Tim Gunn on the Power of Words

Yesterday I found a copy of Tim Gunn’s book, A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style, at the local public library. Remember libraries have millions of books on all subjects you can borrow for FREE. They even have electronic audio books. Having discovered Project Runway through Netflix, my daughters, sister, and I are now Tim Gunn fans. He embodies numerous Mixonian ideals: creativity, style, vocabulary, kindness, tough love.

He studied English Literature at Yale; hooray for humanities majors! His career path was unconventional, but he found his way by connecting the dots between literature, art, teaching, administration, showing up when you’re supposed to, and doing a great job. Here is his take on the power of vocabulary:

I am mindful of the power of vocabulary; it can unleash limitless quantities of defining and descriptive words and phrases that awaken the listener or reader to new dimensions of understanding….But vocabulary can derail, render impotent, and befuddle meanings or intended meanings. The words that we choose to critically analyze people, places, and things are especially important, and we must be responsibly cognizant of what we intend to say (22).

Sometimes we are caught off guard and spout off the most negative vocabulary free fall, which truly goes further than we intended. On the other side, it’s much more helpful to explain why we “love” this dress, this ad, this article. Here are his suggestions on the all-important skill of giving feedback: honest positives and honest-but-not-hurtful negatives.

POSITIVE:
“I find this (insert item here) to be compelling, because…”
“I respond well to this, because…”
“I’m attracted to this, because…”

NEGATIVE:
“I’m not responding well to this, because…”
“This isn’t working for me, because…”

Apart from Mr. Gunn’s very useful tool for delivering a more precise and helpful message, he’s wise to understand the power of language. Make it work!

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