May 28, 2019
by Zoë Tummillo, Communications Concepts
It started for me many years ago when one of my mentors, told me about the useful tool: Letters Not For Mailing. Her name was Ruth. She was the General Manager of a “high profile” women’s clothing department store in Boston. It was a position unusual at that time, hard won and requiring a lot of diplomacy working with 99% of the managers of that venue being male.
I was in college and also working at my father’s business for practical application! I met Ruth then. She took me under her wing to show me the real ropes that awaited a naive young woman who wanted a career in business. She was a tough taskmaster who taught me a lot. Many of the things I learned by shadowing her, I have used throughout my business career. It was early on, women helping women.
One tool became especially useful. Letters Not For Mailing was basically just a simple discipline that could save the user a lot of grief, and bring the user clarity and a certain kind of success handling sticky situations. The older I got, the more I could see how that simple discipline could help keep me out of a lot of hot water, better resolve conflicts and more successfully clarify interpersonal communication. I think Ruth knew it would eventually appeal to me because writing was already my thing. (She also knew I had a short temper!)
Did I sometimes have a difficult problem in Dad’s office where I couldn’t just blow up? Oh, yes, usually with equipment. I’d grab a writing tablet, hear Ruth’s voice in my head and try to trust the process! Just start: Dear Darn Diebold drum-wheel filing system: Get it all out – the tricky quirks of the machine, the stupid little cards that fit on the drum...the frustration and monotony. Often those letters weren’t long, because the absurdity of getting mad at a steel drum with paper cards dawned on you. (Good grief – you were writing a letter to a machine.)
I was determined to try Ruth’s philosophy; but the truth be told, I thought it was stupid. She would just say: Give it a chance. You will see, one of these days. And, of course, much more significant situations came up as life unfolded. There was the very early death of my dearest friend, at twenty. I wrote and wrote my grief, and my anger; that letter was long. It took its place in the binder I had begun to keep.
Many times I had something to work through in a letter never to be mailed. In a way, they are conversations (or angry exchanges) with yourself. Eventually, I put two and two together; Ruth’s wisdom began to make more sense. She had shared her own experiences of being treated unfairly in the workplace, having to walk on egg shells and knowing it was best to get it out on paper first where you could safely vent – then handle whatever it was diplomatically, with a calm demeanor and a cool head! She definitely showed me the importance of keeping cool at work and everywhere else!
There are times in anyone’s life when first writing a letter you know you should never mail can save you from a storm of words you can never take back. It may seem a silly exercise; trust me, it’s not. From whirlwind young years (with family, school, work, marriage, children, divorce, deaths and loves through all changing seasons) to ageing, there were — are — challenges enough to work through. Ruth’s other wisdom was that the more one used the tool, the less one needed it.
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