Colorful Communication

April 2, 2019

When you communicate with other people verbally, in writing, or even in emails and texts, be particular about how you phrase things to draw upon the imagination of the receiver.

Avoid stilted language or jargon that may confuse some people.  Also, try to avoid cliches, such as “failure is not an option,” or “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Try to paint a picture that is vibrant with colorful imagery. Use words as surrogates for a paintbrush, and actually let images flow into your words like paint onto a canvas. The idea is to use analogies, as I just did with the paint. Analogies allow us to span the gaps between ideas that are created by the limitations of words.

The idea is to use colorful words. Clarity of expression is not only more entertaining, it actually helps build higher trust between people because the thoughts are fresh and vibrant.

What are colorful words? Well, “color” is a great colorful word. We can see in our mind’s eye the difference between flat black & white information and full color. We hardly ever think about the complex interplay of hues that surround us every day.

Take a moment now and look around your current environment. Notice the colors, textures, and shapes. We are so used to viewing these things that we often take them for granted.

When you write, try to liven up the text with word descriptions that tickle the senses of your readers. If I use the word “pretty” to describe a scene, it will send a certain message. Using the word “breathtaking” magnifies that message like looking at a panorama through a telescope. I can either “mow the lawn” or I can “shear the aromatic fescue.” I can “take a deep breath,” or I can “breathe in the giant pines.” I can “be glad it is spring,” or I can “welcome the first robin on the lawn.”

You can use colorful images to convey emotions and events in the business world as well. You can say “he was angry” or you can say “his flared nostrils and clenched jaw were obvious.” You can say the meeting was “good” or you can say “the meeting was incredibly refreshing.” Next time you want to compliment someone on a fantastic performance, you can say “Congratulations, you did really well on that,” or you can say, “You must feel like you just caught the winning touchdown pass in the Superbowl.”

How can you use more colorful language? One way to broaden your vocabulary is to make good use of a thesaurus. In every note, try to send out a word that is unusual for you, but more accurate to the context than the word you would normally use. One caveat: be careful not to overdo the analogies or use of colorful words. It can be annoying if you take it too far. For example, here is a colorful note followed by a similar note with too much color.

Good colorful language

“You were refreshing in that meeting, because your ideas crackled with potential. Your points were crisp, and you prevented the group from becoming stuck on trivial issues. Nice going. We need more people like you who can think clearly and not become distracted by petty gripes.”

Overdone colorful language and use of clichés

“Your performance in the meeting was magnificent. Your discussion was as clear as a mountain stream and you kept the group out of the quagmire of repetitious arguments. People like you are as scarce as hen’s teeth. You have the unique ability to keep people from complaining all the time like a nagging backache.”

In developing colorful language, try to avoid the use of hackneyed expressions and clichés. There is an art to weaving words into a cohesive note. A good note should have a directional flow without the need to double back on some issues. If you find yourself writing, “as I said before…” you need to go back and revise the flow.

Put a little spice and adventure in your notes and spoken communications.  You will find that people appreciate the thought and respond better to your ideas.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, by Robert Whipple. It is available on
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, and Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders. Contact Bob at or

Improving E-mail: Avoid the Quicksand

February 12, 2012

Sometimes e-mail feels like steroids for communication; other times it feels more like quicksand. A key problem is trying to figure out which notes among the hundreds received each day must be opened and read. This article describes an idea that will accelerate the flow of notes through your inbox and other tips to make your e-mail sparkle. It will help you write notes that people actually read.

One of my students relayed a method used by a Major General in the Air Force to help organize the inbox clutter. The idea is to establish a kind of code that goes upfront on the subject line of all e-mails within a unit. No, I am not talking about the famous military acronyms. These code words are so simple that everyone knows what they mean. Here are the prefaces the senior officer required on each note in his unit:


If an entire unit took up this convention, it would be possible to set up files for the incoming e-mails to go directly to one of the above categories and not sit in the main inbox of notes. This would allow an individual to go directly to the ACTION folder if time was short, or browse the INFORM folder when a more leisurely pace was possible.

It would still be possible to mark certain notes as “urgent” so that method of giving priority is still available as well. One caution on the use of “urgent” is to not abuse the designation. When an individual uses “urgent” as a means to give routine requests higher priority, it defeats the purpose and labels the abuser as a poor online communicator.

Another tip for the subject line is to actually compress the entire e-mail message onto the subject, then type EOM (End Of Message) at the end. The subject would look like this: “Meeting for Tuesday at 10 am cancelled: EOM.” This saves readers the time to open the note, and they still get the essential information. Clearly not all e-mail messages can fit into a subject line, but if 10% of them actually could, why not use this time-saving technique?

There are many methods of managing the inbox for optimal efficiency. It is a matter of personal choice what works for you. One habit that works for me is to try to get the inbox down to zero notes at least once a day. I am not always successful at getting to zero, but roughly half of my days I can see an empty inbox. I rarely let the inbox get to more than one page long, so all of the notes waiting for my attention can be viewed in one frame. That practice gives me the ability to have very rapid turnaround time on all incoming requests. It is a good way of building higher trust online. I receive over 150 notes on an average day, so having an uncluttered inbox saves a lot of search time.

When writing notes, make most of them short enough to fit entirely on one display pane. The reason is psychological. When the reader opens the note, he or she will see at a glance that the note ends right there in the first pane, because the signature block will be visible at the bottom of the screen. That puts the reader in a happy place regarding how much time will be required to read the note. This realization will go a long way toward having the reader pay attention and absorb the meaning.

If a note goes beyond the first pane (I call it “over the horizon”), then the reader is in a more grumpy mood while diving into the content. Psychologically, he or she is distracted by wondering how long the note really is and pays less attention to the content. The person may not even tackle the note and put it back in the inbox to read later, if at all.

These tips are easy to accomplish, if people are trained to use them and the expectation is made clear. Your work environment will be significantly more efficient and you will stay out of e-mail quicksand if you use these ideas every day and teach them to others.