George Orwell’s Six Rules of Writing

In this essay, first published in 1946, George Orwell laid out his six rules for writing.  Note how they apply not just to writing, but to all forms of communication. 

Think about all of the books/articles/speeches/presentations/conversations (especially conversations!) that would be drastically improved if everybody kept these six points in mind:

1.  Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2.  Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3.  If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4.  Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5.  Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.  Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

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Being Happy Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry

A highly regarded businessman and I were walking into a meeting when we bumped into someone he knew.  “How are you?” they asked him.

“I’m good,” he said.  “I’m always good.” 

His friend laughed.  “You are always good!” they said.

Later, I asked him about that.  “So, you’re always good, huh?”

“I never tell anyone how I’m really doing,” he said quietly, “because it just doesn’t matter, and people don’t really care.”

I knew what he meant, but there is an exception.

An old friend of mine has a great response whenever people ask him how he’s doing.  He always, always lights up and says, “Today is the best day of my life!”  [This is important: I should note that he actually means it.  To him, every day truly is better than the last…and tomorrow will be even better.]

This gets a reaction, every time.  This starts conversations.  Everywhere he goes, people remember him.  All thanks to this one line: “Today is the best day of my life!”

In this world of pessimists and epic complainers, being unapologetically happy just might be the easiest way to set yourself apart, every time.

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The Good Old Days

Sometimes, it seems like you can’t go anywhere without meeting at least one person who is quick to shake their head and utter some variation of, “It’s not like it used to be around here.”

“This town is not like used to be.”

“This school is not like it used to be.”

“This company is not like it used to be.”

And they never mean it in a good way.  They never mean, “It’s not like it used to be around here…now it’s way better!”

Instead, what they’re telling you is that the so-called “Good Old Days” are long gone.

Regarding this tendency to see the past through rose-colored glasses, Kurt Vonnegut said: “There have never been any ‘Good Old Days.’  There have just been days.”

That’s a great quote, but I’ve got an even better one.  Someone once said to me, “The worst thing about this town are all the people who complain about it.”  I love that line, not only for its circular irony, but also because it’s usually true of just about anywhere and anything: a town; a school; a company.  The complainers usually are the worst aspect.  Those who feed off of negativity, criticizing the efforts of others without offering ideas of their own.

Of course, the best thing about any organization are those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get things done.  The people with real ideas, who want to make things better, who say, “Let me know what I can do to help you,” and who mean it when they say it.

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The Opposite of Confidence

Spend time with exceptionally smart, accomplished people and one thing will quickly become clear: when they don’t know the answer to something, they have no problem just admitting it.  Acknowledging that something falls outside their realm of expertise simply doesn’t bother them because they don’t feel the need to prove how smart they are.  To anyone.  Ever.

This is true in both their personal and professional lives. 

“I don’t anything about that.”

“Sorry, that’s not an area I’m familiar with at all.”

“I’d have to research that before I could give you an answer.”

The next time you run into a “know-it-all,” just ask yourself why they’re so intent upon convincing you that they’ve got all the answers.

[Hint: it’s probably not because they’re confident.  In fact, it’s probably the exact opposite of that.]

Confidence is rooted in knowing that one has done their homework, that one is prepared and is capable of delivering.

Arrogance is rooted in insecurity, in knowing that one has failed to prepare, that one can only hope of scaring others off.

People hate arrogance, but they love confidence.

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Making Expediency of Necessity

The (now retired) head of a department which served thousands of constituents recently told me a story.

Years ago, his top employee ─ a smart, friendly, incredibly hardworking individual ─ began to act a bit aloof and “standoffish” toward him.  This greatly concerned him.  Not only was it incredibly out of character, but they had always enjoyed a warm relationship.  He was worried that perhaps he had done something to offend her (though he couldn’t imagine what).

So he sat down and asked her if everything was okay.  That’s when she broke the news: she had been offered another job, one that paid far more, was much closer to home, would allow all sorts of opportunities that her current position never could, etc.  And even though she loved her current position, this new job was simply too good to pass up.  It was one of those “once in a lifetime” deals.

And because she liked her boss so much, because they had such a warm relationship, she was afraid to tell him.

But she shouldn’t have worried, because his eyes lit up and he said, “Congratulations!  I’m so happy for you!”  He told her that she shouldn’t feel bad at all, that she had to do what’s best for her and her family, and if there was anything he could ever do to help her, she shouldn’t hesitate to ask.

“And I meant every word of it,” he told me, even though her departure would make things extremely difficult for him.

“If you’re a diplomat,” he said, “you roll with the punches.  You try and take every disappointment and turn it into an opportunity.  Here, the opportunity was to maintain an excellent relationship with a person I valued and respected.”

And because he handled things the way he did, he was able to accomplish this.  They didn’t part on bad terms.  There were no hard feelings, and she left knowing that her work was appreciated and that he truly had her best interests at heart.

It should come as no surprise then, that all these years later, they remain good friends.

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Sell What You’ve Got

I was listening to the owner of numerous successful businesses as he discussed marketing strategies, and he said, “Make sure you sell what you’ve got.  If you’ve got grey hair (or no hair at all), sell your experience.  If you’re young, sell your energy.”  He went on, but you get the idea.

Here’s what I would add: if you want to sell something that you don’t have, then go and get it.  What’s great is, there are lots of ways to do this.

For instance, you can take a class. 

Or, you can teach a class (it doesn’t have to be at a major university—consider doing a free seminar at your local library).

You can join a club.  Or, you can start a club.  Or a website. 

I could go on, but you get the idea.

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Problem Solving Technique: Create a Pleasant Environment

There are lots of simple yet highly effective ways to diffuse conflict before it even occurs. 

Here’s a great one: a divorce mediator I know of bakes cookies and brings them to her mediation sessions.  As she puts it, “It’s kind of hard to fight when we’re all sitting there eating homemade goodies together.”

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