Personal Communications: From Plato to Play-Doh

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to help you communicate more clearly.


             “Daddy, how do you get to be grown up,” my then  four-year old daughter ask me one day. I said: “Well, big girls are really smart. They read a lot.” “Daddy, I read the comics a lot,” she said.  I clarified: “You have to read more than comics. You have to read history and literature, you have to read Shakespeare, you have to read Socrates, and Plato.”

        “Oh…..,” she said. A few minutes later my daughter came prancing into the living room. “I’m grown up,” she claimed. “You are?” I wondered. “Yes, I can read Plato. See,” she said, reading from a can in her toy box:  “Play-Doh comes in three colors etc.’.

        Now I have heard of tuna in a can, soup in a can, but philosophers in a can?

        I smiled and realized my mistake, a mistake that forced me to think more about the tone of my words -the way my words sound to others especially given their frame of reference. How foolish of me to think that my daughter would hear the word  Plato and not link the sound of that word with a clay-like modeling compound material that she played every day with to make arts and craft projects –Play-Doh– than the student of Socrates.

   That conversation with my daughter taught me to be more cognizant that speech is like music. Indeed, we hear the melody long before the lyrics, the sound long before the words.

  1. Consider the social studies student first hearing the concept of mercy killing (Euthanasia). He titled his paper “Youth in Asia.”
  2. Consider the first-time home buyer who said he needed more than 2-doors when the real estate agent pointed out a Tudor home.
  3. Consider the Sunday school teacher who asked her second graders to write down their favorite hymns. One student wrote her favorite him: Johnny Jones.

Making SOUND Decisions for the Intonation of Words

Art Carney and Jackie Gleason (l-r) in the Honeymooners.

         So the key to effective speaking is to pick SOUND words for their intonation as much as their notation; for the way they sound as much as how sound they are.  Especially when we are trying to explain a new procedure to staffers. Too often we take our Plato’s for granted when the audience is hearing Play-Dohs.  And the results can be hilarious.

        I still laugh out loud when I think of that funny scene with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in  The Honeymooner’s television program.  The two comedians are trying to  follow the instructions in a golf book on how to hit the ball. Gleason is standing in the kitchen wielding his driver while Carney reads the instructions.

        “It says here you have to address the ball,” Carney says. Gleason looks perplexed. Carney takes the club out of Gleason’s hands, saying “You have to ADDRESS the ball!.” Carney stands over the ball, saying “Step up to the ball. Plant your feet firmly.” Then Carney bends over,  extends his right hand as if he were greeting the ball,   and says, “Hello Ball!”

      Funny? Sure. In a comedy show. But in the real world of effective leadership I know I have to be clear in my instructions. I have to make more SOUND  decisions  so that the laugh isn’t on me. Or Plato.  I look forward to learning more from all of you how you add greater clarity to your personal communications. Use the Comments section below.

Today’s ImproveMINT
Make SOUND decisions when you choose your words to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

You might also like these previous Leadership Mints on Personal Communications:

Confessions of a Listener: Father I Have Sinned
Talking Less Speaking More
Listening is Literally a Life and Death Issue

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2 thoughts on “Personal Communications: From Plato to Play-Doh

  1. Pingback: Partnering Power: How Sweet It Is « LEADERSHIP MINTS

  2. Pingback: Persuasion: Playing Your ACE in a Stacked Deck « LEADERSHIP MINTS

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