Scene in an office supply store: I’m ordering a new desk chair. They don’t have any armless desk chairs in the store, so I’m ordering online in the store. Free shipping. Hard to hate.
Checking to make sure I can return it to the store if my butt doesn’t like it. The duct tape on the old chair should last till the new one gets here.
Man [interrupting employee helping me]: Sir, I need a mailbox. Where is the one in this store?
Employee: We don’t accept letters, we do UPS.
Man: That is not the same?Employee: ? ? ?
Me: This store does UPS. The post office is USPS. It’s different.
Man: Oh! So, no post box here?
Employee: Nope. [Goes back to helping me with order.]
Man: [Looks at letter, not having an answer . . .]
Me: There is a post office at 7th Ave., just south of Indian School. If you aren’t going that way, I am. I can take it for you.
Man: [Looking confused.] Why would you do that?
Me: I’m going to the grocery store. I’ll drive right past the post office. I’ll be happy to take it.
Man: But why? What do you expect from me?
Me: Nothing. But I realize that handing over a letter to a stranger can feel odd. So I won’t be upset if you decide not to.
Man: You would take this to the post office just because I need it done?
Me: Yes. It is on my way to the grocery store. I would be happy to do it, it is easy to help.
Employee: I’d trust her. She’s funny and lives close and is here a lot.
Man: I will do it! [He then hands me the letter, which I take with both hands for cultural reasons he will understand. It shows respect.]He then takes both of my hands and kisses the backs of them. I smile. He smiles. The employee smiles. And the letter got mailed.
Pens. Ballpoints, gel pens, fountain pens, technical drawing pens. And while I’m at it, mechanical pencils, wood pencils, colored pencils. I love them all. Well, OK, not all. I favor extra-fine points, clear blue ink, (and burgundy, purple, or dark green ink) and pens that are comfortable to hold. From time to time, I review them. If you never use a pen or pencil to write, you can skip this article. But you’ll miss out on the marvelous disappearing ink.
The Pilot Frixion pen has the secret in the name. The newness is friction. In the photo on the left, you can see the capped pen. On the back end, there is a nub of plastic. It is not a regular “eraser” because it is not rubber and doesn’t wear down when you use it. It erases because the friction of rubbing the writing heats up the paper and the ink disappears. No wearing out the paper, no tearing.
The writing end of the pen is a size o4, so very fine. The point is tough, and lasts a long time. The ink didn’t skip on me, not on regular paper, not on hyper smooth paper or rougher paper, either. You can use the pen for drawing, too, as it dries quickly. Cross-hatching works really well with this pen. For left-handers: the ink dries quickly enough so you won’t smear it.
No, I don’t have wonderful handwriting. In the sample on the left, you can see that I started to erase a few words. It works. I didn’t erase the whole thing, but you can see that it works.
So, if heat is the eraser, would heating the whole paper erase all the writing? I could have used a hair dryer to find this out, but instead, I did something you should not do. It’s dangerous. I took the paper and put it on my electric stove burner, and turned on the burner. To heat the paper. I should have used an iron. That works, too, I found out later. After I found the iron.
(The faint stripes you see aren’t in the paper. I took the photos under an LED light, which throws a faint shadow on the card.
You can see the burner at the top of the image. You can also see the ink disappearing. I pulled the card before it got too hot. The heat idea was right–but it’s much safer to create the heat with the plastic eraser at the other end.
Once the heat did the erasing, I began to fret. After all, Phoenix gets hot in the summer, and my car gets hotter in a parking lot, waiting for me to finish teaching for the day. What would happen if all my notes vanished in the hot car?
The only way to make the paper colder, fast, was to place the piece of paper in the freezer. In less than a minute, the writing appears again. The “erased” writing came back to the same readability as it was when I used the plastic nub eraser.
What if you don’t want all this disappearing and re-appearing? Well, there is a notebook, the Rocketbook, that allows you to write, put your work on Google docs, put the notebook in the microwave to clean it, and keep using it. I have not tested the book or the app or the notebook yet.
Why didn’t I do this all on video? Because I’m still learning Gutenberg, WordPress’s new posting method, and wanted to practice using photos first. New things are fun, but Gutenberg needs a bit of getting used to.
The pen is lightweight and the cap pulls off (it doesn’t screw) and posts on the back of the pen, if you need a longer pen to feel comfortable.
I’ve just ordered a number of different pens from JetPens, and once they arrive and are given a test drive, I’ll be doing a review and give-away.
The Pilot Frixion pen is my own purchase. The opinions in this review are mine and not influenced by anyone else.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches business writing, grammar, getting along with difficult people, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and other useful classes to businesses.
The plane landed, each row of passengers stood, grabbed their roll-aboards, and headed onto the next segment of their life. Lucky for me, there was a ladies room right at the gate. Not a fan of airplane lavatories, I’m happy to find one close to the gate. I zipped in, sent the 16 ounces of water I’d had back into the world, zipped up, washed my hands, and headed for the exit. Not so fast.
There was a tablet embedded in the wall, flashing. It was impossible not to look. There were five emojis, from frowney to smiley, asking me to “rate my bathroom experience.”
I did not write the list above, but I agree with it.
I ignored it, and a few minutes later, I received a text, asking me to rate the bathroom experience because I “forgot” to do so when I left the bathroom. No, I didn’t forget—I’m not touching some public screen in a bathroom. As my mom used to say, “You don’t know where it’s been.”
I do not see myself as the dispenser of emoticons, from bathrooms to restaurants to valet parking. Not every action and experience needs a grade. Clicking on stars to evaluate is not really anything more than saying “I noticed.” Supposing I give the bathroom a 1 (low). What does that mean? Was the space dirty? Was I irritated I had to wait? Was there toilet paper? There is no improvement possible if all you see is a scowling emoji.
I understand the need for opinions, and I understand the need to ignore them. Not every suggestion is important or valuable–many of them encourage people pleasing rather than real improvement.
When I was writing my course on getting along with difficult people, I spoke with many class participants, instructors, developers of workbooks. Many helpful suggestions came my way, some of which are saved for other books. But there were also suggestions that don’t work (“Some people just need to be throat-punched”) and can be ignored.
Social media has made us eager for approval, “likes,” and clappy-hand emojis. Anything less than best and we feel disappointed. Or worse, misunderstood and isolated.
Critical thinking is still important. And so is judgement. It’s hard not to yearn for approval, but if that is all we care about, we won’t go far.
—Quinn McDonald is a training developer and trainer who teaches writing, creative problem solving and getting along with difficult people.
Are you a resolution maker? A word-of-the-year person? A vision-board-maker? There is something about the arbitrary day of winter on which we decide how to behave for another year that makes being a better person sound sensible.
The most frequent resolutions are eating healthy, getting more exercise, saving more money, in that order. The most frequent resolutions are usually gone by the end of February.
Abandoned flowers. Someone rejected? Forgotten? 2019 will bring ups and downs. No year is perfect. Discernment helps us decide where to put our energy to the best use.
Those flaws you have, the ones that look fatal, may not be what you have to pull out and get rid of. In our binary culture, where we see things as good/bad, up/down, go/stop, we miss the nuance of habits.
Let’s take being lazy. Sounds bad, no? Lazy–not getting enough done, not starting early enough, always have work pending.
Now take a look at the other side: Lazy may be another way of thinking a project through. Taking time to weigh a decision. Pausing to process information that could be critical. Not being rushed to a decision that everyone else wants.
Let’s take a look at those resolutions. First, if you feel that you are not a good human and have to change yourself—resolutions are not a good way to create a self-makeover. When you start with the idea that you are not enough, or bad, or are socially awkward, the road to improvement seems long and hard. Almost impossible. Because it is. Who can fix all those character flaws in a year? Where to start? How to continue without flagging?
All of our faults work like that–there are positive aspects to all our shortcomings. There are times when it is fine to be angry, even to act on your anger. There are times when acting on your anger can cost your a job or a relationship.
The difference is discernment: the ability to judge and sift through emotions and reactions until you find a practical solution. Does this friendship reflect your values? Are you choosing your action just to please someone? Is it time to speak up for what you want? Is it time to focus on others? Discernment is valuable to anyone looking to make some change. It’s the balance beam for your emotions.
I have the bad habit of being a people-pleaser. My clients are happy with that behavior. But often, it is not in my best interest. Last month, a friend asked me to pick up some candles for a party. I was teaching that day and had quite a bit of administrative work to do before I left class.
The right answer would have been to say, “Sorry, I can’t.” But I wanted to please my friend, so I spent an hour looking for the right candles, couldn’t find them, and showed up late for the party. There was no recognition for trying, just frowns that I was late. I was humiliated, but it was my own doing. Discernment would have let me weigh what I could achieve in the time before the party and say “No, sorry, I can’t do that today.” So for 2019, I’ll be working on discernment. Watch this space.
—Quinn McDonald is a training developer, trainer, and creativity coach. She teaches business writing, dealing with difficult people, and creative problem solving.
Seems that my last post (about marketing coaching like we market cars and detergent) stirred the pot. I have been informed that I am wrong. Fear, I am told, is the way to get people to pay attention. Maybe fear gets people to pay attention, but I know for sure that fear is NOT the way to make people make a purchase decision they will be happy with. Fear calls out anger, and who wants to start a relationship with an angry person?
Here’s another tempting offer I got to increase my coaching services: “Do you want a RUTHLESS competitive advantage, or simply become extinct due to your inability to adapt to this already changed environment?”
This brightly decorated structure is a storage shed. It doesn’t look like a storage shed, and it’s not for everybody. But it is noticeable, unique, and probably not found in a lot of shed ads. That’s the point. When you are different, you stand out. Be meticulous in your presentation, be clear, and you’ll stand out all on your own.
I’m a coach. My job is to listen. It’s not to be ruthless. My clients need support and, occasionally, accountability. They don’t need me to be ruthless, they have enough of that at work or in their head, part of the chorus of inner critics keeping them from finding out what the best solution is this time. Also, just as an aside, there are more choices than either being a ruthless competitor or becoming extinct. Many more. For example, you can be encouraging, realistic, and kind. You can also be insightful, enthusiastic, supportive, and helpful.
So, ruthless sales person, your two choices don’t make me smile and recognize my values. And I don’t want to be in your ruthless group, contributing to your bottom line.
Years ago, I saw this same cycle happening. Here’s the cycle: Group of people who participate in non-traditional work but are not good at business decide to follow the American business model. Someone shows up and offers to do the business work for them. The non-traditionalists sign up. After all, they will make money doing their non-traditional thing! Artists once sold their work by putting up a tent and putting out their art work. Promoters stepped up and offered to make the shows “more professional.” For a while it worked.
Then the professionals decided to treat art like manufacturing. More people, more sales, right? What would get people to come in? Face painting for kids, food for adults and kids, dog parades, music. And the result? Art became an entertainment for bored people, who wandered up and down art festival aisles, touching art with grease-stained fingers, allowing their dogs to pee on displays and tent poles, telling artists their work was “too expensive,” and “I could buy the same thing at Wal-Mart for a lot less.” The American business model is all about money–making it and spending it.
Producers started to make money, but artists made less. Once artists had to pay not only for their space, but also for electricity, better locations, ads in programs, parking, it became less profitable to be a show artist. Yes, there are still great shows, and yes, some artists are still making money at shows.
But if you have a non-traditional product or service, there are also new ways to explore to attract fans of that non-traditional work. And, in my experience, it’s not through fear, and not through being ruthless.
—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and a trainer in business writing.
It’s the marketing method that’s been around for a while. It has come up for air and is still going strong: to sell your service or product, you have to find the client’s pain point, push it, then tell the client you can cure their pain.
After a short stall, the idea has been picked up as a method of connection on Linked In. For the last three months, I’ve received more requests for connection on Linked In than I have in years before. The requests progress down a similar path.
First comes the sugary request, generally using “I know you are busy, but . . . ” and “I want to meet exciting entrepreneurs who are not afraid of putting themselves out there . . .” followed by some sentence including the grammatical tooth-grinder, “Experts such as yourself . . .”
Most of the people who connect immediately drop any interest in my clients, what I’ve already tried, or what my goals are. They just leap into the idea that I am not making enough money, and that is a sign I’m not quite good enough, and money is within my reach if only I send them some first.
I wrote back to one of the pain-point-peddlers and said that my coaching focus is not on C-suite executives. I’d rather help people on the way up who need some writing or communicating help. That’s what I do. In my mind, I’m setting a healthy boundary. In the seller’s mind, I’m presenting an objection, which has to be proven wrong. Sigh. Not interested in those methods.
Here’s what works for my clients:
I become interested in them, in their work, ask questions about their business.
I listen to what they want to achieve.
I check in with them, to make sure I heard their needs correctly.
I ask what they have already tried, what worked and what did not.
I toss out a suggestion, usually connected to something I can do.
If the potential client is interested, I encourage them to ask me questions.
I’m clear about what I can do and what is not my area of expertise.
If I can’t deliver what they want, but I know someone who can, I offer to connect them. I’m willing to help, even if I’m not the right person for the job. And helping is the point. Clients remember who helped and who just sold.
Not every client presentation ends in my getting the contract, but listening always helps a conversation work. Most clients know where they are hurting. I don’t want to press on the pain and turn it to anger or desperation. I’m better off seeing if I have a skill that matches a need. It’s worked for 15 years. I think I’ll keep doing it.
–Quinn McDonald is a corporate trainer who teaches business writing and problem solving.
By 4:00 p.m. I was hungry. Dinner is later these days; we aren’t both home until about 7:00 p.m. But by later in the afternoon, even with a good lunch, I’m sure I will waste away without a snack. But it has to be healthy, too. I headed for the fridge for my usual snack–a red pepper. Sometimes it gets a dab of peanut butter, sometimes a smear of soft cheese. Other times, just plain. A sweet red pepper is a perfect thing.
As I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowly exhaling its sweet aroma and crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.
Automatically, I reach for the sadder pepper. Training from long ago. In my family, we were not allowed to eat the fresh, new, crisp fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. We did not waste in our house. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years. Waste was not a choice, it was a way to stay alive. A habit once learned is hard to break.
The result? We rarely ate tasty, just-picked fruits or vegetables. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost gross, and saved it from the trash by eating it, cooking it, or burying it in a casserole or soup.
I hesitated, my hand over the older pepper. I knew it would not be crunchy, and the bright red taste had faded to a tougher skin and limp texture. And then it struck me: there are omelets, soups, garnishes, juices that could benefit from the older pepper. But the firm one, the one glowing in the corner, is meant to be eaten now. While it is fresh and juicy. While it is “now” perfect. That is when I will appreciate it most, honor it best.
The older pepper can benefit from another technique, but this one? I’m celebrating it (and my taste buds) for its perfect combination of temperature, color, and happiness.
Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh. We can’t control much, but we can control the choices we do have.
Writing letters to complain about a lack of service or discuss a product that doesn’t work is never easy. We not only want to vent, we also want to get a different result than our first experience. But we often write at the wrong moment, so we write an angry, hostile screed. The reader either wants distance from the anger or to explain what went wrong, which does nothing for the writer.
Here are some steps that make writing a complaint letter more effective.
1. Are you still angry? Wait. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but when you are feeling angry you can’t think clearly. Feel your anger first. When you are calm again, you are ready to write. Yelling does not inspire contrition.
2. Use facts. Start with the point at which things went wrong. Stick to real events and real results. “The idiot who didn’t show up, even after we waited for 20 minutes,” is not as effective as, “The instructor didn’t show up. Twenty minutes later, we were still waiting.”
3. Explain your emotions, using “I” statements–how you felt, what that emotion led to. “I felt disappointed. I’d waited a year to hear the speaker and was hoping to interview him for our book group.”
4. If you are owed something, be clear and ask for it. This includes apologies. Ask for a refund, a replacement, but do not set a financial value on something that cannot be replaced. If someone insults you, don’t demand $3 million dollars to make yourself feel better. Be realistic. (Often, apologies are harder to get than a financial payment.)
5. If you know how the situation should have been handled, explain it in simple terms. You don’t know the rules and company culture, so offer it as a suggestion, not as a demand. Show how your suggestion could work. Many mistakes are training issues–people in charge without enough training to handle the job.
6. Thank the person ahead of time for taking action or extending an apology. Remain polite. You are more likely to get a positive response.
Case study: Several weeks ago, I signed up for a class at a museum. I’m a member of the museum. When I showed up for the class, there was a last-minute substitution–another class I had no interest in. The volunteer knew nothing about the old class and tried to get me to stay.
I wrote a curt letter to the museum. I got a reply addressed to my husband only (his name is on my membership). The apology was combined with a request that I sign up for another year of membership.
I wrote back, explaining the bad timing of the request, and suggesting that any correspondence be addressed to me, as they had addressed my husband at my email address (which contains my name.) I suggested that pitch letters be separate from apology letters. I explained that currently the museum had no way of reaching class participants if there were a change. Posting changes on the museum website is not useful, as those who have signed up for the class won’t check the website.
To my great surprise, I received a well-written, syntactically correct letter of apology. The writer explained how the mistakes had piled up. She made plain to mention that she wanted me to know about the events, and was not using the mistake creep as an excuse. She apologized in one sentence and then offered a free year of museum membership. The apology would have been enough, but the year of free membership assures her that I won’t leave in anger, and may become a better donor.
A good experience, all the way around. And yes, I let her know how grateful I was.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach. She teaches business writing.
The aboriginal tribes of Australia call the natural world, “The Speaking World,” by which they mean that paying attention to what you see, hear, and experience while out in nature is important to you. You can take it to heart, you can take it as metaphor, or you can ignore it.
(I teach communication, so I understand that no one listens to everything said. I also know that it is what we hear, and not what was said, that forms our decisions.)
This tree has been struggling for years: from drought, from sun, from neglect. It is in the strip between sidewalk and road, in front of an apartment building. And yet, the tree is neglected despite the people who look out of the windows every day.
The trunk is bleached white. The attachment to the ground is slim and dry. And yet, and yet. . . The tree lives. More than survives. The tree thrives.
Here is the rest of the tree.
For the weary passerby, for the uncertain walker, for the one who paces in the apartment, lonely and tired. The tree is not dead. It thrives in the Speaking World.
—Quinn McDonald is writing a book about The Invisible, Visible World. She teaches creative communication.
I’m researching platforms to run online classes. The platform needs to be easy to use (for participants), able to support pdfs and videos, and capable of in-person and as-you-need-it learning. There needs to be space to store class replies and work, and a webinar ability.
Your behavior and your words define your business and your values.
Last week, at a webinar run by an online teaching company, which I’ll call XYZ, I was impressed with the capacity of the program. It was easy to learn.
There was some pressure to sign up immediately, but it was a free webinar, and getting people to sign up is XYZ’s goal, after all. Also part of the pitch were the two tech-bros who were encouraging the audience to “participate” by typing “yes” to a lot of easy questions–sort of a built-in approval rating. To encourage more participation, they would mention a few names:
“Alfred in Texas just sent in a ‘yes’!”
“Shout out to Bill in Nebraska, who just told us ‘yes, yes, yes,’!”
Then I noticed the webinar’s background stock shots. All were people under 30. Most were male. Almost all were white. Oh, well, stock shots. But I was feeling as if this company was showing who their audience was through those shots.
I sent in a question: “Who is your audience? Based on the photo, it looks like people under 30, mostly male, mostly white.” The question was never addressed, not even via email afterwards. The questions before and after mine were answered.
The next section of the webinar was a series of well-produced testimonials. After two testimonials from men came a testimonial from a woman. Her company had used the online class program’s most expensive option and increased her reach, gotten more clients and now was hiring more staff because of her success.
One of the attendees typed in a comment. “She’s hot.” Not successful, not smart, not impressive, terms that had followed the men’s testimonials. Nope. “Hot” was what the woman got.
I typed in, “Really? That’s what you choose to say about her success story?” I expected the tech-bros to say something about the woman’s company. Nope. The next step surprised me. They replied to the guy who typed the remark.
“Yeah, she is!” said one of the tech-bros, chuckling.
“You should see her in person!” said the other one, also chuckling.
And then they returned to the charms of using XYZ. A call to answer “yes” to “Does this look like a deal you could use?”
I sat there for a while, wondering if I were being one of “those women.” You know the behavior I mean–the women who clap back when we are talked over at a meeting, the ones who don’t get up when a man says, “We could use some coffee here.” The woman who defends the unpopular person who has the good idea. That woman–the pariah of the office. I was that woman at the beginning of my career, and learned really fast that single mothers could not afford to be that woman in a small town. There were limited jobs, and a woman could develop a reputation for more than being an easy sex target. Once you were that woman, no company would hire you. You were a trouble maker, you were not a team player, you were not being grateful for your luck.
For the rest of the webinar, I couldn’t participate. I sat there, thinking about what to do. The program was good, but if I put money in their pocket, I’m giving them tacit approval. On the other hand, withdrawing my approval was not going to matter one way or another. It would not call attention to their poor behavior, or make them change their ways.
But this was not about my making XYZ a success or not. I don’t have that power either way. It was about standing up for that woman, even if silently. It was about not going along with the crowd if I could not agree with the crowd. Sure, I could rationalize joining. Easily. But I also felt my heart beating faster, my anger rising at this casual dismissal of a successful women. The best way to handle my anger was to feel it, acknowledge it, and then behave in a way I could accept. I left the webinar. I will not use the platform to run my online classes. I don’t want to participate in any part of XYZ’s company. One of the tech-bros was the head of marketing. He knew what he was doing. He was playing to the crowd. And I’m not his crowd.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches business writing–in person, up to now. She also teaches creative problem solving through games and innovative thinking. As a creativity coach, she helps people get in touch with their creativity and bring it out to the light of day and make good use of it in their life.