Can You Take a Compliment?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2013 in Relationships, Writing and Speaking | 0 comments

For much of my life, I wrote for myself. I journaled extensively, wrote poems occasionally, and tried my hand at short stories and essays as well. Then I tucked them away in a safe place like the back of my closet or in the file cabinet under ‘work in progress.’ When I began sharing my writing, people I knew and loved complimented me on both content and style and were affirming. They spoke freely about what they liked. I, however, had a hard time hearing it. Outwardly, I smiled and thanked them for their kind words. Sometimes, I even let what they said soak in a little. Yet, within an hour or two, I would still discount them in my mind. “She just said that because she likes me,” I would tell myself. “He doesn’t know much about writing; if he did, he wouldn’t like mine!” In the absence of confidence and in the presence of intense vulnerability, I could not take a compliment. I was aware of my own challenges in this area. I would note how long it took, upon hearing a compliment, before my brain would reject it, resist it, or downplay it. One thing I completely missed, though, was the impact I had on others when I did this. Years ago, while I was in graduate school training to become a teacher, my mentor teacher remarked on the glowing evaluation the director of the program gave me after observing the lesson I led with a group of students. With youthful arrogance and naiveté, I spoke freely to my mentor teacher. “She just likes me,” I said. “I could have delivered a horrible lesson, and she still would have been complimentary.” I was fortunate. My mentor teacher embodied a powerful blend of compassion and firmness, and taught me lessons that were never covered in our graduate classes. She reminded me of the professionalism, experience, and objectivity of the person who had just evaluated me. She helped me see how far I had overstepped with the comment I had made and how, in my inability to take a compliment, I had actually disrespected and undermined the director of the program and all that was involved in evaluating me. Many more years passed before I understood that, even when we politely accept a compliment, smiling and nodding on the outside, we commit the same offense if we internally discount it. When we dismiss what another person has said to us, we are effectively rendering their opinion invalid. We are not hearing or seeing who they are, and we are rejecting the gift that they offer to us. Rather than acknowledging the vulnerability they have walked through to express...

Read More

The Op Ed Project

Posted by on Jun 23, 2013 in Business, Education, Writing and Speaking | 0 comments

Several months ago, my rabbi, Rachel Gurevitz, and I were talking about our writing and how people choose to use writing as a vehicle to carry their voice and message to a larger audience. “You should check out The Op Ed Project,” she said. She gave me a brief overview and shared the personal value she had received from attending. Their website,, provided all the information I needed to make my decision. The home page states, “The OpEd Project’s Mission is to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world. A starting goal is to increase the number of women thought leaders in key commentary forums to a tipping point.” I signed up. Recently, I completed the Core Seminar: Write to Change the World, a day-long experience that far exceeded what I saw described on the website. I had the privilege of spending eight hours with twenty-two diverse women with one common goal: to make a difference using the written word. We received invaluable information about how to think through and work with the essential elements of writing an Op Ed. Before that, though, we worked together until each person in the room was able to clearly articulate an area of expertise and what made her a credible expert on that subject. I watched, in awe, as the seasoned Harvard lecturer with a doctorate and several publications navigated the same path of challenge, discovery and clarification as the twenty-year-old with a GED. In the end, how we tell our story and how we establish ourselves as experts is not about who others say we are. It is about becoming grounded and clear about the contribution we bring to a given conversation, and then having the vehicle, training, and the “access pass” to navigate in the world as a thought leader who creates change. Today I am paying forward the gift my rabbi gave to me. Check out the website: Attend a workshop, or share the information with women in your life who would benefit from attending. In our seminar, we learned that 90% of Op Eds are submitted by men. The Op Ed Project has a mission and a vision to give women the tools they need to change this number. Please spread the word.  ...

Read More

Father’s Day Poem

Posted by on Jun 16, 2013 in Relationships, Writing and Speaking | 0 comments

The school my daughters attend has a beautiful graduation tradition. Teachers stand at the lectern, one at a time, and read a poem to each graduate. The poem begins and ends with the graduate’s name, and contains snippets and memories that encapsulate the experience the faculty have had of that student through his or her years attending the school. This artistic acknowledgement is a vehicle for teachers to share with the community the growth and uniqueness of each graduate. The students listen and soak in the experience of being seen and celebrated. Holidays and birthdays are often when we think most about creating gifts that acknowledge and celebrate loved ones. A few words delivered from the heart, though, can make a powerful impression any day of the year. In my recent article, Y Smile, I talked about what this can feel and look like when we deliver a spoken acknowledgment to someone. Today’s post, in honor of Father’s Day, is an acknowledgement in the form the teachers at my daughters’ school use at graduation. If you choose to write one of these for someone special in your life, consider reading it out loud to them when you present it. The cadence, tone, and emotion in your voice will be an additional gift to the one who receives your acknowledgement. Dad. One long step for every three of my tiny ones. I stood on a chair to see what our kitchen looked like from your 6’2″ perspective. Racing me around the perimeter of the house, assuring me that, yes, you ran your fastest when I won. Hundreds of games of checkers, never letting me win until the day I finally did. Mix tapes you made for me that soothed me to sleep many angsty nights. Transporting the cat and cleaning up the aftermath. Teaching me to drive the truck, a stick, and parking on hills two days before the test. Late-night car repairs in the freezing cold, under the lamp of the mall parking lot. Always coming when I called. Wednesday night pizza and flute lessons for years and years and years. Leaving the decision in my fourteen-year-old hands to decide to fly or stay home, knowing there are no guarantees in life, only choices. Two quotes, spoken at different times, that lasted a lifetime: “That’s one thing I admire about you, Sarah. You never take the easy way out,” and “I trust you.” Our journey to Maryland in a fully loaded van, leaving at 3:02 a.m. Journey to Baltimore, building a shower, more car repairs. Always coming when I called. Holding our newborn babies in your white-suited arms. Gifting your granddaughters tool boxes with real tools. Walking and talking...

Read More

Careless Errors in Workplace Writing? Think Again.

Posted by on Jun 9, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I recently worked with a company that matched the profile of my ideal client. The company had a valued employee who excelled at his job but whose written communication skills were problematic. Emails contained numerous errors. Written reports required massive revision and editing from his supervisor. The company spoke about this employee with great respect, and assured me that he was one of the most hard-working employees I would ever meet. Their description of the situation was the first indicator I had about the complexity of the issue. Although the emails were full of what appeared to be careless errors, this employee was not careless in any other aspects of his job. In fact, he was one of the most attentive, dedicated employees in their department. I assessed writing samples before I met with the employee, and did a thorough error analysis. There were specific rules of standard grammar and punctuation that the employee had not yet internalized. He also needed support knowing how to break large writing tasks–such as a long report–into organized planning, drafting, revising, and editing steps. The top priority, however, was figuring out how to eliminate the errors he made in his emails. We worked for several weeks and saw steady progress in all three areas. He learned how to break large writing tasks down into manageable chunks and produced several long reports with ease and confidence. The visual approach we used to cover grammar rules and mechanics made sense to him, and he mastered the content quickly. The strategies we implemented for editing his emails did work, and the number of errors initially decreased. However, as we neared the end of our work together, this was the one area we continued to see discrepancy. He was working hard, and doing everything he had learned. Yet a significant number of his outgoing emails still contained a high percentage of seemingly careless errors. I did more research, and asked my client to return to the basics with me. Using a sentence he had written, I asked him to read the same sentence on his computer screen first, then on paper, and finally on an angled iPad screen. In all three trials, his brain autocorrected the error that was present in his writing. He could not see the error, and read the sentence as if it had already been corrected. Then I asked him to use a free text-to-speech app that read the sentence out loud to him. He heard and corrected the error immediately, laughing with some discomfort at how obvious the error was. We continued to test this application, and found that, by using this tool in conjunction with the other skills he mastered through...

Read More

Y Smile

Posted by on Jun 2, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Direct communication is at the heart of building relationships and creating team. Yet, for many, finding the words to say and having the courage to speak them out loud is no minor feat. Talking to your sister or your best friend is one thing, but how willing are you to share your most authentic self with someone you don’t know or who you think may not like what you have to say? I swim regularly at my local YMCA. At the time that I swim, more than half the pool is reserved for H20 walkers–people who are walking and exercising in the water. Two lanes are available for swimmers. Last week, I hopped into the only empty lane at the same time one of the H2O walkers swam under the lane divider into the lane. I waited until she swam to my end of the pool, and I asked if she was okay sharing the lane. She was not. My ‘let’s avoid conflict’ instinct kicked in, and I opted for asking the woman in the other lane if she was willing to share her lane with me. She was. As I swam my half-mile that morning, I watched my lane neighbor gladly welcome another walker into her lane and they slowly walked back and forth, laughing and chatting as they exercised their bodies. The man who joined her is a regular at the Y as well. I have seen him there a few times before. I began to watch him more closely. How had he brought such a smile to the face of this person who I had found to be kind of grumpy and unwilling to share? After my swim, I stretched my legs and arms in the whirlpool next to the pool and continued to watch. He chatted briefly with another woman who was working hard to navigate the steps out of the pool. She stopped, holding the railing, and laughed so hard I could hear her over the jets. What a gift, I thought to myself. Soon, he had successfully entered the whirlpool with his own injured knee and was sitting between the H2O walker with whom he had shared a lane and me. I decided to practice what I tell others to do all the time: see and say what you appreciate. Do this often and with people with whom you have no familiarity or rapport. Over time, this practice increases the ease and confidence we need for speaking when conflict is present as well. I took a moment, thinking of the words and finding my courage to say something heartfelt to a person I did not know. I waited until he looked in my...

Read More