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As a speaker or writer, one of the most powerful techniques is to look for common cause with your audience.  This may mean using words or imagery that conjure up something from a shared past, or play to a shared cultural experience.

Unfortunately, this very same technique is unwittingly used to the exact opposite effect: it excludes.  And when someone feels excluded, at best the remainder of your message will never resonate. At worst, they may disqualify both you and your organization from consideration.

It is very easy to fall into the uniformity trap: just because everyone “looks” the same, we assume that we share a common background with them. This is especially true when we speak.  To a Hindu, Muslim, or Jew, Merry Christmas defines them as outsiders.  Or, to women, a term such as Chairman automatically erect a glass ceiling. Simple alternatives such as Happy Holidays and Chair are far more inclusive, and easy to incorporate. The goal is not to be politically correct, but rather, to engage your audience instead of alienating them.

When interacting with someone whose primary language isn’t English, the problem is even more basic: lack of fluency itself may be exclusionary.  If we are the ones that seek to be understood, how might we change our communication practices?

  • Enunciate each word clearly and slightly more slowly;
  • Skip complex grammatical constructions, words, idioms, and jargon.
  • Look for signs that they understand, and are actively listening
  • Summarize without appearing patronizing
  • Follow up with a written note, so they can look up words without losing face

This week’s action plan: Whether you are speaking to an audience of 1000, a group of 5, or are writing an email, blog post, or report, the goal is to effectively get buy-in to your ideas.  And to do this means including the message recipient – not excluding them.  This week, don’t assume that everyone has precisely your background: double-check your words to make sure they resonate with everyone.

Counterpoint:  Must you really avoid wishing someone Merry Christmas, instead substituting the relatively toothless “Happy Holidays?”  There is absolutely nothing wrong with wishing someone Merry Christmas, when you know that the recipient is a celebrant of Christmas.  But what if the person may not celebrate Christmas, or might even be offended by the phrase?  Or you are speaking or writing to a diverse audience?  This is where judgment comes in: it is the balance between connecting through shared experience (Christmas) vs. the downside of making others feel excluded.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site Web strategy, technology, and design
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


The Power of Diversity

by Randall Craig on October 14, 2016

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Strategy

Tagged as: , ,

The term diversity has become associated with the human rights movement, and lives in the same space with terms such as enforcement, quotas, and affirmative action.  Despite these seemingly negative terms, there is a powerful case for organizations to adopt a positive and proactive approach to diversity.

The usual argument for diversity is that an organization should mirror society in general, and its clients in specific.  While true, the greatest benefit of diversity does not stem from this argument, but from another: the creative power of a diverse team.

A diversity exercise:  If you have a pen and paper, right now, draw a picture of a house.  Even if you’re not an artist, you can draw something.  Then look at what you drew:  Does it include windows?  How many? A door?  How about a roof?  Did it have a second floor?  Did you draw it in 3D?  Did you use shading?  Or color?

Each of us probably did it differently.  But if we compared our pictures, and then re-drew it, we likely will include all of the features that were drawn by others.  This is the power of brainstorming, and particularly, the power of diversity.

Each individual brings their own experience, resulting in the group’s knowledge base growing significantly.  A different perspective from one person can spark an incredibly rich response from others.  For this reason, teams that seek diversity – not homogeneity – will always be more creative.

Diverse thinking produces diverse results.

This week’s action item: Try the diversity exercise with your team.  What were the results?

Creative Insight:  Diversity is not a negative term, especially compared to terms like groupthink, conventional wisdom, towing the line, etc.

Interesting Trivia:  While IBM’s motto for many years has been Think, Apple’s motto was Think Different.  Might there be a connection to diversity?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


Does it (Google) Translate?

by Randall Craig July 11, 2014

If you are reading this, the chances are very high that you understand English. But what if you didn’t? What if your target audience didn’t? Or what if your target audience did understand, but felt more comfortable in their own mother tongue? The obvious solution: translate your content. The not-so-obvious question is how. There are […]

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A Better Engagement

by Randall Craig July 28, 2011

There is no question that people think differently from each other.  Proof points abound:  people wear different clothes, choose different hairstyles, hold different jobs, and prefer different foods.  Yet, whenever we write a report, make a presentation, or write a blog post, we often feel challenged by people who voice different opinions.  Some companies are […]

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Think Different

by Randall Craig November 6, 2007

Have you ever been in a situation where you answered someone’s question, and you’re sure that they didn’t “get” your answer? Or have you tried to explain an issue to a work colleague – and all you get is a blank stare? When this happens, you may think that the other person isn’t particularly smart. […]

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