Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
September 2008

Hello! I have been consulting with several different school districts this past month working on topics ranging from how to effectively roll out strategic plans to creating warm, welcoming classroom climates.  No matter the group, administrators or new teachers, one thing comes up time and time again – the use of language and its power in getting people to tune in or tune out.  This month’s newsletter will focus on strategically choosing one’s words and non-verbals to inform, inspire and empower others.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

Getting People to Tune In or Tune Out

You Say Vision, I Say Purpose

In working with one group of department chairs this past month, I opened up a discussion about their role in moving the vision of the school district forward.  We bandied about the use of the word “vision” for several minutes and discovered something critical.  Like the Gershwin song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” we found out some like "potato" and some like “potahto.”   I find the word “vision” to be inspiring.  I want to know what a person’s dream is, what he aspires to accomplish.   And when working for a school district, the vision of the district matters to me. Others in the room could have cared less.  “Vision” didn’t matter to them.  It was too fuzzy and amorphous.  What mattered was “purpose.”  They wanted to know from ‘above’ why they were doing what they were doing and they needed that given to them concretely and without fluff.  It gave them a purpose.   Another group didn’t care about either vision or purpose; they wanted to know how to get there.  Give them the ‘how.’  They lived in the world of action.  We learned a lot about each other and a lot about the power of language. We need to have a variety of words available to us that will resonate with our colleagues.  It was a lesson in linguistic flexibility.

Invitation and Hopes vs. Requirements and Mandates

Peter Block’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging has a terrific question for all of us who are working with a new group as the school year starts and we need a ‘grounding’ activity.  He suggests the question, “What led you to accept the invitation to join this group?”  I loved the question and asked to use it in a facilitation of a new group of mentors.  My colleague shared with me the question wouldn’t quite work because many of the folks in the room actually didn’t ‘choose’ to join, but instead were somewhat ‘required’ to join by their supervisors.  He instead suggested another question, “What are you hoping for yourself and your school by becoming a mentor?” I still chafe when I think of folks being ‘strongly encouraged’ to become mentors without their personal buy in, but my colleague’s question worked beautifully.  By asking about one’s hopes for the future instead of bringing up a non-choice from the past, we moved individuals from feeling forced to feeling empowered.

Palms Up or Palms Down

My colleague, Michael Grinder, taught me that not only one’s choice of words help you engage others, but so will your body language.  Using certain gestures well can assist you in getting a group to tune in or tune out.  Your palms are key.  Put your palms face up and hold your arms open.  Do you feel more approachable?  Receptive?  Having your palms up and arms out is an indicator of approachability and openness.  They suggest an interest in welcoming others in.  Put your palms up when you are asking, “Are there any questions?” to show that you are soliciting comments by both your body and voice.  Palms down are something we know well from classroom management.  “That’s enough already.”  Or, “Listen, it has to get quieter in here.”  You can envision someone’s palms down and head tilted so you know you mean business.  You can also put your palms down in a meeting to demonstrate a seriousness to your comment or to suggest that others pay attention to the time on the agenda to which you are pointing. Your palms alone can show others that you are approachable or that you are credible.  There are times for both and we need to be conscious about our choices.  For more information about Michael’s work, see

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Cool Things

On the topic of language and social savvy…check out:

  • This month’s Harvard Business Review’s article, “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. New studies of the brain show that leaders can improve group performance by understanding the biology of empathy. The article provides us with research from neurobiology of what we have known in our gut all along - we either perceive our leader’s empathic ability or we don’t. We now have hard data around how that soft skill impacts our ability to do our work effectively.  Check it out for free at

  • As mentioned earlier in the newsletter, check out Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging. More information at The book explores ways to make an opening for authentic communities to exist at your school and details what each of us can do to make that happen. More specifically to this topic of language, Peter speaks to six conversations and questions to ask a group that aren’t just business as usual, but transformational in design. His ideas around word choice are truly helpful.

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

Sept. 10
Being Generationally Savvy
Administrators’ Training
Cabrillo Unified School District
Half Moon Bay, CA

Sept. 11
Designing Effective Professional Development

Instructional Reform Facilitators Training
San Francisco Unified School District
San Francisco, CA

Sept 26
Being Generationally Savvy:
Working Effectively with Colleagues of All Generations

Center for Education and Professional Development
Stanford Hospitals and Clinics
Stanford, CA

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


Feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and colleague. You may reprint this newletter in whole or quote with attribution to Jennifer Abrams and a link to

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© 2008 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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