Monday, March 8, 2010


When the blender catches fire, when the nurse treats you like a known felon, or when you're trying to help people in trouble, do you write a letter? Will you? Here are a few things that work for some of us.

1. Just do it. Write when it's time and when it's fresh in your mind.

2. Use real paper. Some people are like Gibbs--they never read e-mail. Paper says we're serious. Supposedly when they get one letter, they know 10 or 100 people think the same thing.

3. Avoid "you" messages. Messages like "you're doing this all wrong" cause marriage counseling, lawsuits, and full wastebaskets.

4. Smart, savvy Alison taught me to use clear questions: Will you accept this check in full payment?

5. Best selling writer Mary Pipher introduced, in Writing to Change the World, the Sandwich Letter! We put our unhappy message or whatever filling between nice soft sentences. I started and ended my irritated letter to Macy's CEO with respectful sentences.

6. In my successful letter to the hospital, I told exactly what happened to me and how. I didn't refer to any nurses as bad or mean. Later I was glad of that--two nurses who were really not kind when we first met were great during later visits. Still, when the whole staff is having a bad day, or when a different policy could have saved me fear or pain, I write

7. End with a sentence summing up the action you ask for.

8. This wonderful Churchill executive memo used to hang over my desk.

Pray state this day on one side of a sheet of paper
how the Navy is being adapted to suit the needs of modern warfare.
Says it all.

Then STOP. Let it cool. Let someone else check for possibly misunderstood phrases.

And tell me if it worked! Or tell me how another letter worked for you.

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