Check Your Vocabulary for These Toxic Words in the Workplace

Words have power

All words carry weight. And we must carefully choose the words that we use to represent us, particularly in the workplace.

Though it’s standard for professional work environments not to condone certain words – curse words (you know, the ones for which your grandmother would threaten to rinse out your mouth with soap), insulting or demeaning words and language, among others – there are other, seemingly innocent words to watch for in your vocabulary.

Crystal Barnett, senior human resource specialist with human resources consulting company Insperity, offers these seven words (and phrases) to watch out for at work:

  • “Honestly.” The word “honestly” is by no means an offensive word. However, the thoughts that come afterwards should be carefully considered before being spoken. Telling a trusted boss how one truly feels is expected and encouraged at many companies. However, in some organizations, giving an unvarnished assessment can be dangerous if done without careful consideration beforehand. For example, attempts to be honest while criticizing another team member’s work in a public setting can not only damage relationships, but it can also create the impression that a worker is willing to promote his or her own efforts by attacking others.   
  • “That’s not fair.” The concept of fairness is taught to most children. However, in the workplace, as in life, things are not always fair. While raising issues of fairness are acceptable in many work settings, the time, place and audience should be carefully considered beforehand.
  • “I.” While giving credit where credit is due, employees should reinforce teamwork and try not to highlight personal efforts over the work of others.
  • “This is the way we’ve always done it here.” Newer employees proposing alternative approaches for solving workplace problems have likely heard this phrase before. While all new ideas are not good ideas, failing to consider alternative approaches may mean the company is missing out on new opportunities for improvement.
  • “Yeah, but…” This phrase often follows an instruction or request from a supervisor or manager. Asking clarifying questions or proactively identifying issues is not a bad thing. However, doing so in a negative sounding way suggests an unwillingness to follow instruction or worse yet, a challenge to a leader’s authority. Often, simply avoiding “Yeah but…” is a better way to go.
  • “Just.” “Just” can be a loaded word in some contexts. For example, if a manager says to an employee “I just want you to finish those reports before the end of the week,” the comment often sounds highly negative on the receiving end. It can also convey the impression that the listener is being difficult or combative. A better approach might be to say “Be sure to get me those reports by the end of the week.”
  •  “Yes.” In many scenarios, saying yes is a good thing. But not always. Some top performing workers have problems saying no and therefore always say yes when asked to perform additional work.  This may result in a lower quality product, simply because the employee in question is stretched too thin. In addition, the dangers of burnout should be considered. In companies where the hardest working employees are “rewarded” with the greatest amount of work, saying “yes” at all times can have negative impacts and end up hiring the employee in the end.

Tips to Deal with Holiday Stress

It’s the day after Halloween and you know what that means … Christmas decorations are already out at the department stores. (Even my five-year-old noticed and commented that it’s “not even Halloween yet and there’s Christmas stuff over there!”)

But Halloween kicks off the unofficial “holiday season.” No doubt most of us already have Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations on the calendar, deciding when this family can gather with that family and whose in-laws are hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

Holiday stress

It can get stressful, which can lead to all sorts of health and mental well-being issues. And the feelings that come with grief over the loss of a loved one or broken relationships can become amplified this time of the year.

The Mayo Clinic has some helpful tips to work through the season and hopefully reclaim some holiday joy. A few: Help yourself by sticking to a budget, planning ahead and maintaining healthy habits (try to avoid taking a fork to the pie pan; it won’t make you feel better in the long term). And if the stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help from your doctor or mental health provider.

Here are other tips:

  • Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  • Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  • Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

If You’re Sorry, Here’s How to Say It

Apology

You’ve probably seen at least one cringe-worthy “apology” statement from a company CEO after the organization got caught for bad behavior.

And we put the “apology” in quote marks because the word “sorry” doesn’t seem to make an appearance, or it’s tucked into a “sorry if we offended anyone” sort of phrase (which isn’t really an apology).

One thing is for sure: There’s a big difference between a real apology and a #sorrynotsorry apology. A major component is authenticity in the statement. And people (read: customers) can tell the difference.

Grammar Girl recently posted this list of four types of apologies to avoid, along with a template to follow for an authentic apology.

Luckily, there’s a foolproof template you can use. And the template’s not a trick. If you follow it step by step, it helps you explain clearly what you did and understand how you affected someone else. Rather than having you “fill in the blanks,” it helps you find the words to say what you really mean.

We got the idea for this template from Professor Aaron Lazare, and his book “On Apology.” Dr. Lazare explains that a genuine expression of remorse should include these components:

  1. Acknowledging the offense clearly
  2. Explaining it effectively
  3. Restoring the offended parties’ dignity
  4. Assuring them they’re safe from a repeat offense
  5. Expressing shame and humility
  6. Making appropriate reparation

This may seem a little much if you’re apologizing for a small offense, like eating the last of someone’s ice cream, but we’ve found that the little offenses sometimes sting the most. Eating someone’s ice cream becomes a proxy for how little respect you have for them. Or how few boundaries you have. Or how you’re a taker and not a giver.

Hopefully you aren’t in a position where you have to publicly apologize for something. But, even if you just need to say “sorry” to someone in your personal life and are having a hard time figuring out the right way to do it, we hope this guide helps get you back in good graces.

Take a Writing Lesson from Spiderman

Has anyone seen the new Spiderman: Homecoming movie?

No? You’re all Marvel’d out?

(Just kidding; we’ll never escape the Marvel juggernaut.)

Anyway, back to Spiderman. You know what the writers did to the beginning of the movie? They skipped the back story. Completely skipped it! Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) was already living with his widowed Aunt May.

At this point, everyone knows Spiderman’s back story. You don’t need to rehash it for every single remake.

Why am I ranting about Spiderman? Because I hope this weird example sticks with you to help you improve your writing in the future. Ragan Communications wrote a post recently that linked to an infographic of 20 tips to spice up your writing – skipping right to the point is one of the main takeaways. Other suggestions: brevity, clarity, humor.

As Ragan Executive Editor Rob Reinalda advises, don’t waste precious writing real estate rehashing old information or a non-essential backstory. That’s the quickest way to put readers on a path to Tedium Town, the dreariest village in all of Writing Land. Tell your readers right away why they should read on. Save your 2004 client-crisis heroics for later.

In a similar vein, the infographic dedicates several points to brevity. Shoot for short sentences, delete extraneous words, and get straight to the meat of your story. Simple, direct writing is more forceful and effective. Make it easy for people to glide through your prose.

The infographic offers more tips to steer clear of boredom, such as going easy on the hard sell, varying sentence structure, writing with a playful tone and avoiding unreadable fonts. Also, to increase comprehension, you should complement your words with compelling images, tell interesting stories and “bring unexpected gifts.” Who doesn’t like a handy cheat sheet or a useful checklist for free?

The last point is to “Create something enjoyable” – for your audience, that is. Who cares if you think something’s fascinating? Is it enjoyable, interesting and relevant for your readers? That’s what matters.

Even if you’re not in a communications role, you probably write emails, letters or proposals, etc. Sticking to these tips (just like Spiderman sticks to buildings) can help improve your writing. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the infographic for more tips!

Spiderman

Need a Little FAFSA Coaching? College Goal Sunday is Nov. 5

College Goal SundayOverwhelming is a good way to describe what it’s like to send your child off to college. Maybe you’re sad (or happy, no judgement) to have them out of the nest and discovering their first taste of independence. Aside from hoping they go to class and get an education that can set them up for a bright future, there are dorms to furnish and long-term decisions to make.

And all of that doesn’t include one of the most stressful aspects: how to pay for college.

One way to alleviate the stress of sorting through the financial aid process is by attending College Goal Sunday on November 5. Financial aid professionals will volunteer at 39 locations around the state to help students and families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The document is required for students at most colleges and universities to be eligible for grants, scholarships and student loans.

While the FAFSA process can seem daunting or time consuming, students and families can fill out and file the form online in one afternoon with the help of professionals standing by.

College Goal Sunday is run by the Indiana Student Financial Aid Association (IFSAA) and is adding this November event in addition to its annual College Goal Sunday in February.

Interested? Here’s what you should bring:

  • Students should attend with parents or guardians (unless students are age 24 or older)
  • Parents should bring completed 2016 IRS 1040 tax returns, W-2 forms and other 2016 income and benefits information
  • Students who worked the previous year should bring their income information
  • Students age 24 and older should bring their own completed 2016 IRS 1040 tax return, W-2 Form or other 2016 income and benefits information
  • Students and parents are encouraged to apply for U.S. Department of Education FSA IDs at ed.gov before attending the event

A complete list of sites is available at CollegeGoalSunday.org. All sites will have online capabilities and many will offer Spanish language interpreters. Students who attend and fill out a completed evaluation will also be entered to win one of five $1,000 scholarships.

What to do When Poor Workplace Culture Emanates from the Top

Horrible bosses

One of the headlines dominating recent news is the revelation of numerous allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

As the stories continue to roll out about the ever-widening scandal, the picture is becoming clearer: many people knew about the disastrous workplace culture at Weinstein’s company and its impact not just on employees, but on others throughout the industry.

Aside from what Weinstein is accused of doing in private, there are plenty of stories of how he treated people publicly. He’s not the first, of course, to be noted as a notorious boss (a quick Google search offers a list of names that fit that description). Hollywood itself has taken on the topic through movie examples: 9 to 5, The Devil Wears Prada and aptly named Horrible Bosses (and its sequel) – and the fantasies of getting back at those bad bosses.

While everyday employees aren’t about to kidnap their boss and teach them a lesson in humility, as the fed-up employees did in 9 to 5, what can companies and employees do when the boss is the problem?

Michelle Kavanaugh, Indiana Chamber director of human resources, offers a few insights on this topic. First, companies should have a very strong harassment policy in place and a clearly structured reporting system, she offers.

“Some companies have anonymous call lines, which work better for larger organizations to keep callers truly anonymous,” she says.

Other steps to take include: having a zero-tolerance harassment policy, working with company leaders on the issues so that the culture is set at the top and making sure enforcement happens from the top down. Another protection is working with legal counsel to come up with an action plan before something happens.

And for employees who are dealing with harassment, the first step to take is to directly point out the behavior as inappropriate and request that the behavior stop.

“Use consideration, state your position and make your request,” Kavanaugh notes. “There is probably an intimidation factor. You have to work through that and state your concerns. Using ‘I’ statements are also psychologically a good way to approach the subject.

“If the behavior continues, and it is the business owner or person at the top, find someone else within your organization that you trust and hopefully the organization has a policy in place to deal with the behavior.”

If that doesn’t help, finding a confidant outside your workplace to assist you is another avenue. Should more extreme measures become necessary, avenues to consider include retaining legal help or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Labor.

“This is just scratching the surface of this subject. Employers working closely with good legal counsel can protect the company and employees and help instill a culture where toxic environments and abuse are not the norm,” Kavanaugh adds.

We also offer the Indiana Guide to Preventing Workplace Harassmentnow in its fourth edition. Written by a team of experts from Indiana-based law firm Ogletree Deakins, the guide is a simple and comprehensive manual covering topics employers need to know to identify, deal with and prevent workplace harassment and discrimination.

‘Please Mr. Postman’ Bring Me a New Wardrobe/Makeup/Pet Item/Toy

Delivery

The masses were familiar with hearing “Avon calling” at the doorstep in the 1950s and 1960s as employees of the skincare company went door-to-door offering samples and direct sales of makeup products.

Fast forward to today and the person bringing makeup samples, clothing, luxury products, wine and other items is the postal worker, delivering subscription boxes full of goodies.

The service gained popularity a few years ago with companies such as Birchbox, which delivers high-end skincare and makeup samples monthly for $10. Numerous other companies have followed suit with monthly subscriptions or on-demand services. The services run the gamut from specialty pet items to STEM-related toys for kids to disposable razors and meal kits, to name a few. (There are 2,500 companies that sell subscription boxes, according to a 2016 Bloomberg article).

But what are the benefits of these services, and are they sustainable business models?

We all probably have an anecdote about someone telling us about the service they subscribe to (I can think of two: one of my co-workers subscribes to monthly makeup samples through IPSY; another has tried Hello Fresh as an easy and quick way to get a foolproof homecooked meal on the table on busy evenings).

And I’m quick to recommend my own experience with personal styling company StitchFix. As someone who would never initiate or pay for a personal stylists’ services at a department store, I absolutely love being able to have the service delivered to my doorstep. Not one to follow fashion trends (and at 6-feet tall), the company sends me five pieces tailored to my size, shape and style preferences for a $20 styling fee. I keep what I want (the $20 comes off the top of the price of clothing) and send back the rest for free.

There are a few reasons these services are popular, one being they are personalized experiences with the convenience of not leaving your home. There’s also the anticipation factor – you don’t know what you’re going to get until you’re opening the box and pulling back tissue paper.

But can the practice sustain? Particularly as large companies begin to capitalize on the idea, can start-ups survive stiff competition?

This Forbes article gives a good in-depth look at growth in the industry, demographics of the targeted audiences and up-and-coming companies, as well as the major challengers getting into the subscription box game.

Scaling niche businesses is also a challenge. How do you keep the products personalized and quality high when you start marketing to a broader audience in order to grow? And with the highly-personalized nature of these services, can automation ever play a role in the manufacturing process?

Bloomberg recently focused on meal delivery company Blue Apron, which went public earlier this year. The article notes company shares have fallen by half in about two months’ time.

Five-year-old Blue Apron, which raised close to $200 million in venture capital before its IPO, has warned it may never be consistently profitable. And that isn’t just a Blue Apron problem: The business model for subscription boxes turns out to be much tougher than it sounds, because of the high costs of getting and keeping customers. “You’re coming into an area where margins have always been thin, which makes turning a profit a huge task,” says James Wester, an analyst at researcher IDC. “Just applying new technology on top of traditional industries doesn’t work.”

About 2,500 companies sell different kinds of subscription boxes in the U.S. alone, with the top handful generating nine-figure annual revenue. Profitability, however, is a different matter, and the past year has been littered with box companies that couldn’t work it out. The recently shuttered services have names like Treatsie (for high-end candy and other sweets), Fair Treasure (jewelry and other accessories), and Blush Box (beauty products, lingerie, and sex toys).

Now that Blue Apron has gone public, its numbers are more transparent than most. In pre-IPO filings, the company said it had spent an average of $94 in the past three years to acquire each subscriber, that each was paying an average of $236 a quarter for about 24 meals’ worth of preportioned ingredients, and that those numbers had dipped slightly since 2016. Counterintuitively, scale hurts subscription-­box makers, because getting big means they have to spend way more on marketing. (Blue Apron spent $144 million on marketing in 2016, a 182 percent increase from the year before.) Among subscription boxes in general, “the pricing is not smart given the price of acquisition being so high,” says Ross Blankenship, a venture capitalist at Angel Kings.

As with any relatively new service or company, only time will tell if this section of the retail industry can last. Until then, tell us about your experience (in the comments section) with subscription box services.

Small Business Revolution Offers Chance to Win $500,000 Revitalization

What can $500,000 and a lot of publicity do for a small city of 10,000 people in Indiana?

That’s what the team from the Small Business Revolution – Main Street series wanted to know when it revisited Wabash to see the impact of the program one year after the city won the contest.

For a quick recap on what happened in Wabash and some of the results a year later, watch this video of the team returning to the city:

The second season, which just debuted, focuses on Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania. Deluxe Corporation, which created the contest, is accepting nominations for the third season of the video series and a chance to win a $500,000 investment for your town and small businesses.

The series stars Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank, who gives the winning town and its small businesses one-on-one guidance, while upgrading public spaces and access to marketing and business services from Deluxe. The town’s business owners are the focus of individual episodes.

Nominations are open through October 19 and the public will determine the winner through voting. To be eligible, the city or town must have less than 50,000 residents. Anyone can nominate a town (even if they don’t live there).

To watch the whole Wabash series, visit www.deluxe.com/small-business-revolution/main-street/season-one/.

Garth Brooks Sets the Stage for Healing After Las Vegas

There are some unifying, once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list moments that help melt away the anxiety, sadness and fear of uncertain times and national tragedies.

Garth Brooks in Indianapolis

Garth Brooks performs in Indianapolis on Thursday night (Photo by Rebecca Patrick)

It might sound effusive, but being at the first Garth Brooks performance in Indianapolis on Thursday – his first in our city in 21 years – was one of those moments for me. And it certainly felt like the other thousands of attendees and even Brooks himself (who said on several occasions that he “needed this”) felt the same.

Without directly speaking of the largest mass shooting in American history, at a country music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday where 58 were gunned down and over 500 were injured, the tragedy loomed large in the arena. Brooks and his wife, award-winning musician Trisha Yearwood (who joined him on stage on two separate occasions), both wore black shirts with “for Vegas” across the front. Both mentioned needing a cheering crowd and the chance to entertain people through music and laughter and fun.

It was heightened security outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse that served as our first, stark reminder that we were doing just what those other country music revelers were doing less than a week ago. There were armored vehicles and horseback mounted police out front, K-9 dogs both inside and out, many more officers than usual and long lines for security screenings.

Garth Brooks

Photo by Rebecca Patrick

Known for his goofy entertaining style, there was plenty of Garth Brooks just being Garth Brooks. He delighted the crowd with the “old stuff,” as well as his new single. And the end of the show was Brooks by himself on stage with an acoustic guitar, interacting with the crowd and taking song requests from poster board signs. It made a jam-packed arena of people feel like they were at an intimate show.

Brooks was also visibly emotional at times, during songs like “The River,” when the crowd turned on phone flashlights and filled the fieldhouse with sparkling lights. Or, near the end with “The Dance” and “Unanswered Prayers” and “New Way to Fly,” as the lyrics lend themselves to a beautiful and quiet introspection, particularly when everyone sings along.

Garth Brooks

Photo by Charlee Beasor

With five shows in four days in downtown Indianapolis, the economic impact of Brooks in town is tremendous. The show wrapped up just before midnight and there were plenty of hungry people spilling into nearby bars and restaurants. And Brooks notes publicly that adding shows when the original dates sell out quickly is his way of fighting back against ticket scalpers and bots. With tickets priced at $67, he ensures fans of all stripes can afford the chance to participate.

In the end, Brooks’ long-awaited return coupled with the horrifying events of Sunday still fresh in people’s minds turned this night into more than a concert. It served as an opportunity for Hoosiers to come together despite fear and sadness and disagreements over politics, sports or anything else. We sang and danced and screamed our hearts (and voices!) out, and Brooks was clearly grateful to be back on stage in Indianapolis to help him heal, too.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood perform together. (Photo by Rebecca Patrick)

If you’ve got tickets for his other shows, I hope the experience is similar for you. Tip: If you have a song you want to hear live, your best bet is to write it on a poster board and bring it along!

And we can’t forget football fans who also love country music. You might recall the last time Brooks played here. In March 1996, he wore a Colts’ Jim Harbaugh jersey and reminisced about the quarterback’s near miss at leading us to the Super Bowl. Now the football team intersects with Brooks again. The bronze statute for Colts legend Peyton Manning will be unveiled at 3 p.m. on Saturday – the same time Brooks is starting his third of five concerts.

Enjoy the shows!

Indiana Documentary on Bicentennial Torch Relay Wins Spot in Heartland Film Festival

Indiana is no stranger to the bright lights of Hollywood. Even the recent movie Columbus (set in Columbus, Indiana and starring Jon Cho, Haley Lu Richardson and Parker Posey) treated the city and architecture of Columbus almost as a main character in the movie.

Another accolade that Indiana can add to its film repertoire is Everlasting Light: The Story of Indiana’s Bicentennial Torch Relay, selected for screening at the 2017 Heartland Film Festival (held in Indianapolis).

Flag of the State of Indiana

Produced by the Department of Telecommunications at Ball State University and commissioned by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development (IOTD), the documentary highlights the 2016 torch relay that spanned 260 cities and towns in all 92 counties in celebration of the state’s bicentennial.

The IOTD has more on the film’s inclusion in the festival, including where and when you can view the documentary:

“We are honored to have the documentary selected for the film festival,” said Mark Newman, IOTD’s executive director. “Looking back on the torch relay now, nearly one year since it concluded, I continue to be amazed by the positive impact it has had on our state.  The way that it brought people and communities together has been a great reward.”  

The film will screen three times during the festival:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 7:45 PM @ AMC Castleton Square 14  

Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 12:00 PM @ AMC Castleton Square 14  

Friday, October 20, 2017 at 5:15 PM @ AMC Showplace Traders Point 12  

You can purchase a DVD of the documentary here.

IOTD recently received a Mercury award for best Public Relations Campaign for the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay by the U.S. Travel Association at the 2017 ESTO conference, held in Minneapolis.

IOTD is also being honored by the Indiana Historical Society for the Bicentennial Torch Relay. It was chosen as one of the winners in the Outstanding Bicentennial Collaborative Project category. A ceremony will be held in November.

During the five-week relay, students from Ball State University worked with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development to produce daily videos, photos, articles, and social media related to the relay. The team worked the same material into the 36-minute documentary Everlasting Light.

This is the ninth honor for the film, which has won eight awards including a Gold Aurora Award, a Society of Professional Journalists award, two awards from the Indiana Association of School Broadcasters, and four Accolade Awards of Merit. In addition to the Mercury Award, the entire media project also won a Summit Emerging Media Award and two ADDY’s.