Writing Tips

Create a connection at work: writing with ‘Ohana

The more I read about managing with aloha the more convinced I become of the power of this way of thinking about, of looking at - or rather of being in the world… to transform the way we do business and the way that we work - including the way that we write when we’re there.

This month Rosa Say has been exploring the value of ‘Ohana. Now the meaning of these beautiful Hawaiian words is multi-storied and multi-layered and I’d be struggling to do justice to it here, but in essence it’s a value that means this:

In an ‘Ohana are those who are family, and those you choose to call your family. ‘Ohana is a human circle of complete Aloha, and in managing with Aloha, ‘Ohana is recognized as the best possible form for the association of all stakeholders in a business.

When I first starting reading about ‘Ohana I found myself wondering how this could connect to the way that we write - and in particular the way that we write at work. But Rosa goes on to acknowledge that many people have a ‘gut’ reaction to the use of the word ‘family’ (or its Hawaiian equivalent) in a work context, teaching us to widen our understanding of the word and its associations.

So what if we set aside the word ‘family’ and used some different language instead. The members of your team. Not said glibly, without meaning, but with intention. The members of a team who are in it together. People who work together with a common purpose. No matter the grade or the salary: these people are your partners in business. Your business partners. And if your aim is to establish a strong and powerful connection with those people who are “in it together” with you - what words can you use to tell them?

Of course words and language cannot change working relationships on their own (you need to walk the talk - and believe the coaching philosophy behind it) but writing with positive intention can reinforce the other things that you’re trying to do - and let you down if you don’t pay sufficient attention to the words that you use.

So what are some of the things you can build into your writing at work to create a connection - to build a powerful human circle? Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Writing to create a sense of family doesn’t mean you have to be over-familiar. Not everyone wants to be familiar at work, and some people find an opening of ‘hey guys!’ inappropriate and grating, and lacking in respect
  • Focus instead on the specific things that connect you together: shared experiences, common language, events that have been significant (good and bad)
  • Think about how you use the words “we” and “you”. Are you clear which is which? Do you know why you’re using one rather than the other?
  • Use the language of intention: breathe the values that drive your work into the words that you’re using and it will become part of the shared currency between you
  • Don’t fake it: readers can see through fake and phoney messages from ‘well-intentioned’ managers and will spot insincerity a mile off. You’re better off not saying it than writing one thing and practicing another
  • Write like yourself: the qualities of simple, honest writing will pay dividends here - writing with authenticity, demonstrating that you’re human
  • Be credible: as above, people will spot it if you’re faking it. Don’t over-promise or over-hype. Let people know when things don’t turn out the way that you planned
  • Don’t waffle: that way people can form their own opinions on what you’re writing about. The more excess words you use the more people are likely to think it’s camouflage for something else
  • Be positive: let people know that you notice the good stuff. Pay attention to the detail, be specific in your feedback and you’ll be letting others know that you care enough to pay attention
  • Focus on your positive intention: forget grammar rules, forget the writing style of other manager’s (it’s normally terrible, honestly), focus on the positive intention that you’re trying to achieve and let that drive your writing.

And what do I mean by positive intention? Well in this context I’d come back to another powerful Hawaiian value: kakou. Over to Rosa for the explanation:

Kakou is the Hawaiian value of inclusiveness, and means “all of us,” we are in this together. Kakou is very unifying when applied to language, and all are taught to learn, speak, and practice “the language of we.”

Focus on that when you’re writing and let it breathe life into your writing at work. Practice the language of we. Enjoy the powerful sense of connection that comes from knowing that at the end of the day: we are in this together.

One of my writing objectives is to learn more about the spirit of aloha and how we can breathe it into our writing. There’s no better way to learn than writing about it! You can read my introduction to learning to write with aloha here. My aim is to explore a value month by month as Rosa teaches them to us.

If you are interested in the values and philosophy of aloha I would urge you to read the work of Rosa Say, author of Managing with Aloha, currently writing about her coaching practice at Managing with Aloha Coaching, plus tons of fascinating back articles at Talking Story

You’ll find a few articles on ‘Ohana in business on these sites. One of my favourites is this piece: The ‘Ohana in business is a place for business partners

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

Joanna Paterson

Journal and writing coach, teaching ways to notice and capture the wonder of the everyday, through writing, poetry, and photography.

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9 Responses to “Create a connection at work: writing with ‘Ohana”

  1. On August 31, 2007 at 12:57 am Rosa Say responded with... #

    Joanna, you don’t struggle at all to do ‘Ohana justice! At least it doesn’t appear that way here!

    I often say that the world of business is my playground of choice, because I challenge those who have increased and ready access to the resources of business to make a difference in the world: the long-overdue, earth-preserving and lifestyle-shaping difference their leadership is sorely needed for. What you have so brilliantly illustrated here, from the viewpoint of just one value, and through your lens of writing intention, is why work and our “business concepts” are very personal and always will be, dipping into and affecting so much of the whole beings we are.

    Your bullet-pointed list is exceptional in suggesting practical applications in the writing connections we can all make to ‘Ohana.

    You are also eerily psychic, for my value for the month of September will be L?kahi, and in the coming month we will work together on the value of teamwork, powerful partnerships, and best possible collaboration. Your own theme of authenticity will connect with the discussion wonderfully: just wait and see :)

  2. On August 31, 2007 at 12:00 pm Managing with Aloha Coaching responded with... #

    Managing with Aloha Coaching in A 5-Beat Rhythm

    Managing with Aloha Coaching is one month old today! We are all sharing in the same birthday present: A 5-Beat Monthly Rhythm. Whether you call it an update or a change, when things get slightly different we have to adjust

  3. On September 1, 2007 at 1:06 am Jeanne Dininni responded with... #


    Just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated Confident Writing as one of my five recommended new blogs for Blog Day 2007. You can read my post at http://www.writersnotes.net/blog-day-2007-a-celebration-of-new-blogs-everywhere/.


  4. On September 1, 2007 at 9:07 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Jeanne, many thanks, and a belated happy blog day to you and other readers! I’ve had my hands full of removal crates all week helping my parents move house, so my intended post to celebrate blog day failed to materialise… I’ll enjoy reading the links suggested by other people though :-)


  5. On September 1, 2007 at 9:20 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Rosa, I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    I find the whole business of the way we write at work fascinating, as we spend a lot of time doing it and don’t always think that hard about the language we use, the style and tone, the impact that our words will have, and what a difference we can all make to the experience of life at work by breathing a different set of values and intention into our words.

    What better way to explore this than through your own work on managing with aloha?

    I have found the intention to write a piece on ‘what does this month’s theme mean for our writing’ a useful focus for my reading and learning during the month - and writing about it at the end helps me to reflect and share what I’ve learnt. I’m looking forward to doing the exercise again with Lokahi.


  6. On September 1, 2007 at 6:10 pm Rosa Say responded with... #

    Joanna, I truly love your focus and approach. So many of my clients (managers … there is some irony in what the profession is called!) are overwhelmed because they become so scattered in trying to do too much. They admit to being lousy finishers because they are more enthusiastic as starters, and so the first work we do together is to stem the flow of starts so that those choices are better ones. We work to somehow connect their new starts to another process that hasn’t yet been finished, so that both race toward a finish together. This is something that is an intuitive strength of yours, and I marvel at your talent – and passion, with bringing everything back to the art of good writing. It is such a joy to be a reader and learn from you.

  7. On September 2, 2007 at 11:19 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Rosa, thanks for your kind words and encouragement. I have to confess that focus is not something I’ve been that good at in recent years - but writing more (and more) is helping me to achieve that, to crystallise what I want to say (learn, do), to edit out the words that are just so much noise.

    Oh and I’m lucky enough to have a virtual coach who teaches me about the benefits of writing with purpose and intention :-)


  8. On April 5, 2008 at 7:16 pm Managing with Aloha Coaching responded with... #

    Hau‘oli la hanau to Joanna Young!

    Surely you know Joanna by now too: She is the personification of our Ho‘ohana Community in Scotland! Today is her birthday. Because of Joanna, I can now spell Edinburgh right the first time, without checking, and knowing that she is


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