For example: two powerful words

by | Mar 2, 2011 | Blog | 0 comments

In a hurry to communicate clearly and can’t quickly find a story, metaphor, or analogy that supports your point?

Try using “for example.” These two words form the most powerful phrase of our language, according to some people. The phrase can help you clarify your message, especially if you need to get an immediate response or action.

For example, this phrase was a lifesaver for me and my electronic equipment last week. Late one night after a long day of travel, I checked into a family hotel in a resort town. The front desk clerk handed me my room key and said, “Enjoy.”  

Bleary eyed, I found my room, unlocked the door, and walked in, barely noticing the in-room Jacuzzi. I immediately pulled out all of my electronic cords to recharge my laptop, phone, and camera, all of which I needed the next day for work. I then panicked. I couldn’t find a free electrical outlet! I called the front desk clerk, who sounded surprised that I wasn’t thrilled with one of the hotel’s luxury rooms.

I told him I was traveling on business and needed to use my electronic equipment. For example, I said, I have a laptop, phone, and camera that are almost out of power and need recharging. I can’t charge them simultaneously when there’s no free plug in the place.

Understanding my problem, the clerk sprang into action. He said he’d put me in the room next door, which had several electrical outlets. Within minutes, he arrived and transferred me to the new room, which had two visible outlets.

However, he was concerned that my new room wasn’t equipped with a refrigerator as was the original room. He volunteered a couple of times to bring it over, which caused me to tell him that free outlets were a more valuable amenity to me than a refrigerator. For example, I said, I need my electronic gear charged up; I wouldn’t even know where to find anything to put into a refrigerator at this late hour.

“For example” is also a useful phrase when you’re trying to get information from others. Asking “Can you give me an example?” often elicits useful details. Responding to that question is often easier for people than coming up with an appropriate story on the fly.

Just one caution. Make sure the example you’re using is relevant for the individuals you’re communicating with. For example, in my situation with the hotel clerk, I specified that I was not the hotel’s usual leisure guest; I told him that I needed my equipment for work the next morning.

In another recent situation, a corporate lawyer used an example that seemed outdated to me. He told employees that they should make sure they were acting ethically so they could pass the “headline test.” For example, he said, they should not do anything that would embarrass them or their families if their action were reported on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or their local newspaper.

Yes, this is a logical request and reasonable example; however, in this company where the average age is 31, the lawyer is probably one of the few people who still reads newspapers. For his example, he should have referred to avoiding being featured on The Daily Show  with Jon Stewart, Colbert Nation, or Anderson Cooper 360°.

What’s your example?


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