Perusing the newspaper provided by my hotel in Bozeman, Montana, offered a couple of lessons in effective communication. One was a positive example while the other could be presented only as a “what not to do” illustration.

With the continuing demise of daily newspapers, I was as curious about the format as the content. So, I turned each page with rare newsprint-smudged fingers and alert eyes.

At one point my attention was drawn to two large, color-enhanced boxes with the words “Notice of Correction” at the top of each. They were the journalistic version of going to confession — and were done boldly and well.

Even a casual reader would not have missed these corrections — which were not tucked away among small-print legal notices. The lesson here, however, is not just for journalists.

All good communicators — professionally and personally — can benefit from this approach. So here’s the first lesson: The admission and correction of one’s error should be at least as prominent as the original failure.

If we misstate or misrepresent something, or speak of someone unfairly, our apology and correction should be as visible (or more so) than what was first said that deserves being rectified. Shrugging one’s shoulders and saying, “oops,” or rationalizing that “everyone makes mistakes” (or worse, scapegoating blame on another) doesn’t do the trick.

Like tucking away a needed correction in the fine print or otherwise downplaying it, any refusal to give deserved visibility to our errors and apologies doesn’t result in an honest reckoning.

We are all imperfect people. So it shouldn’t be so hard to say, “I was wrong,” and to say it as loudly as whatever we proclaimed that proved to be wrong.

As an important aside, however, there is much wisdom and maturity in taking more care on the front end to ensure that what we proclaim as truthful actually has validity.

Uncritically regurgitating what one sees on the internet or hears in a favored media outlet often results in widespread misinformation. As Barney Fife would advise, it’s wiser to nip it in the bud.

A job advertisement in a local paper.

(Photo: John D. Pierce)

A second lesson was found in a bad job posting from a local concrete company. Whoever wrote the ad copy is clearly in a work position that doesn’t match his or her gifts.

I can’t imagine a good potential employee reading the ad and thinking, “This sounds like a great place to work.” It may be such a place, but the ad was focused on the poor employees the company did not seek.

Good parents know the importance of telling children constructive things to do more than constantly harping on those destructive behaviors they should not do. If “don’t” is the first word in most every sentence, then good behavioral results cannot be expected.

This paid advertisement for potential employees of the concrete company seemed written in frustration. Rather than offering a career opportunity with clearly stated high expectations — which should be the intent — its wordy, negative approach focused exclusively on what the company wasn’t seeking.

Repeatedly using “Don’t apply if…” is a good way to get good people to not apply. The ad would be much more effective if the same concerns were communicated from a positive perspective.

Here’s how I’d suggest the ad be edited — and even cost less per word. First, delete all the “Don’t apply if…” language.

Instead, focus on those attributes the company hopes to find in applicants. The same concerns can be conveyed by positively stating, “Apply only if…”

Apply only if you:

  • take pride in your workmanship;
  • want to contribute to a high-performance team;
  • commit to punctuality and working hard all day, every day; and
  • seek a financially rewarding career.

While most of us don’t write ad copy or edit publications, we do engage with others daily in informal and formal ways. Giving thought to how we communicate — while choosing a positive way to express expectations — is important to better relationships within families, communities and work environments.

Therefore, being open and honest in our confessions and communicating our expectations from a positive perspective are just two of the ways to enhance our relationships.

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