Take No Prisoners Approach to Communicating Effectively

One day soon, my kids are going to stop letting me out of the house. They are going to refuse to be seen in public with me. I embarrass them, you see, because I am turning in to my grandmother, one grammar correction at a time.

RamboGrammie was an amazing and loving woman, who took language very seriously. Grammar, enunciation, vocabulary – Grammie valued each of these. She did not always express her passion in little-old-lady ways, however. In fact, sometime during my teenage years, my cousins and I began referring to her as Grambo for her “take no prisoners” approach to correcting our – and anyone else’s – language mistakes.


Enunciate. I can still hear Grambo telling me to IH-NUHN-SI-ATE when I got lazy and mumbled my words. Grambo advocated speaking clearly and audibly, long before she started to lose her hearing.

The poor barista at my neighborhood coffee shop got a glimpse of the Grambo in me one early morning (5:45!) a few weeks ago. A sweet little old lady would have said “Excuse me?” when she couldn’t understand him, or kindly asked him to repeat himself, but not Grambo. Before I could stop myself, I heard myself saying, “You really need to speak more clearly if you want people to understand you, especially this early in the morning.”

Grambo’s lesson: You will be more effective in getting your point across if you open your mouth, slow down how you speak and keep your hands away from your face so others can understand what you are saying.

Word Choice. If Grambo was alive today, she would not be a proponent for the verbification of nouns; you would never find her Googling (or is it googling?) anything. As children, if we used a word incorrectly, she sent us to the large dictionary stand in the corner to look up the word’s meaning.

One of the bad habits Grambo detested was the use of GO in place of SAY. For example, I could never say to Grambo: “My friend Becky goes, ‘Can you believe the amount of homework we have?’” without hearing a very shrill response: “You GO to the bathroom. You SAY ‘Can you believe the amount of homework we have?’.” Ugh, that’s a visual I didn’t need from my grandmother!

Grambo’s lesson: Listen for whether people use GO or SAY when speaking. You will never use the word GO again without thinking of toilets and tiled walls.

Grammar. Grambo knew her grammar and wanted to make sure you knew yours too. She came by her love of grammar honestly. She read avidly and was a formidable Scrabble player. She was also the daughter of a teacher who taught in a one-room school in Admire, Kansas.

My mother tells me great-grandmother Myrtle (The Grambo Prequel?) used to correct grammar mistakes by asking, “Why did you bring me that book to be read to out of from for?” Huh?

Come to think about it, I wasn’t so hard on that barista after all.

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Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults, a consultancy that guides organizations and individuals to “start the wave” of change. Heather and the team have advised major clients including PepsiCo, McKesson, Microsoft, Frito-Lay, Hitachi Consulting and many others on how to realize results through people. Contact her at hnelson@people-results.com.