phrases (-preheat the oven, -melt the butter), make them all the same form.  Same with noun phrases (-decision techniques, -effective strategies).
  • Deserve a lead-in. Most lead-ins consist of a grammatically complete clause followed by a colon.

    All lists deserve a lead-in

  • Are well-punctuated.   Rules for punctuating lists can vary (your organization may have a preferred style), but for the most part punctuate your lists like this.

    For items written as phrases, use a lowercase letter at the start. Do not use a period or a comma at the end.

    For items written as complete sentences, punctuate just like any other sentence.

    Phrases and sentences?  Start each phrase with an uppercase letter and end it with a period. Begin the complete sentences with uppercase letters and end them with periods. Use italics to emphasize the phrases.

  • Are aligned visually. In most lists, the second and subsequent lines, called turnovers, align under the first letter of the first line, highlighting the bullet or number to the left of the text. This hanging indentation helps the reader see and understand the organization of the passage.

How To Say You’re Sorry

    CBS MoneyWatch posted an article on seven ways that apologies should be conducted in business.  Some make a lot of sense to me – others not so much.  For instance, the writer, Tom Searcy, suggests that we don’t apologize nearly enough in business situations.  He believes that apologies “take the energy out of conflicts,” which may be true, but there is a fine line between an expression of sympathy and a condescending “sorry you feel that way.”  Below I have outlined four prominent apologies.  Read through them and discuss.

Apology 1: Netflix Fail

In the fall of 2011, Netflix was in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, CEO Reed Hastings decided to split the business into two unwieldy entities, requiring customers to work harder at accessing their memberships and services.  Then he raised prices.  The move was met with huge negative backlash .  A million customers walked out the door.

Then, under pressure, Hastings caved.  Soon after, he issued a video apology.


Check out the SNL video spoof. 

Apology 2: Jetblue is Very Very Sorry

In February of 2007, an ice storm slammed the East Coast, severely disrupting air traffic.  JetBlue came under fire for many customer service missteps, and particularly for not applying common sense to make their passengers more comfortable during a horrible situation (in one story, a girl urinated in her seat during a ground delay due to flight attendants’ strict enforcement of an FAA regulation requiring passengers to stay seated.)

Many consider this a model corporate apology:  Jetblue Apology

Apology 3:  Colgan Air Disaster.  Sorry/Not Sorry. 

This excerpt is from a letter written by Colgan Air executives after the airing of a Frontline special about Colgan Air #3407, which crashed in Buffalo in 2009, killing all on board.  In the final analysis, NTSB reported pilot error and management problems as cause of the crash.

What do you think of Colgan Air after reading this?: letter_colgan_air_safety

Apology 4: A Real Apology – And A Shot In the Arm for Penn State’s Battered Reputation.

Now read “Hey CEOs, THIS is the Right Way to Apologize,” written after Onward State Managing Editor Devon Edwards mistakenly announced Joe Paterno’s death via Twitter.

Sheryl Sandberg: Defending Yourself vs Taking Responsibility

All this talk of apologies leads me back to the words of Sheryl Sandberg.  She seems to advocate taking responsibility, even if the situation is not exactly our fault (the traffic didn’t cause me to be late; I was late because I failed to account for traffic).

Reality is far more gray.  Usually many factors come into play when things go wrong.  The stories that people hear and judge us by are not always the whole truth.

So under what circumstances should we take full responsibility and (publicly or privately) apologize?  And under what circumstances should we try to explain the “whole truth” and defend ourselves?






How To Write With Flair

Five Ways to Write with Flair

By Heather Holleman, Ph.D.

Most of us will have thousands of occasions for writing in the next year: emails, text messages, resumes, blog entries, cover letters, articles, love letters, essays, reports, memos, or our next big novel. How do we make our writing interesting to our audience? With flair!
It’s easy. I know 5 methods. Ready?

1. Choose a verb with flair.

Eliminate feeble verbs (am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, seems, appear, exists). These verbs don’t show anything happening. Use exciting verbs. I love verbs like grapple and fritter. Grapple with strong verbs to fritter away the feeble ones.

2. Toggle between the Big 5 punctuation marks. 

When you want to create complexity and voice in your writing, try using the Big 5: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, and comma.

Here’s how:

To highlight a part of your sentence–like this one–use dashes. Dashes shout. On the other hand, if you want to whisper and share a secret with an audience (like this one), use parentheses. Parentheses whisper. Semicolons confuse most; they unite full sentences that belong together because the second sentence explains or amplifies the first. Commas help the reader along by following introductory clauses, or they combine two sentences when you want to use a conjunction like and, but, for, or, nor, so (commas can be really hard unless you had grammar instruction as a kid). Finally, the colon designates that a list or definition will follow.

So the Big 5 include: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma.

3. Vary the length of your sentences and change the way they start to create rhythm.

See sample paragraph above.

4. Garnish your paragraph with some clever wordplay if you can.

Common cleverness in writing includes: puns, repeated first words, self-answering questions, understatement, just being funny, just being YOU. However, avoid overused expressions and clichés.

5. Engage your audience.

Establish rapport by talking to them. Are you wondering how this works? Just notice them in your writing (like I just did). Make it obvious that you are talking to people.

Try these simple things to create some flair in your writing today. Enjoy some written flair.

Dr. Heather Holleman


Dr. Heather Holleman is a successful author, inspirational speaker and Penn State writing instructor.  Her book Writing With Flair was published in 2011.