I picked up the phone and Miss Blake, the school nurse, was on the line. “Mrs. Strauss,” she said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter fell on the playground and hit her head.”

“Where is she? Is she in your office? Should I come and get her?”

“Oh, no. Oh, no. I’m sorry… she’s gone.”

It was a heart-stopping moment. And though it happened decades ago, I’ll never forget the way I felt. Did I hear what I thought I heard?

“Gone?” I repeated.

“Yes, she’s gone. She’s fine. She went back to class.”

She’s fine! Well, why didn’t Miss Blake say that up front?

What can we learn from this?

Being able to speak well is a basic communication skill. Along with being able to write well, as Michael Masterson has said many times, it’s necessary for success in business.

Choosing your words carefully is especially important if you’re giving information over the phone. In person, you can judge the effect your words are having. And if, for example, you see a look of panic in the other person’s eyes when you say something like “She’s gone,” you can quickly adjust and explain what you meant. But you can’t do that if you’re not face to face.

So think before you pick up the phone. And even if you’re shunted onto voice mail, you can be sure your intended message will come across.

[Ed. Note: One of the best ways to improve your speaking is by understanding more about the words you choose. The bigger your vocabulary, the easier it is to choose the most appropriate word for any situation. With ETR’s Words to the Wise CD Library, you can add 120 new words to your personal lexicon.]
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