Playing with NLP


Written by Teresa Goertz

People like people who like themselves. It was the first quote—though not the last— that Master NLP Trainer, Lindagail Campell, used to kick off the evening’s presentation, Picking up the Cues. Lindagail describes Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) as a comprehensive set of skills for personal growth and professional development, including verbal and nonverbal communication, psychology, language, modeling, strategic thinking, and perception. These skills are “the difference that makes the difference” between poor to mediocre performance and excellence both at work and at home.

Circling back to the first quote, let’s see how it applies to technical writers. Technical writers like other technical writers because they share similar traits or behave in a similar fashion. That’s great, but what’s a technical writer to do when they encounter SMEs, execs, bosses, coworkers, and others who aren’t like themselves? Here are a few simple NLP exercises you can use right now to improve your communication skills.

Build rapport

One of the easiest things to try is to establish rapport with another person by observing their body language, the tone and cadence of their voice, and the words they use. Building rapport is like a dance. If one partner is mismatched, rapport goes down, but if partners are on or about the same level, rapport goes up. For example, you dread your Thursday morning teleconference because a coworker practically bellows into his speakerphone. Sound waves hit our larynx and hurt our eardrums, and our instinct is to retreat, but that doesn’t help us when we want to be heard. Modulate the tone, raise the volume, and change the tempo of your voice. When you take your cues from the other person, you can drive the outcome of a situation to one that better suits your needs.

Be flexible

Many of us have probably noticed that when we make a slight change in our behavior, it can create a significant shift in another person’s behavior and often tips the fulcrum of any relationship toward a positive slant. For example, if your boss walks into your office and stands over you during the conversation, you might feel she might has the upper hand. You probably sense that there’s an even greater imbalance of power than normal, but if you stood up, you’d be on a more equal footing. Your boss would probably sense the shift and without mentioning what she was feeling, she would react accordingly. She might surprise you and offer you an opportunity to influence a new project that was previously out of your reach.

Set boundaries

When you’re caught in conversations with people who always drone on and on, and you can’t get a word in because they never seem to draw a breath, make sure you have a plan. While they’re talking, look closely at them and listen for a gap, even a small one, usually when the person pauses slightly or takes in a little air. That’s when you can interject with a question that interrupts their train of thought and makes them think differently. For example, you might ask them a leading question, such as ‘which part of this conversation do you want me to be sure to remember’? The person might react by being pleased that you think what they’re saying is important. Moments later, you’ll often hear them quickly summarize the salient points so you can be on your way. You’re interrupting the pattern and reframing the conversation. Here’s another example. Let’s say you receive a call and you know you won’t have much time to talk. Right away, share your agenda and set a time limit. You’re bringing the rules of engagement up front so that there’s no misunderstanding and everyone is aware of the parameters.

NLP offers some good building blocks for improving how you communicate with others. You don’t have to remain stuck in old patterns that don’t work for you and often hinder a relationship from moving forward. Try a few of these exercises and see if just a slight change in your behavior doesn’t shift a situation in your favor. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: There are no victims, only volunteers.



How Technical Writers Can Benefit from Agile Development


*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

The main principle of agile development is that all members of a product team sit and work together, developing code, writing documentation, testing, and providing quality assurance. Technical writers benefit from this early involvement because documentation is considered part of the product, and documentation development time is factored into the product release.

Agile development increases the quality of deliverables and helps technical writers cope with change more efficiently. Often, development and documentation work on the same problems at the same time. When the whole team takes responsibility for quality, the quality of the product goes up.

Here are some of the basic terms used in agile teams:

  • Iteration — A period of time during which software is programmed and at the end of which the quality assurance (QA) testers verify that the software is working as expected.
  • Stand-up — A daily meeting in which the progress of the software development is communicated.
  • Story — The business needs that define what the software will do for the user. Stories are usually sized so that a single iteration is enough time for development.
  • Task — Defines all of the subtasks for a single story. For example, for the story “An administrator can add a new user,” one of the tasks might be “Connect the new component to an existing security component.”
  • Backlog — A repository for stories that are targeted for release during an iteration.

As a technical writer, you will be most successful when you are dedicated to a single agile team, not a resource shared by several agile teams. This enables you to attend all meetings, where you can gather information and overcome roadblocks. You can also agree with the development team on how many iterations the end-user documentation can lag behind the completion of features.

The best agile teams understand the value of documentation and that an integral part of creating successful, working software is excellent documentation.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.

Getting to the Point When Writing for the Web

By Leslie Brown

Writing web copy is different than writing copy for print material. I’ve written both, and here are some of the things I’ve learned from different sources about writing for the web.

Readers take only seconds to assess whether a web page is worth pursuing or not, so you can’t linger on a thought. Get to your point quickly by making each word count.

1. Keep it short.

  • Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, and short pages.

2. Keep it simple.

  • Include only one or two ideas in each short paragraph.
  • Use simple language and common words so readers have to scan less to determine what a page is about.

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