Don’t Let One Word Sabotage Your Message

not listening

I am going to make a generalization here and throw this out there: if you do not think one word is important or can change the whole meaning of your message or dynamic of your conversation – you have never talked to a woman.

Don’t believe me? Try this little experiment: tell your wife or girlfriend tonight “You never do …” fill in the blank.  (By the way, it works for men, too).

That never will probably get you a raised eyebrow, followed by an “Oh, really” and then the fun begins.  Never and always are pretty much banned in our house.  My boyfriend and I are challengers – give us a challenge and we will make it our life’s mission to do it.  Give us a ‘never’ or ‘always’ and we will mentally rehash over two years of our relationship to find that five second interval that proves the other wrong.

Communication is the most important tool we have, yet it can easily be turned from a tool to a weapon with just one word.

The weapon can provoke or harm your audience.  With one little word you can completely destroy someone’s confidence in themselves, or you; deflate their attitude or progress; cause them to be defensive or completely shut down in listening to you altogether.

Some of the words that create such chaos include: ever, never, always, but, only, guess, try and might. These are just the beginning pack of words, but enough to get you started in being more cognizant in how you use them.

“Did you ever finish that report?”

“You never answer my calls”

“You did a good job, but…”

“You only had to do this task”

“I guess I could help/attend…”

“I can try to help/be there…”

“I might be able to…”

In the above examples, the underlying message is disappointment, disengagement and insincerity – to name a few.  Is that really the message you want to convey?

Just by being a bit mindful of the small little words we throw into our communication we can keep peace, harmony and momentum while still getting our original or intended message across.

‘But’ is my personal most hated word.  When you use but in a sentence it completely invalidates everything before it and puts the receiver immediately on the defensive.  If you think someone did a good job and there is a bit more to do, try saying it in a different way:

“You did a good job on this project, now let’s try making these tweaks and it will be fantastic.”

“You did a great job; however, this part missed the mark a little, what do you think we can do?”

“You did great and we are almost there we just need to tweak these two parts…”

Your message of ‘there is still work to be done’ is conveyed without losing the positive message.  The receiver will be more inclined to listen to ideas, take direction and keep momentum in completing the task because their effort was recognized, appreciated and clear direction was given for what is next.

Removing small little words that create big conflicts sure makes life easier for everyone.  And just for the record, I really would not suggest doing the experiment mentioned above, to make your life easier, just take my word for it.



A little about me: I do what I love: help leaders break out of a suffocating corporate existence and into a position and place that renews their brilliance! 

As the Founder and Principle of Career Polish, Inc., a national career personal branding coaching and practice firm, I am an Executive Brand Strategist, Resume Writer and Career Coach. I work with individual clients, companies, leadership and teams to identify, strengthen and effectively communicate their brand, engagement, commitment and most importantly – their value – by learning and leveraging LinkedIn, resumes, networking, communication, relationship management, presence and influence.

Click here – – to find out more about how we can help you.

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Say More by Speaking Less

mouth taped shutYou deliver your brand message through all means of communication: written and oral.   This is a generally accepted and understood concept.  So why is it you can posts wins with one form but continuously strike out with the other when you are saying the same thing.


Because you are saying the same thing.


Written and verbal communications are two completely different forums.  Same concept, different venues.


Think about it this way – it is the difference between reading the book then going to the theater to see the movie remake.


It is all in the delivery.


When we use written communication, i.e. resumes, business bios, LinkedIn profiles, website content etc., every single word counts.  Every. Single. Word.


Why?  Because the words are painting the picture.  Each one contributes or distracts from your message.  It is essential to use more words to convey the appropriate picture when writing your message.  Words evoke emotions.  Guide your reader to the ending point taking the exact path you want them to take.


Keep them focused by using words that resonate with them while demonstrating, engaging and impacting the reader.


The sentences are longer, the words are more fluid and decorative but it is essential in painting that picture.


If you create a written opening statement summarizing your value to the reader it will fall flat if spoken to another person.


Why?  It is the same message and it sounds so darn good!


Because in verbal communication the words are only about 20% of the message.


Your tone, speed of delivery, pauses and inflection all paint the picture.  If you are face to face your body language also is a major contributor.


If you tell someone that it is nice to meet them yet you avoid eye contact, slump your shoulders, look down, offer a weak handshake and speak it in a quiet, monotone manner your delivery is completely contradicting your words.


What message do you think the other person is left with? That you did enjoy meeting them or you could really care less?


To be impactful in one-on-one or face-to-face communication use less words.  Choose the ones that count and support them by your delivery.


If you present the written sound-byte in person I will be lost after the tenth word because you are overloading me with information – both delivery and words.


Let the words have more impact by speaking less and delivering appropriately.


To sound confident, speak in a slightly lower octave, in a slower, measured tone.  Take appropriate pauses, end the sentences in an uplift to get attention or prompt a question.


Use all the tools given to you to deliver the shorter message in a much more impactful way.


It is your brand; you need to know its value, how it is important to your audience and what they want to hear.  Only when you are intimately familiar with it and understand the differences in delivery can you determine the most appropriate words for each situation to accurately convey the message.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW


Spit It Out for Goodness Sakes…with Balance

theatre masksIt took me 40 years (give or take) to understand, identify and immerse myself in what I consider my calling. The pieces all came together and I see clearly how it is the perfect combination of my passions, strengths, challenges and dreams. It wasn’t an easy journey but, damn, it was worth it.

One of the biggest challenges was my directness or bluntness.

Throughout my career I had been “talked to” by managers and mentors about the greatness of my passion and dedication and the “need” to temper. In other words just because I was thinking it didn’t mean I needed to say it. Right or wrong, people don’t always want to hear the truth.

I struggled with that a lot. Isn’t truth supposed to set you free? When I was in compliance it was pretty black and white: you can do this, you can’t do that.

But I was continually being forced into a mold of saying it in a kinder, gentler, more guiding way that was more a manner of suggestion on what should be done, how it should be done or what I wanted.

I don’t really fit into molds. Ok, it is more of I bring a sledgehammer with me to the casting.

But that is the great thing – that directness is a key attribute to what I do now. I tell my clients I do not tell them what they want to hear, rather I tell them what then need to hear. I’m not their wife, I don’t have to stroke their ego – my job is their coach. I tell them what is in their best interest.

The delivery is depended upon the person, sometimes it is a matter of detailed explanation and sometimes it is a matter of full force blunt. Whatever delivery is going to be most effective and align with them because I get to know each one of my clients and how they best learn, grow and receive.

Often I hear that it is very refreshing for someone to be honest in order to help them. Their support system may be trying to gently hint instead of just coming out and telling them what they need to know.

There is a lot of gentle guidance during the job search process for job seekers: given to them and given by them.

When they are in interviews, negotiations or writing cover letters/resumes they try to gently guide the reader to what they want them to know.

Stop it.

Just Spit It Out

If you want something you have to say it. You have to let the other person know who you are, what you have to offer, what you want and what you are willing to do – period. Laying a frame work of little hints does not work. It isn’t enough to try to hint at it. I, personally, suck at hints.

What do you want?

Now, figure out how to say it. I spoke to a client last week about an email he wanted to send a prospective employer. It is in round two of interviews and he really, really wants this job. The original email had an inference in the email that could have been taken as he was still searching for other candidates and possibly not seeing my client in that role. My client was getting a little freaked and wrote an email that had something like: I will be the best employee you will ever have working harder than anyone else, blah, blah, blah.

I immediately told him no. First, you sound desperate. Stop. Second, you are applying for a management position; managers need to be confident leaders. There was no leadership or confidence in that response.

We crafted a response of appreciation for the communication (because it is rare as we all know in this day of job searching) and reiterated his interest in the position. We then addressed the ambiguous statement itself stating something like he was unclear as to what he meant. During the first interview a comment was made about his youth in leadership. So the next statement was a reaffirmation of his ability and tenure of leadership and consistency of results.

The response he got back sent him over the moon. The gentleman clarified that he is definitely interested in him for the management position, it is simply a matter of aligning calendars with the bigger boss and apologized for the miscommunication. The interview will be set for this week.


The balance is between the wishy-washy gentle guidance of hints and desperation.

That is when you need to muster courage. That’s right, dig deep, find that courage and if you have to fake the heck out of it. Be confident in your comments and delivery yet clear in your message. That is balance.

Let me be frank here, you have nothing to lose, so if you are going to do it do it right and give it all you have. Approach each opportunity as the golden opportunity that will not come again. Go for it.

If you do the wishy-washy and it doesn’t happen then you will be disappointed. It is like sending out an open invitation for anyone who wants to come over for pizza and movies to just come on over when in reality you really want to invite one person. You are hoping they see the invitation and invite themselves. They aren’t going to do that dummy.

You have to direct the invitation to the one you want. You have to be clear in your message and take that chance that they say no. What do you have to lose? Nothing. Remember, general invitations don’t work. People want to be wanted, not invite themselves. Seriously.

If someone is interested in you for a job don’t give them a lukewarm maybe interested back or crazy-person desperate I want this more than life itself. Tell them you appreciate their interest, you are very interested in the position, why and reiterate, briefly, why you are the best fit.

Bottom line: if you don’t tell them how are they supposed to know?

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

You Are Not The Sandbox Monitor

sandboxDo you have children or ever been around any small person under the age of 17? Then you can finish this sentence:


“It’s just not _____”


Yep – you guessed it: fair.


And as a parent or hearing the parent’s response you know what the next line is:


“Life’s not fair”


As adults we can smile and give that knowing look and maybe even say it out loud because we are conditioned to it.


So why is it that one of those moments happen in our adult life we don’t use the same tone on ourselves to remind our own pouty self that life isn’t fair?


Because we don’t want to.  And I type this while stomping my little foot down.


In the adult world the equivalent of life isn’t fair is normally around someone else’s behavior.  They are not acting the way they should, they are not treating others in an appropriate way or their bad behavior seems to be rewarded rather than resulting in consequences as they should.


But they don’t.  Then it triggers the “it’s not fair” response.


You are right.  It isn’t.  But what are you going to do?


I will tell you right now that you are not going to change that person’s behavior.  You probably are not the first person to want to but it isn’t your job to change another or their behavior.


Not only that – but good luck.  People don’t change easily, especially if there is no incentive – good or bad – to do so.


Either change your attitude, your response or your proximity.


Those are your options.  No one made you the sandbox monitor that needs to make sure everyone plays nice and shares.


Either learn to deal with it, don’t give in to it or leave it.  It becomes a matter of you because the behavior is affecting you.


I spoke with a young admin assistant once who told me that her broker needed to stop using a paper calendar and put everything in electronically.  I asked her why and she said because it was a huge waste of time.


Too bad.  It is his system, he keeps organized that way and he likes it.  It doesn’t matter if it inconveniences you, he is not going to change.  She had three options: deal with it, work with him on seeing if he could give her his schedule at a certain time to make sure the electronic and paper calendar matched or get another job.  Period.  He didn’t need to change just because she didn’t like it.


I had a friend go through a divorce.  A few months into it she made the statement she didn’t know why he was being so nasty at every opportunity and what could she do to stop it.  I just looked at her and said, “He was an ass for 20 years and you think in three months he is going to be nice?  He wasn’t nice when you guys liked each other and you think you can make him nice now?  Once you do that I got a couple mountains you can move.”


The point is it is not your job or responsibility to change other’s behaviors because you don’t like them.  Now, if you are the manager and an employee is demonstrating behavior that is unacceptable then you have options to eliminate them from that position.  Stop whining and do something about it or you are going to have their good co-workers take option three and leave themselves.


You don’t bring on the bad behavior so why is it your responsibility to change it?  Hey, they grew up with a mother, if she couldn’t change it your changes lie somewhere between nil and none.  Focus on you.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.


Don’t Let A Mechanic Talk To Me

under the hoodMy car tried to blow up Friday.


I say try because it was shaking and doing all sorts of funny things while I was driving that seemed to me to be signs that at any moment it was going to just explode.


I was able to get it to the mechanics, actually to my mom’s for my step-dad to take it to his mechanic.  I explained to my step-dad in girl language what it had done, for how long and under what circumstance.


For example when I would talk to it really nice and gentle push on the gas it the check engine light would only blink at me and it would shake like it was struggling to go up hill during a shift change even though I drive an automatic and it was on flat land.


But when I didn’t say nice things to it and let off the gas apparently it didn’t like it because the check engine light would come on solid and make a horrible noise at me.


Needless to say I’ve been doing a long, holding of my breath type thing all weekend hoping that it wasn’t going to be something that would cost more to repair than the original value of the car.


The mechanic called my step-dad and explained all the gruesome details about what was wrong with it, what needed to be done, why and how.  My step-dad then told my mom.  She then called me.


It boiled down to: I had a bad plug, but instead of replacing one he replaced them all and the serpentine belt was frayed so that had to be replaced.  And oh yeah, there is another belt on a “v” and something about a pulley and another part and these had to be replaced and fixed because if not then my fan might go flying out or something; I don’t know it would have just been really, really bad.


Literally this is how my mom and I talked about my car.  The funny thing is I was raised by a mechanic, the man she was married to for 30 years and this is the best we could do for car talk.  I think my dad is above us shaking his head saying, “seriously?”


Yes, seriously.  I know a few key words about cars – I know the name serpentine belt but I haven’t the faintest idea what it does, where it is located or why it makes me think of snakes under my hood.  My father would be so proud.


Even though I adored my dad, he was my hero, and I listened to him talk about work and watched when he fixed our cars I still don’t know a damn thing about them.  I grew up with this and yet I am still clueless.


When you are talking to prospects, clients, potential employers or networking never assume that just because they share an interest or commonality that they will speak the same language.


It is a big world even within your work world; we all don’t live in the same zip code.


It is important to always be aware of not just who you are talking to but where they are coming from.  That way you will know the best way to communicate and ensure your message is not only heard but understood.


Either tonight or tomorrow when I pick up my car all the mechanic will have to tell me is: “it’s fixed.”  He won’t have to worry about all those technical words – he can call my step dad to tell him those things and everyone will hear the same message and know the end result – it’s fixed.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.


What Does Your Audience Need To Hear From You?

Often we talk but we never really hear what we are saying.  You know this is happening when the person you are talking to looks at you like you have three heads.  Of course if you have teenagers, this is an every day occurrence…


When you are building a business or looking for employment it is critical that you go beyond knowing what you are saying: you have to know who your audience is and what they need to hear.


Who is it you are trying to connect with, what is important to them and what are their needs?  These are all questions that are critical.  Without this information you can’t possibly connect with them.


Once you determine these elements the next step is to figure out what do they need to hear from you and in what way.


Both of those elements are critical – do not neglect either one.


Do they need to hear about your past experience, your education, a certain technical skill set, a managerial style or the ability to learn?  What will they relate to the most?


Next determine how to present the answers to their questions.  What tone do you need to take – quiet confidence or sheer determination?  How demonstrative do you need to be utilizing key words or build descriptive narratives?  What will they connect with the most?


Lastly, make sure that your message is consistent among all forms of communication: resumes, LinkedIn, business communication, networking and any other forms.  Consistency builds credibility.


Take a step back to really think about who it is you want to connect with, how they need to hear from you and how they will best connect with your message and then you can create a concise, targeted and impactful message strategy.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.


Decoding The But

I’m a former Queen of But.  I used to use this word frequently until I had the realization one day that it is not an exception, it really is an invalidation.


The words we chose are an important clue to our underlining message.  Communication is a funny thing. What we say and what we mean can literally have two completely different meanings.  But is a key word in the “nice guy syndrome” – not being sexist, women employ this strategy just as much as men.


We all know what this is, trying to be the nice guy in saying something the other person does not want to hear so we soften it up or mislead.  It happens in personal and professional settings all the time.  The real message is actually coded within the sentence, for example:


“I really like you but I don’t know that I want to get serious.” Translation:  I’m just not into you, don’t expect to hear from me again.


“We think you are doing great work but there are a just a couple of things we would like to see improve.” Translation:  You work sucks or has been sucking lately we need you to step it up because now it is affecting us.


“Oh I would really like to attend with you but I have this other thing that night.” Translation: I really don’t want to go with you – period.


“I would have included you on that project but we had so little time to get it together.” Translation: You’re work isn’t good enough for us to think of you immediately.


Once I realized that by using the word “but” I was actually invalidating any words or message before that word I immediately stopped.  And I started to really listen to others.  A little alarm goes off in my head whenever I hear someone use the word but in their explanations. 


Dealing with the but can be difficult – as the recipient of it or the person delivering it.  If you need to break bad news do not use but, remember it is an invalidation of anything that comes before it; instead try using “however” or just a short pause.  That is if you truly mean the first part of your sentence.


“We think you are doing a great job; however, there are just a couple of things that we would like to see improve.” 


“We think you are doing a great job; there are just a couple of things we would like to see improve.”


Still need to step up your game, however the message is less sever and the compliment is more sincere. (See how sneaky I am that I put it in my explanation – yeah, I’m cool like that.)

This is extremely important with speaking with co-workers or those that you lead; they need that validation of the good before they get smacked with the negative. 


If you are on the receiving end of a but then it is a good idea to ask clarifying questions, acknowledge the positive, invite discussion and not go on the defensive.  For the above example you can begin this strategy by responding like this:


“Thank you, I’m glad you are happy overall with my work and any way that you can offer in order for me to step it up is appreciated.  Do you have some time to go through this with me?”


This is an example of you reaffirming the positive and being open to suggestions to improve; most importantly you are OPEN to listening and changing something.  This is huge.


By inviting them to have an conversation about the issue will allow a much better flow of communication.  You will also be able to discover throughout the conversation if they really are happy with your work overall or if was just something they said to soften the blow.  Listen carefully, continue to ask clarifying questions.


Don’t use the but to make excuses for the other person.  The example of not including you in the project is a prime example.  Before you start rambling excuses such as, “I know they have been really busy” etc stop and think about what they said.  Remove the personal feelings and take a cold hard look.  If your work was really that great you would have been top of mind no matter what the deadline.  Yes, there may be an exception to this, however those exceptions are few and far between.  (Yep, did it again!)


Take control of your own actions and the actual things you can control.  Use that but as a way to have that conversation offline with the head of the project and ask if they see any areas in which you can improve to give more value to the team.  Perhaps you have a weakness that you were not even aware of and opening this difficult line of communication will allow you the opportunity to make necessary changes to ensure you are indeed top of mind next time.


I can speak from the business standpoint as a coach and former manager.  As far as the personal, I’m not an expert and much less gentle.  The best thing I can say is take off those rose colored glasses.  I love Justin Long in the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” and his scenes with Ginnifer Goodwin.


She keeps making excuses for why a guy isn’t following through and he keeps shaking his head and saying, “Nope, he’s just not that into you.”  Poor girl keeps saying, “But, but…”  to be countered with “Nope, he’s just not that into you, if a guy is interested he’ll make it happen.”  If you have to work for him to work to work for you – it’s too much work!


Bottom line is if you get the but in the professional setting take it as an opportunity to get to the real issue, the underlying message that could help make you a valuable employee instead of a step along the exit strategy.  If you get it in the personal setting – get your butt moving. 


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.


Don’t Let Your Body Sabatoge Your Poker Face

I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve. Several years ago I had a manager tell me that exact thing and added that when I am happy it radiates and touches everyone and when I am upset they all know it just by looking at me.

I realize that I am a very expressive person; however I did not realize that I was that expressive and I had to do some very hard work to disconnect the connection between my emotional response to my body langauge and facial expressions. It is a continual process, very much a work in process. Within a busines setting I am very aware of this connection and for the most part manage it quite well. Personally, well…not so much. You can only hone and keep in so much! I’m a put your cards out on the table kinda gal. Again, it is a work in process.

I began my education of body langage in college. I was on the dance squad for our basketball team. As we performed the halftime shows for the entire arena I knew that I had to learn to project energy, learning how to exagerate certain moves, how to be very deliberate on others to maintain a sense of excitement and engagment.

I also learned that I had a horrible habit of rolling my eyes. Some of the guys I hung out with used to tease me because I would roll my eyes – a lot. I never realized how much I did until they memoralized it, but it was a good lesson early on.

So often we think that if we can maintain a stoic poker face than we can prevent anyone from knowning what we are really thinking. This would be an incorrect assumption – on two counts.

1. Sometimes emotions are so strong that we cannot prevent others detecting them on our faces.
2. Even if you keep every emotion in check from beig portrayed on your face your body langugae could be yelling your thoughts to the other person.

Even if for just a moment sometimes our own faces betray us. Think about the look on your face when you walk into a room and see that your husband has poudly displayed a stuffed and sacraficed animal that he personally returned to its maker. Just for an instant that pure horrified thought flashes across your face – seeing that fish or Bambit or whatever it might be. Or when you see that person that makes your heart race, at some point that exhiliration from being near them is displayed.

Body language – oh, the often forgotten and underapprecaited language. How we physically respond to others is very telling. It has been said that at least 80% of our message is delivered through body langage yet we often do so little to make sure our message is clear.

Some actions seem very obvious, for example crossing your arms in front of your chest. This can scream out “Back off, go away, I am closing myself off from you!” It is a message that is almost instinctual in perception. But sometimes it is not the message that you want to send.

Being very petite I get cold easily. I once worked in an office that was continually kept somewhere between freezing and frostbite. Often times when I was meeting with someone early in the meeting when it was my turn to talk I would make mention to the other party that it was chilly in the office and cross my arms. I wanted them to know that the physical act was merely me trying to maintain by core body temperature and not distancing myself from them.

Then there is the trickiness of leaning in toward another. I don’t know if it is age or the fact of having teenagers but my hearing is not what it used to be – I’m blaming the boys. This can cause me to have to lean closer to the person I am speaking with in order to hear them more clearly. But this can be tricky because there are several messages that could be sent in this small gesture.

Leaning in, face tilted up fulling at the other person – I’m interested, pretty much I’m interested in you.
Leaning in, face tilted away for a full view of my ear looking across the room – I’m listening but not very intersted in what we are talking about.
Leaning in, face titlted away a bit looking down or up at the ceiling – I’m intersted in what you are saying and I am concentrating on it deeply.

Add to this the rest of the body, if you take a small step toward the person in their immediate direction that adds to the message of interest. If you simply lean in feet firmly planted it lessens the interest message.

Oh yes, body language can seem to be very complex; however it is vital that you understand how your body communicates for you in order to convey the appropriate message. It is fasinating, full of complicated moves and a continual action/reaction between two parties much like a dance. Take your que from the other party, hold your posture, highlight the points you want to make and you will be sure to maintain the interest and engagement and get that standing ovation.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Career Coach-Strategist
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.