How to Write Positively Without Sounding Fake

Star Award

Reinforce the Positive

One of my favorite aspects of LinkedIn, besides Answers, is Recommendations. I’m not shy about asking for Recommendations, and all the pundits will tell that waiting patiently for someone to take the initiative to recommend you is fruitless. You must make the request.

And if people are following that advice, chances are you’ll be asked to make recommendations for others at some point. I have! In “How to Write About Something Negative Without Negativity“, I discussed how to write a letter of recommendation that conveys when someone has done a terrible job without coming across like a complete troll.

When you’re asked to write a recommendation for someone you truly feel made a difference, providing high quality work, constantly offered creative and practical solutions and kept up a professional attitude all the while – how do you write a recommendation that person deserves without sounding cliche?

Give that person a STAR.

The STAR approach will help you be specific and really lay out the deserved kudos and endorsement.

  • Situation – Lay out the scene. What was the environment or time frame? Were there unusual factors involved like it new product bugs, supply chain failures, staff shortages? Be specific and show you know the facts.
  • Task – Talk about the job that needed to be done. Close a big deal with a customer? Implement a new process? Develop a new branding strategy? Again, be specific.
  • Action – Highlight what the person did to successfully complete each task and how they did it. Include powerful, positive verbs!
  • Result – Did the project come in under budget? Did the team seal the deal on a new account? Focus on the real outcomes and again, be as specific as possible. If you saw really great work, you don’t need fancy language. You just need to accurately and specifically


More advice on LinkedIn Recommendations from  



Need social media content? Become an Alchemist

Turn their two cents into content gold!

Can’t think of what to write for that next blog post, tweet or update? Even the most creative writer gets in a slump. I never get “writer’s block” because I’ve discovered that I’m an alchemist. What looks like ordinary matter to some is pure gold to me.

After I get my feet wet working for clients with several employees, I turn on my nosey side. Actually, that side is rarely turned off, so let’s say I ramp it up a bit and market it as “the natural curiosity of a writer.” I will actually linger in the kitchen and strike up conversations with folks I haven’t met. I’ll start a hallway conversation and invite passers-by to comment on a topic I’m covering. I’ll pop my head into someone’s office, asking if they’ve seen so-and-so (who I know isn’t around) and then casually get their opinion on a current project. I rarely talk – my goal is to get them talking. And each time I engage in one of these tactics, which could appear to be time-wasters, I’m turning what could be ordinary information into writer’s gold.

No one person knows the complete ins and outs of a medium to large organization. There are tiny pockets of useful information stored all over the staff and as a writer and social media strategist for several clients, I know you cannot sit at your temporary desk or in your cubicle-on-loan waiting for people to drop juicy details in your lap. You’ve got to go and uncover them, sometimes with the delicate brush and other times with a pickaxe. As an outside consultant, I’m fortunate to see connections that others inside the organization take for granted and overlook. It’s probably a little easier for people to share things with me than to share with their co-workers or managers. I’m thrilled when someone begins a sentence with, “No one else really knows this but…” That usually means they are about to share something really exciting and I can bring it to the attention of eager customers and loyal followers.

I also never take the credit for content I get this way. I share the love. I mention to my point person how valuable it was to speak with the lady in accounting, or the man in tech support, or the folks in operations who pointed out a new system they are trying to streamline a project. I want to person who hired me to realize what a great team they have in place. I also want the people who shared ideas and thoughts with me to realize they have a lot to offer.

So if you’re trying to go it alone and create all the content for your business blog, Twitter feed, Facebook posts, Pinterest images, Google+ page, or YouTube channel – take a step away from your computer and become an alchemist. Turn that ordinary material into social media gold!

Are Grumpy Kids Driving You Crazy?

The Bumpy, Grumpy Road, available in paperback & e-book

Mine was, and sometimes still does. But as a mom, I am always looking for the solution that fits the personality of each child (much the same way I work with clients). And as a writer, I know a well-told story can really convince a potential customer to become a satisfied client. So I combined both perspectives and wrote my first children’s book for my grumpy son. It’s called The Bumpy, Grumpy Road.

It tells the story of a boy named Dylan who drives a car. As he makes bad choices (angry words and behavior) his road gets very bumpy and unpleasant to drive. As he makes better choices, the road gets easier. I used this story to illustrate to my son that our actions and attitudes are choices. We can choose the easy road, or the hard. He really got it.

And after FamilyFun magazine printed my essay about the story, other parents wrote to me that their children understood the concept, too.

Never underestimate the power of a well-told tale!

Who Edits Your Tweets?

“I wish I could convince our staff to send all their tweets to an editor like you before they went live,” a friend said to me recently. He’s the Assistant Director for Legal Affairs for a large university and often has to discuss inappropriate tweet content with other university staff.

He’s not the only one. Many managers and CEOs struggle with how to handle tweets from their employers that could reflect poorly on the brand.

Most people don’t think before they speak, so it’s not surprising they don’t think before they tweet.

I asked what the university’s social media policy said about tweets in bad taste. He said they didn’t a policy! Basically, they apply existing rules about inappropriate content, brand use, communication and non-harassement policies to monitor and police social media activities.

No social media policy in place! Shocked? Don’t be – again, this university isn’t the only one.

One of my tasks for a recent client was to put together a reasonable social media policy. They also struggled with a situation where employees made rude, inappropriate or immature comments on their personal social media platforms and worried it would negatively impact their brand.

To put together a policy that would work for their needs, I tapped into some great examples from companies like Ford and Best Buy highlighted by one of my favorite sites, Hubspot, and assembled an easy to read guide that explained the expectations of the client for their employees.

It’s unrealistic to tell people they can’t have personal accounts, use them during the workday, or discuss difficult topics on their personal social media accounts. But you can ask employees to be clear that not all their statements represent the voice of the brand. Savvy employers can learn a lot from employees by paying attention to their social media content.

Does your company have a policy in place? How did you decide what worked for your organization?

Moms of Grumpy Kids – You’re Not Alone!

I’m the mom of a grumpy kid. Like other moms, I look for ways to help my grumpy kid not be so grumpy. In the search for a way to help understand that he could choose to be grumpy or choose to be happy during his days, I told him a little story.

What started as a story just for my son Dylan turned into the children’s book The Bumpy Grumpy Road. And now other moms are telling me it’s helping their grumpy kids, too.

After I wrote it and read it to Dylan, I mentioned the story to a few close friends. They shared it with their kids and told me the idea helped them, too. So, I wrote an essay about our family’s struggle and slow road to success and sent it to one of my favorite magazines, Family Fun It was a delight to learn they also enjoyed the story and published it in their April 2012 issue. [The story has since been republished on the Parents website.]

Not long after the issue came out, I received notes from other moms who said reading my essay felt like they were reading about their own families. I received emails, Facebook messages, even a handwritten note from a mom!  It was a relief  for all of us to know we’re not alone, and that’s something I try to remind my own children – they are never alone when they feel sad, angry or frustrated. We’re always there to help them find their way back to the smooth, fast road.

“Steering Clear of Grumpiness” April 2012 Family Fun

How do you handle negative comments?

Many businesses worry about having Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Pinterest pages or a blog that allows

Prepare for best & worst case!

people to post comments. They wonder, “If people complain about us on these platforms, it will make us look bad!”

What really looks bad is not receiving negative comments, but handling them poorly. Take a look at this negative review that one of my clients received:

Review of “The Business”
Posted by “Customer”
The Business advertises itself as place to help not only normally developing children, but one with disabilities. I was informed that their social butterflies program would be good for my son with autism as they have a “developmentalist” who leads the class. I was also told by my wrap around agency that the agency which head behavior services that I could not take my son’s TSS to the program because The Business has their own developmentist and in essence it would be like paying two people the (TSS and the developmentalist at The Business) to do the same job. So I went to The Business with my autistic son who is almost 3 to find that the developmentalist completely ignored him. She never prompted him once to do anything. She never gave me any instructions and expected me to figure it out on my own. And ontop she keep opening the door to class which allowed my son to keep running out. In fact the main doors to building were wide open to the street!!!! Completely irresponsibly and lacking in understanding of someone with autism!!! Clearly The Business is falsely advertising about their programs or their developmentalist is not qualified. I was disappointed and also do not understand how they are also allowed to provide services for the county.

Would you choose to respond to or ignore this comment?

I advised this client to respond and to respond in a positive, nonspecific way that encouraged the parent to speak directly to the service provider about the experience. Here’s what they wrote:

Business Response
Greetings “Customer”. Thank you for your feedback. It appears that there has been some miscommunication along the line, so please feel free to be in touch with us directly to further discuss. We value all children and their families, so we hope we can chat with you about your feedback and concerns.

It’s a great reply that shows this business watches it’s online reputation, that it seeks to assist customers who did not have a great experience, but also doesn’t air dirty laundry or get into battles online. It’s the best way to handle negative comments in this social age.

Have you ever received a negative review of your business? How did you handle it?

Face to Face Networking Pays Off for Writers

“How do you find clients to write for?” people often ask. They must think writers like me stay in their PJs all day at home hammering away on the keyboard.

I’m always honored to be a guest poster on Make a Living Writing and my recent post 4 Random Ways One Freelance Writer Networked and Found New Clients will share insider secrets on how I found some of my favorite clients!

If you’ve found a client or customer in a random way, I’d love to hear about it!



Children’s media provides secret insight into business innovation

Creating a fantastic new product doesn’t always require starting from scratch. Just observe the world of children’s media. Some well-loved new books and television programs have sprung out of the marriage of two perennially popular themes. In our house, two telling examples are Shark Vs. Train by Chris Barton and Dinosaur Train on PBS Kids. Trains hold a lot of fascination for my boys, and adding big sharp teeth (whether from a live predator or an extinct one) is icing on the cake.

Consider your own product offerings and how you could re-combine them to attract new customers as well as seal the deal with your current ones.

When you’ve hit upon a brilliant idea, it’s time to share the news, and social media can help. You absolutely must have a strategy to engage the customers who are going to adore it and a good writer is key to a successful strategy.

Let’s do some brainstorming – what can you mix and match?


How to write about something negative without negativity

Take a look at this letter of recommendation below.

To Whom It May Concern:

C has been an intern at XX XXXX XXX Retirement Community since September of 2011.

C has a genuine interest in helping people. She has had an interest in the elder population since she was younger as her mother is a nurse and has worked with the XXX Communities for many years. C also shows an interest in social work and aspects related to social work.

C has been exposed to different aspects of elder social work including, but not limited to: interviewing skills, cognitive assessments, clinical documentation, and Medicare rules and regulations.

As part of her current responsibilities at XX XXX, she is working with the Assisted Living staff to create a weekly group for Residents to discuss topics/articles of her choosing. She is also currently working on Life Reviews for two Residents (one long term care Resident and an Assisted Living Resident).

I would recommend that C continue her social work training at the University Of XXX School Of Social Work and complete two full internships to continue her training in the field of social work.

In this letter, the most important things the writer is trying to say are left unsaid.

A colleague of mine submitted this letter to the university program directors for her intern. Her goal was to list the assignments and responsibilities of her intern without suggesting that the intern had any competency or skill. She hoped to convey, by leaving out any positive words, that the intern is awful.

When you manage staff or interns, performance reviews for poor performance can be a challenge. It’s important to be honest and clear without coming across like you have a personal grudge.

How do you handle these situations? Are you completely blunt about failures and shortcomings? Or do you strive  to avoid sounding like a big whiner even though you must write about something that’s going just terribly?

Are you the Good Cop or Bad Cop for your Customers?

Serve & Protect!

Very few people like being the Bad Cop on the team (except for a certain physician that I know). But when you’re trying to get information, or change behavior, out of your suspect – I mean customers! – sometimes you need to be the Bad Cop.

A client came to me recently, stressed, because too many customers were canceling scheduled appointments at the last minute, and she was not able to fill the slots with other jobs. Her employees were losing money, and she did not want to lose her employees. My client felt that most people were blowing off their appointments with less than honest excuses.

We brainstormed a few approaches, including a big penalty fee for canceling in under 48 hours, very Bad Cop.This technique uses aggression and threats to get the desired result.

But the approach we settled on for her customer letter was definitely Good Cop.

We talked about her employees, highlighted the professional quality of their work and reminded the customers that real people were impacted by last minute cancellations. We acknowledged that sometimes schedules change but we asked for cooperation and compliance.

What strategies do you find best work for your customers?