Mad Libs!

Online Business Writing Training

We’re concluding our month on online business writing training with something fun: mad libs! Fill out the form below, and click Submit to get your silly story.

Share your mad libs with us by posting them as comments to this blog entry!

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

Online Business Writing Training



e.g., Mad Scientist

e.g., crazy

e.g., crazy

e.g., pours

e.g., chemicals

e.g., pour

e.g., Billy

e.g., pours

e.g., conference room

e.g., pours

e.g., pour

e.g., sinisterly

e.g., pouring

e.g., crazy

e.g., mad

e.g., the lab
 

Three Really Common Grammatical Errors

Online Business Writing Training

Grammar may be a dying art. And, to be honest, there’s nothing really wrong with improper grammar. It can invite confusion, but people generally understand what you’re trying to say.

Still, employing improper grammar is like walking into a business meeting with your shoelaces untied. Among those who notice, you might appear slightly less polished, and you might stumble every now and then because your meaning isn’t quite clear. While there’s nothing really wrong with improper grammar, there’s also no disadvantage to employing proper grammar in professional settings.

Common Grammatical Error #1: Misusing “and I” and “and me”

Rule: Use “and I” when you’re included in the sentence subject. Use “and me” when you’re included in the sentence predicate.

Online Business Writing TrainingJeff and I will preside this year’s Office Olympics.

Online Business Writing TrainingPlease send the results of each event to Sandy and me.

Online Business Writing TrainingMe and Bill plan to compete in the cubicle slalom.

Online Business Writing TrainingTom and Gary hope to dethrone Caitlin and I as hallway bobsled champions.

If you’re uncertain of whether to use “and I” or “and me,” remove the reference to the other person(s), and the correct usage should be clear.

Online Business Writing TrainingI will preside this year’s Office Olympics.

Online Business Writing TrainingPlease send the results of each event to me.

Online Business Writing TrainingMe plan to compete in the cubicle slalom.

Online Business Writing TrainingTom and Gary hope to dethrone I as hallway bobsled champions.

Common Grammatical Error #2: Subject/Pronoun Disagreement

Rule: Use singular pronouns (he, she, him, her, his, hers) when referring to a single person. Use plural pronouns (they, them, their) when referring to more than one person.

Online Business Writing TrainingEach competitor has to submit his or her event preferences to Mike by close of business.

Online Business Writing TrainingCompetitors must return their waiver forms to Lindsey.

Online Business Writing TrainingEach competitor has to submit their event preferences to Mike by close of business.

Online Business Writing TrainingCompetitors must return his or her waiver forms to Lindsey.

Historically, grammarians assumed male pronouns with generic singular subjects; however, using female pronouns with generic singular subjects is a rising trend. Either is correct.

Online Business Writing TrainingEach competitor has to submit his or her event preferences to Mike by close of business.

Online Business Writing TrainingEach competitor has to submit his event preferences to Mike by close of business.

Online Business Writing TrainingEach competitor has to submit her event preferences to Mike by close of business.

For a company or organization, use the singular pronoun (it, its).

Online Business Writing TrainingOne Hour Courses sponsors the Office Olympics and will induct the overall champion into its Hall of Fame.

Online Business Writing TrainingOne Hour Courses sponsors the Office Olympics and will induct the overall champion into their Hall of Fame.

Common Grammatical Error #3: Homophones

“Homophone” is just a fancy term for words that sound the same but have different meanings with different spellings. (Ironically, “homophone” doesn’t even resemble a homophone.)

Homophone #1: it’s and its

Rule: Use “it’s” when contracting “it is,” “is has,” “it was,” etc. Use “its” as a possessive pronoun.

Online Business Writing TrainingIt’s Lucille and George’s turn to compete in the pair stair skate.

Online Business Writing TrainingLucille’s costume lost some of its beads.

Online Business Writing TrainingOne Hour Courses sponsors the Office Olympics and will induct the overall champion into its Hall of Fame.

Online Business Writing TrainingIts Lucille and George’s turn to compete in the pair stair skate.

Online Business Writing TrainingLucille’s costume lost some of it’s beads.

Online Business Writing TrainingOne Hour Courses sponsors the Office Olympics and will induct the overall champion into it’s Hall of Fame.

Homophone #2: they’re, their, and there

Rule: Use “they’re” when contracting “they are,” “they were,” etc. Use “their” as a possessive pronoun. Use “there” when referring to a place or location or as a subject, e.g., “There is…” or “There are…”

Online Business Writing TrainingThey’re in first place for the pair stair skate so far.

Online Business Writing TrainingTheir performance led a standing ovation.

Online Business Writing TrainingLucille and George are waiting over there.

Online Business Writing TrainingThere is only one pair remaining, Claire and Mitchell.

Homophone #3: you’re and your

Rule: Use “you’re” when contracting “you are,” “you were,” etc. Use “your” as a possessive pronoun.

Online Business Writing TrainingYou’re anxiously waiting in anticipation.

Online Business Writing TrainingPlease refrain from using your cameras until the performance ends.

Online Business Writing TrainingYour anxiously waiting in anticipation.

Online Business Writing TrainingPlease refrain from using you’re cameras until the performance ends.

To strengthen your business writing, check out our online business writing courses: Writing Effective Business E-mails and Writing the Modern Memo. (Try our courses for free with promo code OHCBLOG.) You can also download ten tips for writing effective business e-mails.

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

Mean What You Say

Online Business Writing Training

A hilarious moment from last week’s Modern Family between smart and sassy Alex and clueless Luke has me thinking about communication:

Alex: Luke and I are doing a recycling drive. We collect enough bottles; they build a school in Africa.

Luke: Wouldn’t that be so cool to go to a school made out of bottles?

While Luke is admittedly naive, his literal interpretation does highlight everyday miscommunication. Let’s look at our recent history:

  • In 2009, miscommunication allowed the Nigerian underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to board the Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit, Michigan.
  • In 2006, miscommunication following the West Virginia coal mine disaster led to the false reporting of 12 surviving miners.
  • In 2005, miscommunication during Hurricane Katrina severely impacted rescue and relief efforts.
  • In 2004, miscommunication prior to Ronald Reagan’s memorial service led to the unnecessary evacuation of the Capital Building and a near-attack on Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher’s plane.

Undoubtedly, miscommunication is the cause of many, if not most, business problems and hours of lost productivity. As most of us have more e-mail than live conversations with our colleagues and business partners these days, clear, concise written communication becomes even more crucial. What’s more important: to say what you mean or mean what you say? That sounds like a brain teaser, but effective communication really requires communicators to mean what they say. Let me illustrate my point with the following signs (shamelessly taken from the Internet):

Toilet out of order. Please use floor below.

For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a day care center on the first floor.

We exchange anything—bicycles, washing machines, etc. Why not bring your wife along and get a wonderful bargain?

The authors of these signs clearly say what they mean, but presumably they don’t mean what they say. So, how do you really mean what you say?

  1. Read what you write. Miscommunication very often occurs from thoughtless communication. You can’t mean what you say unless you consciously know what you’re saying.
  2. Explain your reasoning. Your recipient doesn’t always know what you know or assume what you assume. If you communicate a recommendation or decision, particularly one the recipient may not understand or support, explain how you reached your conclusion to avert a potential negative reaction from the recipient.
  3. Think about context. Words have different meanings in different contexts. For example, “rhetoric” is defined as both “the art of speaking or writing effectively” and “insincere or grandiloquent language.” Make sure your context clarifies any possible misinterpretation, or use more direct language.

To strengthen your business writing, check out our online business writing courses: Writing Effective Business E-mails and Writing the Modern Memo. (Try our courses for free with promo code OHCBLOG.) You can also download ten tips for writing effective business e-mails.

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

P.S. Just for fun, here are more silly signs. :)

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Online Business Writing Training

Proper Comma Usage

Online Business Writing Training

Good business writing is the textual equivalent of a well-made, perfectly tailored suit. People who write well sound smart, confident, and successful. And yet, so much business writing is simply bad—the textual equivalent of frumpy pajamas. Let’s start with the abused, misused, and neglected comma.

Proper Comma Usage in Simple Sentences

What it is: A simple sentence has a subject and a predicate with one or more main verbs. (A simple sentence is also known as an independent clause.) A main verb is a verb that describes the primary action of the subject in the sentence. For example, “the falling London Bridge” is not a simple sentence because there is no main action. The bridge is falling, but “falling” is used as an adjective to describe the London Bridge, not a verb.

Simple sentence #1: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. (subject: Humpty Dumpty; main verb: sat)

Simple sentence #2: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and had a great fall. (subject: Humpty Dumpty; main verbs: sat, had)

Simple sentence #3: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. (subject: All the king’s horses and all the king’s men; main verb: put)

With simple sentences that have only one main verb, such as “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,” it’s pretty clear that a comma anywhere in the sentence doesn’t make sense:

Online Business Writing TrainingHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

But what about a simple sentence with two main verbs? Don’t use a comma:

Online Business Writing TrainingHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall and had a great fall.

Resist the temptation to insert a comma between “wall” and “and.” Because “had a great fall” is not itself a complete sentence, inserting a comma is incorrect comma usage:

Online Business Writing TrainingHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall, and had a great fall.

Proper Comma Usage in Compound Sentences

What it is: A compound sentence contains two or more simple sentences—each with a subject and a main verb.

Simple sentence #1: Jack fell down and broke his crown.

Simple sentence #2: Jill came tumbling after.

Compound sentence: Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

When connecting two simple sentences, you should use a comma with a conjunction (and, or, but, etc.):

Online Business Writing TrainingJack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

If you choose to omit the conjunction, you need to remove the conjunction and replace the comma with a semi-colon:

Online Business Writing TrainingJack fell down and broke his crown; Jill came tumbling after.

Or, you could simply make the compound sentence two simple sentences:

Online Business Writing TrainingJack fell down and broke his crown. Jill came tumbling after.

Employing a comma alone, without a conjunction, turns the compound sentence into a grammatically incorrect comma splice:

Online Business Writing TrainingJack fell down and broke his crown, Jill came tumbling after.

Proper Comma Usage with Complex Sentences

What it is: A complex sentence has one independent clause with one or more dependent clauses. An independent clause is a simple sentence with a subject and a main verb. A dependent clause contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a sentence.

Independent clause: The cradle will rock.

Dependent clause: When the wind blows (Note: not a complete sentence!)

Complex sentence: When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.

When the dependent clause precedes the independent clause, use a comma to mark the end of the dependent clause:

Online Business Writing TrainingWhen the wind blows, the cradle will rock.

When the independent clause precedes the dependent clause, no comma is necessary:

Online Business Writing TrainingThe cradle will rock when the wind blows.

Employing a comma after the independent clause creates an unnecessary and unnatural pause and is incorrect comma usage:

Online Business Writing TrainingThe cradle will rock, when the wind blows.

To strengthen your business writing, check out our online business writing courses: Writing Effective Business E-mails and Writing the Modern Memo. (Try our courses for free with promo code OHCBLOG.) You can also download ten tips for writing effective business e-mails.

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

Approaching Your Direct Reports as a Coach

Online Coaching Training

I know that American football enthusiasts are abuzz with the results of the Saints/Vikings playoff game, but today I’d like to travel across space, time, and sport to UCLA in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when legendary basketball coach John Wooden led the Bruins to an unprecedented ten NCAA championships over twelve years. They called him the “Wizard of Westwood,” and who really knows the secret to his magic. But damn he was good.

Wooden’s talent as a coach may never be surpassed, but coaches, whether in athletic or professional settings, can still try.

A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.

– John Wooden

Wooden’s advice might be easy enough to follow, if you didn’t have to deal with arrogant Anne, defensive Dave, or sensitive Samantha. But when your direct reports’ struggles are accompanied by difficult personalities, just embrace the challenge. Your responsibility as a manager doesn’t come with any special clauses that allow you to pick and choose whom you will and won’t coach. Just as an athletic coach spends time improving the strongest and weakest members of the team, you owe all of your direct report this attention.

First, never off a direct report, whether by involuntary transfer, unwarranted performance improvement plan, or sudden termination, without actively taking steps to coach him or her. You might be able to get away with it with HR, but it’s just bad management practice.

Start your coaching process by observing and evaluating. Determine what the issue is specifically, and gather examples that support your observations. Keep these data as objective observations; don’t form judgments or make any conclusions.

When you approach your direct report with the issue, stay casual. The meeting isn’t a formal performance review; don’t make him or her feel intimidated. Just share your objective observations, void of judgment and premature conclusions, and ask your direct report what’s going on.

If arrogant Anne’s ego flares, emphasize that you only want to understand the situation because you may be able to help. Use additional examples, gently, if arrogant Anne denies that the issue exists. Calm defensive Dave by stressing that his job is not in jeopardy. Highlight his strengths and add that you just want him to reach the next level of his career. Assuage sensitive Samantha with a personal story about a weakness you developed earlier in your career and how you benefitted since.

Then, listen. Give your direct report your full attention—no interrupting emails, phone calls, or Blackberries—and seek to understand. If something doesn’t make sense, ask questions that encourage communication and understanding: “What do you mean?” “What happened?” “How did this lead to that?” Don’t take control of the conversation or interject with decisive comments: “I don’t get it.” “That can’t be right.” “You should have done this instead.” Only develop both perspectives so that you understand the entire situation.

Let your direct report offer suggestions on how to improve the situation, and guide him or her through the goal-setting process. Make sure the goals you agree upon are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

To learn more, check out our online coaching training course. (Try our course for free with promo code OHCBLOG.)

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

Online Management Training

Online Management Training

Good managers are often good for different reasons in very different situations. But fundamentally, good managers know how to use resources to get things done effectively and efficiently. For most, this isn’t a natural skill.

New managers usually have demonstrated success as strong individual contributors. Now, as a manager, you must abandon that familiar feeling of accomplishment in exchange for a new, indirect sense of accomplishment—achieving what others have achieved for you—and a whole new set of managerial skills.

Management Truth #1: You’re not an individual contributor.

Yes, you probably are a perfectionist, with an enviable history of success, and you most likely can do things better and faster than your direct reports. There’s a reason you were promoted to manager. But trying to hold on to your old job with your new management responsibilities isn’t sustainable for any organization; you have to let go. New managers most often fail initially because they retained their “individual contributor” mindset.

Management Truth #2: There are still only 24 hours in a day.

As awesome as you might be, you simply can’t append hours to the 24-hour day to make it longer, and you (most likely) still require sleep. Use your hours wisely. While developing your direct reports takes a lot of time and energy, you’ll get more from your team when your direct reports’ abilities and performance improve under your guidance. Don’t spend your time in management denial, faking your transition from individual contributor while redoing your direct reports’ work after they submit it to you for feedback. You’ll go crazy, and you’ll only demotivate your direct reports.

Management Truth #3: You might be awesome, but you’re not that awesome; no one is.

Next to retaining their “individual contributor” mindset, new managers most often fail initially because their egos expand. Leave your arrogance outside the office! As a manager, you’re only as successful as your team. Curb feelings of anger, frustration, or any emotion that’s counter-productive to your goals; no one wants to work for a dictator, which brings us to…

Management Truth #4: Management is about your direct reports, not you.

Yes, you are the manager, but you rely on your direct reports to meet your goals. As the manager, you have to understand and adapt to your direct reports and learn how to develop them, even if their approach or way of thinking differs from your own. Sometimes, people are simply wrong, but there are frequently multiple ways to complete a project. Just because your direct reports have their own method or system doesn’t automatically mean theirs is wrong. And just because something worked for you when you were at that point in your career doesn’t mean it’ll work for them.

Management Truth #5: You still have a lot to learn; don’t stop.

While your hard work paid off with a promotion to manager, you’re in a challenging new position with new opportunities to grow and develop. In addition to your immediate goals, you have to figure out how to create a top-performing team. Seek advice from mentors, observe other successful managers, and solicit feedback from your direct reports. When you know what works and what doesn’t work when managing your direct reports, you can improve your team’s overall performance. Sometimes you can’t know unless you ask.

To learn more, check out our online management training course for new managers. (Try our course for free with promo code OHCBLOG.)

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

Leading and Managing Change

Online Change Management Training

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Change is inevitable. David Bowie wrote a hunky-dory song about change. Barack Obama won his presidential campaign with the promise of change. Disruptive technologies are all about change. Why then is there often resistance to change in the workplace? How can managers lead and manage change more effectively?

Given the complexities of the human psyche, the possibilities really are limitless, but there are two common reasons why people resist organizational change:

  1. Mismanagement: Most managers are busy. Some managers are lazy. Regardless of the reason, managers often fail to set up change sufficiently in an organization—the need for change, the process for change, and the benefit from change. As a result, they don’t lead or manage change; they force change.
  2. Misunderstanding: When managers force change, employees often view change as a seemingly unnecessary or illogical mandate that they resent being forced to accept.

Also tied to misunderstanding is fear, as employees may be negatively impacted by change (additional unwanted responsibilities, pay reductions, layoffs, etc.). Still, employee fear can be mitigated with effective change management.

Implement appropriate change models, such as Kurt Lewin’s three-stage change model and/or John Kotter’s eight-step change model, to lead and manage change.

Lewin’s Three-Stage Change Model

Kurt Lewin, a pioneer of social psychology, developed a three-stage model for change management based on his observations of group dynamics and organizational development.

Stage One: Unfreezing – Managers inform employees of problems and performance gaps and the need for change. This diagnosis stage is often driven by a change agent.

Stage Two: Changing – Managers and employees experiment with new workplace behavior to address the needed change. This intervention stage features specific training plans for managers and employees.

Stage Three: Freezing – Employees employ new skills and behaviors and are rewarded by the organization. Changes are institutionalized in the corporate culture.

While still applicable, modern change management thinking expounds upon Lewin’s original three-stage change model. Read our blog post, “New Thoughts on Lewin’s Three-Stage Change Model.”

Kotter’s Eight-Step Change Model

John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School and change management thought leader, developed an eight-step change model.

  1. Establish a sense of urgency. Often, employees don’t take the need for change seriously unless they believe it’s urgent.
  2. Form a guiding coalition. The manager should assemble a group of people who support the need for change.
  3. Create a vision. The manager needs to present a picture of what the organization will look like after the change. The goal of the vision is to get employee buy-in, so employee participation in articulating the vision is useful.
  4. Communicate the vision. The manager must communicate the vision of change to all relevant employees to further develop their buy-in.
  5. Empower others to act on the vision. The manager should encourage employees to discuss the vision for change and how to implement it. Employees should know that acting in accord with the vision will be rewarded.
  6. Coach change leaders. The manager should monitor performance in conjunction with the change effort and to provide support where needed.
  7. Plan for and create short-term wins. By breaking up the desired change into smaller steps, the manager can create a feeling of progress, as well as opportunities to reward employees for success.
  8. Consolidate gains. The manager should make sure employees know that change is happening. For example, old processes should be officially retired.

Encouraging Organizational Change

In addition, follow our suggestions below to encourage organizational change:

  1. Consider issues from a global perspective. Understand how the organization views and manages change. Communicating and advancing change in a way congruent with the organization’s culture can ensure success.
  2. Look at the big picture. Consider the organization’s history and interdependencies among people, responsibilities, structure, and systems. Accounting for, and adjusting to, these factors will allow for smoother and more efficient change efforts.
  3. Start small. Implement change with a small initial project first to refine change efforts and demonstrate positive results that encourage acceptance throughout the organzation.
  4. Get support from senior management. Minimize control and power issues by having change efforts supported by senior management.
  5. Foster participation. Open the planning process to a broad group of employees to give others a sense of control over the change process and to earn their support.
  6. Encourage open communication. Keep everyone informed. When employees hear rumors about change, they often assume the worst and resist change.
  7. Recognize those who cooperate. Reward employees who willingly cooperate with and support change efforts (via bonuses or other recognition).

To learn more, check out our online change management training course. (Try our course for free with promo code OHCBLOG.)

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

Online Business Training

Online Business Training

Happy new year! After the hectic holidays, January is that quiet time when everything resets: new calendar year, new fiscal year, new business goals, new personal goals… Life returns to normal, at least for a little while, and you’re determined to make this year different.

So, what are your new year’s resolutions? Hmm, let me guess…

If you’re career-driven…

  1. Develop your management and leadership skills. This usually requires some training, and the rest is experience. Check out our online management and leadership courses: Welcome to Management…Now What?, Coaching 101, Introduction to Leadership, Leading Change, and Leading Teams.
  2. Develop your presentation skills. This usually requires an overview of the fundamentals and a lot of practice. Check out our online public speaking and presentation courses: Public Speaking: Command the Audience and Rethinking Presentation Slides.
  3. Develop your creativity skills. This is a tough one—you just have to broaden your mind. Check out our online creativity course, Personal Creativity.

If you’re relationship-driven…

  1. Improve work-life balance. This usually requires some smart time management. Check out our online time management course, Time Flies! Making the Most of Your Day!
  2. Motivate and inspire others with your feedback. This usually requires some careful thinking in how you address and monitor development areas. Check out our online coaching course, Coaching 101.
  3. Avoid confusion and office drama in your written communications. This usually requires only clear and concise missives. Check out our online business writing courses: Writing Effective Business E-mails and Writing the Modern Memo.

If you’re financially-driven…

  1. Make money. This usually comes in the form of a job. Check out our online job search resources: Interviewing Skills: Make the Right Impression, Interviewing Skills: Ace Those Tough Questions, and Tailoring Your Resume and Cover Letter for a Perfect Fit.
  2. Or, make more money. This usually comes in the form of a raise, promotion, or new job, and all typically require solid work performance. Check out any of our online business training courses.
  3. Get rich quick. So, you want to bypass the steady paycheck and go big! When legal, this usually requires a great idea and a lot of hard work and sleepless nights. Check out our online Introduction to Entrepreneurship course.

To celebrate 2010, save $20.10 on any course with promo code 2010! (Offer expires 1/31/10.) Good luck with your resolutions!

Subscribe to our online business training blog to get more helpful thoughts, tips, and insights via e-mail or RSS.

Julie H.
One Hour Courses
www.onehourcourses.com

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