Watch Your Language

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Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

Professional language is a skill and a discipline that reflects feelings and personal character. Language includes both spoken and written words. When spoken, it includes words and sounds as well as voice inflections, facial expressions and body language. Language is a highly visual medium. That’s why it makes sense to say, “Watch your language.” and “Read my lips.”

“Get in touch with the way the other person feels. Feelings are 55% body language, 38% tone and 7% words.” — Source: thinkexist.com

“The body says what words cannot.” — Martha Graham (1894-1991)

“The language of the body is the key that can unlock the soul.” — Konstantin Stanislavsky

Language is usually equated with speech. But, it is also at the heart of the human thought process. People think and act within the framework of their language(s).

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)

“If one corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” — George Orwell

“Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

— Unknown

Language is a powerful force used for good or evil. This makes language a tool of one’s intentions, which in turn is submissive to one’s character.

“Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.” — Rita Mae Brown, Starting From Scratch, 1988 (also attributed to Alcaeus)

“The assassin and the slanderer differ only in the weapon they use; with the one it is the dagger, with the other the tongue. The latter is worse than the former, for the first only kills the body, while the other murders the reputation.” — Tyron Edwards

When one’s words are inconsistent with his intentions he needs to improve his language skills. When his words are inconsistent with his actions, he needs to improve his attitude.

“‘Careful with fire’ is good advice we know. ‘Careful with words’ is ten times doubly so.” — William Carleton

“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing” — Edmund Burke

“Go put your creed into your deed.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Use soft words and hard arguments.” — English Proverb

Words can empower others, sometimes with a subtle change in phraseology.

“Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have a different effect.” — Blaise Pascal

For example, compare the following two phrases and ask which one treats the person as an object:

“I’m assigning you to this task.” OR “I’m assigning this task to you.”

A professional communicates effectively not just by the words he chooses, but also when he uses them. Silence is an element of language and knowing when to remain silent is a key aspect of professional language. Precision means the right words or no words at the right time.

“Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth.” — Anna Brownell Jameson

“Grammar and logic free language from being at the mercy of the tone of voice. Grammar protects us against misunderstanding the sound of an uttered name; logic protects us against what we say having double meaning.” — Rosenstock-Huessy

“No one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut.” — Sam Rayburn (1882-1961)

Language is either the polish or the tarnish on one’s reputation.

“Language most shews a man: Speak, that I may see thee.” — Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

“We can learn much from wise words, little from wisecracks, and less from wise guys.” — William Arthur Ward

Some of the most polished professionals I know are capable of uttering a profanity or vulgarity when they are overcome by anger or other intense emotion. This is a forgivable offense and not necessarily a permanent blemish on their professionalism. However, professionalism is compromised when offensive words are standard fare in a person’s vocabulary. It indicates a lack of respect and self control as well as a limited vocabulary.

It’s probably fair to say that people are not always aware of their own improper language. An example that comes to mind is the phrase, “Oh my God!” If someone says God’s name and is not speaking to or about God, he is using the Lord’s name as a slang word. Regardless of one’s religious faith, professionalism means respect toward the sacred words and symbols of others.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” — Bible, Exodus 20:7

So what does all of this stuff about language mean in practice? A comprehensive list would be too long to include here. Still, I thought it useful to provide a few places to start.

  • Voice Quality — Become adept at using the full range of your vocal capacity: inflections, volume, pitch, projection, diction, pace, resonance and continuity of sound.
  • Silence — Become a good listener. Besides giving others a chance to speak, you will learn more by listening.
  • Power — Communicate with conviction and resolve. It’s easier to use the right language when you have the right attitude.
  • Introductions — Use Dr., Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., military rank or other title when introducing people and addressing them in a professional setting.
  • Boasting — Offering unsolicited advice, being a know-it-all and bragging subtract from professionalism.
  • Gossip — Spreading rumors and negative information about others is really an attempt to elevate your reputation by means of lowering others.
  • Posture — Whether standing or sitting, the way you lean, the direction you face, and the position of your head, legs, feet, arms, and hands can embellish or denude your words.
  • Face — Emotions and attitudes are projected most powerfully through facial expressions. Your facial expressions and head movements either support or contradict your words.

“I’m so excited for you.”

  • Mannerisms -– Avoid distracting movements, such as: jingling keys/coins, yawning, fixing or playing with hair, biting nails, picking nose, scratching, rubbing, and picking scabs.
  • Eyes — The windows to your soul often speak more loudly than your words. Eye contact, when, how often and how long can impact your underlying message.

“Eye contact is the best accessory.” — Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata

“The eyes have one language everywhere.” — George Herbert

Together, all parts of language reflect and define who we are. A dedicated effort to improve one’s language will pay huge dividends.

“As was his language so was his life.” — Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

“The game of life is the game of boomerangs. Our thoughts, deeds and words return to us sooner or later, with astounding accuracy.” — Florence Shinn

“Kind words, kind looks, kind acts and warm handshakes, these are means of grace when men in trouble are fighting their unseen battles” — John Hall

In the end, what matters most about our language is that it is heartfelt, kind, respectful, and in all other ways consistent with the definition of a professional.

“Let the words of my mouth bring You praise.
Let the words that I speak be seasoned with Your love and grace.
Let the things, O Lord, that I choose to say,
Bring glory, not shame, to Your name each day.
Let the words of my mouth bring You praise.”
— “Let the Words” by Gail Hamilton, performed by Take 6

God bless,

— CC

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© Copyright October 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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Dress Up

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Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

This topic is challenging because there are so many opinions on what constitutes professional attire and a lot of acceptable variations depending on the industry, company, day of the week, business function and more. Fortunately for you, I have acquired extensive expertise in this area through my circle of friends, who represent some of the most fashion-aware people in America, including: barbershop singers, professors, scientists, computer geeks, senior citizens and golfers. 😉

“Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it’s open to anybody who owns hideous clothing.” — Dave Barry

Professional Dress is a Matter of Respect

As with all areas of professionalism, attitude is at the core. In the case of dressing professionally, the specific attitude is respect. Respect yourself with the way you dress and your overall attitude of professionalism will rise to a new level.

“Put even the plainest woman into a beautiful dress and unconsciously she will try to live up to it.” — Lady Duff-Gordon (1863-1935)

The way you dress broadcasts to others how you see yourself. Thus, the adage, “Dress for Success.”

“Keeping your clothes well pressed will keep you from looking hard pressed.” — Coleman Cox

Dressing with respect includes good hygiene. At the risk of stating the obvious, here is my list of keywords: soap, razor, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, cologne, comb and nail clippers. Mom was right when she told you to wash behind the ears, comb your hair, brush your teeth and trim your nails. In case mom’s not around to check up on you, here’s a tip. If you draw blood when shaking hands, it’s time to trim your nails.

“Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.” — Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Your GPS

Style and Professionalism

Like medicine, more is not always better. Overdressing can have a negative effect on your image, although I believe that erring slightly on the side of overdressing will create fewer problems than the reverse.

“Looks are part of business. A businessman should never stand out more than his customers. His mannerisms, his clothes, everything about him… Moderation is the key.” — Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005

A stylish wardrobe can be important when it comes to color combinations, width of neckties, ensembles, buttons, stitching, fabric, creases and pleats and accessories. On the other hand, dressing professionally often requires rejection of other aspects of fashion.

“In your clothes avoid too much gaudiness; do not value yourself upon an embroidered gown; and remember that a reasonable word, or an obliging look, will gain you more respect than all your fine trappings.” — Sir George Savile, ‘Advice to a Daughter,’ 1688

“Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be.” — Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

For women, there is a difference between attractive and sexy. Displaying cleavage, thighs, and/or a bare midriff is unprofessional for most careers (if you get my point.)

“If you’re not selling, you shouldn’t be advertising.” -– Donald P. Nock (1928-2000), teacher and coach

A career woman who wants to be respected for her mind, capabilties and personality should not direct unnecessary attention to her looks by wearing clothing that looks like its been painted on her. Going easy on make-up and perfume is also good advice.

Accessorize with Care

For simplicity, I’ll define accessories as everything except clothing that people see and use to judge another person including: handbag, briefcase, car, jewelry and hair. Let’s be honest, body piercings, excessive and gaudy tattoos and outrageous hairstyles are not an advantage in most fields. These things may cause people to look at you and they may make a fashion statement. But, you have to be twice as good to overcome the first impression you make with these nontraditional accessories.

Your car is an accessory, too. More important than make and model are operability and cleanliness. A BMW that rattles, spews black smoke and is filled with food wrappers can’t compete with a shiny new and clean economy car.

Professional Appearance is a Choice

You might be thinking, “Well, this really isn’t who I am. I’m not a ‘suit and tie kinda person.’” I would counter that there isn’t a gene that defines how you dress, take care of yourself or conduct your business affairs. These are choices available to everyone.

Next, you might be thinking this is going to be hard. What’s the alternative?

“Doing nothing is very hard to do … you never know when you’re finished.” — Leslie Nielsen

Think about which path to success is hardest. The first way is to make the necessary changes in yourself to project professional image. The second way is to make no personal changes and devote your energies to convince everyone that you are a professional in spite of your unprofessional appearance. In other words, change thousands of opinions. The third option is to choose a profession which demands less in the way of appearance.

“My main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably.” — George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

God bless,

— CC

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© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com

Buying Bread

Before long, the television industry will have made a so-called reality series on every possible subject. So far, I haven’t seen one that takes place in a grocery store. As my contribution to the television industry I will offer this idea along with a storyboard for the pilot episode.

Imagine a woman going into a grocery store to buy bread. She picks up a loaf, squeezes it for freshness, checks the price, and makes the decision to try the bread. She has decided that the price is acceptable – she is confident that the bread is fresh and will meet her needs. The decision was made in a timely manner allowing time for the other decisions she will make before reaching the check-out counter.

“First weigh the considerations, then take the risks.” — Helmuth von Moltke (1800 – 1891)

The second shopper comes along and picks up two brands of bread, compares them, puts one in the shopping cart, the other back on the rack and proceeds to the check-out line. Suddenly he does an about-face, returning to the bread aisle to swap the first loaf for the second. There’s a pause. Indecision sets in. Will it be brand “A” or brand “B”? — then a blank stare accompanied by a cold sweat. Life is so full of tough decisions.

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.” — Jimmy Buffett

Shopper number three comes in for bread. He picks up the first loaf, reads the ingredients, weighs the bread, takes out one slice and performs a chemical analysis, computes cost per ounce, per calorie, and per grams of fiber, conducts a customer survey on taste, contacts Dun and Bradstreet for financial information about the manufacturer and rates the bread on his findings. Before he can repeat the process for the other 23 bread products, he is voted out of the store by the employees.

“You always second guess yourself. Just think of all the time you’d save if you just trusted yourself.” — Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005

— End of episode —

The second shopper was held hostage to indecision, fueled by the fear of the unknown and the imagined consequences of making a bad decision. The third shopper attempted to deal with the same fear by doing an excessive amount of research, research that had already been done. What shoppers two and three have in common is a total lack of perspective about the magnitude of the decision. Buying bread IS NOT a major life decision. How long will it take Shopper Three to select a car? Will Shopper Two begin hyperventilating if faced with a weighty moral decision?

“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.” — Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)

The first shopper made a timely decision using two simple pieces of information: freshness and price. The decision was made with confidence based on limited knowledge. The truth is, all decisions are made with partial information. No one ever has 100% of the information. Trust is required to fill in the information gap. Using a process that combines information with her intuition (i.e. faith), Shopper One was able to make a bread decision. Larger, more important decisions can be made the same way, including a decision about whether or not to take advantage of low-risk, life-changing opportunities.

“If I had to sum up in one word what makes a good manager, I’d say decisiveness. You can use the fanciest computers to gather the numbers, but in the end you have to set a timetable and act.” — Lee Iacocca

Most opportunities are missed because of fear, which leads to over-analysis and procrastination. Truthfully, opportunity is never missed. It’s just grabbed by someone else. What opportunities are standing at your doorstep? Perform your due diligence, then make a courageous and timely decision.

“Make a decision, even if it’s wrong.” — Jarvis Klem

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” — Elbert Hubbard

God bless,

— CC

© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
Read more “Clancy’s Quotes” at: ClancyCross.WordPress.com